AJ Hinch ready to face the media firing squad before Tigers face Yankees
Lakeland, Fla. — AJ Hinch already knows what's coming Monday when he brings the Tigers into Tampa to play the Yankees.
The Yankees, as much as any team, are still embittered by the sign-stealing scandal that took place under Hinch's watch in Houston in 2017 and 2018, the scandal that eventually led to Hinch's ouster from the Astros and a year's suspension.
He's going to face a New York media firing squad. But, just as he did with those same questions here when he was named manager of the Tigers, his plan is to meet it head-on.
"I'll address it directly just like I have," he said. "It's part of my past. I'm keeping the Tigers out of it. It has nothing to do with the Detroit Tigers. I understand that it's personal with me. I'll handle it."
Hinch made sure that his name was highlighted on the Tigers' travel roster, which is sent to the media.
"I'm not going to do anything different than I've done answering these questions," he said. "I will address it, apologize for it and move forward. I'm not going to tell people how to believe or what to believe.
"But just continue to be sorry it was part of the game, and for the wrong things we did, and then get focused on the Tigers."
Hinch was absolved of any direct involvement in the sign-stealing caper. But as the field leader, he was punished for not doing enough to stop it.
"I respect everyone for having an opinion and for having questions," he said. "But I am going to address it and then put my focus right back on my team."
Immediately following the misplay, Hinch jotted down some notes and infield coaches Ramon Santiago and Chip Hale discussed how they were going to attack it later.
It happened in the third inning Sunday. With two outs and a runner on first, Travis Jankowski hit a ground ball up the middle. Shortstop Willi Castro made a nice play to get to it and with his momentum going toward first base, second baseman Harold Castro, though he moved to cover second, assumed he was throwing to first and turned his back on the play.
Willi Castro's unorthodox-looking flip to second nearly hit Harold in the back.
"You can practice all you want, but you're going to find out more during the game," Hinch said. "I'm glad. If things like that happen, I'd rather they happen now than get exposed later.
"We were on top of it. Santy and Chip both addressed it. But, you can't practice game reps, that's why these games are important."
Pitcher Derek Holland bailed his middle infielders out, striking out C.J. Chatham.
Jumped the gun
You can’t blame Hinch for being a little quick to put Isaac Paredes into a lineup. The 22-year-old Paredes, coming off a strong winter in Mexico, hasn’t been able to participate in camp because of travel and visa delays and COVID-19 intact testing.
But Hinch thought Sunday was going to be his first day and wrote him on the lineup card, among the right-handed-hitting reserves.
“That was my error,” Hinch said. “He’s completed his intact tests but he has to do a physical, and he can’t do one on Sunday. We’re not expecting any issues, but this was going to be his first day. Looks like it will be (Monday).”
Paredes, who made his debut with the Tigers last season (34 games), hit .379 and had a 1.06 OPS helping his team win the Mexican winter league title. He cooled off in the Caribbean World Series, going 2 for 20.
Depending on what happens at first base for the Tigers, Paredes has a chance to win a roster spot at third base. The more likely scenario, though, is that he starts the season at Triple-A.
Just be good
The Tigers, as they will for most spring games, brought some extra pitchers over from minicamp. Right-handers Drew Carlton, Robbie Ross, Jr., and Logan Shore were called over Sunday, as was sidearmer Nolan Blackwood.
Hinch was asked about the importance of having the option of a reliever who throws with a different arm angle.
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“It depends on how good you are,” he said. “I’d rather have good over a different style. I focus on impact, less on different looks. Now, if you can be good and different, that’s a good strength to have.”
Around the horn
Hinch has set his pitching lineup for this week: Kyle Funkhouser will start Monday at Tampa (Yankees) and Casey Mize will go Tuesday at Bradenton (Pirates). On Wednesday against the Phillies, Daniel Norris and Matt Manning will piggyback. Spencer Turnbull will make his first start on Thursday against the Blue Jays. Matthew Boyd will start Friday against the Yankees at Tampa.
...On Saturday in Sarasota (Orioles), Hinch hopes that Michael Fulmer will be back from paternity leave. Tarik Skubal, who will pitch on Saturday regardless, would start if he's not.
...Don't be concerned if Hinch doesn't use his late-inning relievers much in the early going. Bryan Garcia, Joe Jimenez, Buck Farmer, Gregory Soto and Jose Cisnero will ramp it up more toward the end of camp. "Bullpen guys are the hardest to keep at bay," Hinch said. "Once they pitch, they want to pitch a lot. You can look up and those guys will have nine or 10 outings in camp and that's probably too many."
...The Tigers added another veteran right-hander to the mix, signing Drew Hutchison to a minor-league deal. The Lakeland resident will work at the team's minicamp. The former Blue Jays starter spent last season in independent ball.