Milwaukee — Watching the Tigers play these past couple of weeks without Jose Iglesias has shone a bright light on something general manager Al Avila and his staff already knew: They can’t go into 2019 without a veteran shortstop.
“You see the difference when Kozmo is playing shortstop out there,” manager Ron Gardenhire said, referencing Pete Kozma. “He just calms everything down and makes the plays you're supposed to make and makes it look easy.
“We’ve been using a couple of young guys out there (Ronny Rodriguez, Niko Goodrum and Harold Castro) and they’ve been erratic. They get excited and try to do too much.”
Iglesias, whose season ended with an abdominal injury on Aug. 30, will be a free agent and the Tigers are not expected to be among the teams negotiating for his services in 2019.
Among the veteran shortstops hitting the market are Jordy Mercer (32), Alcides Escobar (31), Adeiny Hechavarria (29) and Freddy Galvis (28).
“We will be looking for that calm guy who can put a little offense with it,” Gardenhire said. “There will be people on the market that we will be looking at. We don’t have anybody (in the system) at shortstop, we all know that.
“We have some coming, but they aren’t ready. We will be looking.”
What about second?
Dawel Lugo might be the closest thing to the Tigers’ next everyday second baseman right now, but his up and down performance this September indicates he may need some more development time at Triple-A.
“Sometimes these young guys get lazy and they take pitches off with their body,” Gardenhire said, referring to Lugo and third baseman Jeimer Candelario. “They see the catcher is calling for a breaking ball in the dirt and they kind of figure the ball isn’t going to get hit to them.
“Well, hitters can see that, too. You don’t set up the same way because we’re throwing a breaking ball. That’s not good, either. You have to be consistent with everything you do out there.”
Lugo, who has started to pick it up at the plate, had a rough night defensively Saturday in Minnesota. He took a throw from catcher James McCann in front of the bag at second base on a steal attempt, instead of letting the ball travel to the bag.
Instead of a caught-stealing and the Tigers being out of the inning, the Twins were given an extra out and went on to score three runs.
In the fifth, Lugo hesitated and then made a soft throw to second, discombobulating what should have been a triple play. The Twins scored five runs that inning.
“Both Lugo and Candy have been inconsistent in their set-up and the way they approach each pitch,” Gardenhire said. “It’s part of the learning process. But it’s also part of having mental toughness. You have to have that in this game when you play it every day.”
Better for it
It’s been a long, hard season for Candelario. Despite battling through wrist and hand injuries, he’s logged more than 600 plate appearances in his first full big-league season. The wear and tear has manifested in his batting average (.225) and in some inconsistency in the field.
But, having gone through it, he will be better equipped mentally and physically to handle it next year. That’s the theory, anyway.
“It’s one thing to be hurt, it’s another to be fatigued,” Gardenhire said. “Being arm-weary and leg-weary, those are the things you have to labor through. He had injuries with his wrist and hand and that made a difference.
“But body-wise, you’re going to be sore and you are going to have to fight through that. You have to get up and find a way to make it through that day. And every player is different.”
Candelario got off to a hot start this season, but the reality is, he hit .226 in the first half of the season, and he’s hit .225 in the second half. His 156 strikeouts leads the team, as do his 66 walks. He’s also contributed 19 home runs and 54 RBIs.
“He’s played through it, and I am happy about that,” Gardenhire said. “He’s done pretty good for his first full season in the big leagues. He’s been a warrior.”
Tigers at Brewers
First pitch: 7:10 p.m. Saturday, Miller Park, Milwaukee
LHP Wade Miley (5-2, 2.32), Brewers: The Brewers have won his last six starts. He’s posted a 2.51 ERA and a .250 opponents’ batting average in those starts. He’s allowed just three home runs in 77.2 innings this season. He missed most of May and June with a groin injury.
LHP Daniel Norris (0-5, 5.22), Tigers: That he will be making his sixth start this month and is stretched out to 100 pitches, after missing four months recovering from groin surgery, is one of the Tigers success stories of the second half. That he’s allowed three runs or less in four of the previous five — that’s just a bonus.