The Tigers opted to mix and match at first base to open the season, but they’ll still have Renato Núñez just down the road in case they change their minds. The slugging first baseman decided not to exercise the opt-out clause in his contract and will report to the alternate site in Toledo, Ohio, when Spring Training ends, manager A.J. Hinch said Monday.
Núñez hasn’t yet officially been re-assigned and remains a non-roster invitee in Major League camp. He was listed on the lineup card for Monday’s game against the Yankees in Tampa, Fla.
The former Oriole’s decision to stay in the organization came after a recruiting effort from Hinch and Tigers front-office members. Detroit opted against Núñez on the Opening Day roster in lieu of positional versatility, but Hinch has acknowledged the club could be proven wrong and eventually reverse course on that if the Tigers struggle and need help.
“[Núñez] had options,” Hinch said. “I don’t know specifically what he was weighing and where he was weighing them, but it took some recruitment from the organization to his agent and me to Renato, and I’m sure our players chipped in and wanted him to stay.
“He’s very comfortable here. One of the things he told me on the phone [Sunday] when he told me he was staying here was he loves the team and he loves the fit. If he can earn an opportunity to play a little bit more first base and get some at-bats, he thinks he can be part of the solution here. So we’re really happy that he stayed.”
Speaking of Toledo
The Tigers are working on setting up games in April between their alternate-site players and players from nearby alternate sites, Hinch said.
“There’s a tentative plan to be able to combine a few alt sites,” Hinch said. “I’m not anywhere close to the logistics of that or whether it’s finalized, but there’s great optimism that these guys at least at some point during the month of April are going to be able to have a somewhat Spring Training-style of games to get themselves ready for a May opening.”
That would address one of the main concerns of the alternate-site format from last summer, when players were limited to intrasquad games. The Tigers didn’t have enough players to field two teams, so coaches like Triple-A Toledo hitting coach Mike Hessman were jumping in to play first base. Hitters saw the same pitchers each week, and vice versa, so the competitive aspect was limited. In some views, player development was hindered.