Minneapolis — If you don’t think this game can be rough on a player’s psyche, consider Brandon Dixon.
He led the Tigers in home runs last season with 15. He played in 117 games, hit .248 in 420 plate appearances. He played every position on the field except shortstop and catcher. Yes, he even pitched.
And for his troubles, he was designated for assignment, signed back on a minor-league contract and spent the season at the alternative training site in Toledo, where he watched a parade of younger players — Travis Demeritte, Derek Hill, Jorge Bonifacio, Isaac Paredes and Sergio Alcantara — get called up to Detroit.
Heck, they even gave away his jersey number 12 to rookie pitcher Casey Mize.
But the 28-year-old Dixon didn’t complain, didn’t pout. He just put his head down every day and went to work. Finally, with six games left (possibly eight), he got the call on Monday.
“I don’t try to play GM,” he said before the game. “I stay away from that. I knew my job was to show up every day. I wasn’t sure what their plans were. I came in today expecting to be on the taxi squad. So it was a nice little surprise to see my name in the lineup.”
Batting fifth, playing left field, No. 9 – Brandon Dixon.
“He played extremely well down there and we need more offense,” interim manager Lloyd McClendon said on the decision of promote Dixon. “He fits the bill. Plus, he’s very versatile and that’s important for us, too.”
Dixon said he estimates he got between 100 and 120 at-bats in live scrimmages in Toledo over the last seven weeks. Not ideal, but reports were he was stinging the ball.
“From the beginning of summer camp until now I felt like I could play at this level,” Dixon said. “It wasn’t a matter of me thinking I wasn’t ready to be up here. It’s just how the roster lined up and I wasn’t part of it.
“For me, I had to go down and do my job. If they called me up, great. If they didn’t, I am going to keep playing.”
He worked on his swing mechanics in Toledo, but mostly, he focused on his pitch selection at the plate.
“I focused on swinging at pitches I can drive,” he said. “I chased too much when I was up here last year. Being able to have at-bats that aren’t seen (at Toledo) and don’t really matter, you are able to work on some stuff and try different things.”
He’s happy to get some more big-league service time, for sure, but he’s not looking at this final week as any kind of audition.
“Six games,” he said. “Kind of tough to put yourself in a position to prove something in six games. I’m not going to put pressure on myself for anything like that. I am going to go about my business like it’s another day. I’ve prepared myself to play, so I’m just going to go out and do what I can do.”
Dixon was asked if he felt like this has been a lost year for him, developmentally.
“I wouldn’t say that,” he said. “It’s been tough for everyone — 2020 has been a challenging year in a lot of ways for a lot of people. But we got to work and do different things. For me, I made the most of it and I think that’s why I’m here for the last week.”
Dixon effectively takes second baseman Jonathan Schoop’s roster spot. Schoop’s right wrist wasn’t healing fast enough so the Tigers put him on the 45-day injured list, ending his season.
“He is very talented, his numbers showed that, he was a force in our lineup,” McClendon said. “This is a tough loss. He led by example. He wasn’t very vocal, but he went out and did his job to the best of his ability, ran every ball out, turned double plays like a professional and obviously hit some home runs and drove in some runs for us.”
Schoop and first baseman C.J. Cron signed identical one-year, $6.1 million contracts with the Tigers. Cron (knee surgery) played 13 games and Schoop played 44. The Tigers had similar bad luck with two other one-year signings last year — Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison.