Detroit — The Tigers had to reshuffle the deck at the catcher position Wednesday, and the fallout could mean a significant opportunity for Livonia resident and Dearborn Divine Child product Eric Haase.
“He’s never gotten at-bats at the major league level that his minor league track record has warranted,” manager AJ Hinch said before the game. “So now that this opportunity has opened up it’s going to be fun to watch him grab a hold of it and see what he can do.”
That, of course, is music to Haase’s ears, who in parts of three big league seasons, two with the Indians, has amassed all of 53 plate appearances.
“There are only 1,000 guys at any one time playing at this level,” said Haase, who was hitting .353 with a .921 OPS in five games at Toledo. “Unfortunately when I was in Cleveland, I was behind a two-time All Star (Yan Gomes) and a two-time Gold Glove winner (Roberto Perez). There wasn’t opportunity for consistent at-bats at that level.
“I just kind of had to handle my business in the minor leagues and let it play out as it has. I’m finally getting an opportunity and I’m very grateful.”
With Wilson Ramos already on the injured list with a lower lumbar strain, the Tigers lost the services of Grayson Greiner for at least 10 days with a left hamstring strain. He was pulled out of the game in the fifth inning Tuesday night.
That left rookie Jake Rogers, who was just summoned from Triple-A Toledo Saturday, as the only healthy catcher on the big-league roster.
Veteran Dustin Garneau, whom the Tigers signed for situations just like this, was also out. He suffered a wrist injury on his glove hand while playing at Toledo and is rehabbing in Lakeland.
So Haase is next man up. He was selected to the 40-man and 26-man roster Wednesday.
“I was standing at second base (Tuesday night in Toledo) and I saw someone come out to pinch-run for me,” Haase said. “We only had two guys on the bench and I was thinking, ‘What the heck are we doing here?’
“When I got back to the dugout, they told me I was coming up.”
Haase made a fast and favorable impression on Hinch in spring training, not easy to do for a non-roster invitee.
“When I got to know Haase a little in camp, I noticed an offensive player who is a pretty good athlete,” Hinch said. “He was on the outside looking in with the catching competition, but as we moved him around the field, I started to be curious how he could fit on a major league team in a variety of roles.”
Haase is 28 and though he was drafted as an infielder, he came up through the Indians system as a catcher, and that’s where he’s played his 26 big-league games, including seven with the Tigers last year.
He was designated for assignment after the season, but elected to stay with the Tigers, accepting a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training.
“Hometown team,” Haase said. “I’d love to be here as long as possible, trying to get some wins for Detroit.”
He slugged his way onto Hinch’s radar, hitting .368 with three home runs and a slugging percentage of 1.000. Hinch used him left field, where he’d never played before. And he also had him taking reps at first base.
“I like him,” Hinch said. “I’m glad we were able to keep him and have him at Triple-A to see if an opportunity would come up. The first thought was, could he be an offensive threat for us? And second, where does he fit in on defense?”
Haase has hit 130 homers in 10 minor-league seasons, posting a .244 average and a .794 OPS. How will that translate against big league pitching? Hinch wants to know and so does Haase.
“That’s been the question mark on my end, too,” Haase said. “Just trying to make sense of the sporadic playing time I’ve had in the past. It’s hard to put a finger on it, hard to make adjustments and things like that. So to have this opportunity, I’m just grateful.”
Hinch said Haase would start behind the plate in the series finale against the Royals Thursday.
“I told him it’ll be primarily a little bit in left and a little catching,” Hinch said. “We see him doing a couple of things. And the more he hits, the more some doors will open up for him.”
Ramos is on track to return off the injured list on Monday, but the Tigers could decide to let him get some rehab at-bats at Toledo.
Speaking of the Mud Hens, they’ve welcomed in two new catchers themselves — veteran Juan Centeno and 2018 draft pick Christopher Proctor.
Not running away
Former All-Star and closer Joe Jimenez had another rough outing Tuesday, walking two and giving up a three-run home run to Jorge Soler in the eighth inning. He’s walked nine of the 16 batters he’s faced in the big leagues this year.
But Hinch isn’t giving up on him.
“It’s hard to keep him positive right now,” Hinch said. “He’s put a lot of pressure on himself and quite honestly, this level has put pressure on him to bounce back.”
Jimenez showed some positive flashes in his outing Tuesday. His fastball had some life at 95 mph and he struck out both Ryan O’Hearn (looking) and Sebastian Rivero (swinging). But after walking two, he threw three straight sliders to Soler. The third one hung up at the top of the zone and Soler crushed it.
“Deep in his heart, he knows he’s a big-league pitcher,” Hinch said. “But he knows he has to command the strike zone better to get opportunities up here. We’re going to keep encouraging him and we’re going to stay positive.
“I’m not going to run away from him. We need him to be good, to provide anything from depth to bigger opportunities.”
Around the horn
To make room for Haase, the Tigers gave injured right-handed pitcher Franklin Perez his outright release. Perez, who is scheduled to have season-ending shoulder surgery in Los Angeles this week, could conceivably be re-signed by the Tigers on a minor league contract if he clears waivers.
… Hinch said lefty Derek Holland (left shoulder strain) is eligible to come off the injured list Thursday, but most likely he will be going to Toledo and make some rehab appearances, perhaps as early as next week. He still hasn’t thrown off the mound.
… Matthew Boyd has put himself into some nice company with his stingy 1.94 ERA through seven starts. Over the last 10 seasons, there have only been four Tigers starters who’ve posted a sub-2.00 ERA through the first seven starts of a season: Jordan Zimmermann (1.50 in 2016), Max Scherzer (1.72 in 2014), Justin Verlander (1.55 in 2013) and Aníbal Sánchez (1.97 in 2013).
Royals at Tigers
► First pitch: 1:10 p.m. Thursday, Comerica Park, Detroit
► TV/radio: BSD/97.1
► LHP Daniel Lynch (0-1, 18.56), Royals: Another pitcher from the 2018 draft class that’s made it to the big leagues quickly. Brady Singer and Casey Mize are two others. Lynch, who features a 95-mph four-seamer and a slider, has had a rough indoctrination. He gave up eight runs in two-thirds of an inning to the White Sox in his last start.
► RHP Spencer Turnbull (1-2, 4.74), Tigers: He didn’t have a great feel for his money pitches, two-seamer and slider, in his last start in Boston on May 6. He needed 80 pitches to get through just three innings and he was tagged for seven hits and four runs (two earned).