Detroit Tigers mulling different roles for Franklin Perez, Jeimer Candelario

Detroit Free Press

Evan Petzold | Detroit Free Press

LAKELAND, Fla. — Franklin Perez looks healthy.

That’s a good place to start.

The Detroit Tigers received Perez, catcher Jake Rogers and outfielder Daz Cameron when they traded Justin Verlander to the Houston Astros in 2017. There are unanswered questions about all of them. So far, the deal has yielded little on the Tigers’ end.

But Perez, a 23-year-old right-handed pitcher, often carries the weight of the questions about the trade because of his past injuries, limiting him to nine minor league games (and 27 innings) since coming to the Tigers.

“Can’t get a lot of guys out when you’re hurt,” manager AJ Hinch said Monday. “It’s not all his fault. There are some genetic and physical things he’s been working on to stabilize his body and get his body to function the way that he needs to be effective.”

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A lat strain, shoulder inflammation and shoulder tendinitis plummeted Perez down the organization’s farm system rankings: from No. 1 in 2017 to No. 14 in 2020, according to MLB Pipeline. (Cameron is No. 7; Rogers is No. 12.)

But, again, Perez truly looks healthy this spring.

He tossed his first bullpen of spring training Monday, after passing his physical Saturday and getting on the field Sunday as a limited participant in workouts. His catcher for the session was 22-year-old Dillon Dingler. It’s possible they meet up in the minor leagues.

“I did hear that things went well,” Hinch said.

Perez was active through summer camp in July, only reaching the low 90s with his fastball. He went to the alternate training site in August and September.

[ Three years after Verlander trade, Tigers believe patience with Franklin Perez will pay off ]

“Getting him on the mound is really key,” Hinch said. “The stuff is real when he’s healthy. … I think getting him active and up and running is key. It’s a young pitcher with pretty good stuff who has missed a lot of time. You can talk all you want, but you got to get on the field and learn how to compete.”

Perez pitched three games during last year’s spring training before the COVID-19 pandemic forced baseball’s shutdown. With the minors canceled, finding  competitive innings again is the top priority.

He posted a 2.35 ERA in two starts for High-A Lakeland in 2019, with six strikeouts and five walks. Across his minor-league career, he has a 3.59 ERA, 234 strikeouts and 73 walks in 59 games (45 starts) and 230 innings.

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Hinch is unsure if he will use Perez as a starter or a reliever.

“Honestly, I just want him to get in a game,” Hinch said. “The better he feels, the more we will stretch him out. And I could say that about every guy. The focus right now is to get him physically ready to get into a game.

“Then we can start to work with him and start to develop him further. He’s had a rollercoaster ride in the health department. Any long-term plans are going to be based on his physical readiness.”

Candelario sticking with 3B

During voluntary workouts Saturday, Jeimer Candelario grabbed his glove and jogged to first base with Miguel Cabrera. Immediately, Hinch’s coaching staff told Candelario to move back to his home at third base.

On Monday, the first day of full-squad workouts in camp, Candelario didn’t once play first base.

“For me, right now, I’m putting my work in at third base,” Candelario, 27, said. “It’s easier to me, working at third base. … Whatever decision they make, I’ll be able to do it.”

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Candelario spent 43 of his 52 games at first base last season because of C.J. Cron’s season-ending knee injury. He is a better third baseman and has more experience there in his five-year career — 258 games at third compared to 64 games at first.

If 22-year-old Isaac Paredes makes the roster, expect to see more of Candelario at first. But if power-hitter Renato Nunez earns a spot, Candelario should spend 2021 as the everyday third baseman.

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Last spring, he was in a position battle with Dawel Lugo, then followed by hitting .297 with seven homers and 29 RBIs across 52 games in the 2022 regular season. This spring, he is a lock for the Opening Day roster, whether he ends up at first base or third base.

“It’s the same mentality,” Candelario said. “I got things to prove to myself to keep working really hard to make the team. I don’t want to get comfortable. I want to work hard.”

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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