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'It's a hard year': Tigers' Ron Gardenhire feeling effects of virus-impacted season

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Cleveland – Fox Sports Detroit analyst and Hall of Famer Jack Morris popped on manager Ron Gardenhire’s pre-game Zoom conference Sunday, not to ask a question, but to deliver some support.

“For what it’s worth, I’m pulling for you, kid,” Morris said. “You just keep smiling. I’m pulling for you. It’s a crazy world. Hang in there.”

Huh?

Ron Gardenhire

Had to ask: Gardy, is everything OK? Are you feeling good?

“Other than just tired,” he said. “I’m a little worn out. Traveling wears you down and the thought of this COVID stuff – that’s on my mind a lot. Other than that, I’m good to go.”

Gardenhire had reached out to Indians manager Terry Francona on Saturday. Francona is recovering from a gastrointestinal procedure and has been away from his team this entire series.

“I texted him and told him I was thinking about him,” Gardenhire said. “He said it’s been tough, a tough road. Hopefully he will get through this thing. It’s tough for everybody and especially tough for him. He’s had some health issues.”

So has Gardenhire, who at 62 has fought through prostrate cancer. Both he and Francona are considered high risk for the COVID-19. He had empathy for how tough it must be for Francona to be away from his team.

More: Risk-reward? Tigers won't discourage Casey Mize from using split-fingered fastball

“It’s very difficult,” he said. “I love these guys here. You rely on them and my coaches, all of them, to do the right thing. You’re traveling around with this COVID thing all over the place, you see what’s happened to other teams – it’s definitely a different year.

“It’s a hard year and we’re just trying to get through it. I think that’s about as good as I can put it. It’s not easy.”

Caging Niko Goodrum 

Slump or no slump, shortstop Niko Goodrum was none-too-pleased about getting the night off Saturday.

“He was pretty frustrated that I didn’t play him yesterday,” Gardenhire said. “Niko battles. He puts everything into every day he plays baseball, he really does. But sometimes players don’t understand. You know what, you’re struggling a little bit, take a deep breath.

“He didn’t enjoy yesterday at all. He was mad at me and that’s fine.”

Goodrum was in a 3-for-35 tailspin with 14 strikeouts. Hitting coach Joe Vavra spent the better part of the day Saturday working with him. Gardenhire returned Goodrum to the lineup Sunday.

“I’d rather have a guy mad at me like that than another guy who doesn’t give a flip,” Gardenhire said. “Niko puts everything thing he has into every day, every at-bat, every game. That’s why I love him. That’s why I enjoy him.

“He’s in there today, so he’s happy. He might even say hi to me.”

Around the horn 

For the first time this season, Jonathan Schoop was not in the starting lineup. Gardenhire said Schoop was feeling some soreness in his hamstring. “He said he might need a day and that’s an amazing statement in itself,” Gardenhire said. Schoop didn’t take off any Grapefruit League games or intrasquad games, either.

… Gardenhire had said he would try to give Miguel Cabrera a break when the Tigers played a day game after a night game. Yet, Cabrera was in the lineup Sunday. “Miggy wants to play,” Gardenhire said. “He said he’d like to stay in there. I’ve got no problem with that.”

… First baseman Jeimer Candelario is having the best month of his career. After an 0-for-17 start in July, Candelario is slashing .359/.388/.625 in 17 games this month. His OPS is 1.013 and he’s produced five doubles, three triples, two home runs and 10 RBIs.

On deck: Cubs 

Series: Three-game series at Comerica Park.

First pitch: Monday-Wednesday – 7:10 p.m.

TV/radio: Monday – FS1, FSD, 97.1; Tuesday-Wednesday – FSD, 97.1.

Probables: Monday – RHP Alec Mills (2-2, 4.76) vs. Casey Mize (0-0, 6.23); Tuesday – TBA vs. RHP Spencer Turnbull (2-2, 3.65); Wednesday – LHP Jon Lester (2-1, 5.06) vs. RHP Michael Fulmer (0-0, 9.53).

Mills, Cubs: He throws five pitches with a velocity range of 66-90 mph, including a super-slow mid-60s curveball. He’s not a big strikeout pitcher, but the exit velocity (82.9 mph) and hard-hit rate (25.4) on balls in play against him is among the lowest in baseball among starting pitchers.

Mize, Tigers: Making his Comerica Park debut, Mize is coming off, what was for him a bittersweet debut. He was the first Tiger pitcher ever to record seven strikeouts and no walks in his debut, but he faltered in the fifth inning, giving back a 3-1 lead.

Twitter @cmccosky