'Not an easy day': Tigers work to keep focus after losing two leaders

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Anaheim, Calif. — Nick Castellanos looked at the clock on the scoreboard and it read 1:02 p.m. Pacific.

He was in uniform, in the Tigers dugout and in the lineup .

“We were standing there and Nick goes, ‘Well, looks like I’m going to be staying here with you guys,’” first baseman John Hicks said. “And just as he said that, Joe (Vavra, Tigers coach) comes walking up the steps saying here’s the new lineup.

“It was just like, 'Whoa‘”

Castellanos, who was traded to the Cubs for a pair of right-handed pitching prospects with 42 seconds left before the trade deadline expired Wednesday, went back into the clubhouse where manager Ron Gardenhire gave him the news.

Detroit Tigers' Nicholas Castellanos, right, says farewell to Jordy Mercer in the dugout, after Castellanos is traded to the Chicago Cubs, during the first inning Wednesday.

“At first I wasn’t sure what he was going to say, maybe he just wanted to tell me I was staying and to finish strong,” Castellanos said. “But he looked kind of sad and I just said, ‘What happened?’ That’s when he told me.”

It was an emotional way to start a baseball game. Both Castellanos and closer Shane Greene (to the Braves) were traded within an hour before the first pitch. Lots of hugs and mixed emotions for everybody.

“That’s always rough, man, just because you’ve built such good relationships with these guys and you really care for them,” Castellanos said. “You’ve gone to war with them all through the season. It hasn’t gone great this year but that doesn’t change the fact that you still care about everyone wearing that uniform.”

Greene echoed the same sentiment.

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“I showed up for my first Opening Day as a big-leaguer as a Detroit Tiger,” he said. “I had a roller-coaster ride there for a couple of years and then went to the bullpen. I was able to play with a lot of guys who’ve been doing this a long time — guys like Ian Kinsler, J-Up (Justin Upton), Justin Verlander, David Price, K-Rod (Francisco Rodriguez), the names go on forever.

“I learned a lot from all those guys. I was fortunate to be surrounded by those guys and soak up that knowledge — not only about what it takes to play this game for a long time, but how to treat the younger players.”

Gardenhire waited until the very last minute to print the lineup card, with Castellanos in it. But just as he was about to run it out to the umpires, he got the call from general manager Al Avila that the trade was made.

“It was really strange,” Gardenhire said. “It’s not an easy day. It’s sad in one respect because we are losing two of our veteran players and its happy in another respect because those guys are going to join a pennant race.

“And that’s what all players want.”

The Tigers were able to compartmentalize all the emotion and ended up beating the Angels 9-1, winning a series for the first time since beating the Orioles back in May (27-29).

“First and foremost, we are super excited for Shane and Nick getting an opportunity to go try to win a World Series,” Hicks said. “Obviously we love those guys. They were great teammates, guys we’ve enjoyed the ride with the last few years.

“Obviously, there’s a void, but we just went out and tried to play as if it was a day off for those guys.”

Roster impact

Avila, as he said he was going to do, spoke with Gardenhire after the game. There is a chance outfielder Travis Demeritte, the 24-year-old former first round draft pick acquired from the Braves, could meet the Tigers in Texas Friday.

“We talked about that,” Gardenhire said. “But (Thursday) is an off-day. We’re going to let all this settled down. We’ll make all those decisions tomorrow.”

Brandon Dixon was hit by a pitch on the hand Wednesday. Gardenhire wants to make sure he is good to go. Victor Reyes was called up after Christin Stewart was put on the seven-day concussion protocol on Monday.

Demeritte, after struggling earlier in his career, has been hitting for power at Triple-A Gwinnett — 28 doubles, 20 home runs in 339 plate appearances. He’s also struck out 106 times.

The other fallout from the trade is that Joe Jimenez is the club’s new closer. He pitched a scoreless inning on Wednesday.

Trevor Rosenthal, Buck Farmer and Blaine Hardy will be the primary set-up relievers.

Norris' early exit

Daniel Norris pitched five shutout innings Wednesday, allowing three hits with five strikeouts. But he had to come out of the game after his surgically repaired groin cramped up on him.

“We let him finish the fifth but when he came back in, Andy (pitching coach Rick Anderson) said he’s not going back out there,” Gardenhire said. “We can’t screw around with that.”

It was the second time this season Norris had a start shortened by the groin cramp.

“It’s frustrating,” he said. “I’m not sure what it is. I see the ball and I make that quick reaction to get over to first as quick as possible and on the first step it grabs where the scar is and gives way. I told them I was good. I didn’t want to come out.

“I mean, I get it, but it’s just a cramp. It subsides and I’m good. I wish it would stop doing that.”

Around the horn

Pretty good start to his big-league career for catcher Jake Rogers. After getting two hits in his debut Tuesday, he hit his first home run Wednesday, a 404-footer into the bullpen in left field. He also walked twice and scored three runs.

…Dixon (his team-leading 14th) and Gordon Beckham also homered.


Twitter: @cmccosky