For Triple-A Toledo, catcher Eric Haase started the eighth inning Tuesday with a double for the Mud Hens. Despite only two players available on the bench, Toledo manager Tom Prince sent Brady Policelli to pinch-run.
“What the heck are we doing here?” Haase, 28, said he thought to himself.
Well, Detroit Tigers backup catcher Grayson Greiner suffered a left hamstring strain earlier that night at Comerica Park, landing him on the 10-day injured list. (Starting catcher Wilson Ramos is also on the injured list.) Once Haase entered the dugout in Toledo, he learned about Greiner’s injury.
Haase also found out he was getting called up to the major leagues. The Dearborn Divine Child graduate — who recently added left field and first base to his defensive resume — had only played 26 games across parts of three seasons entering 2021.
He hopes to stick around for once.
“He’s never gotten at-bats at the major-league level that his minor-league track record has warranted,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said Wednesday. “Now that this opportunity opens, it’s going to be fun to watch him grab a hold of it and see what he can do. … If he gets hot, I’ll find a spot for him.”
Haase competed in his 27th-career game Thursday against the Kansas City Royals.
In his first contest this season, he went 2-for-4 with a double and infield single in a 4-3 win for a series sweep and four-game winning streak. He grounded into an inning-ending double play in the fifth. And he struck out looking on a pitch that appeared outside the strike zone in the ninth inning.
Defensively, Haase called a great game.
Hinch noticed the eighth inning, specifically, when righty reliever Jose Cisnero retired the two batters he faced. He struck out Hunter Dozier with a 97 mph fastball and Michael A. Taylor with a perfect slider. They went down swinging.
“His work with a pitching staff he hadn’t seen in six weeks was pretty impressive,” Hinch said. “Cisnero’s inning was probably the best called inning for him in the last few outings. That double-up fastball in and being able to go to the slider even though it hasn’t been an effective pitch for him. I thought Haase did a nice job of working with our staff.”
Simply taking the field at Comerica Park is a homecoming for the Westland native. He has friends and family scattered throughout metro Detroit. After beating the Royals, Haase stood near the Tigers’ dugout to greet loved ones, lifelong friends and his fans.
“Once they got word that I was catching, it just seemed like more and more people were texting me saying, ‘Hey, I’m going to stop by,'” Haase said. “I mean, quite a bit.”
Joining the active roster — even if it’s until Ramos or Greiner return from injury — is an opportunity to stay in the majors, be it as a catcher, left fielder, first baseman or a combination of the three.
Haase just wants enough at-bats to show he belongs.
“That’s been the question mark on my end, trying to make sense of the sporadic playing time I’ve had in the past,” Haase said. “It’s kind of hard to really put a finger on. … To have this opportunity, I’m definitely very grateful for it.”
To understand his frustration, check his first three years in the majors. He got 16 at-bats in nine games for Cleveland in 2018, 16 at-bats in 10 games for Cleveland in 2019 and 17 at-bats in seven games for the Tigers in 2020.
In the minor leagues, Haase hit 27 home runs in 2017, 20 in 2018 and 28 in 2019. Those home runs came with a high rate of strikeouts. He had a .226 batting average in 2019. (The minors got canceled last season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.)
So, Haase is a bit of an unknown in his home ballpark.
Nobody really knows what he can do inside the confines of Comerica Park. Haase seems to have a plan for carving out more playing time.
“I was never really like a big prospect,” Haase said, laughing. “I’ve always had that grinding mentality. To reach the big leagues a couple years ago, and now trying to fight for some more opportunities, I’m going to do that even if I was a regular. That’s just the only way I know how to do things.”
Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.