TAMPA, Fla. — In a surprising move, Detroit Tigers first baseman Renato Nunez is staying with the organization, despite not getting cut Friday from consideration to make the 26-man Opening Day roster.
The slugger turns 27 next week and will report to Toledo. He is be stationed set to compete at the alternate training site in April before Triple-A games start in May. Manager AJ Hinch wants him to emphasize his defense at first base.
Hinch learned about Nunez’s decision Sunday.
“One of the things he told me on the phone was that he loves this team, and he loves the fit,” Hinch said Monday. “If he can earn an opportunity to play a little more first base and get some at-bats, he thinks he can be part of the solution here.”
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The Tigers had to recruit Nunez to stay within the franchise. Hinch assumes Nunez had opportunities to join other clubs, but he isn’t entirely sure what those options were. But Nunez — a bona fide big leaguer for the last three seasons — could have jumped ship.
“We wanted him to stay with us and, ultimately, come up to the big leagues at some point,” Hinch said. “It took some recruitment, both from the organization to his agent and me to Renato. I’m sure our players chipped in and wanted him to stay.”
Nunez racked up 43 homers and 121 RBIs (and a .247 average) in 203 games over the 2019 and 2020 seasons for the Baltimore Orioles. He has logged 293 career games with the Oakland Athletics (2016-17), Texas Rangers (2018) and Orioles (2018-20).
But the Orioles cut him — as did the Tigers this spring — because he creates roadblocks defensively.
Since Nunez can’t fill out the lineup anywhere other than first base and designated hitter, the Tigers were left with less lineup flexibility, considering 37-year-old Miguel Cabrera is the primary designated hitter. Had Nunez made the team, it would have been rare to find catcher Wilson Ramos or one of the five outfielders in the DH slot, which Hinch wants to keep open as much as possible.
If Nunez’s defense were better at first base, he would have boosted his odds of making the team. Instead, the Tigers went with Harold Castro, who can play seven positions, and five outfielders, including Rule 5 draft pick Akil Baddoo.
Still, the Tigers enter Opening Day without a full-time first baseman.
“The way the roster was configured, with five outfielders, was not to his advantage,” Hinch said. “I was very transparent with him about it. That can change quickly. We may change our minds. It doesn’t mean the next decision isn’t going to go in his favor.”
Becoming a complete first baseman is the quickest way for Nunez to return to the major leagues. This spring, he went 6-for-30 (.200) with two doubles, one homer and three RBIs, with 11 strikeouts and no walks.
And it’s been too long since the Tigers possessed a true power threat in the lineup.
“We have complete confidence,” Hinch said. “If we have the at-bats and the job description, he can come up and really help us. He can hit.”