Lakeland, Fla. — Minus Jonathan Schoop, who had the day off Wednesday, the Tigers lineup against the Pirates had a decidedly Opening Day look to it.
Against a right-handed starter, Akil Baddoo, Robbie Grossman and Javier Báez were at the top, Jeimer Candelario, Miguel Cabrera and Riley Greene were in the middle, with Spencer Torkelson and Tucker Barnhart at the bottom.
Willi Castro was in the nine-hole, but come Opening Day, Schoop would be at second base and maybe hitting sixth, with Greene, Torkelson and Barnhart pushed down.
Manager AJ Hinch, naturally, didn’t commit to that. But he did talk in general terms about some of the vagaries and intricacies of putting this particular lineup together and trying to avoid staking left-handed and right-handed hitters.
“I don’t know if it’s as tricky as you’re making it out to be,” he said. “The way a lineup flows is important, but I can’t control right-handedness and left-handedness when we want hitters hitting in a certain spot. You can run out a lineup that is worried about facing the bullpen later in the game and not beat the starter.”
Key point. You construct a daily lineup to beat the starting pitcher, first and foremost. Then you worry about matchups as they come up later in the game.
“I’ve been creative in trying to break up all the lefties and righties,” he said. “But we will see how it all plays out. At the end of the day, the guys we feel we can beat the starter with are the guys I set the lineup with. That outweighs a matchup later in the game.
“We might have the lead by four by then.”
Seeing Cabrera in the fifth hole, though, looked odd. All but three pinch-hit at-bats last season came in either the three- or four-hole in the lineup. Over his 19 big-league seasons, he’s only had 829 plate appearances from the fifth spot down.
But we might as well get used to it.
“If you look at World Series teams, there’s some pretty good hitters who hit at the bottom of the order,” Hinch said. “It’s not an indictment of someone’s ability or skill-set, or even a matter of where they fit, necessarily. It’s trying to score as many runs against the opponent in the flow of the lineup.
“As this lineup has gotten better, there’s going to be guys who hit in spots of the order they haven’t been used to in the last couple of years. I see that as a positive, not a knock on any player.”
Expanded roster welcomed
Major League Baseball is expected to approve the expansion of rosters from 26 to 28 players for the first month of the regular season. There are no restrictions on those additional players, but Hinch said he’s leaning toward carrying two extra pitchers.
“For us, it’ll come down to where we are physically at the end of camp,” he said. “We start the season with 10 straight games. It would be to our advantage to use multiple pitchers in that spot.”
That’s welcome news for relivers like Joe Jimenez, Bryan Garcia, Will Vest, Jason Foley, Jacob Barnes, Drew Carlton and Rony Garcia who are vying for those last few bullpen seats.
Wentz to Erie
Tigers left-handed starting pitching prospect Joey Wentz, who threw a scoreless inning in Clearwater Tuesday, was reassigned to Double-A Erie Wednesday morning.
“We’re not 100 percent sure where he’s actually going to start the season,” Hinch said. “A lot depends on what happens up here.”
There is a chance, for example, the Tigers could carry another veteran starter to start the season, to work long relief or make a spot start if necessary, someone like Rony Garcia, Chase Anderson or Drew Hutchison. That would thin the rotation some at Triple-A Toledo, creating a spot for Wentz.
“Where he starts doesn’t matter,” Hinch said. “We have to get him off the rehab sheet and on the competition sheet. And whether he is in Erie or Toledo, his focus still has to be on strike one and command his fastball.”
Around the horn
With Hawkeye data technology at just about every spring ballpark these days, MLB is tracking every stat imaginable, including home run trot times. And look who leads the Grapefruit League with the slowest trot. Schoop, who traversed the bases after his line drive home run in Clearwater on Tuesday in a brisk 28.88 seconds. The second slowest was Baddoo, who got around in 28.4 seconds in the first spring game.