From surprise All-Star to no-hitter: Phillies’ Michael Lorenzen bet on his own potential and then proved it

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 The English language might need more than one word to contain the confidence of Michael Lorenzen. The career of the 31-year-old pitcher who fired a no-hitter in his second start for the Philadelphia Phillies Wednesday night has, in many ways, been a study in confidence — one form of it, at least.

Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Michael Lorenzen celebrates after pitching a no-hitter against the Washington Nationals on Wednesday in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Relegated to the bullpen as a rookie, when his first 21 starts for the 2015 Cincinnati Reds didn’t go swimmingly, Lorenzen continued to state his case as a potential starter. He established himself as a useful major-league relief pitcher across six more seasons under the Reds’ control and hit free agency after 2021. At that point, he did something uncommon. He eschewed multi-year offers to locate teams that viewed him as a starter.

That meant a one-year deal with the Los Angeles Angels in 2022, and then another one-year deal with the Detroit Tigers this year. Betting on himself, Lorenzen told the Athletic when he signed his deal with the Angels, was his M.O.

“I never take the safe route,” Lorenzen said. “I never do. Sometimes it comes back to bite you. Other times, you come out on top.”

That’s confidence. But not the blinding, self-aggrandizing kind.

When he came to the ballpark on July 2, Tigers manager A.J. Hinch pulled Lorenzen into his office in a way that got Lorenzen’s guard up. Initially, he thought he had been traded (that would come about a month later). At the time, though, Lorenzen got some news that was more surprising: he was an All-Star.

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“I'm like, 'This is fishy, but there's no way that I made the All-Star Game. There's absolutely no way.' And then he told me that I did, and I kind of broke down,” Lorenzen told reporters at the time.

“I was like, 'I'm a mid-4,’” Lorenzen said, referencing his ERA. “’How did I make the All-Star team?'”

It was an unforgiving self-assessment, but admittedly accurate. That initial deal with his hometown Angels didn’t go quite as he planned, with injuries and walk issues (which doubters might have called mighty reliever-ish) limiting him to 18 starts and 97 2/3 innings in 2022. His 2023 ERA at the moment he was named an All-Star was 4.28, and his career ERA as a starting pitcher was 4.55.

“I feel like every year I feel like I’m good enough,” Lorenzen told the Athletic about the All-Star honors. “I’ve always felt like I’m good enough. Just kind of getting recognized is special.”

His next time out, a new type of confidence seemed to be flowing through him. He left for Seattle and the All-Star festivities fresh off a scoreless outing.

“I’m going into the break with a ton of confidence,” Lorenzen said, “more confidence than I’ve ever had, to be honest.”

In that one month and one week since adding the All-Star badge to his Baseball-Reference page, Lorenzen reeled off a string of scoreless starts for the Tigers, emerged as one of the most sought-after pitchers at the trade deadline, landed with the Phillies in the heat of the postseason race and eclipsed his career-high innings total with an 8-inning gem against the Miami Marlins in his first post-trade start.

Then, on Wednesday night, he hurled a no-hitter — which doubled as his first complete game in the majors.

Lorenzen now has a 1.11 ERA in 40 2/3 innings since he got the All-Star news, tops among all MLB starters who have thrown at least 30 innings since July 1. His overall ERA is no longer in the mid-4s, but the far more prestigious mid-3s — 3.23 to be exact.

Perhaps appropriately, the no-no started with some shaky control, some doubt. Having issued a walk in each of the first two innings, Lorenzen told the Phillies' broadcast postgame he was upset at himself for ruining his chances at going deep in the game. From there, he segued beautifully into the part where he overcomes those doubts.

One of Lorenzen’s chief challenges, in his later-career bid to vault from the bullpen to the rotation, has been settling on an arsenal that grants him the ability to work through a lineup multiple times. Last season, he likely had too many options. With the Tigers, he pared down the choices — largely dropping a cutter that he had used almost as often as his four-seam fastball. Now, he mostly showcases the four-seamer, a slider and, yes, a changeup.

The changeup has traditionally been a major hurdle for starters, a diversion point for bullpen-bound arms? Lorenzen has a good one. On Wednesday night, he deployed it 37 times in 124 pitches against a Nationals lineup that was stacked with six left-handed hitters.

Lorenzen always thought he could do this, maybe not the no-hitter, but something like this. That was confidence. What he is actually doing right now, stifling major-league lineups and going deep into games for a Phillies team with October aspirations? That is something more. It’s proof. Whether he found that proof in the All-Star recognition or the trade buzz or the exhilaration of stepping into a key role for the contending Phillies, or even when the last out dropped into the mitt of Johan Rojas, Lorenzen won’t need any words for confidence now. He doesn’t have to explain himself anymore.

“Don’t let other people tell you,” he said in the postgame interview, “what you can and can’t do.”

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