Lakeland, Fla. — A couple of days ago, out of consideration for right-handed reliever Jacob Barnes, his daughter and pregnant wife, the Tigers told him he could head up to Toledo a little early to find an apartment and settle in ahead of the Triple-A season-opener on Tuesday.
A day later, as he was preparing to throw in a minor-league game on the backfields, they approached him with a little change of plans.
“They were like, ‘You’re not throwing today,’” said Barnes, a non-roster invitee who was reassigned to minor league camp on Monday and had already packed his bags for the trip north. “I was like, ‘OK, when am I throwing. We’ve got to leave here soon.’”
That’s when he was told he was being brought back to the big-league side.
“They said some things had happened and you’re back in the mix,” Barnes said. “They said they wanted to keep me here the remainder of the time and then figure it all out at the end of camp.”
What happened, first and foremost, was left-handed reliever Andrew Chafin’s left groin tightened up and it is unclear if he will be ready to start the season on time.
“We’re going to do everything we can to get it fixed as quick as possible,” said Chafin, who signed late and has made just two appearances this spring. “I don’t know a timetable. I’m just doing what I’m told. Just do the best I can with what I got.”
The Tigers, as manager AJ Hinch said Friday, will err on the side of caution, especially with a $13 million investment like Chafin.
“That old ‘I’m feeling better, I think I can make it’ mentality, which is Chafin in a nutshell — I think we have a real concern whether we have enough time,” Hinch said. “It’s a short spring and then you shorten it further with a tweak. That’s not a recipe for comfort.
“We have a concern that the right thing to do is make sure he’s ready for the season and that might not align perfectly with the start of the season.”
But Chafin’s health isn’t the only reason Barnes was brought back. A couple of the pitchers who are fighting for the last couple of bullpen spots — the Tigers plan to carry 10 relievers for the first month of the season — have scuffled in recent outings. Namely Will Vest, Jason Foley and Rony Garcia.
“We are on the long-view here,” Hinch said. “Nobody is going to lose an opportunity over one outing.”
Still, there is enough concern that Barnes, who will be 32 on April 14 and has pitched in parts of six big-league seasons, was brought back into the competition.
“He has a lot of good stuff,” Hinch said. “He’s got experience in the big leagues and he’s pitched well in the big leagues at times. He handles left-handed hitters, too, with his cutter, which is key. And he just has a Major League look to him when it comes to how he conducts himself and how he handles himself and the pressure he’s been under over those years — which is why we signed him.
“We think he’s certainly good insurance for us, but also he can compete.”
Once his head stopped spinning, once he backed out of a potential lease agreement in Toledo and told his family to hang out in St. Petersburg for a while longer, Barnes was able reclaim a locker in the big-league clubhouse and put his focus back on pitching.
“Definitely a unique situation,” he said. “But at the end of the day, an opportunity is an opportunity. That’s the positive. You can adjust everything else.”
And bonus, he will now be able to attend the baby shower his family has planned for his wife on Saturday.
Paredes to Toledo
The Tigers Friday optioned infielder Isaac Paredes to Triple-A Toledo, a move that was not unexpected.
“It’s not perfectly aligned for him to break with us,” Hinch said. “He’s done everything he needs to do in Triple-A, but he needs everyday opportunity around the field and we don’t have that. He just needs to keep doing his part.”
For all the offense he’s shown in winter ball and the minor leagues, it has yet to translate against big-league pitching, albeit in a small sample. In parts of two big-league seasons (57 games, 193 plate appearances), Paredes slashed .215/.290/.302.
“He’s in a rare situation,” Hinch said. “He gets sent down because we didn’t think the everyday at-bats are here. But he could come back if an injury happened. Not being a big-leaguer on Opening Day doesn’t mean he’s not a big-leaguer.”
Umpires on the mic
Major League Baseball, taking a page out of the NFL, announced Friday that umpires will now announce replay review decisions to fans in the stands crowds via microphone this season.
“It’s going to be different,” Hinch said. “The umpires are going to be more nervous about it than anyone else. The ones I’ve talked to, they’re not accustomed to doing it like the NFL refs are. It will streamline a lot of good information for the fans. Anytime we open up communication with fans, it’s a step in the right direction.”
The crew chiefs will wear a microphone on a belt pack. They will face the press box to make the announcement, telling the crowd who is making the challenge, what is being challenged and after the review, the verdict.
“The umpires will get used to it,” Hinch said. “It will become very mainstream very fast. Any time we do something different in this sport, people initially freak out and then they realize it’s probably for the better.”
AROUND THE HORN
…The Tigers announced that the Opening Day game against the White Sox in Detroit next Friday is sold out. There are standing room only tickets available.
…The Tigers have signed first baseman Quincy Nieporte to a minor league contract. The 27-year-old former Phillies farmhand spent the last two seasons in the Frontier (independent) League where he produced 30 home runs and 140 RBIs, with a .323 average and slugging .544.