With the loss of de facto closer Gregory Soto and center fielder Derek Hill over the weekend, the parade of injuries continued for the Detroit Tigers. In recent weeks they’ve seen catcher Jake Rogers undergo Tommy John surgery, Matt Boyd get shut down for ongoing and ominous elbow troubles, and then Joe Jimeñez and Jose Cisnero both end up out of action. Yet, against the toughest stretch of competition on their 2021 calendar, the 2021 Detroit Tigers are still holding their own.
They’re currently winners of seven of their last ten games despite three straight series against division leading teams. They’ll make that four series in a row on Monday as they welcome in the dangerous Chicago White Sox. Enormous credit has to be due to A.J. Hinch and his staff, who have seemingly improved everything they touched this season, installing a relentlessness we haven’t seen from a Tigers’ ballclub in a long time. And as the season winds down, opportunities are opening up for other players to get playing time and work with the staff, and several have really stepped up.
The ongoing renaissance of Wily Peralta aside, more recent developments have seen catcher Dustin Garneau make a strong bid for a role in 2022, and reliever Alex Lange show off better command of a nasty set of pitches. Rogers’ injury makes the Tigers needs at catcher next season rather dire, and Garneau is doing a good job convincing the coaching staff that he deserves consideration. As for Lange, his emergence would really add impressive depth to the bullpen next season. Meanwhile, pitchers like Derek Holland, Jason Foley, and Drew Hutchison are all trying to finish strong in hopes of finding a job next spring. Foley is under team control, but certainly wants to keep his name in the conversation entering 2022.
Alex Avila retires
Former Detroit Tigers catcher Alex Avila announced on Sunday that he would be retiring after a fine 13-year major league career. The son of Tigers’ GM Al Avila, the younger Avila battled grumbling about nepotism to emerge as the finest homegrown Tigers catcher in decades. He went on to play a key part of the Tigers’ four consecutive AL Central titles early last decade.
Unfortunately, Avila’s 2011 breakout season proved the exception rather than the rule and repeated concussions during the 2013-2014 season threatened an early end to his career. Instead, he went on to have a whole second phase of his career as the veteran backup catcher, putting together solid part-time seasons for the Chicago White Sox, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Minnesota Twins. He also returned for an encore in Detroit in 2017, and absolutely raked for three months, eventually helping the Tigers net Jeimer Candelario and Isaac Paredes in the Justin Wilson trade.
Avila was brought up in baseball, and it’s long been suspected that he would stay in the game when his playing days came to an end. In his statement, Avila confirmed as much and so it’s a fair bet you’ll see him catch on with an organization as a coach fairly soon. A move into a front office role isn’t out of the question either. The Tigers certainly seem the most likely landing spot for him.
Minor leaguers continue protest
Despite the modest pay increase for minor leaguers put in place at the end of the 2019 season, the cost and difficulty of finding decent housing on flexible terms has been a key theme of the year for many. Social media has been inundated with pretty grim pictures of living conditions all summer long as the Advocates for Minor Leaguers organization has kept up public pressure on teams.
The lack of affordable housing with flexible terms has always been an issue, and major league teams have generally been subsidized by host families and the kindness of big bonus prospects who often bail their teammates out in ways their actual organizations will not. Those issues have been, like everything, exacerbated by COVID, as it’s squashed most of the host family options, altered real estate markets, and made the idea of sleeping four or five guys to a room a dangerous proposition at times.
On Saturday, players from the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies organizations wore teal bracelets with the hashtag #FairBall on them, as a low-key protest over the situation. They drew the support of Brooklyn Cyclones’ manager Luis Rojas, whose statement reflects both the underlying support for the players, and also the circumspection required out of fear of infuriating management, that all parties involved have to deal with.
Asked Luis Rojas about the Mets minor leaguers who protested before Saturday's Brooklyn Cyclones game seeking improved pay and working conditions.— Bradford William Davis (@BWDBWDBWD) September 19, 2021
"Those guys standing for something that they believe...you got to respect that.. I'll be someone that I think will support that."
Teams like the Tigers, with better facilities, do have housing available at their main training complex in Lakeland. The Kansas City Royals are another team planning to build apartment units near their training complex in Surprise, Arizona. So things are slowly headed in a better direction, but it’s still at the A-ball and Double-A ball levels where guys are both poorly paid and have to manage housing without team assistance while potentially being moved to a different affiliate at any moment.
This was a pretty heads up play by Houston Astros outfielder Kyle Tucker. On a fly ball, with Yuli Gurriel at third and Tucker on second base, both players tagged up and advanced a base. However, Gurriel left third base just an instant too soon, and the Arizona Diamondbacks realized it, and Kyle Tucker, or third base coach Omar Lopez, realized that they realized it. Diamondbacks pitcher, and former Tigers farmhand, Brandyn Sittinger went to throw to third on appeal but instead Tucker broke for home. Sittinger reacted as you do, running toward Tucker and working him into the rundown, where Tucker was ultimately tagged out. In the process, the possibility for the appeal was erased, the game had moved on, and the run counted. Pretty slick.
Trouble in San Diego
The San Diego Padres season has no doubt been an enormous frustration to a talented group who expected to make the playoffs at minimum. As their hopes rapidly dim, tensions appear to be running a little high. On Saturday night, against a St. Louis Cardinals club that has seized hold of the final wild card spot ahead of them, budding superstar Fernando Tatis Jr. was called out on a bad strike three call and lost it. Manager Jayce Tingler roared out of the dugout to intercede and get himself thrown out while his teammates reined Tatis in. Friend and mentor Manny Machado was then seen absolutely laying into the 22-year-old in the dugout, reminding him quite forcefully that he can’t get himself tossed in the fifth inning of a game they have to win. Tough lessons to learn over there as the injury list for the Padres could potentially field a .500 team on their own.
Old friend alert
Former Tigers center fielder Anthony Gose hasn’t seen the major leagues since he was designated way back in May of 2016 by the Tigers. A man blessed with plus or double-plus tools just about everywhere but the one that matters most, his hit tool, the 31-year-old Gose has been on the comeback trail for years after converting to pitching full-time, and spent 2021 in Cleveland’s system and playing on Team USA in the Olympics.
On Monday, they announced he would be called up over five years after his last look at the major leagues. As their Triple-A club, the Columbus Clippers, were in Toledo playing the Mud Hens last week, the guys at Tigers Minor League Report have some footage of Gose’s high wattage stuff, with a fastball that has topped out at 102 mph this summer.
Anthony Gose. 99 and just 100 on the gun. pic.twitter.com/KpcCp3OOFF— Rogelio Castillo (@rogcastbaseball) September 18, 2021
Baseball at its best
T.J. Friedl, rookie outfielder for the Cincinnati Reds, collected the first hit of his major league career on Sunday. Mookie Betts, patrolling center field for the Los Angeles Dodgers, realized the situation and talked the fan who caught the homer to give it back so that Friedl could have it. The fan happily obliged, and in return, Betts brought him a signed bat the next inning.