DETROIT -- The Tigers face day-night doubleheaders on three of the next seven Saturdays as they make up for early season postponements, leaving them in need of a sixth starter for at least three starts. Their decision on the first of those assignments shows it won't be an automatic choice.
Though left-hander Robbie Ray appeared to be in line for Saturday's doubleheader start after filling in for Anibal Sanchez in May, fellow Triple-A Toledo hurler Drew VerHagen will get the assignment for the first game of Saturday's doubleheader against Cleveland at Comerica Park.
The team confirmed the decision Thursday. The Tigers can use MLB's 26th-player rule for doubleheaders -- a rule former manager Jim Leyland helped get enacted a few years ago -- to call up VerHagen without having to send anyone down, though they'll still have to add him to the 40-man roster.
It'll be the Major League debut for VerHagen, a 23-year-old right-hander who found the fast track up the organizational ladder last year after the Tigers selected the former Vanderbilt standout in the fourth round of the 2012 Draft. He entered the year ranked 12th on MLB.com's list of Top 20 Tigers prospects.
Tom Reisenweber, who covers the Double-A Erie SeaWolves for the Erie Times-News, first reported Wednesday that VerHagen was getting called up after all previous indications pointed to Ray.
Ray, the Tigers' top pitching prospect after coming over from Washington in the Doug Fister trade, got an extra day's rest before his last start on Sunday, putting him on track to start this coming Saturday on an extra day's rest. Then he gave up eight runs on 11 hits over 4 1/3 innings to Pawtucket, leaving him with 12 runs allowed on 15 hits over 7 1/3 innings in his last two outings.
VerHagen, meanwhile, has pitched fairly well in the same Mud Hens rotation for the past month, allowing nine earned runs over 33 1/3 innings in his last five starts. He owns a 6-7 record and 3.67 ERA on the season, allowing 117 hits over 110 1/3 innings with 25 walks and 63 strikeouts. He's more of a ground-ball pitcher thanks to a sinking fastball.
From a matchup standpoint, the Indians field a predominantly left-handed lineup that hits 15 points higher off righties with a 70-point difference in OPS. However, the Tigers have shown the last couple years that they want their pitching callups to be based on who's pitching best, not simply seniority or matchups. As Leyland often emphasized, it's a reward, not a given.
That philosophy will bear watching again next month, when the Tigers have day-night doubleheaders on the road on back-to-back Saturdays against the Twins and White Sox. Those late August matchups will take place near the end of the Minor League seasons, and just before rosters expand Sep. 1.