Houston – It was in early May and manager Ron Gardenhire, unsolicited, started talking about rookie Victor Reyes.
“I need to do a better job with him,” he said. “I need to do a better job of finding ways to get him in the lineup. He’s got to be more than just a pinch-runner.”
On May 12, the 37-game mark, Reyes had just 23 plate appearances. He was hitting .130 and had more runs (seven) than hits (three). Since then, he’s had 70 plate appearances and he’s hitting .261.
Reyes has been, against all odds, one of the Tigers’ success stories of the first half.
“It’s a continuing process with him and I think we have to continue to give him chances,” Gardenhire said. “He’s proven he can go out there. He’s going to have a few bad at-bats, we know that. Just like everybody else.
“But for the most part, he’s holding his own.”
Reyes, 23, hadn’t played above Double-A when the Tigers took him from Arizona with the first pick of the Rule 5 draft last winter. The deal was, the Tigers had to keep him on the active roster all year or offer him back to the Diamondbacks.
For the first month or longer, it looked like the Tigers were playing a man short, using one of their three bench players only to pinch-run or as a defensive replacement. Gardenhire blamed himself for that.
“It was ridiculous that I was sitting him out,” he said. “I have to give this guy a chance, it’s what he’s here for. I can’t just give him a few at-bats and expect him to throw away a year and be better next year. As we go along here, he’s definitely going to play more.
“He’s proven that he can handle it. He’s not afraid. He plays good defense and he can play all three outfield positions.”
Reyes was in the starting lineup for the second straight game Sunday. He went hitless in three at-bats Saturday but he made the defensive play of the game, throwing out George Springer at home plate trying to score from second on a single.
“He can throw it,” Gardenhire said. “He’s got a strong arm and he’s accurate.”
Reyes, physically, is still behind the curve. He has just four extra-base hits in 93 plate appearances.
“He’s going to grow,” Gardenhire said. “He’s a skinny kid right now. But he’s been in the workout room with these guys now and he’s going to get stronger. I like him. I think he’s got a pretty good head on his shoulders. He comes to the park ready, no matter what. He never complains.
“He’s a nice-looking player and he’ll be great for this organization. This guy fills a need in this organization. He’s a talented kid. I think this was the right year to keep him.”
Gardenhire said center fielder Leonys Martin, out since July 2 with a hamstring strain, will begin a rehab assignment with Toledo on Monday.
“He’s feeling great,” Gardenhire said. “He sent us a picture of him in his pool in Miami. He Facetimed from his pool in Miami. He said he misses us.”
“We miss him here, I can tell you that,” he said.
The plan is for Martin to play center field and hit in the lead-off spot for the Mud Hens on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, with a day off Tuesday. Gardenhire said he wants Martin to get 12 to 13 at-bats before rejoining the Tigers on Friday.
Tigers pitcher Jordan Zimmermann was not with the team on Saturday or Sunday. Presumably he was in Dallas getting a nerve-blocking shot in either his back or neck. He said he was considering the shot as preventive maintenance. He is not expected to miss a start.
… Nick Castellanos had 115 hits entering the game Sunday. That’s the third-most hits before the All-Star break in Tigers history. Miguel Cabrera had 132 hits before the break in 2013 and Al Kaline had 122 in 1955.
... Niko Goodrum hit his ninth home run of the season Sunday. He is the first Tigers' rookie to hit nine before the All-Star break since Brennan Boesch hit 12 at the break in 2010.