Detroit — Manager Brad Ausmus said before the Tigers loss on Friday that he wasn’t ready to go into full developmental-mode just yet.
“Right now, we are still trying to win baseball games,” he said. “I’m not saying there won’t be some things that happen here and there, or moves here and there that aren’t related to development.
“But for now, we are just trying to win games.”
Certainly, the front office, and most of the fan base would like to see the focus shift to development and try to sort out who is and isn’t part of the future building plans. Toward that end, Ausmus announced Saturday that third baseman Nick Castellanos would start working in right field.
“We’re just going to see how it goes,” said Ausmus. “We aren’t going to put him in a game — we are weeks away from putting him in a game.”
Castellanos, while working outfield drills with coach Dave Clark, will continue to get the bulk of the starts at third base.
It is expected that soon, Dixon Machado will start to get more regular playing time, alternating in at shortstop and second base for Jose Iglesias and Ian Kinsler.
Ausmus had already given right-hander Joe Jimenez a regular, albeit low-leverage, bullpen role. Right-hander Drew VerHagen had a short audition in the rotation and it seems his future is as a relief pitcher.
John Hicks will likely get extended playing time down the stretch, as well.
But beyond that, Ausmus doesn’t know what people are expecting him to do until the rosters are expanded on Sept. 1.
“We don’t really have a lot of options, in that sense,” he said. “Even in September. What am I going to do, sit Justin Upton down? Sit Miguel Cabrera down? Not play Nick Castellanos? There aren’t a lot of things we can do.
“And there aren’t a lot of position players down there (at Triple-A Toledo) that are ready to step in and be major league regulars. Probably there are one or two things that could happen, but there’s not a ton of options.”
It will be interesting to see how much playing time a struggling Victor Martinez (2 for his last 26 entering Saturday) gets in the final month of the season. If Cabrera gets more starts as the designated hitter, it would open up more playing time for Hicks at first base.
But Ausmus said Martinez will continue to be the regular designated hitter.
“He’s our best option,” he said. “We are an extremely right-handed hitting team.”
Ausmus said Martinez’s long track record affords him a longer leash.
“He gets his work in and he does everything he’s supposed to be doing,” Ausmus said. “And he’s still actually hitting the ball better than his numbers show.”
James McCann is still expected to get the bulk of the starts behind the plate.
There will likely be juggling of the starting rotation in September, as well. Daniel Norris, barring any setback, will be ready to rejoin the rotation at the beginning of the month.
Last week Ausmus said going to a six-man rotation was “not out of the realm of possibility.”
It seems unlikely that any starting pitcher other than Norris would be added to the rotation, barring injury.
So, if we may try to project, here are five players who could be summoned after Sept. 1.
■ Center fielder JaCoby Jones. He was the team’s starting center fielder on Opening Day but his offensive struggles validated what the Tigers thought all along — that he needed another year of seasoning in Triple-A. He has been swinging the bat better in recent weeks. If he is called up, he would likely play center and Mikie Mahtook, who has proven himself a reliable every-day player, could be moved to right field.
“Mikie has done a good job, really,” Ausmus said. “He’s a good center fielder. If you had a great center fielder, Mikie would be a very good corner outfielder.”
■ Third baseman Jeimer Candelario. He is the organization’s No. 3-rated prospect and will vie for a spot on the 25-man roster next spring. If Castellanos’ transition to the outfield is smooth, Candelario could get the bulk of the third base starts in the final couple of weeks.
■ Left-handed pitcher Jairo Labourt. He’s the third left-handed pitcher the Tigers got in the David Price trade in 2015, along with Norris and Matthew Boyd. He’s got electric stuff and when he’s throwing strikes, he’s been nearly unhittable at every level. The problem is, and has been, he doesn't throw strikes often enough.
■ Outfielder Jim Adduci. This isn’t a sure bet. Even though Adduci produced in his brief time with the Tigers this season, if they don’t believe he is in the plans for next season, they may not call him back up. This can be a cold business.
■ Right-handed pitcher Bryan Garcia. The all-time saves leader at the University of Miami has shot through the Tigers’ system, going from High-A Lakeland to Toledo this season and not missing a beat at any stop. He would have to be added to the 40-man roster to be called up, which would be an easy transaction since there is still one spot open.
Other possibilities include infielder Dawel Lugo, who is at Double-A Erie, right-handed starter Buck Farmer, as well as left-handed pitchers Blaine Hardy and Kyle Ryan.