Victor Reyes makes case to stick with Tigers

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — Spring camp’s surprises, to date, could be tucked neatly within the Tigers’ vest pocket a week before they head north for their 2018 regular season.

But some of the gang that has shaken up an otherwise staid spring training at TigerTown continue to create a ruckus. Consider that Grapefruit League contest Tuesday on a windy, sometimes-wet afternoon, which saw the Tigers whip the Yankees, 8-3, at Joker Marchant Stadium’s Publix Field.

Tigers outfielder Victor Reyes, shown here during a spring-training game last month, had three hits Tuesday against the Yankees.

New center fielder Leonys Martin was on base three times and stole two bases, while Victor Reyes, the Rule 5 pick and outfielder, had a double and two singles. Dixon Machado, who has handed Ian Kinsler’s old job at second base, had a pair of singles and two RBIs.

BOX SCORE: Tigers 8, Yankees 3

Reyes was batting only .190 heading into Tuesday’s game, which according to forecasts and to an ever-darkening sky, was supposed to have turned Publix Field’s stands into a monsoon mosh pit.

But one thing noted about Reyes during the Grapefruit League season is that he clearly isn’t Irish. Luck hasn’t been hanging with a 23-year-old switch-hitter on a string of well-hit balls that have landed in leather.

Tuesday was different as he doubled deep to left-center in his first at-bat.  He later singled to left and followed with another single to center, all while swinging left-handed against right-handed Yankees pitchers.

“He’s staying on the ball with nice, short swings,” said Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire. “I think he feels comfortable here. I think he likes it here.”

That matters only because the Tigers continue to hold the box and receipt in which Reyes arrived as a Rule 5 draft pick from the Diamondbacks. The Tigers must either keep Reyes on the 25-man roster for the duration of 2018, or place him on waivers, and if he clears, return him to Arizona for one-half the $100,000 purchase price.

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It’s a complex process that applies, essentially, to four-year players who have been stuck in a team’s farm system and haven’t yet advanced to the 40-man roster.

The Tigers took him with last December’s first Rule 5 turn and believed an athlete with a terrific physique, who is 6-foot-3, 170 pounds, would add muscle, power, and conceivably become a future asset.

The front office is expected to ride with Reyes when the team breaks camp in a week and boards a team charter bound for Opening Day, March 29, at Comerica Park.

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“He’s had plenty of opportunities, and he’s taken advantage of them,” said Gardenhire, who saw Reyes’ average climb to .244 after Tuesday’s trio of hits. “We like him here. So, big decisions. But I don’t see anything wrong.

"I really like this kid.”

Joe Jimenez, who is moving closer to important and perhaps dominant work in the back end of Detroit’s bullpen, was overpowering in a single-inning virtuoso that featured two strikeouts. Jimenez was blasting his fastball anywhere from 95 to 97 and on Tuesday had his out pitch, his slider, going, as well. He got his first strikeout on a 96-mph heater, and his second, against Erik Kratz, on a slider that was borderline-sadistic.

“You can see his fastball is a heavy ball,” said Gardenhire, referencing sink that can make Jimenez’s pitches hard to center. “And his breaking ball can be heavy. When it hits the catcher’s mitt, it makes a loud sound.

“When he stays within himself and doesn’t try to throw 200 miles an hour, he’s fun to watch. He’s a power arm.”

Jimenez turned 23 in January and might be settling into full-time big-league work after lighting up the minors in his early years on the Tigers farm.

“I’m trying to do everything I can to get hitters out,” said Jimenez, who is 6-3, 220, and who came to realize during a bruising big-league initiation last summer that velocity wasn’t going to be as effective against hitters as location.

He also got repeat orders this spring from new Tigers pitching coach Chris Bosio to invest heart and soul in getting first-pitch strikes.

“Start with a strike and go from there,” Jimenez said. “Get that first strike and you can do (throw) whatever you want.”

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Other, more seasoned names also helped Tuesday as the Tigers pushed their Grapefruit League record to 9-13-4.

Victor Martinez maintained his fountain-of-youth March, drilling a homer to right-center, his fifth home run of the Grapefruit League season.

Miguel Cabrera added a RBI single, while Nick Castellanos launched a 420-foot sacrifice fly to center, good for another run.

Prospect right-hander Sandy Baez started for the Tigers and was adequate: three innings, four hits, one run, no walks, and no strikeouts. Shane Greene pitched a perfect frame, with two strikeouts, and Daniel Stumpf added a scoreless two-thirds of an inning.

The Yankees scored their final two runs off Paul Voelker in the eighth. John Schreiber, the Rockford native, pitched the ninth and allowed no runs, even after hitting a pair of batters.

The game was in weather peril all afternoon. The only serious moment came in the fifth, when a rain burst hit the ballpark just as Martinez was launching his home run.

Although lights remained on, and the skies were deep gray, the rain backed off and the Tigers wrapped up business in 2 hours, 45