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With JaCoby Jones out, Tigers move Victor Reyes to center, call up Derek Hill

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Milwaukee — Michael Fulmer took a deep breath. He’d just been told that center fielder JaCoby Jones broke a bone in his hand and would miss the rest of the season.

“That’s what I was afraid of,” he said. “Tough blow. He’s been a spark plug for this team all year. His hitting, his defense, his leadership in the dugout. It sucks losing a guy like that.”

Especially the day after veteran outfielder Cameron Maybin was traded, especially as the Tigers have found their stride with six straight wins and wedged themselves into the playoff race for the first time since 2016.

Derek Hill.

So in the midst of feeling good about a 12-1 romp over the Brewers Tuesday, there was also a sense of foreboding.

Jones is out. Shortstop Niko Goodrum, in the midst of a deep hitting slump, clutched at his oblique after his at-bat in the eighth inning. He was expected to undergo tests Wednesday morning.

“We need to sort this out,” manager Ron Gardenhire said Tuesday night. “There’s a lot going on here. But it’s part of it. We need to keep playing. Just turn the page.”

Or as reliever Bryan Garcia put it, “We need to have that next-man-up mentality in here. Just keep pushing forward and keep winning games.”

Next man up in center field is Victor Reyes, who is the club’s hottest hitter at the moment. He had three singles, a 416-foot home run and knocked in a career-high five runs Tuesday. Since Aug. 14, he’s hitting .333 with three doubles, two triples and two home runs.

“Since last year I have played all three outfield positions, so I am very comfortable with that,” Reyes said through interpreter Carlos Guillen.

“It doesn’t matter where the manager puts me, I’ll be there and I’ll be ready.”

Gardenhire isn’t worried as much about filling the center field void as he is about the trickle-down effect of moving Reyes out of right field.

“Reyes has grown into a player at this level, he proves it every night,” Gardenhire said. “I won’t have to tell Rey-Rey nothing, just go out and have fun like you’ve been doing.

"We will miss JaCoby but Reyes will do his job.”

Jorge Bonifacio started in right field and Christin Stewart in left Wednesday against right-hander Adrian Houser. But earlier in the day on Tigers’ flagship radio station 97.1 on Wednesday morning, Gardenhire announced that outfielder Derek Hill will be called up from the alternative site in Toledo.

“He’s going to bring it, where we can make defensive shifts late in the game,” Gardenhire said on 97.1. “He’s got a little bit to learn about hitting and he’s got to figure that out as we go along here.”

Hill, 24, is a former first-round pick, was one of the standouts in both spring and summer camps. He’s probably the best defensive center fielder in the Tigers’ organization and a fast and instinctive base runner.

“The team is united,” Reyes said. “We’re all together and we want to win. We’re motivated and everybody is trying to do their part on the field. It was very bad news for the team to lose JaCoby. He gives defense. He gives offense.

“But no matter what, we have to keep moving forward and trying to win games.”

Gardenhire held Goodrum out of the lineup Wednesday, but said he was available to play.

"I'm going to try not to use him, that way he gets two days off," Gardenhire said. The Tigers are off Thursday before starting a five-games, four-days series in Minnesota. "He said he was fine, but he's a little sore and we're not taking any chances."

Willi Castro, who in his last six games is 9 for 22 with two doubles, a triple and a home run, got the start at shortstop, with Isaac Paredes starting at third base.

“We have a lot of confidence in here right now and this group is playing together,” Gardenhire said. “This may not continue for a long period of time; there will always be ups and downs in this game. But right now, there’s a lot of confidence in this clubhouse, guys are feeling it and it shows on the field.”

Twitter: @cmccosky