If Detroit Tigers have any hope for entering AL Central race, the next two weeks are crucial

Detroit Free Press

MINNEAPOLIS — Four weeks ago, the Detroit Tigers were embarrassed at Target Field as the Minnesota Twins made a three-game sweep look easy.

In the first game of the series, on April 26, the Tigers handed the Twins a walk-off 5-4 victory on a throwing error by catcher Eric Haase in the bottom of the ninth inning. Detroit lost the next two games: 5-0 and 7-1.

“We’ve got to find a way to close out a game,” manager A.J. Hinch said Monday, hours before the start of another three-game set against the Twins. “That was the toughest loss to date at that point, when we lost on the walk-off here. … It’s important for us to play clean baseball. This is a ballpark that’s conducive to action. Both teams are going to come in looking to get ahead in the series.”

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The Twins (25-16), entering Monday, lead the American League Central, followed by the Chicago White Sox (21-20), Cleveland Guardians (17-20), Kansas City Royals (14-26) and Tigers (14-26).

“The White Sox, coming into the season, were the favorites and had targets on their backs,” Hinch said. “They have the talent to support that. Them not racing off to a 30-10 start or something like that certainly creates and opportunity for any team to get hot and be in the mix. … We thought we were better.”

What happens in the next 12 games could make or break the Tigers’ chances of a comeback in the AL Central.

The Tigers just split two games with the Guardians in Cleveland. Now, Hinch’s squad plays three games against the Twins in Minneapolis (May 23-25), four games against the Guardians in Detroit (May 26-29) and five games against the Twins in Detroit (May 30-June 2).

“We’re probably the one team in the division that hasn’t — us and Kansas City are both disappointed with where we’re at,” Hinch said, “but both have the talent to challenge some teams.”

Hinch, more focused on Monday’s series opener than the big picture, simplified his message about the AL Central standings, where his Tigers are already 10½ games behind the first-place Twins.

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“We need to correct ourselves before we worry about the other teams,” he said.

They’ll try it again with Matt Manning

Right-hander Matt Manning (right shoulder inflammation) will make his fourth rehab start for Triple-A Toledo on Tuesday.

The 24-year-old was originally slated for three rehab starts to heal up, but he exited his last outing in the third inning due to dehydration. If all goes well Tuesday, he will return to the Tigers’ rotation for the upcoming nine-game homestand.

“He’s feeling great,” Hinch said. “He’ll be unrestricted tomorrow. We will hydrate him up, and he’ll get through his start.”

Manning appears lined up to pitch Sunday against the Guardians at Comerica Park. He has been on the injured list since April 20, after making two starts with a 2.25 ERA this season.

Hinch said right-hander Casey Mize (right elbow sprain) is “not throwing yet.” The Tigers placed the 2018 No. 1 overall pick on the injured list April 15.

Good news for Eduardo Rodriguez

Left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez underwent further tests upon arriving to Minneapolis. The Tigers sent the 29-year-old to the injured list Sunday, retroactive to Thursday, with a left ribcage sprain.

“Eduardo’s test came back positive,” Hinch said. “No sign of stress fracture or stress reaction, which is very important for us. He’s still not going to play catch for another four, five, six days.”

Rodriguez will increase the workload in his rehab program once the Tigers return to Detroit. The Tigers, following Wednesday’s series finale at Target Field, play Thursday against the Guardians at Comerica Park.

“Until he gets to full speed, we’ll have no idea what all this means,” Hinch said.

Better news for Will Vest

Right-handed reliever Will Vest is recovering his positive COVID-19 test, which forced the Tigers to send him to the injured list Friday. He does not have symptoms anymore.

Before returning, the 26-year-old must produce consecutive negative tests.

“Will is doing very, very well,” Hinch said. “Now he begins the testing protocol. … He will likely have to go into a rehab game or two. He hasn’t passed his first test yet, but he’s asymptomatic.”

Daz Cameron earns a pair of ‘rewards’

During Sunday’s 4-2 win in Cleveland, Daz Cameron robbed a home run in center field, had two hits and drove in his first run of the season. It was just his third start — and fourth game — in 2022.

Hinch started Cameron again Monday.

“He’s earned it,” Hinch said. “It’s hard to walk away from the game yesterday and not get him right back in the lineup. I contemplated putting Derek (Hill) in center and Daz in right. That may be the combo in the next couple of days, but I’m going to reward him with another start after a game like yesterday.”

Cameron picked up another reward, as his thievery in Progressive Field’s outfield earned him MLB’s Electric Play of the Week. The 25-year-old took away a two-run homer from Amed Rosario, which started a double play to end the fifth inning.

Jack Morris out (COVID)

Hall of Famer Jack Morris won’t appear on the Bally Sports Detroit broadcast for the three-game series against the Twins. He tested positive for COVID-19, according to BSD general manager Greg Hammaren.

Craig Monroe has moved into the analyst chair.

Prospect wins award

Low-A Lakeland shortstop Manuel Sequera, a 19-year-old prospect, won Florida State League Player of the Week.

To win the award, Sequera hit .417 (10-for-24) with three doubles, two home runs and eight RBIs in six games. He had zero walks and four strikeouts and grounded into one double play.

Sequera is hitting .254 (35-for-138) with 10 doubles, four homers, 18 RBIs, four walks and 32 strikeouts in 33 games this season. He is the Tigers’ No. 13 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline.

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

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