Detroit — Before the game Friday, 25-year-old rookie utility player Brendon Davis had one eye on the clock as he talked to a group of reporters.
“I have to get to a meeting,” he said.
A couple lockers to his left, another 25-year-old utility player, Willi Castro, was starting to pack up his gear.
This is how it goes in this game. A season-ending injury for one player creates an opportunity for another. Castro was placed on the injured list with a left hamstring strain.
“This came out of the blue for sure,” said Davis, who had gone back home to Phoenix after the Toledo Mud Hens’ season ended in Iowa earlier this week. “I wasn’t expecting it, but it’s a great opportunity. An opportunity I’ve been working for my whole life.”
Davis will be the 14th player to make his big-league debut with the Tigers this season. His story isn’t that dissimilar to most of the others. A former fifth-round pick of the Dodgers in 2015, he’s grinded through 747 games in seven minor-league seasons to finally get the call.
And that it came in the last week of the regular season doesn’t matter one bit.
“Ryan Garko (Tigers vice president of player development) called me (Thursday night),” Davis said. “I thought it was just the end of the year, ‘This is what we’ve got for you,’ call. It was a little different than that.
“Man, I couldn’t believe it. Just so much joy. I told my dad. He couldn’t believe it. It was an awesome moment.”
The Tigers are Davis’ fourth organization. He’s also spent time with the Dodgers, Rangers and Angels.
“I feel like that has helped me,” he said. “I understand that baseball is just baseball, no matter where you are at. The first time I got traded it was a little tough just because I was a young kid and I didn’t really understand how the game worked.
“But as I got older and I’ve been around more teams and more organizations, I feel like it’s made it a lot easier for me. As long as I have a job and there is a team that wants me, I have an opportunity.”
The Angels placed him on waivers on May 19 and the Tigers claimed him almost immediately.
“That was a weird one,” Davis said. “I didn’t know I’d been placed on waivers. It wasn’t like I had any idea and I was waiting around to see what would happen. I played that night unaware. The next morning I got a call from the manager. I thought I was going to the big leagues but he told me I’d been claimed by the Tigers.
“I was like, ‘What? When did that happen? When was I on waivers?’”
Until September rolled around, Davis was grinding through a rough season. Coming off a year where he hit .290 with 30 home runs and 83 RBIs at three levels of the Angels’ system, his production declined dramatically before he was put on waivers (six homers, 25 RBIs).
But he caught fire with the Mud Hens this month, slugging .537 with six homers and a .903 OPS.
“He’s going to start at third base (Saturday),” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “We have a small opportunity here, only a week. But as I told him in my office, any opportunity is a good opportunity. Just come and do your best to play the game.”
Castro did not make the big-league roster out of spring training. Does anyone remember that?
But he only spent eight games at Toledo before getting called back up. He started the season as an infielder. By the beginning of May, he was getting most of his playing time in the outfield. The transition happened that fast and it has rejuvenated his career — at least from the Tigers’ point of view.
“I really enjoyed this year,” Castro said. “Learning new positions, it opens more doors for a player. And I made the most of it. I’m just going to try to keep learning at every position they put me. Just keep battling.”
Castro ended up playing six different positions this season. He was a plus-3 defensive runs saved in right field, a plus-1 in left and threw out six runners trying to advance.
“I felt comfortable at every position that I played,” he said. “Hopefully next year I will come more prepared because I already made that adjustment this year.”
Around the horn
Starting pitcher Matt Manning was packing his gear Friday. He is going to fly back to California this weekend. But soon he will be getting his inflamed forearm examined in Dallas by Dr. Keith Meister.
“Just to check off the boxes,” Manning said. “I’m not worried about it. I think I would know if it was really, really serious. Right now, it’s just checking off boxes.”
Hinch said the exam was just doing due diligence.
“It’s a minor injury but it’s an injury,” he said. “So we have to run the gauntlet of tests and make sure he can start his offseason program when he’s supposed to and be cleared all the way to spring.”
… It’s not official yet, but it’s likely that pitchers Bryan Garcia and Elvin Rodriguez will travel to Seattle with the Tigers Sunday night. Both have been continuing their throwing programs in Toledo.
Garcia is in line to start against the Mariners on Monday. Rodriguez will likely serve as a bulk reliever in one of the games of the doubleheader on Tuesday.
… When Kody Clemens was hastily summoned to replace the injured Kerry Carpenter on Thursday, he’d already traveled from Iowa to Dallas and was about to head home to Houston. He was able to make to Comerica Park in time but his bats did not. So when he came to bat in the seventh inning, he was using one the bats Derek Hill left behind before he was released earlier this season.
“An extra at-bat for D. Hill,” Hinch joked.
Clemens flew out to left.
Twins at Tigers
First pitch: 6:10 p.m. Saturday, Comerica Park, Detroit
RHP Dylan Bundy (8-8, 4.93), Twins: His late-season fade mirrors the Twins’. He’s not finished the fifth inning in his last four starts, yielding 17 earned runs, including seven homers, in 16⅔ innings. Opponents are slugging over .600 with an OPS over 1.0. He’s pitched in the American League for eight seasons. This will be his 162nd career start but just his fourth at Comerica Park.
RHP Drew Hutchison (3-9, 4.54), Tigers: This will his 18th and final start of the season. Who had Hutchison in the rotation at all, let alone making 18 starts coming out of spring training? But what a rock he turned out to be. He allowed three earned runs or less in 13 of his 17 starts. It wasn’t always clean and pretty but more often than not he gave the club a chance to win.