The mood inside the Detroit Tigers’ clubhouse at Comerica Park on Sunday was diagnosed as somber by interim manager Lloyd McClendon.
Ron Gardenhire, newly retired, wasn’t there.
“Gardy is such a lovable guy,” McClendon said of the former Tigers skipper. “He had a special relationship with all of us. Obviously, him not being here is tough. But it’s such a business that you got to tighten up the belt buckle, go out and get it done. That’s the attitude we take.”
Now operating under McClendon’s direction, the team’s plan still hasn’t changed.
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McClendon remains optimistic about making the playoffs. The Tigers have dropped four of their last five and are 4½ games back of the Toronto Blue Jays for the American League’s eighth and final spot in the postseason.
“We’re still in this race,” he said. “As Yogi (Berra) said, ‘It’s not over until it’s over.’ So, we will put the lineup together in an effort to try to win a ballgame on a daily basis.”
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That sounds like something Gardenhire would say.
But with six scheduled games remaining — and possibly two more in a doubleheader with the St. Louis Cardinals — the playoffs are a long shot. Whether the Tigers admit it or not, the focus will continue to shift toward the 2021 season.
And if there’s some rare luck along the way, Detroit can try to run with it.
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Continuing the process
A four-game road series with the Kansas City Royals starting Thursday may be the best opportunity to wrap up the schedule on a high note.
As it reaches the finish line, the team will likely focus more on the development of the prospects than adjusting to McClendon and his staff — nobody knows who will be coaching next year.
Rookie left-hander Tarik Skubal starts Tuesday against the Minnesota Twins and is lined up to make his final appearance Sept. 27 against the Royals. Right-hander Casey Mize, another rookie, makes his final start Wednesday. He could get an additional opportunity in the unscheduled doubleheader with the Cardinals.
A strong final outing from each will help their confidence in entering offseason training.
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There’s also outfielder Daz Cameron, the team’s No. 7 prospect, to keep in mind. He was called up and made his MLB debut Sept. 9 and started 1-for-27 at the plate. Gardenhire’s final move as manager was inserting Cameron as a pinch-hitter Sept. 18 in the ninth inning. He tripled to snap his slump.
On Saturday, he went 2-for-4 with a go-ahead RBI single in a 5-2 win.
Cameron now has three hits in his last nine at-bats.
“I think the mental aspect is a very important step, and we watch that closely,” McClendon said. “A young player can get very frustrated with not getting positive results at this level. … The swing itself was still telling us that he had a chance to be successful, and it was nice to see him finally get those positive results to build confidence.”
Another player to watch is Bryan Garcia, the front-runner for the closer job in 2021. While the Tigers could seek additional help in free agency, Garcia is the leading in-house candidate.
He owns a 1.35 ERA and 1.200 WHIP in 20 innings across 24 appearances. He doesn’t boast a high strikeout rate, with only 10 total, but he has limited his opponents to three earned runs.
“I think we saw the guy that we all expect to see, a healthy Bryan Garcia,” McClendon said. “The ball coming out real good with good finish on it, and pounding the strike zone.”
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Next up as bench coach?
Josh Paul’s official title is Tigers’ quality control coach, but with one ejection, he could be the manager.
Paul is McClendon’s right-hand man and has been promoted to bench coach.
“As of right now, we all do it together,” McClendon said. “Josh is our quality control coach, so a lot of that stuff I’ll lean on him for. He’s sort of acting as a bench coach, but I lean on all the coaches to try to get this done.”
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Paul played from 1999 to 2007 for the Chicago White Sox, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Angels and Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He coached for the New York Yankees in 2010 as an interim bullpen coach and as the minor-league catching coordinator 2014-17.
He was the bench coach for the Angles 2018-19 before the Tigers tabbed him as their quality control coach entering the 2020 season. It wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility for general manager Al Avila to at least give him a look in the managerial search.
Alcantara sent to Toledo
One Tigers’ prospect who won’t be around for the remainder of the season is infielder Sergio Alcantara.
The organization optioned him Sunday to the alternate training site in Toledo and will make a corresponding move before Tuesday’s game — likely reinstating second baseman Jonathan Schoop, who has been on the 10-day injured list with a right wrist sprain.
Alcantara made his MLB debut Sept. 6 and launched a home run in his first at-bat. He was 2-for-19 through nine games. His two hits came in his first two games before going on an 0-for-12 streak.
Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.