‘We haven’t earned that right’: Hinch keeps Tigers’ focus on today, not division race

Detroit News

Detroit – He’s not going to go there and, quite honestly, we shouldn’t want him to go there.

AJ Hinch knows his Tigers went into this weekend series with the Central Division-leading Twins trailing them by just three losses. He also knows it’s June.

“I will grant you, we are in the mix,” he said, when asked about the importance of this series in terms of the standings. “When you are playing competitively, that’s super important for young players to feel that at this level. It’s not about survival. It’s about winning today’s game. And the more games you win, the more you’re going to factor in.

“But that’s the extent of it. I’m just not going to let our team talk like that. I don’t want to hear it because we have so much more to do to get better before we can truthfully talk like that.”

Being three losses behind the Twins is fun and certainly a heck of a lot better than where they were last June.

“Yeah, you don’t want to be eliminated before the weather turns,” Hinch said.

But the more realistic look is that the Tigers went into the game Friday nine games under .500.

“We haven’t earned the right to talk that way,” Hinch said. “We just haven’t. The more we can focus on beating (Twins’ starter Kenta) Maeda and win the game tonight, the better we’ll be.”

By now, Hinch was in full rant mode. There was no stopping him.

“You want to get somewhere where you matter?” he said. “You want to get a national broadcast? You want to get into the conversation where people don’t look at us like, you know, pat us on the head like we’re a nice team that tries hard?

“Play better and play better for a longer time. Beat some teams and then you’ll start to earn that designation. Until then, it’s all a distraction.”

His point is unassailable. There are more than three months left in the season. The Tigers, for all their competitiveness and fighting spirit, haven’t even been whole yet this season. They have three of their starters still on the injured list, as well as two of their best outfielders and left-handed hitters.

They’d won six of their last eight games before Friday. And they’d lost 11 of 12 before that.

Best to keep the laser focus on each game as it comes.

“I’m just not used to bragging about being under .500 and not in first place,” he said. “If we allow ourselves to get too comfortable with where we’re at right now – I don’t think Tigers’ fans want us to be where we’re at right now for very long, either. It’s just one big misdirection.

“I want us to be playing competitively like we are now, but I want to be in a hell of a lot better situation moving forward than we are right now. Why would I let myself be content in June with where we’re at?”

He wouldn’t. And the team isn’t. There’s work to be done.

Manning decision looms

Matt Manning seems on the cusp of rejoining the Tigers’ rotation, but Hinch said the team isn’t prepared to make any decision just yet.

Manning threw 73 pitches in four innings in his latest rehab start at Toledo Thursday. He gave up one hit with six strikeouts and five walks. In terms of being stretched out physically, he’s ready. But the club is going to wait until after he throws his bullpen session Saturday.

“No definitive decision yet,” Hinch said. “And there probably won’t be one in the next couple of days. Which will be hard on everybody. But we’re trying to use as much time and as much information as we can to decide whether his next start with be another rehab start or whether that next start could potentially be something else.”

Like, against the Rangers in Texas next week.

“When you are talking about bringing guys off the injured list, there are so many decisions that have to go along with that,” Hinch said. “Namely, the guys who are on the team, the roster implications – once you make the decision it’s final and you start the option cycles with guys. There’s a lot of stuff that goes into it.

“We will not fast-forward him until he’s ready to absorb what a starter should do.”

The Tigers are presently operating with a four-man rotation and using a bullpen game on the fifth day. That’s already put a heavy burden on the relievers, who have pitched close to 80 innings this month collectively.

“We try not to be reactionary,” Hinch said. “Bottom line, is he ready to pitch against arguably one of the best offenses in baseball (Rangers) or will it be a bullpen game?”

Around the horn

… The Tigers signed veteran utility infielder Johan Comargo to a minor-league contract Friday and assigned him to Toledo. The switch-hitting Comargo, 29, spent five seasons with the Braves and was on the Phillies’ World Series roster last year. He’d been released by the Royals where he was slashing .298/.412/.544 in 15 games at Triple-A Omaha.

… Lefty starter Tarik Skubal, recovering from flexor tendon surgery, is scheduled to make another rehab start with Toledo next week.

… Right-hander Alex Faedo (finger) threw a full bullpen Friday. He said he hopes he will start facing hitters next week.

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky

Twins at Tigers

When: 7:15 p.m., Saturday, Comerica Park

TV/radio: Fox/97.1

Scouting report

RHP Pablo Lopez (3-4, 4.40), Twins: There are underlying numbers that suggest he’s pitched better than his results show. He’s given up 14 earned runs in four June starts covering 24.1 innings. But, overall, he’s still getting a high chase (35%) and whiff (30%) rate. His sweeper (.172 opponent average, 39% whiff) and changeup (.161, 28%) are still legit off his 7.2-foot extension fastball (95 mph). The hard-hit rate against him is a moderate 39%.

RHP Reese Olson (0-2, 5.59), Tigers: There’s always competitive reasons why pitchers favor certain pitches over others. But you wish Olson would throw his changeup more than 16% of the time. Hitters a 3 for 12 against it with eight strikeouts and a 50% whiff rate. His slider has been useful, too – 5 for 31 (.161) with a 32% whiff rate.

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