Bob Wojnowski and Chris McCosky discuss the improving Tigers, the 9-11 start and what to expect from key players in the coming weeks. Detroit News
Pittsburgh — These are baseball’s painful moments, when a manager, or a general manager, delivers the news to a pitcher or to a player.
He no longer is with the team.
It happened Monday for Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire. He phoned reliever Drew VerHagen to tell him he was being designated for assignment — dropped from the 25-man roster ahead of either a trade, availability on the waiver wire, or an eventual outright assignment to the Tigers’ farm.
“I basically told him we love him, but right now he’s misfiring,” Gardenhire said Tuesday as the Tigers and Pirates hoped to play an evening game at PNC Park, which later was called, and now will be made up as part of a straight doubleheader Wednesady beginning at 4:05 p.m. at PNC.
Gardenhire told VerHagen it could yet work out for a 27-year-old, right-handed pitcher who six years ago was a fourth-round Tigers draft pick from Vanderbilt.
If he got picked up by another team, Gardenhire said, it could be a new opportunity.
And if, as the Tigers hoped, he might clear waivers, a pitcher still brimming with pitching potential would stick with Detroit.
“He’s got the arm, he’s got the stuff,” Gardenhire said. “I got my first good look (in spring camp), and we saw him dominate. He had a fastball with a great angle, and his curveball bit. But there just hasn’t been the consistency. And we can’t afford it right now with our bullpen.
“We can’t afford to have a guy come out and not give us an inning.”
VerHagen’s exit was sealed Sunday after a bad, two-walk inning in an 8-5 loss against the Royals at Comerica Park. Not only was he missing with his pitches — it appeared to Gardenhire and the Tigers that command had vanished.
VerHagen walked seven batters in 10 innings during the regular season’s early games, which, in the Tigers’ view, was nothing that could be offset with 11 strikeouts and only six hits allowed.
The Tigers needed roster space as they headed for Pittsburgh and a three-game series in a National League park where the designated hitter is shelved. They brought aboard outfielder Mike Gerber from Triple A Toledo, necessitating a roster spot cleared by VerHagen.
He got his first taste of big-league life last Friday and crashed his first box score when he pinch-ran late in a game against the Royals at Comerica Park.
And then Gerber headed for a reunion with Triple A Toledo, where he figured to play for however many weeks or months.
But no. He was back in the Tigers clubhouse Tuesday as Gardenhire prepared for three games, minus a DH, which makes pinch-runners, defensive replacements, and potential double-switch pieces essential.
“I didn’t see it coming,” said Gerber, a left-handed hitter who can play all three outfield spots.
He understands he might not see, even this week, his first big-league at-bat. Victor Martinez will be Gardenhire’s first choice as a pinch-hitter. Gerber, 25, and a 15th-round pick by the Tigers in 2014 out of Creighton University, will be in the dugout for pure reasons that might not involve a bat.
“That’s why I’m here,” he said. “Whether it’s running, fielding, bunting, defending.”
And, maybe at some point, hitting. Gerber has two home runs this month at Toledo. His bat might not yet be primary in a team’s plans, but it’s there, nonetheless.
Gardenhire was asked Tuesday to offer a one-month assessment of Dixon Machado, the shortstop prospect who was told by the Tigers to report to second base at the start of 2018.
He is now the regular there.
“He’s one of those really positive guys,” Gardenhire said of a 26-year-old, right-handed batter. “On the double play, he works really hard. And there have been some stretches where he’s had really good swings.”
Gardenhire hopes Machado will learn to beat left-side shifts by waiting a split-second on pitches that he can steer for hits to the infield’s right half.
Defensively, a manager who played infield in the big leagues understands moving to second base has its challenges.
“He’s still a little sticky with the glove,” Gardenhire said, meaning Machado doesn’t yet pick the ball as cleanly with his throwing hand as eventually he will. “He’s trying to rotate it, with a quick little turn, and he’s trying to rotate it too much.
“Santy (infield coach Ramon Santiago) is working with him on that.”
Tigers at Pirates, doubleheader
First pitch: First game at 4:05 Wednesday, PNC Park, Pittsburgh; second game to follow 30 minutes after the completion of Game 1
TV/radio: Both games on FSD/97.1
■Tigers: RHP Jordan Zimmermann (1-0, 7.71) in Game 1, LHP Matthew Boyd (0-1, 1.40) in Game 2
■Pirates: RHP Chad Kuhl (2-1, 4.57) in Game 1, RHP Jameson Taillon (2-1, 2.86) in Game 2