LAKELAND, Fla. — Eric Haase remembers sitting in Cleveland’s clubhouse nearly four years ago.
He made his MLB debut in September 2018 and appeared in nine games, serving as the team’s third catcher. Cleveland the best team in the American League Central, were postseason bound.
But Haase, called up from Triple-A Columbus, was somewhat of a stranger in his team’s clubhouse. He received just 16 at-bats in 2018. Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez carried the catching duties all season.
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“I got that experience with Cleveland, but it just felt like, maybe down the road, I can help the team win,” Haase said. “I felt like, OK, the guys in the clubhouse, we’re going to win. But it was like, an ‘outside looking in’ kind of deal. Now it feels the exact opposite.”
On Monday, Haase reclined in his chair in the Detroit Tigers‘ clubhouse, looking as comfortable as ever. He was shooting the breeze with starting catcher Tucker Barnhart, acquired by the Tigers in November from the Cincinnati Reds.
Haase, who graduated from Dearborn Divine Child High School and grew up a diehard fan of the Tigers, looks like he belongs in Detroit’s clubhouse because he does.
“Eric Haase, tremendous breakthrough season last year,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “We see him as, probably for the first time in his career coming into camp, pretty established in a job, whether that’s solely as a backup catcher or whether I’m going to move him around a little bit.”
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A rookie in 2021, Haase hit .231 with 22 home runs, 61 RBIs, 26 walks and 119 strikeouts in 98 games, posting a .459 slugging percentage. He caught Spencer Turnbull’s no-hitter in May and smacked clutch home runs.
Haase, 29, believes he is a key piece to the Tigers’ winning formula, considering he can play three positions and crushes left-handed pitching.
The Tigers value his presence in the majors.
“The focus is different,” Haase said. “It’s not, you know, what can I do in the future to help the team win? Now, looking around and seeing the guys, you start seeing how the lineup is going to stack up. You feel like we might be a small piece away from being a contender, and that’s really exciting. The buzz around the clubhouse is different, and I think it’s going to be fun this year.”
When the 2021 season ended, Hinch requested Haase focus on three positions this offseason: catcher, left field and first base. He started 61 games at catcher and 20 in left field last year, also spending two innings at first base.
Haase wasn’t disappointed when the Tigers traded for Barnhart, a two-time Gold Glove-winning catcher.
“They brought in Tucker to handle this pitching staff, and that’s obviously a great sign,” Haase said. “With both of us being able to hit from both sides of the plate, that gives us good matchups. Wherever I can play in the field, I’ll go wherever they want me to.”
Haase, a right-handed hitter, hit .204 against right-handed pitchers last season. But he hit .283 when facing left-handed pitchers. He shows insane power from both sides of the plate.
Barnhart, a left-handed hitter, has a career .256 batting average vs. righties and a .214 average vs. lefties. Left fielder Akil Baddoo, also a left-handed hitter, hit .273 vs. righties and .214 vs. lefties as a rookie last season.
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Expect to see Haase in the starting lineup vs. left-handed itchers as the Tigers’ catcher or left fielder. If there’s a lefty reliever, Hinch won’t hesitate to call on his slugger.
“Everybody wants to hit .300 with 30 homers, right? That sounds great,” Haase said. “But I know a lot of my value is going to come late in the game, pinch-hitting off the bench, especially against left-handers. If I can be sound defensively and have good ABs, I’m happy with that. If the team’s winning, then you can’t really argue with that.”
The Barnhart-Haase relationship is already developing, even outside of the clubhouse and on-field workouts.
They went to dinner Sunday.
“Awesome dude. Same goal,” Haase said. “He wants to come in here and win. Obviously, that’s a mutual goal around the clubhouse. We’re excited and we like our chances this year.”
Contact Evan Petzold at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.