Mother Nature abides: Snow day gives Tigers, battered bullpen a chance to regroup
Chicago — Weather is and always has been part of the equation in the first couple of months of a Major League Baseball season. There’s really nothing to be done about it, save building retractable roofs onto every stadium.
The Tigers had a game snowed out in Minnesota earlier this month. They played through horrendous conditions in New York, through a couple chilly series in Detroit against the Indians and Twins and had another game rained out in Boston, which led to a stretch of five games in four days.
Which is why the snowy conditions that postponed the second game of the series with the White Sox here Saturday was a blessing.
“We’re a little short-handed in the bullpen,” manager Ron Gardenhire said after the crazy 12-11 loss Friday night. “I hope the storm hits and I hope it blows 18 inches of snow so we don’t even think about playing. Because we just don’t have the pitching right now after playing those games in Boston.
“We need a bit of a break.”
And Mother Nature for once did abide.
Gardenhire went to the bullpen 24 times in the last five games to cover 17⅔ innings. The Tigers went into the game Friday with three relievers unavailable — Buck Farmer, Victor Alcantara and Jose Fernandez.
They called up Zac Reininger from Toledo that day to have one fresh arm — but how fresh could he have been after traveling from Columbus to Boston (he was the 26th man in the doubleheader) to Charlotte to Atlanta and then to Chicago over the span of three days?
He got to Chicago at 3 a.m. Friday morning.
He ended up taking a beating in a five-run sixth inning. The Tigers bullpen, so strong through most of the first month, has been tagged 17 runs in the last 12 innings.
The Tigers have also had two players, Christin Stewart and Jordy Mercer, go on the injured list with quad injuries. The cold and wet conditions certainly played a role in both. Jordan Zimmermann, who is on the injured list with a UCL (elbow) strain, wondered if pitching in the cold in his previous starts contributed to the injury.
“It happens,” Gardenhire said. “It’s just something you’ve got to get through. It’s not just happening to us.”
Now, though, with off-days Monday and Thursday, before and after the two-game set in Philadelphia, plus another one on May 6, the Tigers should be able to get things back in order. Mercer is expected to come off the injured list before the Phillies series and Stewart seems on track to return when the Tigers get back home next weekend.
The Saturday game will be made up as part of a doubleheader on July 3.
When the Tigers were snowed out in Minnesota, it delayed Daniel Norris’ long-awaited first start of the season. The snow day Saturday may cost lefty Ryan Carpenter more than that.
Carpenter was called-up from Triple-A Toledo to make what would have been a spot start Saturday. That move was put in place before Zimmermann went on the injured list. Carpenter wasn’t here to take Zimmermann’s spot in the rotation — and least not yet.
Most likely, Carpenter will be returned to Toledo for at least another 10 days. With the off-days, the Tigers won’t need a fifth starter until they play a makeup doubleheader in Minnesota on May 11.
And by then, the Tigers may have decided to go in another direction to fill Zimmermann’s spot. One option would be to move Blaine Hardy into the rotation. He made 13 starts last season.
“It’s one of those things, you can’t do anything about it,” Carpenter said. “All you can do is prepare and get yourself ready to pitch. Just flip the coin again and see what happens.”
This is the second time that Mother Nature has kicked Carpenter in the pants. He might have been the Tigers best starting pitcher this spring, throwing 11, four-hit, scoreless innings. But pitching in the cold, he had two rough starts, in Toledo and Indianapolis.
“But physically, I feel great,” he said. “I am good where I’m at right now, though the results might not show it.”
After eight seasons in the minor leagues, two full seasons at the Triple-A level, he finally made his debut with the Tigers last season. It didn’t go as well as he’d hoped, but it forced him to make some significant changes over the winter.
“I changed pretty much everything, honestly,” he said. “I went back and looked at last year, last couple of years, and found some stuff I needed to change mechanically. I was just way too long with my arm — kind of a lazy delivery.
“I’ve tried to shorten everything up, get a better rhythm and be quicker to the plate. Everything seemed to translate well.”
Gardenhire certainly noticed the change this spring.
“His pace was a lot quicker,” he said. “He attacked the strike zone a lot better. He’s been OK down there, not great, but the weather has been brutal. We like what we saw in spring training.”
But for now, his opportunity to see how the changes will play at the big-league level has been snowed out.
When Gardenhire sent Niko Goodrum to pinch-hit for JaCoby Jones with a man on and two out in the eighth inning of a tie game Friday — well, the first thought was Jones had been injured. After all, he’s the best defensive outfielder on the team and he’d homered and walked in his two previous at-bats.
Although Jones did foul a ball off his foot earlier in the game, it wasn’t an injury that forced the move.
“I was wanted to get Goody in a situation,” Gardenhire said. “We had a man on and he’s been smashing the baseball. I thought he had a chance to hit a double and maybe score a run. You have to take your opportunities when you can and I thought that was our best opportunity to do that.”
Goodrum ended up grounding out.
Around the horn
Matthew Boyd will start as scheduled Sunday in the series finale. The White Sox will counter with right-hander Reynaldo Lopez.
…If you missed it, Miguel Cabrera snapped the longest home run drought of his career Friday. His first-inning home run to right field was his first in 161 plate appearances, 103 this season. His last home run came on April 28, 2018 in Baltimore. Cabrera posted four hits Friday, his first four-hit game since April 21 of last year.
…The Tigers hadn’t scored 11 runs in a game and lost since 2007. They hadn’t blown a seven-run lead and lost since 2016.