Tigers notebook: Well-traveled catcher Ryan Lavarnway keeps grinding after 23 call-ups

Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — For a minute there, the conversation with well-traveled catcher Ryan Lavarnway threatened to morph into a standup bit.

Hey, did you go to Yale?

“I did,” he said. “Got the T-shirt.”

How many teams have you been on now?

“This is my 11th uniform and 13th team on paper,” he said. “In the offseason of 2014 I got put on waivers and picked up a couple of times (Dodgers and Cubs). Didn’t get a T-shirt.”

So what made you sign with the Tigers?

“Honestly, they were the first ones that called,” he said. “I’m not going to lie to you, I haven’t had my pick of the litter. I’m hoping this is as great an opportunity as I want it to be.”

Do you know anyone in here?

“I’ve been teammates or played against just about everyone in this room (laughter),” he said. “I’ve about played for half the league at this point.”

There is something to be said, though, about a guy who has forged 10 seasons in the big leagues with eight different teams despite a career slash-line of .217/.272/.345 – and, in his age-34 season, is still getting opportunities.

“Anybody who has lasted as long as Ryan has and with so many teams tells me about the character of the person,” said Tigers manager AJ Hinch, a bit of a journeyman catcher in his day, too (four teams, seven seasons). “People like him. People respect him. He always finds a way to get to the big leagues. A journey like his, not too many people can pull off.”

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The Tigers signed Lavarnway to a minor-league deal on Monday, most likely to provide a veteran presence at Triple-A Toledo. The Tigers are hoping to start the season with three catchers – Tucker Barnhart, Eric Haase and Dustin Garneau.

Asked what the Tigers told him about this opportunity, Lavarnway dead-panned: “Play well and see what happens…I just expect to be ready when and if they need me.”

What a ride it’s been. He started his career with the Red Sox and played parts of four seasons in the big-leagues. Since then, it’s been one and done with seven teams — Baltimore, 32 games; Atlanta, 27; Oakland, 13; Pittsburgh, 6; Cincinnati, 5; Miami, 5; and Cleveland, 9.

“I love it,” he said. “I love playing. Ideally, I’d stick around somewhere for a couple of years, but you go where the opportunity is. I’m grateful every time I get a chance.”

Getting this one was made a little dicey by the lockout.

“Once the lockout happened, nobody was allowed to communicate,” Lavarnway said. “I wasn’t on a roster for the winter but I fell into that weird gray space where I had been on a major league roster during the season, so I was technically in the union until opening day and I couldn’t talk to teams.

“Then once the lockout ended it was a mad dash to find a place and for teams to find players.”

The juxtaposition of Lavarnway’s locker in the Tigers’ clubhouse at Joker Marchant Stadium being between Javy Baez and Jonathan Schoop seemed poignant as he was talking about accepting the Tigers’ minor-league offer.

“I’m not blind to how my career has gone,” he said. “I realized I wasn’t going to get a long-term offer. I go where the opportunity goes. I find myself in the big leagues for a couple of weeks or a couple of months every year and I just hope to play my best.

“I’ve played really great sometimes and I’ve played less great other times. I just try to be ready to take advantage of opportunities when they become available.”

Like Garneau was last season, Lavarnway provides some veteran insurance against injuries or other maladies that might take place at the catcher position throughout the year. He will also be a big asset to Mud Hens manager Lloyd McClendon and some of the young pitching prospects who may find themselves in Toledo this season – like Joey Wentz, Alex Faedo, Beau Brieske and others.

“I’ve experienced a lot,” he said. “I know how to win. I think I can help, especially younger pitchers who are still finding themselves, through the experiences I’ve had and the guys I’ve played with and the lessons I’ve learned along the way.”

He can also speak on perseverance. Imagine being called up and sent down 23 times.

“I find a way to view obstacles as opportunities,” he said.

Schedule changes

MLB sent out its revised schedule Wednesday, reinserting the games lost to the 99-day lockout. For the Tigers, that meant putting back the lost series at Seattle and Oakland.

Buckle up.

The Seattle games will be made up at the end of the year – the Tigers playing a single game on Oct. 3, a doubleheader on Oct. 4 and a single-game Oct. 5.

It got more complicated to reset the Oakland games.

Two games will be made up at Comerica Park on May 10, with the Athletics serving as the home team in one and the Tigers the other.

The other two games will be played in Oakland right after the All-Star break, a traditional doubleheader on July 21.

Initially, the Tigers were supposed to host a double-header against the Twins right out of the break. Instead, the Twins and Tigers will play a split doubleheader in Detroit on May 31 and a single game on July 23.

Keep in mind, too, that double-header games are nine innings long again this year. The COVID-rule seven-inning doubleheaders are gone.

First cuts

Hinch had indicated earlier in the week that, because spring training was condensed to four weeks, some of the younger players weren’t going to see much action. Sure enough, two members of the 2021 draft class, right-handed pitchers Ty Madden and Dylan Smith were sent back to minor league camp Wednesday.

Both had thrown live batting practice sessions Wednesday morning and both were impressive.

“What a great experience for them,” Hinch said. “To come right out of the draft and come to big league camp. To see Ty and Dylan feel comfortable like that was encouraging. It started with the minicamp. Gabe (Ribas, Tigers’ director of pitching development) did a great job getting them prepared to be quiet, keep their ears open and soak up as much as they could.

“Both have tremendous arms. They made a great first impression.”

Around the horn

…Hinch took time in the morning meeting to thank the players for coming to camp as fit and ready as they’ve shown themselves to be in the early workouts. “It’s one thing to say it, it’s another to see guys out there. We had Matt Manning throwing 96 (mph) and Joe Jimenez throwing 96-97 in live batting practice. That’s not easing into spring training. Our readiness to at least get to the games 72 hours after we started is pretty good.”

Spencer Turnbull, recovering from Tommy John surgery, was back in the clubhouse ready to resume his rehab and throwing program. He is expected to throw off flat-ground Thursday, up to 100 feet.

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky

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