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LAKELAND, Fla. — After four long winter months, the Detroit Tigers played catch on Tuesday.
Their pitchers and catchers reported to spring training with perfect attendance and threw a little bit on the backfields of Tiger Town as their 2018 campaign unofficially began. They will formally work out for the first time this spring Wednesday.
But it wasn’t the excitement outside — the Tigers stretched, played catch and ran a little bit — that reflected the rebuilding efforts now underway at the recently-renovated Joker Marchant Stadium.
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It was the first look inside a clubhouse that looks different than it did at this time last year, when one of Justin Verlander’s 17 sports cars was parked outside.
Right-hander Jordan Zimmermann has now taken Verlander’s place, both in his locker placement — which affords easy access to both the kitchen and showers — and in his veteran standing on the starting rotation.
It has been an unfulfilling two seasons in Detroit for Zimmermann, who has been hit hard with injuries and hasn’t given the team much of a return on his big contract signed before the 2016 season.
Zimmermann told reporters on Monday he received a nerve-blocking injection in his back recently and not his neck, which was previously considered. The Tigers are hoping he can provide innings and some stability to an otherwise shaky rotation.
The pitching staff, which finished last in baseball last season in ERA and WHIP, likely will be a problem again this season for the Tigers. In one corner was a pack of youngsters rounding out the team’s 40-man roster, and in another, unproven relievers who will vie for the team’s wide open bullpen position.
Across the aisle from Zimmermann was James McCann, who recently welcomed two baby boys into the world. McCann is now the team’s strongest leader, something easy to see even two seasons ago. He will be part of a younger leadership core with Nick Castellanos, who will assume Ian Kinsler’s locker this season.
Next to Castellanos’ will be outfielder Mikie Mahtook, who took Justin Upton’s number (8), his starting position, and his locker. Upton didn’t get the postseason berths he hoped for after signing a big contract, and takes his World Series hopes with Kinsler to Anaheim.
Though an all-encompassing effect likely won’t be felt until the full squad reports later this week, the early signs of the unrecognizable Tigers were hard to miss. Maybe when Miguel Cabrera arrives, it will feel a more like normal. But a day which always carried so much promise was now simply pitchers and catchers reporting.
On the field, it was what it always has been: An informal workout. But fewer fans lined the chained-link fences for autographs. The player’s parking lot exit wasn’t much of a scene. And after workouts ended, you didn’t hear Verlander’s sports car screaming out of it.
Contact Anthony Fenech: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @anthonyfenech.