The Detroit Tigers kicked off the 2020 Grapefruit League season by dueling the Philadelphia Phillies squad to an 8-8 tie in Lakeland on Saturday.
The game was notable mainly as a preview of the Tigers likely 2020 batting order, but we also got the first radio broadcast of the season. The sound of Dan Dickerson’s voice on a sunny winter afternoon in Michigan no doubt left fans feeling slightly warmer.
Jordan Zimmermann got the start and tossed a pair of scoreless frames. He needed defensive help to do it as his typically good fastball command was shaky. Zimmermann walked three, but helped make up for it with three punchouts. His fastball sat 90-92 mph, and while he wasn’t spotting it well, he did feature a slider that looked ready for the season.
Former Tiger Mikie Mahtook returns to Lakeland in Phillies lineup today. pic.twitter.com/3vDpkzoRU6— Jason Beck (@beckjason) February 22, 2020
The Tigers revamped lineup got on the board first. New 1B C.J. Cron led off the second inning with a double to right field. He quickly rode home on a solid single from new 2B Jonathan Schoop. Christin Stewart dumped another single into left field, and Jeimer Candelario followed with an RBI single to score Schoop. After catcher Austin Romine bounced into a double play, JaCoby Jones came through with a two-out single to score Candelario and make it 3-0 through two innings.
Alex Wilson ran into trouble in the third. The veteran closer allowed a pair of runs and looked a little shaky. It is still February after all. However the Tigers got one of those runs back in the bottom half of the frame courtesy of a Niko Goodrum double, and a solid RBI single from Miguel Cabrera.
As the veterans wrapped it up for the day after getting two plate appearances each, the Tigers turned to their stable of minor leaguers. Tyler Alexander took the fourth and the fifth innings, and looked good as he held the Phillies scoreless. Reliever David McKay followed suit with a scoreless frame in the sixth.
A walk to Jordy Mercer, followed by both Daniel Pinero and Troy Stokes Jr. getting hit by the Phillies’ Garrett Cleavinger, started the bottom of the sixth. Kody Clemens pinch ran for Mercer, and with the bases juiced, minor league catcher Jhon Nunez stepped to the dish with a chance to bust the game open. Unfortunately he was only able to muster a ground ball, which scored Clemens but was converted into a double play to snuff out the rally.
With a 5-2 lead, the Tigers got a quick inning from Kyle Funkhouser in the seventh. However, Beau Burrows was a mess in the eighth. Sitting in the low-90’s, Burrows struggled to locate, and couldn’t command his secondary pitches at all. The result was a storm of hard contact that left Burrows charged with five runs. Logan Shore had to finish the frame, and the score was 8-5 when it was all over.
The Tigers did manage to rally back in the bottom of the eighth. Pinero led off with a walk, and Stokes followed with a single. Jhon Nunez walked to load the bases, and Jose Azocar slapped a bases loaded single to left to plate Pinero. Brock Deatherage followed with an RBI single, though he was cut down retreating back to first when Nunez missed the sign to turn for home at third base. A nice at-bat from Willi Castro ended with a sacrifice fly to provide the game tying run as Nunez scampered home from third.
Bryan Garcia shut the Phillies down in the top of the ninth with no trouble, and, with the game set to end after nine innings whether tied or not, the Tigers came to the plate with their last chance to pull this one out. Kody Clemens made a bid, leading off the inning with a deep fly ball to centerfield, but the wind was again blowing in firmly toward home plate, and Phillies’ centerfielder Mickey Moniak easily ran it down at the warning track. The final two outs came quickly, and with that the Tigers remained undefeated with an 8-8 deadlock.
The new lineup feels alright
Obviously the Tigers will use multiple variations, but we got a decent preview of their everyday lineup on Saturday, and it feels...okay. Maybin and Goodrum at the top gives the team two players with a decent mix of speed and power, both of whom get on base at a solid clip. Miguel Cabrera, C.J. Cron, and Jonathan Schoop isn’t a scary heart of the order, but it’s a professional group that could be solid if Cabrera’s improved physique actually helps him produce a little more power this year.
If one of Jeimer Candelario or Christin Stewart can take a step forward, the Tigers can get to the seventh or eighth spots until featuring a below average hitter. Not great, but there’s potential at least for a far less offensive offensive performance this year.
Concerns about Beau Burrows
There’s no need to get panicky about a pitcher this early in camp. Burrows didn’t look good at all, but it’s one outing. The scary part was the fact that his velocity was much closer to 90 mph than to 95. The shoulder issues that plagued Burrows early in 2019 left concern as his velocity didn’t start rebounding until late in the summer. Hopefully, the diminished gas and poor command is the result of taking it easy on his shoulder and oblique this offseason, and he’ll round into better form with time.
Jacob Robson concussed
There were balls and broken bats pursuing players all afternoon in this one. Beau Burrows took a liner off the back of his leg. A broken bat nearly impaled catcher Austin Romine. The worst was a liner that rocketed into the Tigers dugout and drilled outfielder Jacob Robson in the cheek. Robson should be okay, but was diagnosed with a concussion, and will be re-evaluated in ten days.
As any manager will tell you, the main goal in spring training is just to get to the season healthy. Hopefully Robson can make it back fairly soon as he’s one of those fighting for a roster spot in the Toledo outfield this season.