Desperate times, desperate measures: Tigers use an opener against Astros

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit – Somebody check on hell, it might have frozen over.

The Tigers, under the stewardship of old-school manager Ron Gardenhire, were expected to deploy the very new-school strategy of using an opener here Wednesday.

Gregory Soto

“Baseball is going to the opener,” he said before the series finale against the Astros. “We’re just joining in. That’s how I see it.”

To be fair, Gardenhire talked in spring training about the benefits of starting the game with one pitcher, letting him go through the order once and then having the true starting pitcher, or the primary pitcher, work the bulk of the game but avoid having to face hitters a third time through the order.

But in this case, the decision to use rookie Gregory Soto, just called up from Double-A Erie, for one or two innings was based on need, not strategy. The Tigers have four starting pitchers on the injured list. Soto made a fill-in start in Minnesota and threw 88 pitches on Saturday.

On short rest, he couldn't go deep in the game anyway. 

“We just need him to get us in the game,” Gardenhire said. “He’s going to start here on Sunday so he’s in-between starts. Instead of throwing a pen, he’s going to throw in a game.”

Long reliever Nick Ramirez, who pitched four innings in relief of Soto Saturday, will serve as the primary pitcher, but the most the Tigers could probably expect is three innings.

“We’ve talked about this,” Gardenhire said. “Tampa made it an art form and we’ve seen a lot of teams do it. You just have to have the right setup for it. And I don’t think we that setup. I don’t think a lot of teams do."

What a catch

Niko Goodrum got himself on a lot of highlight reels Tuesday night with his sliding, diving, lunging catch of a hooking foul ball down the left-field line by Alex Bregman.

“Just trying make a catch,” he said.

Goodrum was shifted well over into left-center against Bregman and the ball was hooking away from him.

“I saw it go up and just started running after it,” he said. “But I really can’t tell you what I did. I said, “I need to slide here,’ but the ball was still over here, and I said, ‘Let me try to mix in a little dive and a stretch.’”

It almost looked like a receiver trying to stay in bounds. He dragged his feet on the half-slide across the line, then somehow was able to transition from a slide to a dive – without losing speed or sight of the ball.

“Going that far and running so hard, your judgment has to pretty good,” Goodrum said. “My judgment wasn’t all the way there, you know, but it worked out.”

Around the horn

Shortstop Jordy Mercer (quad strain) took ground balls during batting practice and went through some grueling agility drills with head athletic trainer Doug Teter before the game. He is eligible to come off the injured list on Saturday, but may need to play in a couple of rehab games first.

… Miguel Cabrera, who was pulled out of the game late Tuesday with soreness in his knee, was held out of the lineup Wednesday. “It just swelled up,” Gardenhire said. “It’s not a big deal. He’s had it before. We weren’t going to run him back out there, for sure. We’ve got to protect this guy, I’ve been saying it all year.”

… The Tigers begin a four-game series against the Oakland Athletics on Thursday. On Sunday, they will face their former teammate Mike Fiers. It will be his second start after he threw his second career no-hitter last week.

On deck: A’s 

Series: Four-game series at Comerica Park

First pitch: Thursday – 1:10 p.m.; Friday – 7:10 p.m.; Saturday – 4:10 p.m.; Sunday – 1:10 p.m.

TV/radio: Thursday-Sunday – FSD, 97.1

Probables: Thursday – RHP Chris Bassitt (1-1, 2.55) vs. RHP Spencer Turnbull (2-2, 2.42); Friday – RHP Frankie Montas (4-2, 2.78) vs. LHP Daniel Norris (2-1, 3.63); Saturday – RHP Daniel Mengden (0-1, 6.75) vs. LHP Matthew Boyd (4-3, 3.15); Sunday – RHP Mike Fiers (3-3, 5.12) vs. LHP Gregory Soto (0-1, 15.75).

Bassitt, A’s: He made his big-league debut against the Tigers in 2014 and later that year shut the Tigers out at Comerica Park over 7.2 innings for his first career win. Five years later, he’s pitching some of his best ball – 31 strikeouts and seven walks in 24 innings with a 0.973 WHIP.

Turnbull, Tigers: It’s supposed to be a slider but a lot of times it acts like a cutter – whatever it is, it’s been money for Turnbull. He’s got a 54-percent strikeout rate and a 42-percent whiff rate with it and opponents are hitting just .139 against it.

Twitter @cmccosky