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Tigers opt to release veteran Jordy Mercer, keep Dawel Lugo

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — Lest you forgot that the Tigers were still in a rebuilding mode, albeit more in the build-back-up phase, they designated 33-year-old veteran Jordy Mercer for assignment Thursday, thus paring their roster to the requisite 28 players.

The decision essentially came down to Mercer, who made the club as a non-roster invitee to spring training, and Dawel Lugo, who is 25 and out of minor-league options.

Jordy Mercer had just nine at-bats with the Tigers this season.

“It’s just unfortunate we had to do that,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We all loved (Mercer) and he did well when he was here. He helped us. It was a tough decision but, young guy, old guy and not enough playing time.

“Basically that’s what it came down to.”

Mercer, who had appeared in just three games and was 2 for 9, cleared waivers and elected to become a free agent rather than report to the Tigers taxi squad in Toledo. The Tigers optioned rookie pitcher Anthony Castro back to the taxi squad on Tuesday.

“You have to make decisions on which way you want to go and you start talking about playing time,” Gardenhire said. “We’ve got multiple utility guys and you start looking at playing time — we’re going to try to get Lugo into a few more ballgames and see what happens with him.

“That’s just where it stood. It’s very tough. You guys know how much I respect Jordy and how much this organization respected Jordy for what he did here. But we’re going youth and we’re going to continue to do that.”

When the Tigers acquired Lugo from the Diamondbacks in the J.D. Martinez trade in 2017, they positioned him at second base. That did not go well and he ended up at third base, which seemed a much more natural position for him.

Now, though, Gardenhire is considering using him to back up second base and first base, as well as third.

“He’s going to back up everywhere, even catcher,” Gardenhire said, with a wry grin. “He’s our third catcher now, he just inherited that; that was Jordy’s job. He doesn’t know it yet, though.”

Harold Castro, Gardenhire said, will be the primary backup at second base and shortstop, but if there was a long-term injury to either Niko Goodrum or Jonathan Schoop, rookie Willi Castro will be first man up from the taxi squad.

“Willi Castro is ready to play,” Gardenhire said. “He’s done everything down there in Toledo. If we get someone hurt and it’s going to be seven to 10 days, Willi is next in line.”

Lugo has played in four games, mostly as a pinch-runner late in games for Miguel Cabrera. He only has three plate appearances.

“The kid has a good attitude and he’s handle this very well,” Gardenhire said. “I’ve not played him a lot, but he’s ready all the time. He pays attention in the dugout. … He’s improved so much defensively. Now if we can find enough at-bats and see if he can get that swing going.

“He brings some things to the table — he can play second base and he’s even gone over and played some first base. He’s a talented kid. I have to do a better job of getting him more at-bats so if we do need him, he’s ready. That’s my job.”

The Tigers signed Mercer to be their everyday shortstop last season, but he was limited to 74 games because of a persistent right quad injury. Still, he came back healthy in August and over the last 35 games slashed .336/.367/.533 with five home runs.

He agreed to sign back this season in a utility/mentor role. He was instrumental in Willi Castro’s defensive progress both last season and through spring and summer camp.

Tigers vs. Cardinals rescheduled

Major League Baseball has rescheduled the four games between the Tigers and Cardinals that we’re postponed this week.

The teams will play two doubleheaders: One on Aug. 13 at Comerica Park. The other Sept. 10 at Busch Stadium.

The home and home series scheduled for this week was postponed after the Cardinals had multiple positive tests for the coronavirus.

Rotation set for Pirates series

The Tigers decided not to adjust the top three of their rotation during the sudden four-day break. Matthew Boyd, Ivan Nova and Spencer Turnbull will pitch, in that order, against the Pirates in Pittsburgh this weekend.

After that, though, Gardenhire isn’t saying.

“I’ll let you know when we get back,” he said. “(Michael) Fulmer is still in there and we’re working on the last one.”

Fulmer, though, won’t work more than three innings, so it’s possible that Daniel Norris or Tyler Alexander would work in tandem with him. And the other would be the fifth starter. Rule 5 rookie Rony Garcia also would be in the mix for a tandem start.

Around the horn

Gardenhire said the Tigers will only take one taxi squad player to Pittsburgh — catcher Eric Haase.

… The Tigers, per new MLB protocols, will have a league-hired monitor traveling with them this weekend to make sure all COVID-19 safeguards and practices are being followed. “Al Avila is going to check everybody,” Gardenhire joked. “No, MLB is taking care of it. There will be a person here helping out and making sure we stay safe.”

… On staying sharp over the four-day break, Gardenhire said, “We did the best we could. The big thing was getting our pitchers throwing to hitters and getting our hitters to get swings at live pitching. That worked out pretty good. You just have to ad-lib the best you can when something like this happens. We just didn’t want to kill them.”

Tigers at Pirates

Series: Three-game series at PNC Park, Pittsburgh

First pitch: Friday — 7:05 p.m.; Saturday — 4:05 p.m.; Sunday  1:35 p.m.

TV/radio: All games on Fox Sports Detroit/97.1 FM

Probables: Friday  LHP Matthew Boyd (0-1, 7.20) vs. LHP Steven Brault (0-0, 0.00); Saturday  RHP Ivan Nova (0-0, 4.22) vs. LHP Derek Holland (0-0, 4.76); Sunday  RHP Spencer Turnbull (1-0, 2.45) vs. RHP Joe Musgrove (0-3, 6.75).

Boyd, Tigers: In two starts, Boyd has yet to find a rhythm mechanically, and now he will be working on nine days of rest. He said his bullpens have been productive in terms of finding rhythm and pace in his delivery.

Brault, Pirates: The Pirates have been using him as an opener as he works his way back from a shoulder issue. In his two starts this season he’s pitched a total of five innings. But they have been shutout innings. He’s allowed just one hit.

Twitter: @cmccosky