If you had to grade the Tigers after their first 10 games of spring training, they’d grade out pretty well.
That might come as a surprise to some, as it didn’t take much effort to board the doom train this year, other than elbowing your way through the crowd. And it might not matter much come October, or April for that matter. But looking at the team today, you’d have to be pretty well pleased.
A list of concerns entering spring training would focus heavy on the health of Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. So far, so good. It would include Nick Castellanos taking an additional step forward at the plate. He has. And even manager Ron Gardenhire has brought a renewed feeling after 2017 ended in such a dismal way.
It’s not all good, of course. Michael Fulmer’s latest health scare will result in the installation of panic buttons wherever Tigers fans can be found. Then you have Travis Wood, briefly exciting and then lost for the year with an ACL injury.
With that all in mind, here are three reasons to be a little more optimistic than two weeks ago, and one to tamp those hopes back down.
■ Reason to be optimistic: Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez are both healthy
It’s hard to give much credence to any spring training statistics after just 10 games. But it’s safe to say you’d rather see a good sign or two when glancing at them rather than a line of doom.
Martinez is the chief provider of good feelings on that front, with two home runs in six games.
If we reach the end of spring training and Cabrera’s lack of extra-base power remains an issue, then you can start to worry.
But for now, both veteran players are saying the right things and both appear to be much healthier than the way they ended their seasons.
Even if the team’s win and loss columns don’t matter much this year, having Cabrera and Martinez both happy and healthy will make 2018 more fun for everyone.
■ Reason to be optimistic: Nick Castellanos
Castellanos has taken 15 at-bats this spring. He has six hits. Three of them were home runs, and another hit was a triple.
There’s a lot of ways this season could go for Detroit, and in the bigger picture whether it’s a success or failure doesn’t necessarily have much to do with the standings.
Castellanos has a chance to cement himself as a young leader and be part of the future. Or he has a chance to cement himself and be part of a playoff team’s future.
Either is fine for Detroit. You could even argue the second option would be for the best.
■ Reason to be optimistic: Ron Gardenhire runs a good club
Cabrera ran a stop sign at third base on Sunday and was thrown out at home plate. This kind of baserunning blunder seemed commonplace when former manager Brad Ausmus was at the helm. And if it wasn’t one veteran player doing what he wanted, it was another.
More of an elder statesman, Gardenhire spoke with Cabrera about the decision rather than let it go unchecked. Cabrera was just testing his legs, but this is the kind of move you hope to see from the team’s skipper.
You can go overboard about the importance of a manager. The players win or lose games with their abilities more often than not. But like with Jim Leyland instilling the idea of playing the game the right way, Gardenhire can leave his mark on the organization and its young players for years to come.
■ Reason to worry: Michael Fulmer experiences elbow soreness
When Fulmer was traded to Detroit in 2015, the chief concern that came coupled with him was his ability to stay healthy. He did that in 2016, the season of his major-league debut, and the result was worthy of the American League Rookie of the Year award.
Fulmer landed on the disabled list in August of his second year, and later underwent surgery on the ulnar nerve in his throwing elbow.
On Sunday he missed a scheduled start after suffering muscular soreness. The Tigers say this isn’t cause for concern — and maybe it isn’t.
But it’s hard to keep the worry meter in a safe zone. The Tigers don’t exactly have much of a backup plan for the rotation. Losing their closest thing to an ace early in the season would be tough.
Kurt Mensching is a freelance writer.