Spirited start: Ron Gardenhire implores Tigers to disregard pundits' low expectations

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — By all accounts, the skipper was fired up.

Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire addressed his team Monday morning prior to the first full-squad workout of spring and he exuberantly let them know he was in no way accepting the insultingly low bar industry pundits have set for 2020.

"Anything can happen in this game," says Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire, dismissing pundits' predictions that his team will see a slight improvement over last season's 47 wins.

“I get irritated when I hear them say we’ll be 'a little bit' better,” he said after practice. “That bothers me.”

He reminded the players that he was with the Twins when they finished dead last in 1990 and won the World Series in 1991.

“Anything can happen in this game,” he said. “If you start out with your expectations and sights low, that’s not good. Start them through the roof, then see where you go. When a snowball starts rolling downhill, you never know what it can turn into.

“That’s the attitude I want these guys to have.”

The Tigers lost 114 games last year. MLB PECOTA projections have the Tigers making a 21-win improvement — 69-93.

“We’ve got to find out how to win games,” Gardenhire said on Saturday.  “That’s how you start getting on the right path. We’ve seen how you lose them, right? By not doing the fundamentals. Injuries hurt a lot, but not being able to execute fundamentals, keeping the double-play in order, not overthrowing cutoffs and starting the spin cycle where you turn a one-run inning into a four-run inning.

“That’s how you lose. We need to figure out how the way to win.”

General manager Al Avila spent $19.3 million on veteran free agents C.J. Cron, Jonathan Schoop, Austin Romine, Ivan Nova and Cameron Maybin, announcing at the winter meetings that the club was done with the tear-down phase of the rebuild and it was time to start building back up toward contention.

That message resonated with Cron. 

“They didn’t want to be as bad as last year; they wanted to make a step in the right direction,” said Cron. “Sometimes rebuilding teams fail to do that. They fail to take that step to build a competitive nature and I think that is super important.

“I think this team is ready for that next step and I am excited to be a part of it.”

There is a long way to go, certainly, and, though it’s nothing they should settle for, a 21-win improvement would be remarkable.

“We’ve lost, we’ve lost a lot of ballgames,” Gardenhire said. “Now we said we’re going to start building. We’ve got really good young players on the way here, some have already made it up. We added some people who know how to win. It’s time to win more ballgames for our fans.

“All we have to do is bust our butts. If we start making plays and doing the right things, we can win. We can compete with anybody — that was kind of my message to them today.”   

Clemens fills in

The Tigers invited a pack of players from the minor-league camp to be runners in some of the defensive drills Monday. But one of them, second baseman Kody Clemens was actually working the drills with the big-league players.

“He’s a (Texas) Longhorn, so I have no problem with that,” Gardenhire joked. “It makes the Aggie a little bit more nervous.”

The Aggie, of course, is relief pitcher and Gardenhire's favorite comic foil Alex Wilson.

Clemens (ranked No. 17 in the Tigers system by MLBPipeline and No. 10 by the Detroit News) was placeholding for second baseman Jonathan Schoop, who isn’t expected to arrive to camp until Wednesday.

Camp observations

Right-handed pitcher Franklin Perez (No. 6 MLBpipeline, No. 11 Detroit News) threw his first live bullpen since last June on Monday. He was limited to 7⅔ innings last year by a shoulder injury. His fastball was reading between 91-92 mph and he touched 93. His slider also looked sharp.

… Jeimer Candelario gave the Tigers’ analytics department a scare when he lined a shot off one of the Rapsodo boxes planted about 20 feet in front of home plate. The ball cracked the plastic cover but the actual data-gathering device was not damaged.

… Candelario faced Tigers ace Matthew Boyd in live batting practice. Boyd struck him out in his first at-bat, getting him to whiff at a slider. Spencer Turnbull, who was standing behind a screen near second base yelled, in a high voice, “Yeeaah Booyyyd!” Next time up, Candelario took Boyd over the fence and into the screen in left-center field.

… Fire-balling right-hander Wladimir Pinto rolled his ankle while warming up before his live bullpen session. He landed awkwardly on his follow-through and he was shut down. He was expected to have tests done on the ankle later Monday.

… Left-hander Joey Wentz (No. 10 MLBPipline, No. 7 Detroit News) ended his live session suddenly after feeling soreness in his forearm. He said it was fatigue and didn’t believe it was serious.


Twitter: @cmccosky