These roster battles remain tight as Tigers wrap up Grapefruit League season

Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. Just as they said goodbye to the Grapefruit League season Sunday, the Tigers got busy with a clutch of roster decisions ahead of Opening Day.

And none of the deliberations became easier in Sunday’s spring finale.

Especially not after one of those manic Grapefruit League games that saw the Tigers get a walk-off single from Ryan Kreidler, good for an 11-10 toppling of the Rays at Publix Field/Marchant Stadium.

Kreidler, in fact, is one of the chaps who seemingly has front-office chief Scott Harris and manager AJ Hinch in deep reflection about a final 26-man roster ahead of Thursday’s regular-season opener against the Rays at Tropicana Field.

Kreidler and Zack Short for that hybrid infield-outfield spot Hinch insists upon?

Akil Baddoo or Kerry Carpenter in that left-handed-swinging outfield duel?

Or, some combination of the above?

“We could go a number of different ways,” Hinch said a few minutes after the Tigers had coughed up a 10-7 lead in the ninth, only to win it in their last at-bat on Kreidler’s smash up the middle, which scored Jonathan Davis with the last run of the 2023 Grapefruit League calendar (Lakeland version).

“I continue to tell these guys,” Hinch said, ‘Control what you can. Do what you can.’ It’s a long view, but these guys have all come in prepared to play. They’re all helping one another.

“They’ve all been teammates before in the big leagues or minors. This decision has dragged out, but none of ’em have been impacted negatively.

“They’ve all taken it as professionally as you can.”

Hence, all this debating, internally, which could last into mid-week as Harris and Hinch and staffers dissect and discuss how to best secure those final roster spots.

Kreidler, a sharp infielder who can handle the outfield, delivered in that final at-bat Sunday and finished a month of Grapefruit League games with a .288 batting average to go with splits of .362 (on-base percentage) and .462 (slugging), which adds up to an .824 OPS.

Short, who likewise can handle short or any variety of infield work and shift smoothly to outfield chores, has few offensive assets in his past portfolio, and hit only .209 this spring.

Still, the bosses like how he plays, which prodded Hinch to mention late Sunday that “Shortie has had a good camp, too.”

The outfield dogfight is a doozy: Baddoo vs. Carpenter.

Baddoo’s defense is better, markedly so, which helps his case when he has speed and when this spring he finished with three homers, and an .800 OPS.

Then there’s Carpenter: two singles in two at-bats Sunday, including a hard, two-run poke against a Rays lefty. He finished his Grapefruit League stint with glossy numbers: .333, three homers, and a heavy .940 OPS.

Were it not for a certain Hall of Famer and $32 million contract the Tigers are taking north, Carpenter, who doesn’t have Baddoo’s pluses on defense or on the basepaths, would be a dandy fulltime DH candidate.

But that option isn’t yet available. And so the pacing and case-making and devil’s advocate deliberation likely will continue for at least a couple of more days.

There’s a similar back-and-forth at play with Tigers relievers.

“A razor-thin margin between who makes it and who doesn’t,” Hinch said after Sunday’s game, “especially the bullpen.”

Not a lot of clarity came Sunday, given that only a couple of serious candidates for a handful of reliever spots pitched.

Tyler Holton, a lefty, tossed one inning and was nicked for a run on two hits.

Matt Wisler, a right-hander, had the same line, as well as a walk.

Another possibility but not for Opening Day is a righty who has been throwing well of late but who already has been sent to minor-league camp: Miguel Diaz.

He helped out Sunday, throwing his higher-90s fastball for a single inning during which he was slapped for a run on a hit and two walks. But he also had a strikeout, giving him 15 punch-outs in eight games and nine innings this spring. He has allowed five hits and five walks, has a 1.11 ERA and .156 opposing batting average.

“He’s pitched extremely well,” said Hinch, who didn’t need to remind anyone that he expects his bullpen to change about as often as Michigan weather in the coming days and weeks.

“We sent him out (minor-league camp) pretty early, trying to open up innings for other guys. He did walk a guy or two today, which has been his Achilles heel a little bit. But his stuff is good enough to play in the big leagues.”

So, the confabs will continue, with Harris keeping an eye out for other teams and their roster cuts when 28 of the 30 MLB clubs wrap up their Grapefruit League schedules and finalize their rosters on Monday and immediately afterward.

Some gents, of course, have regular jobs. And a couple of them came through Sunday.

Riley Greene slammed a 410-foot, three-run homer over the Publix Field sign in deepest right-center field. It was Greene’s fourth homer of the spring.

Jonathan Schoop, who arrived Sunday hitting .185, had three hits, including a homer that landed high on the left-field berm.

And that did it for Lakeland-based games in 2023.

Now, a different game goes to the wire. The race for those final, precious roster spots.

Farewell to Cabrera

There was a pre-game celebration of Miguel Cabrera before Sunday’s finale. And there was a particularly rousing moment in the seventh when Publix Field’s public-address announcer told a heavy crowd of 9,218 that this “for the final time” would be a Cabrera at-bat in Lakeland.

A nice ovation was followed a couple of pitches later when Cabrera hit a liner to left that was gloved in front of the warning track.

“We’re going to be doing that at a lot of places,” said Hinch, who, next weekend at Tampa Bay, can expect a similar sendoff from the Rays as Cabrera finishes his 21-season, big-league life.

Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and retired Detroit News sports reporter.

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