Newest Tiger John Hicks shares alma mater with Verlander

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Justin Verlander attended Goochland (Va.) High, same as Tigers teammate John Hicks.

Kansas City, Mo. — When John Hicks was in grade school, he would sit in the stands and watch the high school team play. His brother Daniel was the first baseman. The pitcher was a local hero named Justin Verlander. 

By the time Hicks was playing and winning a state title at Goochland High School, Verlander was pitching in the World Series for the Tigers. 

And now, they are teammates.

Hicks, a catcher, was called up from Triple A Toledo along with pitcher Buck Farmer on Wednesday.  

“(Verlander) and my brother are still really good friends,” Hicks said. “His brother (Ben) was a sophomore when I was a senior, so we played one year together.”

Pretty good harvest from a small, Single A high school in Virginia.

“Our brothers and us had a good run,” Hicks said. “My junior year we won state. Through the years with Justin, they made it pretty deep in the playoffs, but never won it. We had some good teams, but we were a smaller high school.

“We had maybe four or five guys play college ball.”

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Hicks, 27, played 17 games with the Mariners last season, but he was a casualty of the front office overhaul in Seattle. He was released, signed by the Twins in the offseason and released again two weeks into the season.

So far, he’s made the most of the life-raft the Tigers extended. He hit .310 with 10 home runs at Toledo, managed by Lloyd McClendon, who was his manager in Seattle last season.

“I’m having a much better offensive year,” he said. “I’m more comfortable at the plate, just kind of more relaxed.”

He has put to good use some helpful tips he got from Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager.

“I spent a lot of time talking to Kyle Seager about hitting,” Hicks said. “It’s helped me out a lot. I used a lot of that this offseason, working on it in the cage and now I feel a lot more comfortable at the plate.”

Seager talked to him about balance and weight shift and how to generate more power with the lower part of the body.

“It’s about where you want to feel your weight,” he said. “You create a kind of coil in the lower body and then you unravel to create more power. You would think trying to create more power would cause me not to see the ball as well but, being in my legs so much more, it’s kind of a more calm approach to the ball.

“I feel a lot better.”

Hicks may not see a lot of time behind the plate with James McCann and Jarrod Saltalamacchia sharing the load. But he will give manager Brad Ausmus another right-handed hitting bat off the bench. 

Nick taking swings

Third baseman Nick Castellanos (fractured hand) took 25 swings off a tee with a fungo bat Friday. Ausmus said he still felt the occasional sting, which is expected.

Ausmus hopes he can be back in two weeks, but Castellanos has many more hurdles to get over.

“He still has to progress from (a) fungo to a bat, then from tee work to soft toss to batting practice,” Ausmus said. “He still hasn’t fielded balls. We’re just going to take it day by day.”

Another issue is that he’s not going to have anywhere to play rehab games. The minor league season ends, Sept. 5, and the instructional leagues don’t start until Sept. 18.

“I guess he’ll have to play in simulated games,” Ausmus said. “There’s not going to be anywhere for him to go.” 

Around the horn

Center fielder Cameron Maybin (thumb) took batting practice Friday, but still felt some discomfort. Ausmus said he will be evaluated daily.

… Erick Aybar got the start at third base Friday, just his second start there ever. Was he worried about it? “No, no,” he said. “It’s a little bit quicker there, but it’s the same. You have to catch the ball. Same as at shortstop. Just catch the ball.”

Twitter: @cmccosky