Why the Detroit Tigers’ hopes for 2022 grew even dimmer in their first game in Cleveland

Detroit Free Press

CLEVELAND — A.J. Hinch showed up to Progressive Field, took care of some pregame business and decided he couldn’t manage Friday’s game, after being sick for a few days.

“It’s been a rough couple days,” Hinch said, sitting on his team’s dugout bench like he does every gameday. “Not COVID. I tested a couple times, everything’s fine. But this is the most I’ve seen daylight in a couple days.”

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With that, bench coach George Lombard jumped in for a full game as Detroit’s manager. Hinch has been ejected twice in his Tigers career, so Lombard has two stints as acting Tigers manager. This time, he had to get the team from start to finish.

He was nervous.

“There’s a little anxiety,” he said. “It’s a little different than managing Gulf Coast League down in Florida. It’s intense, and it’s a lot of fun. We have a great group of guys. I enjoyed it.”

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Lombard then did something Hinch does so well.

He talked about winning.

“I was telling the group in here, ‘It doesn’t really matter if you win or lose, it only matters if you win.’ We came up short,” Lombard said. “I was excited for the moment, but it’s about us winning as a group.”

The Tigers lost, 6-1, to the Cleveland Guardians, also losing left-hander Tarik Skubal — the only member of the rotation remaining from Opening Day — after the fifth inning to a left leg contusion. The offense posted three hits, one walk and seven strikeouts.

Skubal took a line drive off his left shin, which was soon currently patched up. Once the swelling goes down, he’ll undergo further exams, but he thinks he dodged a significant injury. Nothing is certain, but he plans to make his next start.

Hinch watched everything from his hotel room.

“I’ll watch the game,” he said. “I have the utmost trust in George. I gave him my thoughts on specific things with the (Guardians). He’s been sitting next to me for a year, so I don’t think it’ll be an issue whatsoever on the management side.”

Lombard’s presence didn’t squish the injury bug, nor did it ignite the offense. The Tigers keep getting injured, and the offense remains a train wreck, as it was again against Guardians starter Aaron Civale. He came into the matchup with a 9.85 ERA over six starts and pitched 6⅓ innings of one-run ball.

The Tigers average 2.72 runs per game this season. In Friday’s loss, the run-scoring department failed to provide an advantage for Skubal’s red-hot left arm. He has pitched 19 scoreless innings in a row.

“That goes back to the way he prepares,” said Beau Brieske, a former 27th-round pick proving he belongs in the big leagues. “He’s super-talented, and he also prepares like the best. He wants to be the best.”

And Skubal, while optimistic about his health, isn’t yet guaranteed to make his next start.

The Tigers already have four starters on the 10-day injured list: Casey Mize (right elbow sprain), Matt Manning (right shoulder inflammation), Michael Pineda (right middle finger fracture) and Tyler Alexander (left elbow sprain), along with Spencer Turnbull (Tommy John surgery) on the 60-day.

Eduardo Rodriguez (left-side discomfort) is expected to be placed on the 10-day IL soon, and Manning needs to make at least one more rehab start for Triple-A Toledo after leaving his third rehab outing early on Thursday due to dehydration.

Outfielder Austin Meadows has vertigo and didn’t make the trip to Cleveland. Fellow outfielder Victor Reyes strained his right quad Sunday, the day he returned from a left quad strain. He won’t heal for a couple weeks. Reliever Will Vest tested positive for COVID-19.

Injured high-leverage relievers Jose Cisnero (right shoulder strain) and Kyle Funkhouser (right shoulder strain) haven’t pitched in the big leagues this season. Funkhouser isn’t into his throwing program, but Cisnero is making good progress. Catcher Jake Rogers (Tommy John surgery) is out, too.

“It’s difficult,” Lombard said. “But when everyone signed that contract in there and in our coach’s room, no one said it’s going to be easy. It’s very difficult. We got (Alex) Faedo going tomorrow. We got to find a way to win tomorrow’s game.”

Lombard, quoting Hinch, chose to look ahead. The Tigers need to start winning. They’re in last place in the American League, at 13-26, and 10 games behind the first-place Minnesota Twins in the AL Central.

Hinch should be back Saturday.

“He needs to get his rest,” Lombard said. “A.J. is phenomenal at what he does. I care about his health. Get him back in the dugout and we can win together.”

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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