As Wilson Ramos rehabs, the Detroit Tigers face a dilemma with their catchers

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Tigers manager AJ Hinch didn’t want to talk about the Wilson Ramos situation.

“He’s not coming back for a bit,” Hinch said before Friday’s 5-4 loss to the Chicago White Sox in extra innings at Comerica Park. “He played his first extended game, so we’ll tackle that one when it’s a little bit more relevant on the day to day.”

Here’s the dilemma: Ramos, signed to a one-year, $2 million contract this offseason, completed his first extended spring training game Friday in Lakeland, Florida. He is coming back from his second stint on the injured list with a lumbar spine sprain.

But the Tigers have two catchers — Eric Haase and Jake Rogers — performing well in the big leagues.

“Sure, there’s going to be some tough decisions,” Tigers general manager Al Avila said Friday. “At the end of the day, we’re going to make the decisions best for this organization as we move forward this year and going into next year, looking at this picture but at the big picture at the same time.”

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Between two back injuries, Ramos has played 35 games this season. He is hitting .200 with six home runs, 13 RBIs, six walks and 29 strikeouts. He hasn’t hit a home run since April 13, when he belted two of them against the Houston Astros in his ninth game.

The Tigers signed Ramos because of his offense. His defense is well-below average.

“I believe he went 2-for-4 and reported feeling really good,” Hinch said about Ramos’ first game in his rehabilitation process. “He was the DH. We’ve got a progression for him to get back behind the plate and ramp up his activity.”

Meanwhile, Haase through 23 games is hitting .256 with three doubles, one triple, eight home runs, 13 RBIs, five walks and 31 strikeouts. Haase’s ability to play left field, as well as catcher, gives Hinch the luxury of carrying three catchers, if he desires: Ramos, Haase and Rogers.

Keeping three catchers, however, seems like a waste of a roster spot, considering Isaac Paredes, Daz Cameron, Derek Hill and other young players need opportunities in the majors. Their developments are key to putting the rebuild to rest.

Rogers, 26, is finally getting comfortable in the big leagues. He probably won’t ever be known for his bat, but he doesn’t look overwhelmed anymore. Hitting .234 with three homers, six RBIs, five walks and 21 strikeouts — along with exceptional defense — should be enough to keep him around.

Although Haase caught Spencer Turnbull’s no-hitter, Rogers is working well as the primary catcher for 24-year-old starting pitchers Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal. It’s no surprise Hinch has them paired up with the organization’s best defensive catcher.

Those scenarios could, and probably should, leave Ramos out of the mix.

“It’s great to have tough decisions because that means you have players that you like, and there’s going to be tough decisions,” Avila said. “If you don’t have tough decisions, that means you don’t really have much going on. That is an enjoyable part of making decisions.”

Derek Hill to Lakeland

After placing Hill on the 10-day injured list Thursday with a right shoulder sprain, the Tigers sent their 25-year-old center fielder to Lakeland to recover.

Initially, the Tigers did not believe Hill’s injury was serious. He had a Grade 1 strain, which means the ligaments stretched further than normal but didn’t completely tear, and Hinch said he was “moving around pretty well” in the clubhouse Friday.

Turns out, Hill’s return might take longer than once expected.

“It’s not a countdown to 10 days, if that’s what you’re asking,” Hinch said.

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Jeimer Candelario is back

Before Saturday’s game, the Tigers reinstated third baseman Jeimer Candelario from the bereavement list and placed him on the injured list. The IL move was a formality, as Candelario needs to go through COVID-19 protocols after arriving in the U.S. from the Dominican Republic.

Hinch plans to activate Candelario during the upcoming three-game series with the Kansas City Royals, from Monday through Wednesday, at Kauffman Stadium. Candelario is hitting .266 with four home runs and 18 RBIs in 57 games.

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“The process is underway to get him through the intake testing and quarantine, given that he had left the country,” Hinch said. “He’s unlikely to travel with us, given the intake process, but we’re expecting him to be with at some point in Kansas City.”

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter

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