Desperate times, desperate measures: Injuries forcing Hinch to get creative with Tigers’ lineups

Detroit News

Detroit — If you were watching the Tigers Tuesday night and were surprised that manager AJ Hinch moved Zack Short into center field in the fourth inning and kept true outfielder Akil Baddoo on the bench — well, you haven’t been paying attention.

Since the start of spring training, Hinch and team president Scott Harris have been completely transparent about how things were going to be run this season. Except for just a couple of players, everybody was going to play multiple positions.

There weren’t going to be eight regular position players and five subs. There were 13 multi-positional players who would be mixed-and-matched nightly to create and exploit whatever matchup advantages could be had.

Catcher Eric Haase was going to play some in left field. Players like Matt Vierling, Nick Maton, Andy Ibanez, Tyler Nevin and Short were going to play multiple positions on the dirt and in the grass. There’s a reason why Short took reps in center in spring training and why he’d played seven games out there in Triple-A.

Hinch was planning for every eventuality he could think of. So, when Riley Greene had to come out of the game suddenly after the third inning Tuesday, Hinch had to get creative.

“We were stuck a little bit defensively,” he said, noting that Vierling went on the injured list earlier in the day. “But, we have to make reactions how we can. And to beat Texas, we needed our best offense in there against (Rangers lefty starter Martin) Perez as long as he was going to be in there.”

The Tigers trailed, 4-3, when they took the field in the top of the fourth. They had started eight right-handed hitters against Perez. Hinch wanted to stay as right-handed as he could against Perez. That’s why he used right-handed-hitting Ibanez to pinch-hit in Greene’s spot instead of Baddoo.

“We knew we had some counters if they went right-handed later,” Hinch said. “But, they have a really good left-handed bullpen, as well.”

The window to take advantage of Perez was going to be short. And Ibanez ended up homering off him in the fifth and they scores six times against him in 4.2 innings.

It mattered less that Short hadn’t played center field in the big leagues. He had taken reps there, and at that point, against a run-producing machine like the Rangers, offense was more important than defense.

“Lack of experience is not something we can really care about there,” Hinch said. “We needed to put those guys in and wait for something.”

When the Rangers went to the bullpen for right-hander Grant Anderson, Hinch countered with his left-handed hitters, Baddoo, Zach McKinstry and Nick Maton. McKinstry had a chance to tie the game when he pinch-hit for Nevin in the fifth against Anderson.

But Anderson, making his big-league debut, turned out to be a monster, striking out seven of the nine batters he faced.

“We tried to take as many advantages as we could,” Hinch said. “The fact that these guys can move around enough makes me able to do it and still field something we felt OK about.”

It’s not perfect, of course. Short made an ill-advised throw to third base in a three-run fourth inning which allowed another runner to get into scoring position. Jonathan Schoop, a second baseman by trade, who has shifted to third base occasionally this season, had a rough defensive night, as well, with a throwing error and a couple of other misplays.

“It is putting these guys in a tough spot,” Hinch said. “But, we’re going to roll with it and keep challenging them to keep getting reps at various positions.”

Desperate times, desperate measures.

Twitter: @cmccosky

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