New York — OK, so why did Dustin Peterson start the game in center field Tuesday?
Other than the one game he played out there at the end of spring training after JaCoby Jones was lost with a sprained AC joint in his left shoulder, Peterson has played four professional games in center — four of them in Double-A in 2016.
Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire explained that, as well as why Miguel Cabrera was the designated hitter for the third straight game and John Hicks, the backup catcher, started at first base.
It all centers around Niko Goodrum, who for the first time this season, was not in the Tigers’ lineup.
“His calf is a little sore,” Gardenhire said. “He’s ready to play and he’s available if I need him, but he’s played in every one of these. It’ll be good to give him a little break. It’s time to give him a blow.”
Goodrum would have been an option at first base or center field. Mikie Mahtook has been getting the bulk of the work in center, but he needed a break for different reasons. After a productive spring, Mahtook has started the season 0 for 16 with nine strikeouts and a walk.
Facing Masahiro Tanaka on another cold night with temperatures in the mid-40s in the Bronx probably wasn’t the right tonic for Mahtook.
“We have to stay away from being too critical of what’s going on here and let them work their way through it,” Gardenhire said, speaking not only for Mahtook, but Josh Harrison, Christin Stewart and several other regulars who are scuffling early on. “They’ll figure it out.
“But you have to make them understand, you’ve got to get better pitches.”
Gardenhire was willing to roll the dice with Peterson’s inexperience at center in favor of getting his power bat in the lineup. That’s the reason Hicks started at first base, too.
“I’m trying to get other people in the lineup,” Gardenhire said. “I wanted to get Hicks’ bat in there and I can’t DH him. I can’t have my two catchers in the game and one is DHing. I did not want to DH my second catcher.”
By having Hicks at first, Gardenhire has the flexibility of moving him behind the plate if something happened to starting catcher Grayson Greiner. Obviously, he couldn’t do that if Hicks was the DH without losing the DH in the lineup.
The weather also was a factor in Cabrera being the DH again.
“Miggy is fine,” he said. “As I told him, it’s frickin’ cold. We have a day game tomorrow and he’ll be at first base then, if everything falls into place.”
Rehab assignments on-deck
Both Jones and reliever Drew VerHagen (forearm strain) are eligible to come off the injured list Thursday, but Gardenhire said he expects both will need rehab assignments before they get back.
“JaCoby is coming along good, he’s about ready to take some swings and live batting practice,” he said. “But with an AC joint, it’s sensitive and his was a Grade 1 AC split. So, it’s pretty serious. We have to really be careful in trying to let him push it too quick.
“There are things he’s going to have to go through before we get him back up here.”
Gardenhire said Jones has to dive back into first base, like he would on a pick-off move. He’s got to dive for balls and land on the shoulder. He has to take full, adrenaline-fueled swings, even on pitches he chases and misses, to gauge the impact it has on the shoulder.
“And how do you simulate that?” Gardenhire said. “He’s going to have to play in games, minor-league games, and get some live action.”
Same for VerHagen, whom Gardenhire said was healthy and ready to go now.
It’s unknown at this point where the rehab assignments will take place — at extended spring training in Lakeland, or possibly at Triple-A Toledo.
Harrison fighting it
Tigers second baseman Josh Harrison has been here before. He’s not new to slow starts. A career .276 hitter, he’s hit .257 in April. But after he posted a .469 on-base average this spring, nobody saw this 1 for 15 start coming.
“Just trying to find my groove and my rhythm,” he said. “I’m just a little bit off. Nothing I haven’t had happen before. Everybody wants to get off to a good start, but at the end of the day, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”
For the record, his career average in May is .305. He doesn’t typically stay cold for long.
“Just take each game, each at-bat and each pitch with a purpose,” he said. “Just keep fighting.”
Done too soon
Grayson Long, a 24-year-old right-handed pitcher whom the Tigers acquired in August 2017 for Justin Upton, announced he was retiring from baseball on his Twitter page Tuesday.
“I will forever be in debt to all of the people who have helped me along my path to where I am now,” he wrote. “With that being said, due to continuous injury I have decided to move on from baseball.”
Long, who last pitched at Double-A Erie, missed last season recovering from Thoracic Outlet surgery.
He and Elvin Rodriguez, who pitched well at West Michigan last season, were the Tigers get-back from the Angels for Upton.
Tigers at Yankees
First pitch: 4:05, Wednesday
TV/radio: FSD, 97.1
►RHP Jonathan Loaisga, Yankees: He is expected to be called up from Triple-A Columbus to take the roster spot of CC Sabathia, who will come off the injured list and begin his suspension. Loaisga, who pitched in nine games with the Yankees last year (2-0, 5.11) features a 96-mph fastball and a curve.
►LHP Matthew Boyd, Tigers: So much about his first start was superb. He struck out 10 batters in five innings. He got 18 swinging strikes in the game. Take out the fourth inning and he retired 12 of 13 hitters. But in the fourth, he was touched for four singles and four runs.