Dream catch by Derek Hill highlights Tigers' first camp scrimmage
Detroit — Jeimer Candelario wasn’t coming off third base.
He’d hit a bending line drive over the head of center fielder Derek Hill Wednesday in the Tigers first intrasquad game of camp and he couldn’t get his mind around the fact that Hill, the former first-round pick, ran it down.
As Candelario stood his ground, Hill finally yelled in, “You gone.”
“I don’t care if he wanted to stay there, I was getting him off of there,” said Hill, regarded as possibly the best defensive center fielder in the Tigers' system. “Those catches don’t come along too often.”
You’d be hard-pressed to find another one like it.
Candelario’s liner started out like it was headed toward the right-center field gap and sliced dramatically, forcing Hill to swivel and sprint back toward the track on the left side of center.
“The ball started out over my left side and faded back over my right side,” Hill said. “I just had to make the adjustment. I didn’t have time to really flip back around and pick the ball back up. I just decided to do it over my shoulder.”
Catching up to the ball was impressive enough — and he did so with a superman dive with his back to the infield. The more difficult feat was sticking the landing. He caught it in the webbing of his glove, but as he landed the ball popped up and out of his glove.
Somehow, though, he was able to grab the ball with his throwing hand before it hit the ground.
“The hand is faster than the eye,” manager Ron Gardenhire joked. “I think he snagged it. Everybody really liked that moment — except the guy who hit it.”
It was the kind of catch Hill, who spent most of last season at Double-A Erie, has dreamed about making at Comerica Park since he was drafted in 2014.
“Not just because we were at Comerica,” he said. “I just think, honestly, it was one of my better catches. I’ve never really done the bare-handed thing. It’s nice to add that to my repertoire. But it did have some symbolic value for me.
“I am finally up here. I hope I can show my talent.”
In his heart of hearts, Candelario believes the ball skipped on the ground before Hill caught it, but he was impressed nevertheless.
“That was awesome,” Candelario said. “He’s great in center field. He can run and he has a really good first step. Good for him, man. I’m excited for him to be in this camp.”
The game was scheduled to go five innings, but it was stopped in the bottom of fifth when a lightning storm blew threw the city.
“It gave us a good feel for what this is going to be like,” Gardenhire said of playing games in empty stadiums. “I’m not sure it’s the same feel, that same ‘I want to kick your butt’ type of thing because we all wearing the big 'D' on our shirts.
“It’s just good to get out there. There’s always going to be that competition, but it’s not that us versus them, it’s just we’re working on our game. It was fun for them. There’s some hooting and hollering going on from each dugout.”
Gardenhire split up his projected starting unit. He put his starting infield plus Miguel Cabrera on the home team and his starting outfield on the visiting team.
Center fielder JaCoby Jones hit a two-run home run and first baseman Frank Schwindel hit a solo shot off lefty Tyler Alexander to pace the visitor’s 4-1 win.
Michael Fulmer, coming back from Tommy John surgery, pitched two innings and allowed an unearned run. The only hit he allowed was an opposite-field double by Harold Castro.
“When you start looking at how you appreciate this game, it’s little things that count on a day like this,” Gardenhire said. “Watching Fulmer come off after that second inning and seeing that big smile on his face, those are the moments you really enjoy.
“He’s worked really hard to take that next step forward and he went out there and threw the ball good. His smile was what this is all about.”
Fulmer’s outing was upstaged by his counterpart, though. Rule 5 rookie Rony Garcia pitched two-plus innings with three strikeouts. He was so efficient that Gardenhire gave him another batter in his second inning of work — and he dispatched Jorge Bonifacio on three pitches for the fourth out of the inning.
“The view from our dugout, man, the ball was jumping on our hitters,” Gardenhire said. “That’s what you have to do, make an impression. You have to be ready when you get an opportunity and he was today.”
If the Tigers don’t keep Garcia on the active roster, he would be offered back to the Yankees, the team they drafted him from. With two weeks left in the first spring training back in March, Garcia was very much on the roster bubble.
With the roster expanded to 30 to start the season, Garcia’s odds to make the club are better.
Tigers non-roster left-hander Nick Ramirez wasn’t much daunted by facing two of the Tigers' top hitting prospects Wednesday. He got Spencer Torkelson to ground out to shortstop on one pitch, then he struck out Riley Greene on four pitches.
Before the game, though, Torkelson worked drills at third base under the instruction of Hall-of-Famer Alan Trammell.
“(Ramon) Santiago is a real good infield instructor, too,” Gardenhire said. “But Tram is a Hall-of-Famer and is instantly respected by these guys. You still have to be able to relay your message and no one does it better than him, and in a positive mode.
“Honestly, every one of these kids are like his kids when he’s teaching out there. Torkelson looking up to a guy like that and having him put all the interest in him, I think the kid is pretty lucky and I think he will listen. If you don’t listen to Tram, then you are probably a lost ball in tall weeds.”
Around the horn
Schwindel, who was on the Royals’ opening day roster last season, is expected to spend the year on the taxi squad. But, the power-hitting first baseman, made the Tigers aware that he was a catcher up through Double-A ball and he’d be willing to get back there again.
“He’s just a professional player,” Gardenhire said. “He can put a good swing on the ball and we like him a lot. Offering to go catch, those are the players you like to have around and can help you during the course of a season.”
... The Ford Family has allowed the Tigers to use Ford Field as an alternative training site. The Tigers outfielders, primarily, are using it to run and throw and do some drill work on the artificial turf.
“We’re not taking batting practice on it,” Gardenhire said. “It just allows us to free up our outfield (at Comerica) with all the pitchers we have. It was really nice of them to let us do that. It means a lot.”