With C.J. Cron on IL, Tigers forced to mix and match defensively and with batting order

Detroit News

Detroit — No matter how many times the replay was viewed Monday night, even in slow-motion, you never got a clear look at where or if the hard-hit ground ball by Danny Mendick struck Tigers first baseman C.J. Cron.

All you knew for sure was Cron was down and in a ton of pain, eventually helped off the field by head athletic trainer Doug Teter and manager Ron Gardenhire. Turns out, Cron wasn’t hit by the ball, at least that’s not what caused his injury.

The Tigers put Cron on the 10-day injured list Tuesday with a left knee sprain. So, he was injured on his quick reaction to the ball, which left Mendick’s bat with an exit velocity of 94 mph. Cron had to react even quicker since he was in a few steps after holding a runner at first.

“Cron has damage to a ligament in his (left) knee,” Teter said in a written statement. “As of right now, C.J. is in a knee brace and receiving treatment throughout the day and game. (He) will progress back into activities as tolerated.

“At this point, we have no timetable for his return.”

It’s a significant loss for the Tigers, who won their fourth straight game Monday.

“We’ve been talking on a daily basis how much these veterans have meant to our ballclub,” Gardenhire said. “It kind of knocks your socks off losing your big first baseman. The lineup construction is different.”

The No. 4 hitter in the Tigers’ lineup, Cron was slugging .548 with four home runs and three doubles among his eight hits, and providing ample lineup protection for No. 3 hitter Miguel Cabrera.

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“You take a big bat out of the lineup like Cron and it doesn’t look the same,” said Gardenhire, who used Jonathan Schoop in the four hole Tuesday against left-handed starter Gio Gonzalez.  “We’re trying to mix and match the best we can. And we will be making adjustments as we go.”

Against right-handed pitching, Gardenhire said, he could use Christin Stewart in the four spot.

His absence will cause some shuffling defensively, as well. The Tigers called up shortstop Willi Castro from the taxi squad, though Gardenhire said initially, he would be used in a utility role. 

“We will get him out there are second and third base, too,” he said. “He can play shortstop if we need to give Niko (Goodrum) a break.”

Against left-handed starters, Jeimer Candelario will move to first base with Dawel Lugo playing third. That’s how the Tigers finished the game Monday and started it Tuesday. But against right-handed starters, Gardenhire said he could use Harold Castro at first base and move Candelario back to third.

“I don’t want to take Candy completely away from third base,” Gardenhire said. “He’s been playing really good baseball for us. There’s good chemistry out there and we’ve been playing really good defense.”

That’s why Gardenhire wants to keep Goodrum and Schoop in place at short and second. The Tigers are shifting more than any team in baseball and they have been instrumental in coordinating the defense.

“You don’t want to disrupt the whole thing by moving people around,” he said. “We might have to, but we’ve tried to keep it as close to the same as possible. Those two up the middle have really communicated well and done a lot of good things. We’re hoping to keep it that way.”

Before the game Tuesday, Candelario, Harold Castro, Schoop and Cabrera all took reps at first base. Gardenhire didn’t completely rule out using Cabrera at first.

“He wants to get out there, but I want him to play all year,” he said. “He might get out there, he might talk me into it and play a game or two. I know he wants it and it’s good that he wants to.”

Willi Castro, for his part, is willing to contribute any way he can.

“These guys have been working as a team and that’s how you have to work,” he said. “I see them taking good at-bats. I see the pitchers doing their job. Ever since I got sent down I’ve wanted to be here with them.

“I want to help them to keep winning games.”

The reports Gardenhire was getting on Castro from the coaching staff at Toledo were glowing.

“Willi is ready to play,” Gardenhire said last week after the Tigers designated veteran Jordy Mercer for assignment. “He’s done everything down there in Toledo. If we got someone hurt and it’s going to be a week to 10 days, Willi is next in line.”


Twitter: @cmccosky

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