ST. LOUIS — When Michael Lorenzen was a young pitcher with the Cincinnati Reds, he would tinker. He wasn’t satisfied with his results. He posted a 5.40 ERA his rookie season of 2015, a 2.88 ERA his sophomore year, and a 4.45 ERA in 2017. He couldn’t figure out why he was struggling, or how to find consistency.
He assumed he was doing something wrong. Lorenzen remembers one night in St. Louis in 2017 when he stayed up until four in the morning, pouring over a book by renowned pitching coach Tom House with hopes of finding an answer on how to fix his mechanics. He pitched a hitless inning against the Cardinals a few hours earlier, but that didn’t leave him satisfied.
“I literally had no idea what I was doing,” Lorenzen said. “I was in my third season in the big leagues, and I had no idea what I was doing.”
He wishes someone could’ve told him he was a pitcher whose outings would at times be swayed by luck. Lorenzen pitches to contact. He induces a lot of ground balls and fly balls. It can make his numbers swing wildly.
This season has been a good example of that. Just before the Phillies acquired Lorenzen from the Detroit Tigers at the trade deadline, he was coming off a career month with a 1.14 ERA in July. In June, he had a 5.30 ERA. In May? A 1.95 ERA. In April? A 7.07 ERA. Is this all due to luck? No. But it impacts Lorenzen more than pitchers who live and die by the strikeout.
This is a tough existence to navigate, and right now, Lorenzen is in the throes of it. In the five starts since his no-hitter on Aug. 9, he’s allowed 23 earned runs and 11 walks with only 14 strikeouts. There are a few non-luck factors to consider. Lorenzen is pitching in a tougher division in the NL East than he was with the Tigers in the AL Central. His walk rate has risen and his strikeout rate has dropped in the second half. He’s giving up more contact, and has had trouble finishing batters with two strikes.
But despite that, he does not feel like the results speak to how he’s pitched. Over those five starts, he has gone from baseball history — cleats in Cooperstown — to the bullpen, a place he didn’t want to return to in the first place.
Lorenzen, 31, spent most of his big league career in the bullpen. He was a reliever in college. Most starters are routine-oriented and don’t feel like they have time to prepare to come out of the bullpen, but that has never been a problem for him.
His velocity ticks up when he throws in relief. He is able to get away with mistakes that he might not be able to when he’s facing a lineup multiple times. He is already at a career-high 148⅔ innings and we’re halfway through September. This is all to say that he gets why the Phillies are moving him there, and he wants to help. But it’s not a place he’d like to stay long-term.
“They’d use me all the time,” Lorenzen said of his years with the Reds. “I’d throw the eighth inning of a game, and the next day I’d throw 2⅓. It was always a lot of different roles for me. I would make starts in September. I had a four-inning save one year.
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