Tigers 'ad-libbing' as start of MLB season delayed at least two weeks

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — Late in Thursday's game, one of the ushers at Joker Marchant Stadium reached in and handed manager Ron Gardenhire his phone.

"He goes, 'Read this,'" Gardenhire said. "I'm like, 'Kind of got a game going on right now.' "

The news that was on that phone, though, told Gardenhire that Thursday's 5-3 loss to the Braves was the last spring game of the season.

Ron Gardenhire

Major League Baseball announced as of 4 p.m. Thursday all spring training games would be suspended, and the start of the regular season would be delayed at least two weeks in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It's kind of crazy," Gardenhire said. "There's no template for this. We're just ad-libbing as we speak. We're just trying to get a calmness with the players and give some leadership as far as what we're going to do here in the early stages of this."

The Tigers, like the other teams across baseball, will remain at their spring training complexes. General manager Al Avila, who spoke with the team after the game, said there would be optional workouts Friday and Sunday, with full staff on hand.

Saturday, the clubhouse and facilities will be closed for what Avila called a deep cleaning. Beyond that, everything is up in the air.

"We just told (the players) to stay close and keep your cell phones on," Avila said. "They aren't going to leave Lakeland. Just stay in their apartments and hotels for now because on a day-to-day basis, anything can change."

Major League Baseball and the Players' Association continued to meet throughout the night Thursday to iron out various other issues.  Avila said by Sunday night, teams should have a better idea how to structure the coming weeks.

"It changes routines, for sure," said Matthew Boyd, the Tigers' player rep. "It just moves everything two weeks back — just the way you prepare, we get two additional weeks. I don't know, maybe I will push it a little more in the weight room. 

"I'm sure guys will adjust their routines accordingly."

Understand that starting the season two weeks late, on April 9, is a best-case scenario. But if that held, the Tigers would miss a season-opening series in Cleveland, the first home stand of the season against the Royals and Indians and a three-game trip to Kansas City.

The Tigers' season-opener, in that scenario, would be against the Angels on April 10, at Comerica Park. It is unclear if the missed games would be made up at the end of the season. 

"This was definitely one of the more difficult days I've had in a Tigers uniform," Boyd said. "But we have to do what's best. You don't want to spread anything. Not that anyone's got it, but you have to do what's best for the general population.

"Try to slow the spread of this thing. Everyone is doing what they think is best. We're just abiding by it."

The Instructional League in Lakeland will last five weeks.

Boyd, who was down to his final two starts of spring, was asked if it was frustrating to have things come to a sudden stop like this.

"There's no reason to be frustrated," he said. "It's just a waste of energy. It is what it is now. We will plan on opening on April 9 and go from there."  

With college and minor-league baseball also closed down, as well as the 2020 World Baseball Classic qualifier, the Tigers have sent all their scouts home, which puts the Tigers' draft preparations on hold. And they own the first overall pick in the draft next June.

"I would say we have a good history from last year to the present day, as far as seeing the players," Avila said. "I know we have a full list of players who are pertinent to us in the draft.

"Obviously you'd like to see them play more, like the rest of March, April and May. But I'd say right now, if the draft were tomorrow, we'd be prepared for sure."

There is precedent for reducing the length of the season. The 1995 season was cut to 144 games due to the labor strike.The 1990 season started on April 9 and added three extra days to the back end of the season.

"Obviously, Major League Baseball thought this needed to be done and I agree with it," Avila said. "We've got to get a handle on this. This has never happened before, so you kind of have to take control of it before we can move forward." 

As of Thursday, there were 29 reported cases of the virus in this state. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a request that all cities and counties cancel mass gatherings. 

The NBA suspended its season on Wednesday night, and the NHL followed suit on Thursday. 

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky