Seattle — It's hard to tell who was more excited when Leonys Martin was activated from the 10-day disabled list on Friday.
There's Martin, who was all smiles in the clubhouse and telling anyone who would listen how excited he was to be back.
And then there's Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire, who had to share a dugout bench with Martin for a week and a half.
“Well it gets him out of the dugout so I don't have to hear his (trash talking),” Gardenhire said with a smile. “… He's just been one of those igniters for us. He's very confident about everything he does and he's really swung the bat really well for us.
“We played OK, but we missed him when he was gone. Just the whole package.”
Martin, too, prefers being in the field than on the bench.
“I like to play. I don't like to miss games,” the 30-year-old outfielder said before Saturday night's 7-2 loss to the Mariners. “It's tough being around doing nothing. Being on the bench wearing your running shoes — it sucks, man. It sucks. I feel like I'm not doing anything for my team.”
Martin had been crucial for the Tigers through the first couple months of the season, hitting .294 before his injury with five home runs and 15 RBIs while serving as Detroit's leadoff hitter. Gardenhire acknowledged Martin wasn't the “prototype leadoff guy” but said his aggressive approach has helped the Tigers.
Friday's game was even more special for Martin going against Seattle, where he played in 2016 and the early part of 2017. Martin reached on an error against former teammate Felix Hernandez in the fifth inning and the two were seen talking and laughing as Hernandez left the base.
“It's good to be back, especially here in Seattle,” Martin said. “I haven't faced Felix since, I think, 2014. We are really, really good friends. It was fun to compete against him. One of the best in the game.”
Martin is hitless in his first two games back from injury but hopes to get things going in Sunday's series finale against the Mariners.
Gardenhire believes a big part of Martin's early success is his comfort level with his fellow players and coaches. He said the team has really embraced Martin since he signed a one-year deal in the offseason to come to Detroit.
“One thing that people need to be — that players need to — is comfortable and he's comfortable here with this group,” Gardenhire said. “I think he fits in really well. We've all accepted him and talked trash to him just like he talks to everybody else. He fits in really nice with this group. We've got a mixture of young and veteran guys and he keeps everybody entertained. When you're standing around (veteran) guys like (Miguel) Cabrera and (Victor) Martinez, I think those are good role models for you.”
Bullpen 'a work in progress'
A day after his bullpen blew a 4-0 lead, Gardenhire addressed his decision to pitch Buck Farmer instead of other options, including bringing in Joe Jimenez, who has become the Tigers' eighth-inning setup man, in the Mariners five-run seventh inning on Friday.
Jimenez has a 2.91 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 21.2 innings pitched, but has also pitched in more than half of the Tigers' games with 24 appearances. Farmer, in comparison, has a 4.35 ERA and dropped to 0-2 after allowing two runs to give Seattle the lead.
“I heard people saying, 'You could have brought Jimenez in there.' How many appearances and innings do you want to have Jimenez (pitch)?” Gardenhire said. “He's supposed to be our eighth-inning guy. Now you want to bring him in in the seventh inning to try to get an out there and then the eighth inning?”
Gardenhire said it's really important to manage Jimenez's workload, especially so early in the season.
“We're trying to protect that kid, too,” Gardenhire said. “Somebody else has to get people out. Farmer, we're hoping, can be that guy. Some of those guys have to figure out how to get through that inning. We can't walk people.”
Gardenhire indicated Farmer would be given every opportunity to be the seventh-inning guy, even after his recent struggles that also included giving up two walks in Thursday's game against the Mariners.
“It's a work in progress, our bullpen,” Gardenhire said. “We don't have defined roles, as much as you would like. You'd love to set up a bullpen, we just don't have it. We're constantly mixing up pitching staffs here. We're constantly moving people in and out. We have to continue to do that.”
Another late-game option may be Louis Coleman. Coleman didn't allow a hit in one inning of work on Friday and Gardenhire said he likes the right-hander's delivery, which is a submarine-style throw that gives his off-speed pitches a different appearance.
“I like the look. I like bringing in a guy with a little different look and I think we'll be using him in some of those situations, too,” Gardenhire said. “(Friday) night he came in there and pounded it pretty good.”
Ultimately, Gardenhire is just seeking one thing from his bullpen late in games: consistency.
“That's what we're looking for, is consistency out of all of these pitchers,” Gardenhire said, “and it's got to start with your delivery.”
Scrapping to stay hot
Niko Goodrum extended his career-long hitting streak to eight games with a single in the fifth inning off Seattle starter James Paxton. John Hicks added a double in the fifth and has now hit safely in 14 of 17 games during the month of May. Hicks is batting .349 with 13 runs, six doubles, two homers and 11 RBIs over that span.
The only other hit the Tigers managed off Paxton, who struck out eight in a complete game, was a home run by Victor Martinez to lead off the second.
“When you know you have a guy like that, who knows he's throwing the ball well and has the stuff he does, you're in for a battle all night,” said Nick Castellanos, who was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in Saturday's game. “… We couldn't get to Paxton. Sometimes you've just got to tip your cap. He had some good stuff tonight. I mean, it was pretty obvious from looking at the game, I couldn't pick up his breaking ball.”
David Krueger is a freelance writer.