PITTSBURGH — If there was any question about Spencer Torkelson’s future position in Detroit as he settles in at first base at Triple-A Toledo down the stretch this season, Tigers manager A.J. Hinch seemed to take care of it Tuesday.
Asked on MLB Network Radio about the versatility of his infielders and where Jonathan Schoop plays in the future, Hinch identified Torkelson as their first baseman of the future, with no caveat about third base.
“Jonathan is really going to fill in depending on what our needs are,” Hinch said Tuesday morning. “I mean, there’s no secret that the first baseman of the future is going to be Spencer Torkelson. He’s in Triple-A, hitting a homer about every other day and he’s opening eyes. Eyes were quite honestly already open to him. But I don’t know when his arrival is going to be. The organization will be very smart about his development. But when he arrives that will create a little more opportunity for [Schoop at] maybe second, maybe third. We have other guys that are playing there right now, so that’ll create some roster dilemmas for us.”
That could create a competition between Schoop and Willi Castro at second base. The way Jeimer Candelario has been hitting down the stretch here, one double shy of 40 on the season, it’s difficult to see a competition at third. Regardless, Torkelson’s defensive position seems to be secure.
Torkelson had a near-even split of starts at the infield corners on his way up the Tigers system. At High-A West Michigan, he had 16 starts at third and 15 at first. Once he moved to Double-A Erie, he made 27 starts at third, 23 at first. With the Mud Hens, however, he has 18 starts at first and one at designated hitter, but none at third.
When Hinch met with players Monday morning to tell them that reliever Joe Jiménez and bench coach George Lombard had tested positive for COVID-19 and would be away from the team, he thanked the players for being 100 percent vaccinated.
A day later and with no new cases, Hinch had even more reason to be thankful.
“I did thank them for the vaccination behavior,” Hinch said, “because it completely changed the dynamic of how yesterday would have gone.”
Had the players not been all vaccinated, the Tigers could have lost more players beyond Jiménez due to contact tracing. Instead, while the Tigers have to watch for symptoms and be vigilant with testing, they feel optimistic they’ve avoided an outbreak.
“Everything is fine on the health front,” Hinch said. “We obviously are monitoring the situation. George and Joe are both doing fine. They’re feeling symptoms but they’re back at the hotel. And so far, so good for our team. We’re not having any other testing [Tuesday]. We don’t feel exposed beyond what we’ve already announced, and hopefully it stays that way.”
The three team members in quarantine — pitching coach Chris Fetter, quality control coach Josh Paul and bullpen catcher Jeremy Carroll — returned to Detroit by car on Tuesday. They’re taking part in team meetings remotely, as is Lombard.
Jiménez and Lombard will remain at the team hotel, confined to their rooms, until their symptoms are gone. After that, the Tigers can make arrangements for them to return to Detroit separately from the team.
While the Tigers were able to replace Jiménez on the roster, they’ll go short-handed on their coaching staff for the rest of this series before regrouping in Detroit ahead of their weekend series against the Rays.
Mize, Skubal not fighting early exits
Casey Mize talks often about advantage and disadvantage counts within a game. He recognizes a lost cause when he sees it.
Back in May, he pleaded his case with Hinch that he could’ve retired another batter when Hinch pulled him after 7 2/3 strong innings in Seattle. He once walked to the stairs at the other end of the dugout to try to elude Hinch’s end-of-start handshake.
But when Hinch brought the handshake after Mize’s third inning in Cincinnati on Sunday, Mize neither fought it nor avoided it. As the Tigers limit Mize’s innings down the stretch of his first full Major League season, he’s on board.
“They’ve been very transparent. They’ve planned this out,” Mize said. “The goal all along is to get to the finish line, and we’re at a point now where we’ve got to do this to make that happen. So I’m just wasting everybody’s time if I’m sitting there fighting for it, because it’s definitely not easy for any of us to do, but it’s the plan and it’s what we have to execute to be able to get me to the finish line instead of shut me down. So I’m OK with it.”
Likewise, Tarik Skubal didn’t argue when Hinch pulled him after three innings Monday against the Pirates. His only frustration was at himself for a four-run first inning.
“We’re trying to pitch through the season,” Skubal said. “It’s important to throw innings in this month. … It’s important to go start to finish, and I’m just going to continue to try and develop and get better each inning by inning, outing by outing, bullpen day by day, all that type of stuff. So I continue to attack the days that way.”