Tigers skipper sets 2nd-half expectations

Detroit Tigers

This story was excerpted from Jason Beck’s Tigers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

The rain arrived at Progressive Field late Sunday morning and didn’t let up all day. The Tigers and Guardians didn’t wait that long, calling their series finale in Cleveland before the scheduled first pitch and hitting the road for a much-needed All-Star break.

The gloomy weather provided a fitting backdrop for manager A.J. Hinch on Sunday morning as he provided an up-front evaluation of his club at the season’s ceremonial midway point.

The time for calling this a slow start has passed. It’s now a rough season, and the Tigers have to evaluate it as such. For Hinch, that means looking at the roster, the staff and the organization and figuring out what can and must improve.

“I think we have to look at all of it,” he said, “because obviously the results are real. Like, what we did is where we’re at. We have to be very honest with ourselves with who we are, where we’re at and what we need to do to drive this team in a different direction. And it’s a tough balance, because there are players that will get better just by playing more and getting to normalize their numbers a little bit more. And there’s also questions that we have to figure out, by the time that we get to the end of the season, about other players. So you’re constantly in this churn of where you’re at right now and where you want to be, weeks and months from now.”

Injuries are obviously a factor; one look at a rotation in which Beau Brieske is second on the team in innings and starts in his rookie season shows the impact of health. At the same time, they’ve had disappointing seasons from a number of healthy players with track records of success. Hinch, his staff and the Tigers’ front office have to balance that.

“Not every road is straight. We still have yet to have the mapped-out plan that we had at the beginning of the season. But it’s not an excuse, because we haven’t won,” Hinch said. “We’ve had our share of adversity. We’ve had our share of injuries. We’ve underperformed. You factor all that in and your record tells you what you are at the moment in time. So yeah, we need to look at how we can evolve better as an organization, as a team, as a coaching staff.

“We can’t be satisfied that we’re trying hard. This is a results-oriented business and we are not getting the results that we expect — some individually, some collectively and everything in between. So I don’t know what that means moving forward on personnel, but it’s always unlikely when you have a first 90-game stretch like this for it to remain the same. Because otherwise, you’re going to get the same results. It’s the definition of insanity, right?”

The comments were part of a wide-ranging session Hinch had with beat writers. Among other questions and topics:

How do you tackle questions about your staff through the struggles?
“The staffing question is fair, because we’re all responsible for what is going out on the field. And as coaches, we have to challenge ourselves to continually try to reach these guys in different ways and get the best performance out of them. The issue of staff job security is very sensitive. It’s easy from the outside to not see the work and not see the dedication, not see the communication and put it all on the coaches to have to fix it. The move [to change coaches] is a 24-hour news cycle if you don’t have a solution that you know is better immediately. That’s not to say we’re immune to any changes or any issues or any questions about what we’re going to do, but I will fully support my staff because I know the work that they put in and I know the conversations that are had, the work, the feedback from the players. And I know the pressure that’s involved. We’re all responsible.”

How do you keep the clubhouse together through the second half of this season?
“The togetherness part comes from, we have a group of guys that are invested in one another. And it’s hard when you lose. It’s not comfortable for anybody. But we have a good group of guys that have stuck together. The players really build the culture in the clubhouse together amongst themselves, but I still see a group that stuck together. I don’t see resignation. I don’t see players caving in. I see a frustrated group that have been mired in the lack of winning for a while, and those that have been here the longest have felt it for multiple seasons. And that’s what we need to change. We have to continue to find different ways to get out of that wash/rinse/repeat.”

We talked last year about trade talk being part of the business. This year, some of those guys being mentioned are younger guys. Is there a challenge having younger guys cope with that?
“I’ve been more brutal about it. It’s a big boy business. When you are in a position where we’re at, and we have a strong bullpen as we have, the contenders are going to come and look at you. That’s the reality. Whether you are distracted by it, whether you are frustrated with it, whether you’re nervous about it, it’s a big boy business. So I do want to be very realistic with our guys, that the reason that we’re being talked about getting traded away is because we haven’t won enough. You don’t talk that way whenever you’re in July and you’re in the mix. It still goes back to winning. If we win more, we wouldn’t be in this conversation about people pickpocketing our bullpen or asking about our veterans on expiring contracts or grabbing guys out of the rotation. I just am a realist. Like, where we’re at is where we’re at because of how we played and now we have to deal with some of these things that are tough to navigate. That’s our reality.”

What would salvage this second half?
“Winning. Again, it’s my version of coachspeak. It’s winning series, winning weeks, winning months. Winning stretches will help steer this in the right direction. We’ve got to gain experience with some of our guys and we have to do it with a group that is different than we mapped out in April, but that’s our reality. What cures all of this is more wins. We know the road ahead. We know areas that we have to strengthen, both on this team and in the organization, and it doesn’t have to start in 2023.”

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