Gardenhire: Tough season about more than wins, losses for young Tigers

Nolan Bianchi
The Detroit News
Brandon Dixon has hit a team-high 15 home runs and played all over the field this season for the Tigers.

Detroit — The Tigers have done more losing than any other team in baseball this season, and at their current pace, stand to lose 114 games.

There is no remedy for the misery that accompanies such disaster. In his 15th year as a MLB manager, Tigers skipper Ron Gardenhire certainly knows this.

“There is no substitute for winning,” Gardenhire said before Friday’s series-opening matchup with the Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park.

But what he also knows, or at least what he thinks, is that there’s more to the story of Detroit’s season than a 45-107 record.

“Young guys, young team, we’re playing people all over the place,” Gardenhire said. “There’s a lot more involvement (than) just saying ‘wins and losses’ with these guys. We’re experimenting, and at the same time, we’re trying to let them get experience by putting them all over the place, trying to figure out where they would fit and how they would fit.”

That experimentation has led to quite a bit of failure. Rookie catcher Jake Rogers, heralded for his rocket arm behind the plate, has hit safely just 12 times in 115 plate appearances since receiving a call-up from Triple-A Toledo in late July.

But there’s also been some success stories, like that of first-year Tiger and second-year major-leaguer Brandon Dixon, who’s made appearances at six different positions this season — including pitcher — while belting a team-leading 15 home runs.

Dixon hit just .178 in his rookie year with Cincinnati a season ago. His numbers have improved marginally across the board, bringing to light an important reminder that Gardenhire delivered Friday afternoon: Don’t give up on the producers of tomorrow because of a slow start to their career.

“You just have to ride with some of these kids,” Gardenhire said. “We did it in Minnesota with a couple kids. You ride with them, they go through some pretty tough times, and eventually they figure it out, if they have the talent, which we think some of our guys do.”

The dismal year the Tigers have had comes with the rare opportunity to fast-track many prospects to the big leagues. That’s been great for assessing talent, but it’s also a grind on younger minds.

“They’ve been playing out there every day,” Gardenhire said. “It’s just a lot of baseball being played. You’ve got some ups and downs, but overall, they’re trying to make an impression.”

With 10 games left in the season, there’s still time for Rogers and other youngsters to leave a positive mark on a season that hasn’t had many.

“Don’t start thinking ahead to going home and all those things that your thoughts can go to,” Gardenhire said. “Just finish out.”

Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.