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Detroit Tigers' Tyler Alexander joins starting rotation, forces Daniel Norris to bullpen

Nine consecutive strikeouts sure did the trick.

Detroit Tigers left-hander Tyler Alexander entered the 2020 season with hopes of making the starting rotation, but manager Ron Gardenhire went a different direction, using two openers in the fourth and fifth spots for the first 10 games of the season.

"Personally, I think I'm physically in a good spot," Alexander said July 29, "and I can start if they want to give me the chance."

As it turns out, Alexander forced Gardenhire's hand in Game 1 of Sunday's doubleheader — the last day the Tigers played entering Friday's contest — with nine strikeouts in a row against the Cincinnati Reds. His mark set a record for relief pitchers and tied Tigers and American League records.

On Friday, Gardenhire announced Alexander is moving to the starting rotation. He is expected to start Tuesday against the Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park in the No. 5 spot. To make room for him, the Tigers are putting Daniel Norris in the bullpen.

[ Tyler Alexander on AL strikeout record: 'I don’t know about special' ]

"He's been throwing really, really well," Gardenhire said. "Hopefully, we can get Norris to come in and do some of the same things that he did, and get his confidence back and then go from there. But, yeah, Alexander would be the best fit."

Alexander's emergence means prized right-hander Casey Mize is likely to remain in Toledo with the reserve squad, but Alexander gets a second opportunity to prove he deserves to be a mainstay in the rotation.

[ The one thing Detroit Tigers must fix amid COVID-19 postponement ]

Last year, Alexander started eight of 13 games. As a starter, he posted a 1-4 record with a 4.54 ERA, 1.464 WHIP and 35 strikeouts against five walks in 41⅔ innings. In his five games as a reliever, he allowed eight runs in 12 innings.

He has a 1.17 ERA with 13 strikeouts (only one walk) in 7⅔ innings out of the bullpen so far this season.

"He started for us last year, just this is the way we started out this year," Gardenhire said. "Hoping to fill that spot and see how guys would do it. We used a couple of openers in those situations. And then, of course, Alexander has been dominant. I mean, my goodness, he struck out nine in a row to set the (reliever) record."

[ Alexander wants to be a starter but is making most of bullpen role ]

Norris made his season debut in Game 2 of Sunday's doubleheader, giving up two runs on four hits and two walks in 1⅔ innings. He didn't record a strikeout in his first game back from a positive COVID-19 test. 

Gardenhire is planning to use Norris as a piggyback reliever Monday following right-handed starter Michael Fulmer's three-inning limit. Last season, Norris tossed 29 of 32 games in a starting role with a 4.49 ERA in 144⅓ innings.

"It just didn't look like he was ready to do this on a starting basis," Gardenhire said. "He misfired all over the place, and I think he was a little overwhelmed. But we think he will eventually be back in it. We just got to get him to calm down and get him some easier innings to get his confidence back up."

And after nine consecutive strikeouts Sunday, Gardenhire is sure Alexander will be confident come Tuesday — something the Tigers desperately need from the back-end of the rotation.

"It's what he wants to do," Gardenhire said. "So it's really an easy change."

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