Detroit — Baseball journeys — you could never script what catcher Dustin Garneau has gone through to land in the Tigers’ starting lineup Thursday.
On Tuesday, he was playing a Triple-A game for Albuquerque in Sugarland, Texas. He was looking forward to flying up to Las Vegas on Wednesday to see his wife and kids, whom he hadn’t seen in a month, when he got a phone call.
You have been traded to the Tigers, he was told.
Yeah, right, he said. Trade deadline has passed. Nice try.
No, really. Minor league players can be traded post-deadline and the Tigers were putting catcher Eric Haase on the injured list (abdominal strain) and he needed to be in Detroit like, now.
“Getting called up to the big leagues is always the best part,” said the 34-year-old who played parts of six seasons in the big leagues. “I haven’t seen my family in a month; that’s the frustrating part. The kids had no idea. But I am glad to be back.”
This part of his journey, the Tigers’ part, goes back to spring training. He was on the Astros playoff roster last year and caught in two games. But he was back on the free-agent market with no big-league offers coming in.
The Tigers signed him to a make-good, minor-league deal and gave him a chance to win the backup catcher spot in spring training. Grayson Greiner won that competition, but Garneau was considered next man up in Toledo and was on the Tigers’ taxi squad for the first couple of road trips in April.
But when Wilson Ramos and Greiner both got injured, Garneau was down with a wrist fracture. Eric Haase and Jake Rogers were called up and they took the opportunity and ran with it.
“It’s just been bad timing all around,” Garneau said. “Just part of baseball. I break my wrist. Take the opt-out, not expecting a trade after the trade deadline. Weird.”
Side note: Had Garneau not gotten hurt, maybe Haase, who has hit 19 home runs, doesn’t finally get his opportunity in the big leagues.
“I’ve told people, as weird as it is, and I want to be in the big leagues — but talking with Haase, I love that he’s finally getting an opportunity to show what he can do,” Garneau said. “Everybody who’s seen him in Triple A knows — the homers, that’s what he has. He has more juice that anyone I’ve ever seen.
“To finally get an opportunity to play up here and show it to all you guys, I’m excited to watch him do it.”
How is that for a window into Garneau’s character?
“He caught in the playoffs last year, that can’t go unnoticed,” Hinch said. “Given that he was here in spring, it’s as seamless a transition as you are going to get at that position. That was one of the reasons we targeted him. I’ve always appreciated how he handled a game behind the plate and his interaction with our pitchers during the spring.
“If it was a random catcher from another organization who had no familiarity with me or (pitching coach Chris) Fetter, it would be quite a challenge. But this was like just calling up an old friend.”
Garneau caught rookie Matt Manning on Thursday, a much different pitcher than the Matt Manning he caught in Toledo.
“I’ve gotten used to being able to just show up and catch guys, but to be able to step in and know guys and having caught them before, it makes it a lot easier,” Garneau said. “I know Matt’s got a two-seam sinker now and a short slider. That’s a good thing.
“When I was catching him before, he was obviously dominant with his fastball, but having that spread of a slider off a curveball is a big deal.”
Garneau got a minor-league offer from the Cubs the day he decided to opt-out of his deal with the Tigers. Toledo was playing Iowa, the Cubs Triple-A team. He could have simply changed dugouts.
“But I didn’t see a direct path to the big leagues with them,” he said. “So I went home for a couple of days and waited for a better opportunity.”
He got it. The Colorado Rockies, the team that he broke in with, called. And then the Tigers’ called.
“Now I’m back to where I started,” he said.
The Tigers didn’t think Haase would be fully ready to play for another couple of days, so they put him on the injured list.
“Nothing else happened, I just didn’t want to play short-handed,” Hinch said. “And we have capable guys. We can get Haase right over the next seven or eight days and hopefully reinstate him as soon as his 10 days are up. We wanted to have a full team and it was getting too long to wait.”
Haase, who caught a bullpen before the game Thursday, will take batting practice in Toledo while the Tigers play in Toronto and St. Louis.
The Tigers also activated outfielder Daz Cameron (toe sprain).
Willi Castro, who had been starting in left field the last four games, was back at second base Thursday. But Hinch told him not to put away the outfield glove.
“He will play outfield in Toronto,” Hinch said. “We’ll continue to mix and match him and continue to use his versatility.”
Around the horn
The Tigers are taking a four-man taxi squad to Toronto: Pitchers Will Vest and Alex Lange, catcher Juan Centeno and outfielder Jacob Robson.
… Outfielder Derek Hill (ribs) is traveling with the Tigers in anticipation of being activated either Saturday or Sunday. Outfielder Akil Baddoo, cleared of concussion protocols, will stay in Toledo to get consistent at-bats. The Tigers are facing three lefties in Toronto, so his playing time would be less than normal, especially coming back after a layoff.
… Matthew Boyd reported no discomfort have throwing three strong innings in Toledo Wednesday night in his second rehab start. Hinch said the plan is for Boyd to start again on Tuesday. Once he extends to four innings and 60 pitches, he will be in play to return to the Tigers rotation.
On deck: Blue Jays
► Series: Three games at Rogers Centre, Toronto
► First pitch: Friday — 7:07 p.m.; Saturday — 3:07 p.m.; Sunday — 1:07 p.m.
► TV/radio: All three games on BSD/97.1 FM
► Probables: Friday — LHP Tyler Alexander (2-2, 4.57) vs. LHP Robbie Ray (9-5, 2.88); Saturday — RHP Wily Peralta (3-2, 3.70) vs. LHP Hyun Jin Ryu (11-6, 3.72); Sunday — RHP Drew Hutchison (0-1, 10:80) vs. LHP Steven Matz (10-7, 4.08).
► Alexander, Tigers: He’s coming off back-to-back, five-inning starts against the Indians. He blanked them over 5.1 innings in Cleveland, but gave up four runs and six hits last Friday in Comerica, a rare night where his cutter wasn’t working for him.
► Ray, Blue Jays: The one-time Tiger is having a strong year. His strikeout-walk is exceptional — 167 strikeouts to 36 walks in 137 innings. Over his last four starts, he’s allowed five runs in 25 innings, with opponents hitting .202 and slugging just .281 against him.