Minneapolis – When he recounts his big-league call-up story, Sergio Alcantara is under no obligation to tell anyone that he was summoned to be the 29th player for a doubleheader.
No, when you’ve been grinding in the minor leagues for seven years, since you were 16, never even getting to Triple-A, it doesn’t matter why you got called to the Grande Liga, just that you did.
“I am just thankful to God and to the Tigers’ organization for giving me the opportunity to be here,” Alcantara said through interpreter Carlos Guillen before the doubleheader Friday against the Twins.
Alcantara, an infielder who was part of the get-back in the J.D. Martinez trade to Arizona, has been in the Tigers’ system since 2017 and they’ve thought enough of him to keep him on the 40-man roster and invite him to big-league spring camp the last two years.
“In spring training, I always tried to figure out if he can hit at this level,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “I know he can play defense. He can really pick it and he’s fundamentally sound and he’s got a cannon arm. He’s really developed into a good infielder here.
“My question was whether he’d be strong enough to hit at this level. And I tell you, in spring training he hit. He was hitting line drives, really nice stroke. I was impressed. I said that was probably as good an improvement as you can see on any of our young guys.”
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Alcantara weighed 150 when the Tigers got him. He’s built up his body considerably, not losing weight or strength, he said, through his bout with COVID-19, which cost him a chance to compete at summer camp.
“I spent about two weeks doing literally nothing,” Alcantara said. “That’s hard for a baseball player. You need to play, need to work day in and day out. But I kept working to get back to where I was in spring training and fortunately, I am here.
“I’ve been trying to get better, working hard because I know hitting was my weakness,” Alcantara said. “But I have kept working and I’m getting it stronger.”
The Tigers brought Alcantara to Milwaukee as one of their allotted traveling taxi squad players. The Tigers opted to activate him for the doubleheader because shortstop Niko Goodrum is still feeling some discomfort in his side.
“Goody is still day-to-day,” Gardenhire said. “He’s still sore. I had him in my office and I told him we have Alcantara here to protect us a little bit. I didn’t want him to jump out there too early, take a swing and then the next thing you know, he’s out for two more weeks.
“We’re doing the right thing here, the smart thing, and he agreed.”
Another start, another new circumstance for rookie lefty Tarik Skubal to navigate. He will face the Twins again on Saturday, a week after pitching five strong innings against them at Comerica Park.
It will be a different look for him this time. Different (smaller) stadium, and possibly at least two more right-handed hitters in the lineup (Josh Donaldson and Byron Buxton).
He was asked if that changes his approach, or will he stick to the approach that was successful in Detroit.
“That’s the fine line, right?” he said. “You want to stick to your strengths, but if you see something in a hitter, you want to expose them if there is a hole. But the hitters will tell you. You make adjustments in the game.
“You have a game plan and go execute. But hitters will let you know what works and what not.”
Zimmermann getting close
Gardenhire opted to start lefty Tyler Alexander in Game 2, though he will be on short rest (four days). But had this been a week from now, Jordan Zimmermann might have been an option.
His rehab from forearm strain is nearing an end.
“They say he’s doing good,” Gardenhire said. “He’s got his velocity back up to where it was (before the injury) and the ball is coming out of his hand really good. We just don’t know where it’s going to go and how it’s going to do once he gets into situations facing hitters at this level.
“Will his arm hold up? None of those things we can answer. But we are short on pitching right now. Anybody we can get back healthy, that’s a good thing.”
Tigers at Twins
First pitch: 7:10 p.m. Saturday
TV/radio: FSD/97.1 FM
LHP Tarik Skubal (1-1, 6.75), Tigers: He has improved with each start. In his last, he went five innings against the Twins and allowed a pair of runs, earning his first big-league win. He only had two punch-outs and six swings and misses. Twins hitters fouled off 15 pitches. Interesting to see how he adjusts to that.
RHP Kenta Maeda (4-1, 2.53), Twins: The Tigers nicked him for three runs, including home runs by Jeimer Candelario and Jonathan Schoop in Comerica, but he was nasty. He struck out eight in six innings.