'Everything is good now': Tigers' Niko Goodrum quickly knocks rust off glove, bat

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit – You don’t have to warn Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire against making hasty decisions, particularly early in training camp. Shoot, his career as a third base coach in Minnesota nearly ended before it started.

“They were going to shoot me up with some disease because I got three guys thrown out in like the first two games,” he said, laughing at the memory.

Niko Goodrum

So when new Tigers shortstop Niko Goodrum booted ground balls in each of the first two intrasquad games this week, and slow-played another into an infield single, Gardenhire was – well, nervous but not overly concerned.

“We were a little worried but he told me he just needed his timing,” Gardenhire said. “Niko had a good day today. I was impressed how he rebounded defensively.”

Goodrum was flawless Sunday, handling all four chances – one was highlight-worthy, taking a base hit from Dawel Lugo with a long, strong throw from the hole.

“I feel good,” said Goodrum, who was drafted as a shortstop by the Twins and spent the first five years of his minor-league career there before taking on a super-utility role with the Tigers the last two seasons. “It took a couple of days to get back to it.”

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Goodrum built a massive workout facility, complete with a batting net, in one of his two garages behind his home in suburban Atlanta. Too bad he doesn’t quite own enough land there to build an infield, too.

“We took three months off and it was tough to even get on a baseball field to get your work in,” he said. “Just needed to see some balls off the bat and get back into the swing of things. Everything is good now.”

Speaking of getting back into the swing, Goodrum led off the scrimmage Sunday with a screaming line-drive home run to right field off right-hander Shao-Ching Chiang. It was Goodrum’s first hit of camp, though that’s not to suggest he’d been scuffling.

Hitting leadoff every day, he’s drawn four walks and worked several deep counts. His home run Sunday came after he fell behind 0-2 and then worked the count full.

“I just want to see how long I can let the ball travel and get the barrel to it,” he said. “The advantage is you can lay off stuff (outside the strike zone). That’s my focus. Just make sure I’m seeing the ball good.”

Last season Goodrum had a 29.2-percent strikeout rate (bottom 8 percent in the league) and a 30-percent chase rate.

“Right now I’m feeling pretty good on both sides of the ball,” he said.

Game bits 

Pitchers, as expected, continue to dominate these intrasquad games. On Sunday, Buck Farmer (clean, nine-pitch inning), David McKay (two innings, one hit), Nolan Blackwood (one inning, one hit), Kyle Funkhouser (two innings, two strikeouts), Beau Burrows (two innings, two strikeouts) and Anthony Castro (one inning, two strikeouts) all pitched scoreless baseball

… Jordan Zimmermann rebounded from a rocky first inning with two scoreless innings, the last on just seven pitches. But it took him 25 pitches to get there. He gave up four hits, including a two-run double by Christin Stewart, and a walk in the first. “Not much was coming out in that first inning,” Gardenhire said. “Be he started to spin the ball better and threw it better after that. He’s been around a long time.”

… Gardenhire was asked again whether there was an open spot in the rotation with Daniel Norris (COVID-19 protocol) still out? “We’re trying to set up a five-man rotation here, however it goes,” he said. “Michael Fulmer (coming off Tommy John surgery), how are we going to use him? We’re trying to figure out if we’re going to put him in the thing. We have questions, but we’re trying to let it play out on the field and make decisions as we get closer to the start of the season. We’re trying to be patient here.”

…Speaking of Fulmer, he hasn’t pitched since Wednesday and he did not participate in the pitchers’ fielding practice drills before the game Sunday. “Nothing is going on with him,” said Gardenhire, who didn’t rule out Fulmer starting the game Monday. “He’s fine.”

…Chiang struck out three straight hitters (Victor Reyes, Miguel Cabrera and Jonathan Schoop) after allowing the Goodrum home run and didn’t allow another hit. But he put himself in trouble with a couple of walks in the second inning. His stuff – mid-90s fastball, splitter and curve ball – is electric, but he needed 39 pitches to finish two innings.

Grayson Greiner

… Grayson Greiner, who seems to be settling in as the backup catcher, made a heads-up play to get Chiang out of trouble in the second. Jorge Bonifacio, with Jeimer Candelario on second and two outs, strayed a little too far with his secondary lead off of first. Greiner made a snap throw and picked him off by a couple of feet.

… Gardenhire said there will be back-to-back night scrimmages this week. One is already scheduled for Thursday and will be televised on Fox Sports Detroit. “We have two this week and both exhibition games in Cincinnati (July 21-22) are at night,” he said. “So we’ll get some work under the lights and get used to the routine leading up it.”

… The other scrimmages this week will be live-streamed at Tigers.com.

Twitter @cmccosky