27th man no more: Short makes lasting impression in cameo

Detroit Tigers

DETROIT — Miguel Cabrera was walking through the Tigers’ clubhouse at Comerica Park on Saturday morning when he sighted the scrum of reporters gathered around just-recalled infielder Zack Short.

“Shorty’s here! We’re safe,” Cabrera said. “We’re safe.”

It was expected to be a day trip for Short, called up from Triple-A Toledo to serve as the Tigers’ 27th player for Saturday’s doubleheader against the Orioles. It’s an hour drive up I-75 with which Short has become all too familiar. He was recalled and optioned between Detroit and Toledo five times in 2021, then three times last year.

This time, he’s sticking around, at least for a little bit. What was expected to be a formality after Saturday night’s 6-4 loss to finish a doubleheader split hit a plot twist when the Tigers instead optioned Tyler Nevin, whose pinch-hit, three-run homer slugged the Tigers back into the nightcap.

After three hits, a homer and a slew of defensive plays in Game 1, a 7-4 Tigers win, plus a pinch-hit walk, a run scored and an acrobatic tag for a caught-stealing in Game 2, Short will get a longer look.

“Shorty brings a different skill set to that spot on the roster,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “Combine that with [how] we haven’t really gotten Nevin going until the one swing today, wanting to get him some at-bats [in Toledo], Shorty can come up and offer a different dynamic off the bench — whether it’s defense, whether it’s the at-bat against lefties, the big homer off the lefty, the quality of his play, the defense.”

Short put all of that on display Saturday. In the process, he not only demonstrated why he’s up, he showed why the Tigers kept him on the 40-man last offseason amid a winter of roster churn.

New president of baseball operations Scott Harris knew Short as a Cubs prospect while Harris worked in the Cubs’ front office, but he had no obligation to keep him. Many executives like to clear the end of the roster as a way to make their first imprint. Short stayed.

“It’s great,” Short said Saturday morning, “but at the same time, you want to prove them right. It’s like, ‘Hey, you’re keeping me on [the roster] for a reason, and I’m going to prove you guys right. I’m going to be in your corner. I’m going to help prove why you’re keeping me on.’”

That can be a difficult spot for Short, who can be notoriously tough on himself. He admittedly loses sleep trying to figure out how to unlock the offensive potential that has shown in flashes in Detroit but never stuck. He could sleep well Saturday night.

Short had two leadoff singles in the opener, including a nice sixth-inning liner off a two-strike slider, but he was stranded both times. He made a handful of plays at short, including a whirling stop on the other side of second base to take a hit away from Ryan McKenna. But when he jumped DL Hall’s first-pitch fastball in the eighth inning and sent a Statcast-projected 418-foot drive into the left-field seats, he not only halted the Orioles’ momentum after a three-run homer in the previous half-inning, he delivered a reminder that he has to be pitched to carefully.

“It was a long inning, and [Alex] Lange was warming up, so I asked A.J., ‘Hey, am I taking a pitch? Am I good to swing?’” Short said. “He was like, ‘No, get a good one and swing.’

“When I saw the ball go up, I was thinking, ‘I’m going to say something to A.J.’ And before I could say something, he said, ‘That’s a good one to swing at.’”

It was a flashback to Short’s first Major League home run, also to open a doubleheader. He started the second game that day and went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts. This time, he came off the bench, pinch-hitting for Zach McKinstry against Keegan Akin, and drew a leadoff walk that helped fuel a four-run sixth inning that brought Detroit back in the game.

Staying in at second base, Short flashed his glove again, tagging Gunnar Henderson as he slid by to end the eighth.

Not a bad day’s work. 

“That one felt good,” Short said between games. “I can’t say I saw all that happening today. But that’s why you play. You never know what can happen. You just have to enjoy any time you have that jersey on.”

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