Healing Detroit Tigers utility players may force tough roster decisions soon

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Tigers were quiet at the trade deadline, but players coming off the injured list will soon force some tough decisions.

Third baseman Isaac Paredes started his rehab assignment with Triple-A Toledo on Friday — going 1-for-3 with a run scored, a double, and two RBIs — and utility player Niko Goodrum is nearing a return from a left calf contusion.

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Victor Reyes was called up from Toledo in mid-July to replace Goodrum; in his 20 plate appearances since, he has six hits, including a homer, and five runs scored. (For the season, though, he’s  batting  .188  with four walks, and six RBIs in 35 games.)  TheTigers  started Reyes in right field Saturday night against the Baltimore Orioles, giving rookie outfielder Akil Baddoo some rest.

“Give us as many hard decisions as you can make,” manager AJ Hinch said with a smile Saturday afternoon.  “That means we’re in a really good place. A manager should never complain about having too many available good players.”

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The Tigers entered Saturday 11 games behind the AL Central-leading White Sox  and their unwillingness to trade prospects means the attention over the final two months of the season turns to developing prospects. Young talented arms in Casey Mize,  Matt Manning and Tarik Skubal are already in the majors. The Tigers added 21-year-old right-hander Reese Olson to the farm system after trading Daniel Norris to the Milwaukee Brewers.

“We’re trying to develop winners,” Hinch said. “It is important for guys to get some experience and to get some exposure.”

New MLB rules that limit September rosters to 28 players — including a max of 14 pitchers —  adds some difficulty in  evaluating players  and getting everybody playing time for the remainder of this season, but Hinch is fine with it being tough to make the roster.

“We have to make decisions for this season and for next season. It’s not free playing time. This is not instructional league, this is the big leagues,” Hinch said. “We’re going to keep that mindset for all of our players this season.”

Leading off with Hill

Baddoo did not start Saturday against Orioles lefty John Means, and Derek Hill replaced him as the leadoff hitter in Saturday’s lineup.

“He’s had really good at-bats. I think he’s earned the opportunity,” Hinch said of Hill. “I kind of liked having that speed at the top and he’s been getting on base, he’s been getting hits. He is a spark when he gets on base. When I’m sitting Akil (Baddoo), it’s nice to replace him with a similar skill set of speed and pressure.”

The left-handed-hitting Baddoo has struggled against lefty pitchers this season, hitting .173 with five walks and 19 strikeouts in 52 at-bats.

Hill’s hitting has improved after a shaky start in June. In  Friday’s 4-3 loss against the Orioles, he went  2-for-4 with  a run and a  triple to left-center that started an eighth-inning rally.

“He’s really developed into a productive hitter and in his own way, and you look at a lineup where I want to get as good as many guys on base in front of Schoop and Robbie and Miggy, and the way those guys are swinging the bats, and (Hill) became a logical replacement,” Hinch said.

Hill is has a .314 batting average with 11 runs and five RBIs in 51 at-bats this season. Usually hitting ninth  in the Tigers batting order,  Hill moved up to second in Monday’s wild 17-14 slugfest against the Twins in Minnesota; hitting behind Baddoo, Hill went 3-for-6 with two runs and two RBIs.

“I think his development at this level is just getting started. As far as fundamentally is balanced, he is pretty good,” Hinch said. “His strike zone judgment has gotten better. He doesn’t loft the ball, he hits a ball on the line, it’s a ball on the ground. He’s got confidence in being able to make contact at all parts of the field so he knows his best assets: his legs and his speed. If he makes contact the way that he is now, he can put a lot of pressure on guys.”

Boyd’s rehab work

The Tigers have been without veteran pitcher Matthew Boyd since June 14, when he exited a game in Kansas City after 2⅓ scoreless innings due to left arm discomfort. Boyd’s diagnosis:  No structural damage, just muscular tendinitis. After a month on the injured list, Boyd is progressing toward a return. He’s working at the Tigers’ Lakeland facility, but there’s no start date set for a rehab assignment.

“Well, he’s not being considered for anything other than going off the mound,” Hinch said. “He threw a bullpen this morning. He felt great, which is really all that matters. He started talking on the phone about wanting to work on some command things, and when you’re talking about command over health, that’s a really good step in the right direction for Boyd.”

Mia Berry is a sports reporting intern with the Free Press. Reach out via email: mberry@freepress.com.

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