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'You do the best you can': Tigers seemingly avoid testing snags, but camp pace is slow

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit – Here’s what a full-squad workout looks like in Lakeland, Fla., in February:

Full infield drills are being conducted on one field while the outfielders are off another doing their work. Depending on the day, there will be eight pitchers throwing bullpens simultaneously. The hitters will break into groups – hitting in either the batting cage against a pitching machine or at one of the fields against a coach.

Later, again, depending on the day, the four fields will be used to conduct live batting practice.

Shao-Ching Chiang pitches at Comerica Park on Monday during the Tigers' Summer Camp workout.

Usually the on-field work will be done by 2 p.m.

Here’s what the Tigers’ first full-squad workout looked like Monday at Comerica Park:

One pitcher – first up was Matthew Boyd – throwing to a group of four or five hitters. Boyd got to face Miguel Cabrera, C.J. Cron, Jonathan Schoop and Niko Goodrum. There was a group of pitchers working out in left field and using the bullpens. There were coaches scattered around the outfield behind screens shagging balls. The infield was empty except for Boyd.

There was, in the time the media was allowed to watch, one brief round of ground balls, though it was just that same foursome – Cabrera and Cron at first, Schoop at second and Goodrum at short. None of the third basemen were on the field at that time.

That basic scene, minus the brief infield drill and with the grounds crew raking the infield every hour, was repeated throughout the day with different player groups working through – the last scheduled to finish at 6:30 p.m.

“There’s a lot more standing around that I would ever like to do, but that’s what you’ve got to do,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We are trying to work 60 players on one field and follow all the distancing and health protocols the league has set up.

“You just do the best you can with what you have.”

Actually, the Tigers were far more fortunate than some other teams Monday. The Astros, Nationals and Cardinals canceled their scheduled workouts Monday because of delays in getting the COVID-19 test samples back over the holiday weekend.

The Cubs, Athletics and Angels have also had issues with the tests.

“What we agreed to was testing every other day,” Cubs All-Star Kris Bryant told reporters on Monday. “We have had guys who showed up on Sunday and hadn’t gotten tested again until seven days later. Then you don’t get the results for another two days either, so that’s nine days without knowing. I think if we really want this to succeed, we’re going to have to figure that out.

“I wanted to play this year because I felt that it would be safe and I would be comfortable. Honestly, I don’t really feel that way.”

The Tigers have not made public the results of any of their testing thus far. The clubhouses are off-limits to the media and access to the field is also limited. But there are three pitchers who have yet to be seen doing any field work in the first four days of camp – Daniel Norris, Tarik Skubal and Alex Faedo.

Also, neither outfielder Victor Reyes nor third baseman Isaac Paredes has been spotted. That doesn’t mean they tested positive, it’s just a point of fact – they have not been seen in the workouts to this point.

Still, by all accounts, the Tigers haven’t yet experienced any lag in getting either tests or test results. Boyd, for example, said he’s been tested three times since Friday, including Monday, and has gotten results back within 24 hours on the first two.

Miguel Cabrera enjoys the Tigers' workout on Monday at Comerica Park.

“I’ve been made aware of those (testing complaints) and it’s unfortunate,” said Boyd, who is the Tigers’ player rep. “That being said, this is a learning curve for everybody. I know MLB and CTC (COVID Testing Center) didn’t want that to happen. It’s a period of adjustment. That’s what this year is going to be – adjusting. Obviously, I don’t think that is going to be the norm.

“I know they are going to do everything they can to do what we said in the agreement and have that testing every other day and get the results back fast. We’re not even a week into this thing.”

Boyd said the health issue is one that both the players and owners agree on – both want the testing to be right and effective.

“I think it’s going to be ironed out and we can move forward and hopefully not let that problem happen ever again,” he said. “That’s why we are taking every precaution here.”

Major League Baseball responded with a statement Monday afternoon, saying that more than 95 percent of the tests in the intake screening period have been conducted, analyzed and shared with the 30 teams. All of those individuals (coaches, players, staff) now moves to second phase, which is to be screened every other day.

The other 5 percent, the league said, should be finished Monday.

“Our plan required extensive delivery and shipping services, including proactive special accommodations to account for the holiday weekend,” the statement read. “The vast majority of those deliveries occurred without incident and allowed the protocols to function as planned. Unfortunately, several situations included unforeseen delays.

“We have addressed the delays caused by the holiday weekend and do not expect a recurrence. We commend the affected clubs that responded properly by cancelling workouts.”

The statement continued:

“The process has not been without some unforeseen difficulties, which are being addressed with the service providers that are essential to the execution of the protocols. It is important to be mindful that nearly all of the individuals have been tested as planned.

“The health and safety of our players and employees will remain our highest priorities.”

On the field, Gardenhire said the plan was to do three or four days of live bullpens, similar to Monday’s workout. The bulk of the baseball skills work, though, will come from intrasquad games and hopefully two or three exhibition games against another team – the Indians, White Sox, Cubs or possibly Blue Jays.

“Our goal is to get this team ready,” Gardenhire said. “That’s what this camp is going to be about.”

Presently, there’s been a lot of media buzz about the young prospects in camp, specifically first overall pick Spencer Torkelson, last year’s first-round pick Riley Greene and the stable of young pitchers led by Casey Mize and Matt Manning.

Soon, though, as Gardenhire said, the focus will be solely on the 30 players who will start the regular season.

“It’s good to see these kids come in and interact with our players,” he said. “But once we get through these live BPs the next three or four days, we’re going to make sure our guys are getting ready.

“We want those (prospects) to keep working out and keep playing and eventually we will find spots where they will get plenty of at-bats when we break camp."

Those players eventually assigned to the taxi squad will conduct intrasquad games and workouts at Fifth Third Field in Toledo. 

"But those kids aren’t going to be front and center here," Gardenhire said. "We’re trying to get our guys ready. We think we’ve got a chance to do something here. We think we have some pretty good hitters and some pretty good pitchers.

"We have to get a team ready to play. We want to come out of the chute fast.”

Twitter @cmccosky