The Detroit Tigers reinstated center fielder Derek Hill from the injured list Tuesday but optioned him to Triple-A Toledo, meaning Akil Baddoo, Robbie Grossman, Daz Cameron and Nomar Mazara are staying in the big leagues.
To some, the decision is tough to understand.
“Derek Hill is playing very well and did nothing wrong to get sent down,” manager AJ Hinch said Sunday, adding the outfield situation was the team’s “hottest topic” in coaching staff meetings. “He just got hurt running into a wall making a catch. What do we do with him when he comes back?”
It’s unclear why the Tigers optioned Hill to Toledo, rather than designating Mazara for assignment and removing him from the 40-man roster. (Because Mazara has more than five years of MLB service time, the Tigers can’t simply option him to the minor leagues without his consent.)
Through 43 games, Mazara is hitting .207 with four doubles, two triples, three home runs, 16 RBIs, 15 walks and 39 strikeouts. In his past nine games, from June 14-27, the 26-year-old has a .290 batting average, five walks and six strikeouts.
For the Chicago White Sox last season, Mazara logged a .228 batting average, one home run, 15 RBIs, 10 walks and 44 strikeouts. He played 42 games and finished with a .589 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. This year, he owns a .604 OPS.
“I actually think Nomar has swung the bat the best he has for us over the last few days,” Hinch said. “Prior to his injury (abdominal strain, sent to injured list on April 15), he was swinging the bat a lot better. Since his injury (returned May 8), I think his at-bats have been better. His decisions at the plate have been better. He’s been able to hit the ball pretty hard.”
Hinch admitted Mazara is “running into a logjam” with his playing time. The Tigers signed the former slugger — a left-handed hitter — to a one-year, $1.75 million deal in February 2021.
“Baddoo is playing incredibly well,” Hinch said. “Daz Cameron has shown some great flashes, and Robbie is our everyday outfielder. To me, it’s not that difficult. It’s just competition. I do think he’s got it in him to bust out and be pretty good.
“He has contributed a tick more in recent games. It is tough when you’re not penciled in there every single day, so you better make the most of it when you can.”
For the Tigers, Hill has hit .250 (3-for-12) in seven games, adding two walks, three strikeouts, three stolen bases and exceptional defense in center field. In 24 games for the Mud Hens, the 25-year-old has a .356 batting average, five doubles, two triples, two home runs, 11 RBIs, nine walks and 27 strikeouts.
Hill went to the 10-day injured list June 10 with a right shoulder sprain.
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.