April 15, 2024

Angels’ Reid Detmers wants to be a top MLB starter. Can he finally put it all together?

BALTIMORE — Among the various stats that have fallen out of favor in modern baseball, none may have seen a steeper dive than the pitcher win. Pitchers used to covet 20-win seasons somewhat regardless of ERA; the last Cy Young Award              winner to boast 20 wins now dates back to 2019. As starters go fewer and fewer innings, and analytics more reliably showcase strengths and weaknesses, the pitcher win is simply not the measuring stick it once was.

Reid Detmers understands and is aware of this reality. He’s not an old head stuck in a bygone era. But for the 23-year-old southpaw, his win-loss record means more to him than anything else.

“The more wins you have, you’re helping the team,” Detmers said. “You’re getting deeper into games. Which saves the bullpen. You’re contributing to the team a lot more. I’m not saying if you go six innings every time, you’ll get the win … but you’re giving your all.

“It means a lot more than just the stats say. It’s not important to some people. I’m not bothered by that.”

Detmers has shown flashes of utter dominance. His no-hitter against the Rays in 2022. His immaculate innings just a few months later. He again came within five outs of a no-hitter against the eventual World Champion Texas Rangers last season. Then he struck out seven and walked none four starts later.

When Detmers is on, there are few better. But to highlight only the good times would be an inaccurate reflection of the slog that his MLB career has been to date. Those great moments have come with a career 4.37 ERA and 1.32 WHIP. He’s been optioned to address mechanical issues, and he’s been open about the issues finding consistency with his slider — a pitch he throws nearly one-third of the time.

But this year, Detmers’ goal is to be the guy. To consistently showcase the talent that made him the draft’s No. 10 pick just four years ago. To stack up wins, because at the end of the day, that’s all that really counts. He will have his first opportunity Sunday against the Baltimore Orioles.

“The sky’s the limit,” said fellow starting pitcher Patrick Sandoval. “A young lefty that throws gas and has quality off-speed stuff. I think he’s got the potential to be one of the better pitchers in our game.”

The slider is arguably Detmers’ most important pitch. And last season, he was unable to get a feel for it. When asked if it was grip or release point that dogged him, Detmers quipped, “There was a lot.”

Detmers has thrown the slider the same way his entire life. With success in high school. College. The minor leagues. And, at times, in the bigs. He said that it took a lot mentally for him to accept that it needed to change.

Amid offseason pens, he said to himself, “I’m over this.” He used to “spike it,” referring to a more unusual slider grip, where the index finger is curved near the seam. He switched to a standard slider grip, and feels the ceiling for its effectiveness is just as high, while the floor for its failure is also elevated.

“I’m not as worried about the slider for him,” said Angels pitching coach Barry Enright, while noting the potential for increased changeup usage. “The mechanical things that come in, we talked about his leg drive. We moved him a touch toward the center of the rubber instead of the third-base side. To keep the slider on the plate, you have to almost throw it at the lefty batter. We’re trying to keep this thing on the white.”

While there are those minor adjustments, Enright said the only thing he’s really had to talk with Detmers about is body language and confidence. Because, when it comes to pitching, “he has everything.”

Reid Detmers has a 12-19 career record and 4.37 ERA over three seasons. (Leonard Ortiz / MediaNews Group / Orange County Register via Getty Images)

Enright could talk pitching mechanics and science for hours without so much as a sip of water. He also understands that what Detmers needs is less mechanics and science. It’s mental. It’s belief. An intangible, yes, but still so critical.

Part of that mentality means allowing bad things to happen. Not letting an outing devolve because a run scores in the first inning, or if the pitch count elevates. If runners are on first and third, ending the inning is more important than escaping it completely unscathed.

“For him, it’s never stuff,” Enright said. “In big moments, you’re not always going to get it done, but you have to be in the right mindset to get it done. You have to have the right confidence to get it done. It takes a strong mentality.

“But also big balls.”

Enright started a drill in spring training called “Chaos.” It’s a regular bullpen. But it’s done on a back field, with music playing. And fans brought in and riled up to scream and yell and remove him from the comforts that often accompany spring.

Not every pitcher participated in Chaos. But Detmers did. And it was for this reason. His outings have often devolved. Chaos has been his nemesis. And this drill was to face it head-on. So it no longer costs him those coveted wins. And, more importantly, the team. Detmers needed to improve his mentality and mechanics, and believes he’s put himself in position to do that.

His goals are clear. He wants to throw more than 180 innings. He wants to have 10-15 wins, or more. He said he sets numerical goals as a way to push himself mentally to get better. This will be his fourth year in the majors. It’s time.

“Obviously there’s a lot that goes into that,” Detmers said. “It’s not always going to go your way. But if I give it my all. If I give everything I have, and I’ve prepared for it, I don’t see anything holding us back.”

The Angels’ rotation was a sore spot in 2023. Not simply because they struggled, but because pitchers like Detmers and Sandoval did not take the step forward that everyone was expecting. They entered that season hoping to become the one-two punch that felt painfully possible. It was right within their grasp, and that remains the case.

They’ll be in a five-man rotation, the centerpiece of the pitching staff with Shohei Ohtani on a new team. If this ballclub has any shot, it will need Detmers to be the guy. The pitcher who goes deep into games, carries his team. And most importantly to him, stacks up wins.

“If you want to be a starting pitcher in this league, you want to be one of the best,” Detmers said. “You want to have success. And you want to be known. And I think that’s my way of setting my personal goals. If I want to be who I want to be, this is how I’m going to get there.”

(Top photo of Reid Detmers: Michael Owens / Getty Images)