Miguel Cabrera walked into the clubhouse on Saturday morning.
The first person he saw: Zack Short.
“Shorty’s here!” Cabrera said. “We’re safe.”
Less than 12 hours later, Short learned he would be staying with the Detroit Tigers. The 27-year-old joined the Tigers as the 27th man for Saturday’s doubleheader against the Baltimore Orioles. Positive production on offense and defense in both games led to an unexpected reward.
Manager A.J. Hinch informed Short after Game 2 of the doubleheader that he had been added to the 26-man roster. To create a spot, the Tigers optioned infielder Tyler Nevin to Triple-A Toledo.
“We had a really good conversation,” Short said. “Whether I was going down or not, I would have understood. It’s two games. I would have been fine with it, headed down (to Toledo) and waited for my next opportunity. But the vote of confidence that he gave me is going to stick with me.”
In the offseason, Short surprisingly survived on the Tigers’ 40-man roster through a regime change — from general manager Al Avila to president of baseball operations Scott Harris — and the ensuing roster overhaul. At the end of spring training, he packed his bags and reported to Triple-A Toledo.
The big-picture goal: Short wants to prove the Harris-led Tigers were wise for keeping him on the 40-man roster. Other position players from the Avila era, like Willi Castro, Harold Castro and Victor Reyes, were cut to make room for newcomers.
“It means the world,” Short said. “I’m trying to prove the front office right, and A.J. and all those guys making the decisions, prove them right and show why I belong personally and for the team. It’s day by day, and whatever happens, happens.”
Short, a right-handed hitter, struggled in 21 games with the Mud Hens this season, batting .195 with five home runs, 18 walks and 32 strikeouts. He played four different positions: 104 innings at shortstop, 35 innings at second base, 27 innings in center field and 14 innings in left field.
After a big game, Tigers hitting coach Michael Brdar texted him.
But Short’s overall production on offense was lacking.
“It’s more defense-first, and it has been for a few years,” Short said of his role with the Tigers. “It’s just the consistency factor. That’s something that has kept me up at night for the last however many years. It’s a lot easier when a lot of guys are in your corner. It keeps me up at night, but at the same time, it’s there, and it’s just a matter of time when it’s going to click. That’s where I’ve been for the last year or so.”
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The Tigers needed an infielder for their 27th player for Saturday’s doubleheader because Javier Báez, recovering from a bruised left hand, couldn’t play shortstop in both games. Ryan Kreidler and Zack Short were the best options in Triple-A Toledo, but Kreidler has been dealing with knee soreness.
Kreidler’s injury left Short as the only option.
“The baseball card numbers don’t do him justice for what he can do,” Hinch said. “His defense has been really, really good, so we’re giving him the start to help Javy get back into playing. But I think it’s nice for Shorty to be reminded that he’s part of this. He’s a valuable player, and any opportunity is a good opportunity.”
Short and Hinch shared a conversation before a key plate appearance in the bottom of the eighth inning. The inning was taking a long time, a product of the Orioles scoring three runs in the top of the eighth, and a Tigers reliever was just starting to warm up in the bullpen.
“Am I taking a pitch?” Short asked Hinch. “Am I good to swing?”
“Get a good one and swing,” Hinch responded.
Short countered the Orioles’ three-run inning with a solo homer off left-handed reliever DL Hall’s first-pitch fastball. It was his first MLB homer since Aug. 19, 2021, in his rookie campaign.
“I remember vividly when I saw the ball go up, I was like, ‘I’m going to say something to A.J.,'” Short said, thinking back to what he thought about when he hit the home run. “Before I could say something, he was saying something.”
Short went 3-for-4 with two singles, one homer and one strikeout in Game 1 of the doubleheader, helping the Tigers to a 7-4 victory over the Orioles. He also made two spectacular plays at shortstop.
He looked like he belonged in the big leagues.
“Anytime you have an opportunity, you want to make the most of it,” Short said. “It’s not like you’re trying to hit four homers in a game, but I just took what was given to me. The defensive plays, same thing, I just reacted. Everything lined up. That’s all I got, really. It just happened.”
After the Game 1, Hinch told Short he wouldn’t start Game 2 of the doubleheader.
“I’ve done this before with you,” Hinch told him.
In June 2021, Short started Game 1 of a doubleheader against the Houston Astros. He went 2-for-2 with one double and one home run, so Hinch changed his lineup and started Short in Game 2 against the Astros, only for Short to finish 0-for-3 with three strikeouts.
This time, Short came off the bench in Game 2 against the Orioles.
Short opened the sixth inning with a pinch-hit leadoff walk on five pitches from lefty reliever Keegan Akin and came around to score on Báez’s grounder for the Tigers’ first run. He played second base and finished 0-for-1 with one walk in the 6-4 loss.
“Pinch-hitting in the past, my heart was racing, but I just felt a little bit more calm going into the box and in the field,” Short said. “I think that comes with experience. I feel a little bit more prepared.”
In his MLB career, Short has played 70 games.
He has a .152 batting average with seven home runs, 25 walks (12.3% walk rate) and 65 strikeouts (31.9% strikeout rate) at the highest level. In his Triple-A career, he has a .224 batting average with 31 homers, 160 walks and 278 strikeouts in 236 games.
“Shorty brings a different skillset to that spot on the roster,” Hinch said. “He can come up and offer a different dynamic off the bench, whether it’s defense or whether it’s the at-bat against a lefty.”
On Sunday morning, the Tigers still hadn’t fixed an important detail on Short’s locker in the big-league clubhouse at Comerica Park. His nameplate read “Zach Short” instead of “Zack Short,” a misspelling of his first name.
Short noticed the mistake before Saturday’s doubleheader, but as the 27th man expecting a quick return to Triple-A Toledo, he wasn’t going to point out the error to clubhouse manager Dan Ross.
“I thought, ‘Well, this can’t be good, but I won’t say anything,'” Short said.
Now, he’s ready for a fix.
“I’m not the 27th man today,” he said, “so let’s get a ‘k’ on there.”