Detroit – The Tigers got through the first couple of weeks of this truncated season without much adversity — no new COVID-19 cases, few injuries and a lot of wins.
Suddenly, though, the fortunes have turned. The club made two rather ominous announcements before the game Saturday.
►First baseman C.J. Cron, who went on the injured list last Monday, elected to have surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left knee. He will be lost for the season.
►Starting pitcher Ivan Nova, who gave up six runs in the fourth inning Friday, was put on the 10-day injured list with triceps tendinitis.
In addition, because Daniel Norris threw 32 pitches Friday night, he will not be available to work in tandem with Michael Fulmer on Sunday against the Indians. Manager Ron Gardenhire said that lefty Tyler Alexander will be inserted into the piggyback spot.
“Danny threw (almost) two innings, so we’ll probably use Alexander now,” he said. “We really need length (after Fulmer’s three innings on Sunday).”
That means there are two open spots in the rotation.
“There’s all kinds of things happening here, I’m telling you,” Gardenhire said. “Right now we’re just trying to get through today and tomorrow and we’ll see from there.”
Start with Cron. He had quickly become the veteran, run-producing presence in the middle of the order the Tigers had lacked the last couple of seasons. But it only lasted 13 games.
“It needed to get fixed so he’d have stability out there,” Gardenhire said. “It wasn’t going to be one of those short-term deals. It’s going to take awhile to get fixed and heal. …I wish him the best. It was a pleasure having him here. It’s nice when you get to manage a guy like that, class act.
“He’s doing the right thing for himself and his career.”
Cron, 30, will be a free agent again next winter. He said he had a similar surgery on his right knee and the recovery time was six to eight months. So doing the surgery now will give him at least a fighting chance to be ready by March.
“It is with much frustration to inform you all that I am undergoing season-ending knee surgery to stabilize my patella,” Cron wrote in a Twitter message to Tigers fans. “When I signed with Detroit, my main goal was to bring competitiveness to an organization that is historically great. I wanted to take some pressure off the younger players and allow them to realize their potential. To give this organization a step in a positive direction.
“It saddens me that my season has to end like this just 13 games in. Due to COVID-19 protocols, I’ll be supporting the team from afar. Thank you all for the well wishes.”
Gardenhire said Jeimer Candelario will be the everyday first baseman going forward.
“We have a couple of guys we could maybe show how to play first base, but we did that last year and the year before,” Gardenhire said. “I’m kind of tired of that stuff. Candy has done it before and going to be OK.”
With Candelario staying at first, third base will now be shared by Willi Castro, Harold Castro and Dawel Lugo. Willi Castro made his third straight start there Saturday.
With Nova out now, and Alexander back in a bullpen role, the Tigers rotation is left with two vacancies – which will need to be filled starting Monday in Chicago. Gardenhire was asked several times about whether it’s time to bring up No. 1 prospect right-hander Casey Mize.
Clearly, it is not his call to make.
“There is a lot of talk going on right now,” Gardenhire said. “Trying to figure out a rotation. It’ll all get straightened out. We’re still in conversations about this — it all just happened last night. We’ve got a game today and we’ll work on it.
“We’ve written this thing out five different times in five different ways. We’ll get it straightened out.”
Alexander would have started on Monday. Norris, given he pitched Friday, likely won’t be an option to start Monday or Tuesday. And with Cron going on the long-term injured list, there is a spot on the 40-man roster for Mize.
On Friday, general manager Al Avila explained why he was being patient with Mize, Matt Manning and the other top pitching prospects.
“We felt this year, we had a shortened spring training and summer camp is not the greatest way to prepare for a season,” Avila said on MLB Radio. “So our main thing with Casey and a lot of other young pitchers is, we want to give them more time to build up their pitch counts and build up their innings and work on their repertoire — not just throw them in the fire in a shortened season after a shortened camp.
“For us we want to err on the side of caution more so than anything and give them more time.”
Whether Nova’s injury and the struggles the other starters have had (minus Spencer Turnbull) hasten the move to bring Mize up remains to be seen.
“We’re working on it,” Gardenhire said. “It’s all over the place right now.”
In the meantime, the Tigers recalled reliever Anthony Castro to add another fresh bullpen arm.