Detroit — There aren’t many teams out of playoff contention in the American League. The Tigers are one of them, and that’s been the case for far too long.
That begs the question: Will the organization treat its September callup situation differently than in past years, and maybe promote more young players to get a head start on the evaluation process?
The answer, according to manager Brad Ausmus, appears to be no.
“I don’t think so, based on the names we’re discussing,” Ausmus said before the three-game series with the Yankees ended Thursday afternoon at Comerica Park. “I think it’ll be similar to past years.
“There’s also just a crowd factor. If you have too many people in the clubhouse, it gets overly crowded.”
Last year, in contention, the Tigers had seven September callups. In 2015, out of contention, and in 2014, en route to the playoffs, they had eight.
General manager Al Avila, his staff and Ausmus have had preliminary talks on who will get promoted once rosters can expand Sept. 1, though no names are being shared at the moment.
Most of the players are likely to come from the 40-man roster, though.
That means there’s a good chance you’ll see more of infield prospect Jeimer Candelario, acquired in last month’s trade with the Cubs, and possibly even Dawel Lugo, another infielder, acquired from the Diamondbacks for J.D. Martinez. Lugo would make the leap from Double A, Candelario from Triple A.
Right-handed reliever Victor Alcantara, acquired during the offseason from the Angels for Cameron Maybin, has pitched better since moving from Toledo to Erie, and could get a look, especially as the Tigers’ bullpen innings have skyrocketed in recent weeks.
Other names are familiar ones, and almost all in the pitching department: Chad Bell, demoted after Wednesday’s game; Buck Farmer, who could come up sooner to make Saturday’s start; and Blaine Hardy, Daniel Norris, Bruce Rondon and Kyle Ryan.
The Tigers also are likely to promote a catcher, to give them three on the roster, but that would require a 40-man roster move, as James McCann and John Hicks are the only catchers on the 40-man. Bryan Holaday is having a nice year at Toledo, and could be the pick.
“Generally,” said Ausmus, “most teams want a third catcher.”
Wild cards to watch — guys who aren’t on the 40-man — including relievers Bryan Garcia (Toledo) and Mark Ecker (Erie), members of last year’s draft class, as well as Erie sluggers Christin Stewart and Mark Gerber. Given the Tigers have a projected opening in right field for 2018, with the departure of Martinez, Stewart or Gerber could get the call.
Zac Reininger wasn’t on anyone’s radar to make it to the major leagues this season, certainly not in the spring, when he started out at Single-A Lakeland. But after rocketing through the system, to Double-A Erie and finally Triple-A Toledo, the lanky right-hander got the call after Wednesday night’s game, as the Tigers, beaten like a drum by the Yankees the previous two games, needed a fresh arm.
Reininger, 24, was the pick, and assuming he pitches, he becomes the fifth member of the Tigers’ 2013 draft class to make the major leagues. He joins Corey Knebel, Farmer, Chad Green (now with the Yankees) and Joe Mantiply.
It’s not quite the jump that Farmer made in 2014, from Single-A West Michigan to the Tigers. But it’s still pretty impressive.
Interestingly, Farmer’s promotion was recommended by then-minor-league pitching coach Mike Henneman, who had a profound impact on Reininger, too. Reininger grew up not throwing very hard, so he relied on off-speed stuff until Henneman got a hold of him.
“He just taught me to pretty much trust my fastball,” Reininger said. “I was always just a big curveball-, change-up-type of guy, slider. I never really trusted my fastball to get outs.”
Reininger didn’t always have the velocity he has now, in the mid- to upper-90s. He was low 90s before having Tommy John surgery in July 2015.
In 63.2 innings across three stops this season, he’s struck out 60 and walked 18, while allowing just 42 hits.
He was especially impressive at Erie, where he carried a 0.863 WHIP.
“It’s as if a switch flipped when he arrived in Erie in June,” said Tigers prospect evaluator Emily Waldon, of The Athletic Detroit. “And he’s shown some of the best stuff I’ve seen from him since then.”
Around the horn
Ausmus said he knows who will make Saturday’s start in Chicago, but he wasn’t sharing before Thursday’s game — because he hadn’t yet told said pitcher. An announcement was expected following the series finale against the Yankees. Farmer would seem the ideal option, given he’s been pitching really well for quite some time at Triple-A Toledo, and he’d be on plenty of rest.
The pitcher will start in Anibal Sanchez’s place, as he’s on the disabled list with a hamstring injury. Sanchez threw Wednesday and “felt good,” Ausmus said, and he was scheduled to throw again before Thursday’s game.
... Ten years ago Thursday — or, Friday — the Tigers had one of their most memorable wins in franchise history, when, after a four-hour rain delay, they played 11 innings against the Yankees at Comerica Park, finally winning on Carlos Guillen’s walk-off homer at 3:30 in the morning. Well after midnight, ballpark staff opened the gates and let anybody in, with or without a ticket. Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” blared as Guillen rounded the bases.
... The Tigers’ pregame notes, compiled by the public relations staff for the media, are almost always positive — as they are with almost all clubs — but even they seem resigned to the season’s fate. One section in Thursday’s notes was titled, “Struggle Bus.”
... The Tigers-Twins game Sunday, Sept. 24, is moving its first pitch up to 12:10 to help lessen the congestion downtown, with the Lions also playing.
On deck: White Sox
Series: Three games, Friday-Sunday, Guaranteed Rate Field, Chicago
First pitch: 8:10 Friday, 7:10 Saturday, 2:10 Sunday
TV/radio: All three games on FSD/97.1
Series probables: Friday — RHP Justin Verlander (9-8, 3.96) vs. RHP Miguel Gonzalez (7-10, 4.44); Saturday — TBD vs. LHP Carlos Rodon (2-4, 3.88); Sunday — LHP Matt Boyd (5-7, 6.24) vs. RHP Lucas Giolito (0-1, 6.00)
■Verlander, Tigers: He’s been spectacular over his last nine starts, with a 2.36 ERA and .189 opponents’ batting average. In two of his last three starts, he’s flirted with what would’ve been his third career no-hitter.
■Gonzalez, White Sox: He’s faced the Tigers three times this year, with one decent start and two pretty awful ones. Twice, the Tigers have roughed him up for six earned runs, on a combined 24 hits.