MINNEAPOLIS — Detroit Tigers catcher Dustin Garneau has played 158 games for six teams across seven years in the big leagues.
The 34-year-old veteran is all too familiar with the uncertainty of looking ahead. He often completes each season without knowing his employer the following season, which leads him back home to stay in shape.
Every offseason, his phone eventually buzzes with an offer.
“For the first time doing it, there was obviously the unknown,” Garneau said Wednesday. “But I don’t know the unknown, so I can’t really worry about that kind of stuff.”
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Garneau most recently went through this process with the Houston Astros. Two weeks after catching in the 2020 American League Championship Series, Garneau cleared outright waivers and elected free agency.
The Tigers signed Garneau to a minor-league deal in December.
Stuck in Triple-A Toledo because of an injury and the rapid growth of rookies Jake Rogers and Eric Haase, Garneau opted out of his contract in July and reunited with the Colorado Rockies, who drafted him in the 19th round in 2009. But the defense-first catcher found his way back to Detroit in an Aug. 18 trade.
“I can appreciate the journey he’s had to take,” Hinch said Sept. 20. “Quite honestly, his whole career he’s been second guessed and questioned whether he was ever going to stick. … This guy’s had to fight for everything his whole career, so it’s not a surprise to me that he’s enjoying the ride.”
Over 18 games for the Tigers, Garneau is hitting .218 with six home runs, nine RBIs, three walks and 16 strikeouts. All of his home runs came in a nine-game span from Aug. 31-Sept. 19, as Haase’s backup.
“Obviously I’m not going to hit seven home runs in two weeks every year,” Garneau said. “For me, it’s more consistently having (quality) at-bats.”
But that’s not where Garneau — a career .204 hitter — makes his money.
“Game-calling,” Garneau said, when asked about his strengths. “Getting young guys that are starting to trust me to be able to get them into games. Playing against really good lineups and showing them that I can get through a lot with them and help them pitch to the best of their abilities. And then having quality at-bats.”
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Take Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to the Minnesota Twins as an example.
Left-handed starter Tyler Alexander posted six innings of one-run ball, with six strikeouts and one walk, for his second quality start this season. From start to finish, Garneau made sure Alexander executed the plan.
When Garneau doesn’t play, he roams the dugout and soaks up knowledge from the coaching staff. An ex-catcher, Hinch played 350 games for four teams across seven MLB seasons (1998-2004).
“I want to have the knowledge to understand what’s going on and everything that the average fan has no idea about,” Garneau said. “He’s one of the most outgoing and open-minded managers, to where he will share what he’s actually doing to me or whoever asks him, and why it’s going on. To me, that’s awesome.”
Garneau could learn more from Hinch in 2022, considering the Tigers are thin at catcher and might bring him back for another season. When Rogers — the team’s starting catcher — underwent Tommy John surgery in early September, the organization developed a glaring hole.
“They’re definitely turning the corner to be a contender next year,” Garneau said. “To be a part of that, it’s awesome. We’ll see what happens next year. I’m not putting too much stake in it because there’s a business aspect to all this. For me, it’s just going day-to-day and enjoying the run that I have with these guys”
Although Garneau is once again uncertain of his future, he didn’t hesitate to boast about the Tigers’ future.
“Everybody talks about the culture change. It has,” Garneau said. “The coaching staff here is awesome, and the guys are starting to really buy in. The young talent they have, the young talent that they have coming up, it’s pretty fun to see what they have going for years to come.”
Chicago White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson has been suspended three games, MLB announced, for his role in Monday’s dustup with the Tigers at Comerica Park. He made contact with umpire Tim Timmons after the benches and bullpens cleared.
Anderson is appealing his suspension.
The Tigers and White Sox play Friday through Sunday at Guaranteed Rate Field to conclude the regular season. For the series, the Tigers will face these starting pitchers: Lance Lynn on Friday, Lucas Giolito on Saturday and Dylan Cease on Sunday.
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.