| Detroit Free Press
Detroit Tigers’ AJ Hinch talks pitchers and catchers on report day
Detroit Tigers manager AJ Hinch checks in Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, before the first pitcher-catcher workout at spring training in Lakeland, Florida.
Evan Petzold, Detroit Free Press
Nor will he name an Opening Day starter. Don’t expect to learn the closer anytime soon, either.
“I gotta save some later notebooks for you guys,” Hinch said Wednesday from his office at the Tigers’ spring training complex in Lakeland, where pitchers and catchers reported Wednesday for the first day of camp.
The jokes from Detroit’s new manager signify two things: baseball is back and, on a more personal level, Hinch is back.
“This matters to me,” Hinch said. “This position matters to me. This organization has given me another opportunity. I’m going to take the time to let everybody know it. I did in our coaches meetings. I’m going to today in the pitcher-catcher meetings. Fast forward to the full-squad, I’ll let everybody know how important it is to stand in front of a team and be the manager, be the voice and be the leader that I can be.”
The 46-year-old was fired by the Houston Astros in January 2020 and served a one-year MLB suspension for his role in the sign-stealing scheme. He was contacted and hired by Tigers general manager Al Avila immediately after the World Series and was hired in late October.
“I hated being out of the game last year. I understand why,” Hinch said. “And I’m not going to take it for granted that I get to put on a major-league uniform again and lead a group of guys throughout the season.”
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This year’s spring training will look much different because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hinch said it’s “eerily quiet” in the clubhouse. There are three groups of pitchers, with Wednesday’s crew tossing Wednesday and Saturday.
These pitchers threw bullpens Wednesday: Michael Fulmer (RHP), Tarik Skubal (LHP), Matt Manning (RHP), Erasmo Ramirez (RHP), Bryan Garcia (RHP), Derek Holland (LHP) and Ian Krol (LHP).
Ramirez, Holland and Kroll are nonroster invitees on minor-league deals.
While pitchers and catchers reported Wednesday, the full squad won’t show up for workouts until Monday. The first Grapefruit League game is Feb. 28 against the Philadelphia Phillies at Joker Marchant Stadium.
Three pitchers — Jose Urena, Gregory Soto and Gerson Moreno — will arrive late to spring training because of work visa issues. Another pitcher, Franklin Perez, didn’t make it to camp Wednesday but is expected to arrive Thursday.
Right-hander Rony Garcia, who is in Lakeland, is a nonparticipant in pitcher-catcher workouts. He recently had an appendectomy.
Hinch is placing an emphasis on the starting rotation, considering the starters combined for a league-worst 6.37 ERA last season. Relievers had a 4.94 ERA, putting them sixth-worst in the majors.
“We weren’t very good at getting into games last year,” Hinch said. “That winning mindset has to begin. You have to take that responsibility as a pitching staff to build the foundation, and then you have to do it.
“The bar is pretty high. We are setting the bar pretty high for these guys to carry a workload, not just in a post-pandemic situation, but in the way we’re going to operate, the way we’re going to rely on them to lead this team.”
Here are other notes from Hinch Wednesday morning:
On COVID-19 protocols: “We’re going to have as close to normal of a first day as possible. We have to make a few adjustments. We have two camps going on, a major-league camp and, later this afternoon, around (noon), we’re going to have that mini-camp, which is just a couple of pitchers are going to throw off the mound. But I’ll address the group as a whole this morning, safely and socially distanced, for the first time with a mask on. … And then we’re going to have a normal workout. What doesn’t change is the stuff on the field. We’re spread out all over this complex.”
On pitching coach Chris Fetter’s preparation: “It’s not a one size fits all, and that’s what I like about Chris Fetter. He’s individualized all of this, from the throwing program to the bullpen schedule to the rest periods. Not everybody can be put in a bucket. But I’m excited to see how the pitch usage change can help our pitchers.”
On commanding the strike zone: “We have to get outs. The theme that you’re going to hear and see from our pitchers is how we control the strike zone. Good things happen when you get ahead, and that starts with the very first pitch. It starts with winning the 1-1 pitch. It’s a theme Fett has told me from the beginning of the interview process.
“You can apply that to Matt Boyd, (Spencer) Turnbull, (Casey) Mize and Skubal. And I bet you could apply it to Manning as a young pitcher. It’s not as simple as just saying, ‘Throw strikes.’ But there is data out there that suggests your life is a lot better when you get in the strike zone on (pitch) one and get to two strikes faster than two balls. That’s going to be the baseline of what we do.”