Cleveland – In a different year – perhaps in any of the last three seasons in Detroit – rookie Victor Reyes would have been pinch-hit for Tuesday with the Tigers trailing by a run with one out in the ninth inning against veteran Indians closer Cody Allen.
But maybe in any of those other seasons, the Tigers wouldn’t have a Rule 5 outfielder who hadn’t played above Double-A on the roster.
And maybe the pinch-hitting options would have been more experienced than John Hicks, Mikie Mahtook or Jose Iglesias.
These are different times. The Tigers are rebuilding, and while the goal is still to win games, the emphasis is on player development. So Reyes batted and struck out on four pitches.
This is the line manager Ron Gardenhire will walk all season – trying to win games while still keeping the longer view in focus.
“We come with a plan to win as many games as we can, also with the understanding that we have young players and there are going to be growing pains,” he said. “You’ve got to go with them and ride them and hopefully teach along the way.
“Is this a different feeling? I can’t say it is. I don’t go to the ballpark any day thinking, ‘We’re just going to figure out a way to get through it and let these guys play.’ We come to try to beat you every day and that’s development, too. You develop ways to win.”
Gardenhire said these first 10 games have been more about early-season managing than any long-term development plan.
“You are always trying to win ballgames, but you know you have to let things play out,” he said. “Right now, we’re just making sure everyone gets a piece of this thing and get their feet on the ground a little bit.”
Rookie utility man Niko Goodrum got his second straight start Wednesday. He gave Iglesias a day off Tuesday and he spelled second baseman Dixon Machado Wednesday. Gardenhire said he’s going to find a way to give third baseman Jeimer Candelario a day off soon, too.
He and right fielder Nick Castellanos have played every game.
“Nick wants to play 167 games this year,” Gardenhire joked. “But this isn’t about, ‘Well, we’re in a rebuilding mode.’ It’s also about letting players play. Some guys need to grow and we’ll do that as the season goes on.”
Jones moved explained
Gardenhire sent JaCoby Jones up to pinch hit for Leonys Martin in the seventh inning Tuesday. There was a runner at third with one out and a left-handed pitcher on the mound.
Gardenhire knew Indians manager Terry Francona would counter with a right-handed pitcher to face Jones. But he still favored that matchup over a lefty-lefty matchup with Martin. He also knew it would be reliver Dan Otero coming into the game.
“We wanted to get that lefty out of the game,” Gardenhire said. “The righty (Otero) was throwing sinkers and they were playing their infield in. Jonesy, normally – I just thought he’d kill that ball going down and in. I just really thought that’s kind of his area.”
Hitting coach Lloyd McClendon was also on board with the move. Jones usually feasts on pitches down and in. But on this night, he swung and missed at a pitch out of the zone and took two sinkers down and in – a three-pitch strikeout.
“I didn’t anticipate that part of it,” Gardenhire joked.
Jones was only the second pinch hitter Gardenhire used this season.
“That’s the hardest part for me right now,” he said. “Coming off the bench and pinch-hitting. We don’t have a veteran that you can really trust to do those things. So we kind of have to live with everybody.”
Is it sustainable?
Going into the game Wednesday, the Tigers’ rotation had an ERA of 2.93, fourth-lowest in the American League. And that’s with Jordan Zimmermann, Wednesday’s starter, giving up 10 runs in two starts.
The question to Gardenhire was: Is it sustainable or a function of the cold weather?
“I like what we’ve seen,” he said. “It is cold. Once it warms up are those balls going to be flying farther? Probably so. But I think we’re doing a nice job of working quick, attacking the zone and using all our pitches.
“If they do that and we catch the ball, I think it could go all summer long. I like our arms. I like our rotation. I think it’s fine. I know it’s early, but what else do we have to look at?”
There was no change in the condition of Tigers pitching coach Chris Bosio. He was not with the team for the second straight game, though he was at the team hotel in Cleveland.
“When we get an update, we’ll give you an update,” Gardenhire said.
All the Tigers would say, because of HIPAA laws, is that Bosio began feeling bad Monday night and continues to deal with a medical issue.