Tigers brace for another doubleheader: ‘You have to roll with it’
Pittsburgh — For a manager, for players — for fans — these rainouts, snow-outs, and freeze-outs, are irksome and even damaging.
The Tigers already have had three makeup doubleheaders since Opening Day, the latest of which was scheduled for 4:05 p.m. Wednesday at PNC Park, with the second game planned for 30 minutes after the first duel’s final out.
There is a reason Wednesday’s makeup, which was necessitated by a steady day and night of rain Tuesday in Pittsburgh, was not the conventional day-night twinbill that the Tigers already have twice played and that for players and others can make a day at the ballpark seem more like a week.
Owners and players have as part of their contract an agreement that there can be only three day-night double features during a single season.
With a June 4 day-night makeup set with the Yankees at Comerica Park, the Tigers already had exhausted their quota of early afternoon-evening doubleheaders, which made Wednesday’s back-to-back scheduling a necessity. The Tigers have had seven games postponed only 20 games into the 2018 calendar.
Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire was busy Wednesday figuring out yet another Rubik’s Cube in which two days of lineups and pitching contingencies were obliged to be scrunched within a six- or seven-hour window, barring extra innings in one of the games.
“It’s not something you can fight,” Gardenhire said before Wednesday’s first game, which was to see Jordan Zimmermann start for Detroit against the Pirates’ Jameson Taillon. “You have to roll with it. But you’re looking for consistency, and that’s been hard to find, from workouts to everything.
“We just got caught in a bit of a mix.”
One way in which the Tigers hoped to disentangle Wednesday’s potential web of personnel needs was to call up right-handed starter Artie Lewicki from Triple-A Toledo.
Lewicki pitched in four games for the Tigers in 2017 and was an easy choice Wednesday as the Tigers steeled themselves for a potential arms shortfall with at least 18 innings of baseball ahead.
Lewicki has started three games for the Mud Hens, two of them strong stints, including his last start, Friday, at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, when he worked six innings of three-hit, shutout baseball, striking out seven.
“In these National League games, you never know how they’ll go,” said Gardenhire, referring to Wednesday’s pair in the Pirates’ home park, where the designated hitter isn’t permitted and pinch-hitting for pitchers can obliterate a staff and bullpen during two games.
The Tigers had already girded themselves with an extra position player Monday when they called up outfielder Mike Gerber from Toledo. Gerber primarily is seen as a pinch-runner and defensive replacement, but Gardenhire said, “I’ll probably use some of these kids” as he pondered Wednesday lineups and potential replacements that were all but sure to surface.
Another scary situation the skipper faced was at catcher. The Tigers have only two, which means it would help if James McCann stays healthy in the first game, and John Hicks avoids any issues in the second. The specter of extra innings wasn’t anything Gardenhire cared to confront at mid-day Wednesday.
“We’ve got two big old strong boys,” he said of his catchers, “and we just hope two big old strong boys can get through ’em.”
Gardenhire is now dealing with a bit of a jam-up with his rotation, which he’ll ease by handing Sunday’s start at Baltimore to Daniel Norris.
Norris, of course, also looms as multi-inning protection should his Wednesday starters (Zimmermann and Matthew Boyd) not enjoy sufficiently lengthy shifts.
He also had to think about position players, specifically Miguel Cabrera, who is 35 with a back that needs as much rest as a manager can offer.
“A lot of lineup stuff,” Gardenhire said of Wednesday’s considerations. “Cabrera’s looking at 18 innings, with a day game tomorrow.
“Something’s got to happen there.”
These issues of health, and even fatigue when early schedules have been so discombobulated, can affect a team over the longer term.
They also create irritation for fans who don’t like it when their team is rained out, weathered out, or otherwise rearranged when it comes to watching games — whether at the home park, or on the road.
“We’re just trying to figure out ways to win a game,” Gardenhire said, knowing, of course, that to win a game, you first must be able to play one.