Detroit Tigers’ mission? ‘Keep playing clean’ as 9-game road trip begins with Rays

Detroit Free Press

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Detroit Tigers took advantage of a fellow struggling team this weekend.

They swept the Baltimore Orioles.

“We need to keep the same vibe, the same energy in the clubhouse,” third baseman Jeimer Candelario said. “We need to play ball the right way and play clean all the time.”

The Tigers (12-23) opened the season at 9-23, but coming off three wins in a row at Comerica Park, the team entered a nine-game road trip on Monday with its most momentum yet this season.

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For the road trip, the Tigers take on the Tampa Bay Rays (Monday-Wednesday), Cleveland Guardians (Friday-Sunday) and Minnesota Twins (May 23-25). Those teams boast a combined .553 winning percentage.

“If I’m going to preach to not react to a loss,” Hinch said, “I gotta preach to not react to a win I just want us to keep playing clean, especially against this team. The Rays, no secret as to why they’ve been good the last few years.”

Detroit entered Monday eight games behind Minnesota for first place in the American League Central. Here’s how the division stacks up: Twins (20-15), Chicago White Sox (16-17), Guardians (16-17), Royals (12-20), Tigers (12-23).

“We looked at that part of our schedule, with the A’s series and the Orioles series, as a spot where we could propel ourselves forward,” catcher Tucker Barnhart said. “Before the season started, you would’ve looked at it that way. We talked about it being a series that could jumpstart us into a long trip against some good teams.”

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The Tigers dropped four of five games to the Oakland Athletics, before taking all three against the Orioles.

The offense woke up, hitting .284 with four home runs and an .830 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. The pitching allowed just three runs and 11 walks with 30 strikeouts across the 27 innings.

Entering the O’s series, the Tigers’ offense had a .220 average, 12 homers and a .591 OPS in 32 games.

“It was good, ultimately because of the way we played, not necessarily the results,” Barnhart said. “We played really clean. Starting pitching. Bullpen guys. The at-bats were good. We scored runs. We played good defense. In the bigger picture, it was more of how we played versus what the actual results were.”

The Tigers are riding a three-game streak of clean baseball.

That needs to follow against the Rays, the second-best team in the AL East with a 21-14 record. Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash takes an aggressive and  fundamental approach in his game plans, and his players respond by applying pressure on the bases and consistently putting the ball in play.

“For us to play clean, we will have a better opportunity to be in a position to win,” Hinch said. “If we walk them too much, if we give them extra bases, if we don’t play good defense, if we don’t control the running game, it’s a dangerous series against a team that’s used to playing in October.”

Another chance for Daz Cameron

For the third time this season, outfielder Daz Cameron has been called up to the big leagues. He replaced outfielder Victor Reyes, whom the Tigers placed on the 10-day injured list Monday with a right groin strain.

In 24 games for Triple-A Toledo, Cameron has a .260 batting average with two home runs, 15 RBIs, six walks and 31 strikeouts. The 25-year-old finished Sunday’s game 4-for-5 with one double, one home run and four RBIs.

He was a triple shy of hitting for the cycle.

“I’m feeling good,” Cameron said. “I’m aware and capable of what I can bring to the ballclub. Whatever the coach needs me to do, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to come in and be me.”

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Cameron is scheduled to start Tuesday against the Rays. He will receive most of his playing time in right and center field. The Tigers hope to take advantage of his speed on the bases.

For the Tigers, Cameron is 0-for-5 with one walk, three strikeouts and one stolen base in two games this season. He is a career .188 hitter across 54 games in parts of three MLB seasons.

“All he’s asked for is an opportunity, and here is yet another one,” Hinch said. “He was performing well at the right time. His overall numbers were not indicative of the type of player he could be, but the last week, he’s been good. He’s got skills. He’s got tools.”

A productive 15-game stretch for the Mud Hens helped Cameron earn the promotion in Reyes’ absence. He hit .311 (19-for-61) with three doubles, two homers, 11 RBIs, two walks and 17 strikeouts during that span.

“That’s just part of the game,” Cameron said of bouncing between the Tigers and Mud Hens. “You have to embrace and be willing to be a better person, man and player from that, and take everything for what it is, soak it in and be ready to go.”

Also in Toledo, outfielder Akil Baddoo is dealing with an oblique injury.

Matt Manning’s next start

Right-hander Matt Manning (right shoulder inflammation) will make his third rehab start Wednesday for Triple-A Toledo in Indianapolis. He tossed 57 pitches across 3⅔ innings in his last outing.

This time, the Tigers want him to complete five innings on 70-80 pitches.

After Wednesday’s outing, the 24-year-old is expected to join the Tigers’ rotation. If he stays on a five-day schedule, Manning would be lined up to start May 23 against the Twins at Target Field.

He has a 1.35 ERA with two walks and eight strikeouts in 6⅔ innings for the Mud Hens. He appeared in two games for the Tigers before landing on the injured list April 20.

Familiar faces at the Trop

The Tigers aren’t holding any big meetings, but general manager Al Avila invited members of the organization — specifically those stationed in Lakeland, Florida — to Tropicana Field.

Many rehabbing players will show up in St. Petersburg: Casey Mize (right elbow sprain), Jake Rogers (Tommy John surgery), Spencer Turnbull (Tommy John surgery), Tyler Alexander (left elbow sprain), Jose Cisnero (right shoulder strain) and Kyle Funkhouser (right shoulder strain).

“They’re all coming,” Hinch said. “They’re on our team. They’re a part of this. Sometimes when you’re down in Lakeland for too long, you kind of feel disconnected from the major league team. It’s nice to have those guys here, see the team and continue their rehab.”

Right-hander Michael Pineda landed on the 15-day injured list Sunday with a right middle finger fracture. He has an appointment scheduled for Monday night with Dr. Douglas Carlan, the hand and wrist consultant for the Rays, Tigers and Toronto Blue Jays.

Carlan operates out of St. Petersburg.

The Tigers also brought their rehab coordinators to Tropicana Field, along with vice president of player development Ryan Garko, director of pitching Gabe Ribas and director of coaching and catching Ryan Sienko.

“It’s fun to have everybody around,” Hinch said.

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzoldRead more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

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