Detroit Tigers Newsletter: Derek Holland doubles down on a mantra for 2021

Detroit Free Press

Finally? Finally. Finally.

Yes, finally, we’ll get baseball that counts, beginning Thursday. (OK, OK, we’ve got a couple more spring training games today and tomorrow, but who’s counting?)

Cleveland will be in town — they’re lacking Francisco Lindor, Carlos Carrasco, Carlos Santana, Trevor Bauer and their old nickname (more or less), but Shane Bieber is still toeing the rubber with a “C” on his cap, so we can kinda guess how it’ll go.

But hey, ya gotta believe, especially now that the 26-man roster is set — we’ve got lots of updates to parse.

Hello, and welcome to the Detroit Tigers Newsletter. Let’s get to it.

For starters

It’ll be Matthew Boyd getting the Opening Day nod (for the second consecutive season) vs. Bieber. Boyd’s looking to rebound from a 2020 that saw him lead the AL in earned runs and home runs allowed (yes, for the second consecutive season). Wait, why’s he starting the opener again? New manager AJ Hinch says it was a decision based as much on his work off the mound as on it. The Freep’s Evan Petzold has the story here of just what that entailed over the offseason.

For (even more) starters

The rest of the rotation is set, five-man style until Spencer Turnbull returns from the COVID injured list: Boyd, Julio Teheran, Tarik Skubal, Jose Urena and … Casey Mize, who nabbed the final spot with a stellar start Friday against the Blue Jays. Our Man Petzold broke down Mize’s nine-strikeout start against a Toronto (by way of Dunedin and Buffalo until the summer) squad that figures to challenge for a playoff spot again.

How do you spell relief?

You might have noticed one familiar name missing from that rotation: Michael Fulmer. The 2016 AL Rookie of the Year, 2017 AL All-Star and 2019 Tommy John surgery recipient will start the year in the bullpen as he reworks how he attacks hitters. Fulmer called the move a “swift kick in the ass,” Our Man Petzold reports here, but said he’d rather stay in the bigs than head to the alternate training site in Toledo.

Also joining the bullpen is veteran Derek Holland, last seen giving up homers to four of the first five Tigers he faced last August. (He might have left that part off his resume, actually.) Holland earned the spot by striking out 13 batters in seven spring relief appearances, thanks to a newly zippy fastball that hit 95 mph. Is he excited? “For the first time in a while, I can sit here, and I can actually say the velocity is there,” he told Our Man Petzold here. “So, I’m not old, and I’m not washed up.” Us too, bud, us too.

Holland’s arrival means Tigers fans (and opposing hitters) won’t have righty Joe Jimenez to kick around, at least for the first few weeks of the season. The Tigers’ representative at the 2018 All-Star Game was optioned to Triple-A to open the season. It’s not a move the 26-year-old is happy about, but Our Man Petzold reports here that the Tigers didn’t have much choice with a 5.06 spring ERA following last season’s 18 earned runs in 22 2/3 innings. (Yes, that’s a worse ERA than Mr. Boyd.)

Behind the plate

Prospect Jake Rogers will be joining Jimenez in Toledo after he lost out on the backup catcher job to Grayson Greiner. It could be a long season for the 25-year-old, who re-established his defensive reputation this spring, but still hit only .136 in 22 at-bats. Our Man Petzold examined what went wrong with the Tigers’ one-time “catcher of the future” here and discovered how Rogers finds himself each offseason wandering his hometown in the Texas Panhandle.

In the infield

The other youngster sent to Toledo this week has a bit more time to show he’s part of the organization’s longterm plans: 22-year-old Isaac Paredes will start the year at the alternate training site working on his glove as he gets reps at second base. The effort to build some defensive versatility went well for Paredes, as he looked like a viable second baseman, Our Man Petzold reports here. But Paredes hit just .147 in 34 at-bats. Still, he might have made the roster if not for the hot spring (and Rule 5 status) of …

In the outfield

Akil Baddoo, c’mon down! It’s been a whirlwind few months for the 22-year-old from Georgia, who went from a Minnesota Twins castoff to the hottest young hitter — with a .324/.468/.703 slash line — in Tigers camp. Click here to find out why the Freep’s Jeff Seidel says keeping him on the 26-man roster was “a no-brainer.”

Is that all?

Nope. Even will all the moves the Tigers made this week, there are still plenty of questions, like who’ll play first base, who’ll get the final outs and who’ll be squeezed out once Spencer Turnbull returns? Our Man Petzold has the answers here.

Happy birthday, Cam!

The Tigers weren’t the only team making cuts this week. Among the several ex-Tigers trying to make other rosters, Cameron Maybin just missed out on a spot in the Chicago Cubs outfield. Maybin, the Tigers’ top draft pick in 2007, turns 34 on Sunday; he’s not done yet, though, as he agreed to a minor-league deal with the Cubs and will report to their alternate training site to wait for the Triple-A season to start.

Other Tigers birthdays this week: Denny McLain (77 on Monday), Will Rhymes (38 on Thursday), Pete Incaviglia (57 on Friday), Victor Alcantara (28 on Saturday), Renato Nunez (27 on Sunday), Cameron Maybin (34 on Sunday).

Mark your calendar

There’s really only one day we care about this week: Thursday is Opening Day, with Cleveland in town in front of a maximum of 8,200 fans at Comerica Park. If you’re going, bundle up: The forecast calls for a high of 37 under partly cloudy skies. And with Bieber, the reigning AL Cy Young winner, on the mound for Cleveland, the Tigers’ swings may lower the temperature another couple of degrees.

Contact Ryan Ford at rford@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @theford.

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