Detroit — Before Friday night’s game at Comerica Park, Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire and Indians skipper Terry Francona had a chance to commiserate on the craziness and unpredictable nature of this COVID-stricken season.
“We’ve both had our health issues,” said Gardenhire, 62, a cancer survivor who also is a diabetic. “He just came off of one. We’re worried about this stuff. People have to take care of themselves.”
Francona, 61, missed eight games with a gastrointestinal problem.
When he got back, he was hit with the news that two of his best starting pitchers — Zach Plesac and Mike Clevinger — had violated the league’s COVID-19 protocols.
Gardenhire saluted the Indians swift and firm response. They suspended both players initially. Then on Friday, both were reinstated and optioned back to the club’s taxi squad.
“They handled it the best way they could,” Gardenhire said. “I am sure other players were frustrated by it. It’s one of those teaching points for our ballclub — take care of yourself. They still have some really good pitchers going, but when you take those two out, that’s saying your are pretty serious about this stuff.
“We are too. But it was impressive on their part to say, this is what we’re going to do, this is how we’re going to handle it.”
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Gardenhire, for one, was very happy to write outfielder Cameron Maybin’s name in the lineup again, something he hadn’t been able to do since July 31 when Maybin left with a right quad strain.
“His presence in the clubhouse and the dugout means a lot,” Gardenhire said. “He’s a positive guy and a loud talked, which I enjoy. I like that stuff in the dugout. It’s nice to have him back.”
Friday was only Maybin’s seventh game. He came in 5-for-18 on the season.
“He’s ready to go,” Gardenhire said. “He’s been going full force and he feels great. He took his time with it, which is good. He didn’t rush, that’s a veteran. He made sure he was ready before he came back.”
Outfielder Travis Demeritte was sent back to the taxi squad in Toledo.
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Stay in the light
It’s may be too soon to call it a make-or-break stretch of the season, but a lot will be known about the Tigers over the next 10 games. Beginning Friday, they play American League Central Division rival Cleveland six times (three at Comerica this weekend and three at Progressive Field next weekend) with four games against the White Sox in Chicago in between.
“You look at the schedule and it seems like it’s going to last forever,” Gardenhire said. “It feels like it’s not going very quick to me.”
Cramming 60 games into 66 days can feel like that, for sure.
“We’re going to be facing a lot teams in our division, good teams, and I know it’s not going to be easy,” he said. “But you can’t look too far ahead. I read the schedule just like you did. You start looking too far ahead and it can become a dark road.
“You don’t want that. You want to stay in the sunlight.”
Around the horn
Former Tigers’ pitcher Drew VerHagen is off to a solid start in Japan.
In seven games for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, VerHagen is 4-1 with a 3.02 ERA and 1.1 WHIP. He has 40 strikeouts and 11 walks in 41.2 innings.
… Tigers head athletic trainer Doug Teter gave these updates on three of the Tigers’ injured players: Right-handed pitcher Dario Agrazal (forearm strain) was scheduled to throw one inning of live batting practice at Toledo Friday. Right-handed pitcher Jordan Zimmermann (forearm strain) threw his first live batting practice since sustaining his injury early in summer camp. Right-handed reliever Buck Farmer (groin) will begin is bullpen progression Saturday.
… Lefty reliever Gregory Soto went into the game Friday on a run of nine straight scoreless outings, covering 10 innings. He has allowed just two hits with 14 strikeouts. Soto’s run of zeros is the longest since lefty Justin Wilson had 10 straight scoreless outings.
Indians at Tigers
First pitch: 6:10 Saturday, Comerica Park, Detroit
RHP Shane Bieber (3-0, 1.63), Indians: In four starts he’s allowed five runs. His metrics are incredible, he’s in the top 98 percentile in strikeout percentage (42.6) and top 99 percentile in swing-and-miss rate — 57% on curve ball and 48% on his cutter. Oddly, though, his hard-hit rate (48% ) is high.
RHP Spencer Turnbull (2-0, 2.00), Tigers: Here’s how stingy Turnbull has been in his first three starts: Opponents are hitting .192 off his four-seam, .133 off his two-seam, .214 off his slider and .143 off his change-up.