Tigers players hold private meeting — and the skipper's on board

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News
Mikie Mahtook of the Tigers, center, celebrates after scoring against the White Sox on a sacrifice fly hit by Grayson Greiner.

Detroit — During his days as Tigers manager, Sparky Anderson was known for a no-meetings policy. 

Of the players-only variety, anyway. If his players wanted a powwow, Anderson mandated, then the skipper would be there, as well.

Ron Gardenhire has no such policy, or perhaps insecurity. He was fine with his players deciding this week that they wanted to discuss strictly among themselves matters that related to how a team would finish its final six weeks of baseball in 2018.    

"Which I really like," Gardenhire said Thursday after the Tigers whipped the White Sox, 7-2, at Comerica Park. "I want 'em to keep with the plan."

The "plan" has to do with following a script notarized during spring camp in which going all-out, with a mental approach to match the urgency they were to show running bases, was part of a team's 2018 mission.

Matthew Boyd started Thursday's game for the Tigers and got his eighth victory of the season, thanks to six shutout innings. He acknowledged afterward that players had, in fact, convened to talk about the season's final weeks.

"That stuff stays in here," he said, when asked about details. "We just want to play our brand of baseball. It's just an awesome opportunity (to finish strong). We're excited by it."

Better at-bats

Mikie Mahtook had a neat first season with the Tigers, batting .276, rolling up a decent .787 OPS, all while looking as if the Tigers might have stolen a solid two-way outfielder from the Rays when the Tigers hooked up on a trade in January, 2018, that sent prospect pitcher Drew Smith to the Rays.

But this season — ah, not so good.

Mahtook has played in only 40 big-league games, and even after Thursday's single and home run, he is batting .195 on the season.

But consider his past week. He homered last Thursday at Minnesota, then followed with another home run in Sunday's series finale against the Twins.

In his first at-bat Thursday Mahtook slapped a single to right field. In the sixth, he buried a James Shields fastball beyond the left-center field fence, 387 feet for his third homer in seven games.

"That first at-bat he shot one the other way," Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said, "and he came back and said, 'There is a right field.'"

The benefit there, Gardenhire said, is that "then you can hit the mistake," which is what happens when pitches meant to be pulled for power can in fact be whacked — all because the hitter is square and not leaning.

"I'm getting back to what I was doing last season," said Mahtook, who started in left field Thursday. "I'm more relaxed at the plate."

Relaxation hasn't been part of his 2018 story, Mahtook said. He is a notoriously cold starter and was particularly frigid during spring camp and in the early weeks of the regular season. With the Tigers obliged to carry Rule 5 outfielder Victor Reyes, Mahtook was shipped to Toledo. 

The past week's power, and even a single to right field, might be a clue that Mahtook's on his way to recovery.    

"Me and Mac (hitting coach Lloyd McClendon) talked about what I did well last year," Mahtook said. "I had some struggles and that led to some pressure and that led to some bad habits.

"When I'm going right, I can hit the ball to right-center and to right field — I'm not yanking off pitches."

Balk talk

Nick Castellanos had one of those "can I please disappear" moments in the fourth inning Thursday when he was on third base with no outs. 

In an instant a quick toss from White Sox starter James Shields made it a one-out situation with no one on third. Castellanos was picked off by way of a move so slick the Tigers figured Shields must have balked.

"I thought he did, but he didn't," Gardenhire said after he had inspected game-tape. "The question was whether he was coming out of his wind-up or out of the stretch, and that's what I asked Phil (Cuzzi, home-plate umpire) about.

"But he did stop. He's used that pickoff before. He's an athlete and he figures out ways to beat you."

Greiner groaning

He hit nearly 1,200 feet of deep liners in three at-bats Thursday. But no big-league home runs yet for rookie catcher Grayson Greiner, who still managed a sacrifice-fly RBI after he drove two balls deep to center, and another to the warning track in right.

"Wrong park," Greiner said afterward, with a grin, after he had been defeated by Comerica Park's acreage. "But it felt good. I've just got to hit 'em somewhere else."

Greiner is working primarily on that all-demanding job of catching big-league pitchers. Defense, pitch-selection — that's job one, although hitting is still obliged to be part of the package.

"I felt I could have done a little better job receiving today," Greiner said, half-apologizing to starting pitcher Matthew Boyd. "I could have saved him (with better catching and framing) a few more pitches."


First pitch: 7:10 p.m. Friday, Comerica Park, Detroit

TV/radio: FSD/97.1 FM

Scouting report:

White Sox: RHP Reynaldo Lopez (4-9, 4.72) – He'll put some folks on base, so the Tigers would do well to be patient. He's coming off a loss to the Tigers and a bad outing against the Royals.

Tigers: RHP Michael Fulmer (3-9, 4.50) – Back in the saddle after more than a month on the disabled list. His stuff has been lightning during Fulmer's rehab starts.