Barnhart open to extension: ‘I love it here’

Detroit Tigers

DUNEDIN, Fla. — The Tigers traded for Tucker Barnhart last November with the flexibility that he could be a one-year stopgap or a contract extension candidate. So far, no talks on the latter have taken place, but both sides appear to be open to it.

“No discussions about that. But I love it here, I do,” Barnhart said Thursday morning at Joker Marchant Stadium. “I love [manager] A.J. [Hinch]. I love this group of guys. For me, it’s a great situation. It’s clear to me they value what I bring to the table.

“Hopefully it’s not a one-year thing. I’d like to be here for a while.”

Likewise, there’s interest within the Tigers organization to explore a contract extension, according to MLB.com’s Jon Morosi. However, that could be a situation for a later date.

Barnhart is in the final season of a five-year, $23 million contract he signed with the Reds, who traded him to Detroit at the start of the offseason for Minor League third baseman Nick Quintana. The deal filled a void in Detroit that was created partly by Jake Rogers’ elbow injury and ensuing Tommy John surgery last summer. Rogers, who had taken over as Detroit’s regular catcher before the injury, has been in Tigers camp for rehab this Spring Training and is expected to return to action sometime this season.

Meanwhile, Tigers top catching prospect Dillon Dingler — the No. 4 prospect on MLB Pipeline’s list of the Top 30 Tigers prospects — is expected to open the season at Double-A Erie, where the former second-round Draft pick from Ohio State spent the second half of last season. The Tigers want him to work on his hitting approach and defense before promoting him to Triple-A Toledo and placing him on the doorstep to the Majors.

The Tigers have had a revolving door at catcher ever since parting ways with James McCann following the 2018 season. Barnhart, who has spent Spring Training building a rapport with the Tigers’ rotation of young starters, could be the exception.

For his part, Barnhart said there’s no urgency to get a deal done.

“If something happens during the season, great,” he said. “If they wait until the offseason, great. If it’s done before Opening Day, it’d be a shock to me at this point, but it would be great.”

Pineda to open season in Toledo
Michael Pineda learned a bit of Midwestern geography when he signed with the Tigers a couple weeks ago.

He knew that, with his work visa process delaying his debut, he probably wouldn’t be ready to open the season with Detroit, and that he’d have to build up his pitch count somewhere first. He wasn’t sure where.

“I’ve never pitched in Toledo. I was a little nervous the first time they said, ‘You’ll have to go to Toledo,’” Pineda said. “I said, ‘Toledo? I don’t know where Toledo is.’ And they said, ‘No, no, no, Toledo is 45 minutes. It’s easy.’ I’m good with that.”

Thus, for at least his first start in the Tigers organization, Pineda will be a Mud Hen pitching at Fifth Third Field, where they open the season with six games against Rochester April 5-10. He could get a second start there before he joins the Tigers rotation.

Pineda will make one appearance for the Tigers in Spring Training, pitching in relief Saturday against the Orioles once starter Eduardo Rodriguez has finished his outing.

Pineda made one Triple-A appearance last year, a rehab start for St. Paul amidst an injured-list stint with the Twins. Since his current situation doesn’t involve an injury, the Tigers couldn’t send Pineda on a rehab assignment. However, he still has a Minor League option left despite eight-plus seasons in the Majors. He has enough big league time that he had to approve the assignment, but that was discussed during negotiations.

“I was not surprised. I knew I was signing a little bit late, and Spring Training is short,” Pineda said. “I knew at some point I’d have to pitch in a Minor League game. They gave me the opportunity to go to Toledo and build up my pitches. It’s good, because it’s a Triple-A team. They’re going to have good hitters. I want to work and try to be ready.”

Manning works on curveball
Three times, Matt Manning tried to finish off Lourdes Gurriel Jr. with a curveball after putting him in an 0-2 count. Each time, Gurriel watched the breaking ball drop out of the zone, running the count full before he sent a fastball deep to left for a second-inning solo homer.

It was that kind of day for Manning in his third of four starts this Spring Training. The right-hander allowed three runs in three-plus innings with two walks and three strikeouts, but went with an array of pitches to try to sharpen his arsenal. His 67 pitches included 12 sliders and 13 curveballs to go with 24 sinkers and 13 fastballs. The curve drew five called strikes but only one swing, that for a foul ball.

“I kind of liked where all my pitches were at today,” Manning said. “I threw some really good curveballs. I think my next step is getting those swings and misses when I get guys into two strikes. I got a lot of guys deep into those counts, and I just have to put them away.”

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