Detroit Tigers catcher Eric Haase views left field as ‘legitimate tool to get more at-bats’

Detroit Free Press

LAKELAND, Fla. — Detroit Tigers catcher Eric Haase, or in this case, the Tigers’ starting left fielder, received a fly ball off the bat of Brandon Lowe at Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays, in Monday’s spring training game.

It was his first game of the spring in the outfield.

Haase, a multi-positional player, tracked the ball and caught it for the second out in the third inning. In the offseason, manager A.J. Hinch told his most-established catcher — and one of his best hitters — to bring his outfield glove to camp.

“The bulk of my (work) is going to be behind the plate,” Haase said. “We have a lot of guys I need to learn. That’s priority No. 1, and then roster construction goes in at No. 2. That’s just another thing to have in the toolbox.”

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The 30-year-old, known for his power as a right-handed hitter, is entering his third season as a catcher and left fielder.

He started 20 games in left field (and 61 at catcher) in 2021, then four games in left field (compared to 68 at catcher) in 2022. He also came off the bench to play left field, or switched mid-game from catcher to left field, twice in 2021 and seven times in 2022.

Haase hit .316 with a 1.074 OPS when he played left field in 2021.

“Maybe a little bit easier (to focus on at-bats),” Haase said. “I think it’s just those consistent at-bats. If there’s a series where I was only going to play two out of four days, but now I can play maybe three, maybe four of those games because I can play another position, then I’m able to make those adjustments because I’m seeing more pitches. That’s more opportunity for things to go right.”

For the 2023 season, Matt Vierling is the only right-handed hitting outfield expected to make the Tigers’ roster. Riley Greene, Austin Meadows, Kerry Carpenter and Akil Baddoo are left-handed hitters.

Backup catcher Jake Rogers, like Haase, is a better hitter against left-handed pitchers.

“I think it’s a legitimate tool or weapon to get more at-bats,” Haase said. “In 2021, I got another almost 100 at-bats (76 at-bats) from playing left field. It’s another way to get in the lineup. If there’s a left-handed pitcher, and they like the matchup, I can get in there and Rog can get in there.”

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The Tigers have three catchers on the 40-man roster: Haase, Rogers and Donny Sands. The Tigers acquired Sands, who’s hitting .182 with one walk and six strikeouts this spring, from the Philadelphia Phillies in the offseason.

Before Monday’s game, Hinch wouldn’t commit to Haase as the team’s ‘No. 1 catcher’ because he doesn’t want to lock the organization into using him in an everyday role behind the plate.

There’s a chance Rogers, a better defensive catcher, ends up catching more games now that he has returned Tommy John surgery.

But that doesn’t mean Haase can’t be an everyday player.

“I’m saying one of our catchers,” Hinch said. “That’s a unique trait to be able to do that in general. But I don’t think it impacts him. This is his third year doing it with us. Physically, the hardest thing is the throws are a little bit different, and certainly, it’s harder on your legs, both the day before and the day after. But Haase will be prepared. There’s no concern.”

What Michael Lorenzen has shown Tigers

Right-hander Michael Lorenzen started Tuesday against the Boston Red Sox for his third spring training start. In his first two outings, the 31-year-old had a 3.86 ERA with four walks and six strikeouts in 4⅔ innings.

The noteworthy stats: four walks and six strikeouts.

“A few too many walks, which has been his Achilles heel like last year (with the Los Angeles Angels),” Hinch said. “As we get closer to the season, obviously, we’d like to see that sharpen up.”

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Lorenzen, who signed a one-year contract in the offseason, allowed two runs on five hits with zero walks and three strikeouts over 2⅔ innings against the Red Sox. He started his second game one week ago against the Pittsburgh Pirates, throwing 27% changeups, 25% cutters, 23% four-seam fastballs, 16% sliders and 9% sinkers.

His changeup generated four swings and misses.

“I’m encouraged that his best weapons are very evident,” Hinch said. “The changeup is real. He has both sliders. Where he’s throwing his fastball, generally, has been good. Where he can improve is dominating the strike zone. He has to get into leverage (counts). That’ll put him in such a good position to use his other weapons.”

Pitching in WBC

Left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez started for Team Venezuela on Tuesday against Nicaragua in the World Baseball Classic. He allowed one run on seven hits with zero walks and three strikeouts in two innings.

Rodriguez tossed 33 of 52 pitches for strikes.

Team Venezuela manager Omar López hoped to pitch Rodriguez on Tuesday if his squad advances to the WBC championship, but due to a pre-tournament agreement with the Tigers, Rodriguez will make his next start Sunday against the Washington Nationals in spring training.

“We have an agreement,” Hinch said. “If Venezuela’s still there, he certainly can go back and support their team. But he’s going to pitch once.”

Returning from WBC

Second baseman Jonathan Schoop, who played for Team Netherlands in the WBC, took a flight from Taiwan to Atlanta on Monday. He is expected to return to the Tigers’ facility Tuesday but isn’t expected to return to games until the weekend.

“We’ll give him a couple days to acclimate, which will be around the (Wednesday) off day,” Hinch said, “so (Tuesday), he’ll probably be at the facility at some point, but getting him caught back up on this cycle of sleep will be important. He won’t be here in the morning for our workout, but at some point during the day, he may come in and get a little bit of work in.”

Schoop hit .077 (1-for-13) with one walk and six strikeouts in four games for the Netherlands.

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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