MINNEAPOLIS — Al Avila has had a busy day. A bad day. Not the worst day, he concedes, but just before he was about to jump onto the elliptical for a much-needed workout, he received word that another one of his starting pitchers was headed to the disabled list. Now, they need two spot starters for this weekend’s series and not much 40-man roster space to work with. Luckily, for logistical reasons, Triple-A Toledo is playing at home.
Avila, the third-year Detroit Tigers general manager, has many things on his plate these days. Even in the dog days of summer, while the team is slogging through a season that has been, at times — like Thursday night’s blowout loss — as ugly as expected, but at other times — like the first 2 ½ months of the season — better than expected. Among his duties on this day is a sit-down interview with a beat reporter, who wants an August update on how the first full year of the rebuilding process is going.
There is one problem, though: First pitch is a little over 20 minutes away and Avila has one rule about such interviews; he will not do them during the game.
For all of his wide-ranging duties, game time is among his most sacred time. It’s where he can do what he made his name in baseball doing: Watching the game and evaluating the play, not only on the field in front of him, but also around the minor leagues, on an iPad, which he regularly tunes into the team’s eight minor league affiliates.
Avila will make it work, though, so he pulls up a chair in the bare visiting GM’s office at Target Field, and begins by saying the most obvious of things. That, no matter what the expectations were coming into the season, nor the reality of the Tigers’ rebuilding situation, he doesn’t deal with the losses. Nobody does. Not the coaches, or the players, or his front office team.
“This is very difficult to stomach this,” he says. “This is why people try to avoid rebuilds. Because the rebuilds are very, very tough on everybody’s mentality and psyche and they drive you crazy. I know it’s driven me crazy. A lot of days, especially days when the pitching doesn’t hold up and there’s no hitting, it’s a hard thing to deal with, there isn’t a doubt.”
The Tigers could have done it halfway. They could have pared the payroll down a bit, riding their past-prime players for another year or two and treaded water much the way they did the previous three seasons, sparing themselves some of the pain that’s now inflicted on a nightly basis. But that would have been merely a band-aid. With their payroll the way it was and the farm system so barren, they were close to committing franchise suicide, and Avila knew it.
“We were in a situation where, if we didn’t do the rebuild, then we would really be in a bad situation, believe me,” he says. “Believe me.”
For fans who are accustomed to the Tigers putting out a $200 million-plus payroll and competing for the postseason, it’s hard to believe in the team’s 50-73 record (entering Saturday). Their favorite players have been traded away. They, more than ever, are staying away. It’s an immediate-results society we live in, and on a daily basis, the Tigers’ immediate results are not good. They are young, inexperienced, lacking in offense and pitching and still learning the game. Many nights, like Thursday night’s 15-7 loss, it is ugly.
But during that game, Avila flipped through his farm system — even the Athletics farm system, watching a pitcher named Nolan Blackwood, who would be announced as one of the team’s two players to be named later in the Mike Fiers trade a couple days later — and was afforded glimpses at the goal, which won’t be realized until many years from now and perhaps, not ever.
“The positive developments are the guys that are performing well in the minor leagues,” he says. “Those are the bright spots. Not everybody is going to have a great year, not everybody is going to stay healthy, so the guys that stay healthy and perform, those are the bright spots and we’ve had more than a few.”
Earlier in the day, the team promoted center fielder Daz Cameron to Triple-A Toledo. Cameron was one of three players acquired from the Astros for right-hander Justin Verlander last season. Another, catcher Jake Rogers, is fighting back from an early-season slump and remains viewed as the team’s catcher of the future. Two of the team’s recent draftees, Kody Clemens and Brock Deatherage, performed well enough to reach Class A Lakeland this season. And though their bushel of top pitching prospects has turned in a mixed bag of performances this season, the words Avila keeps receiving from his top scouts are that the influx of younger players in the system over the past year have serious potential. “Stay the course,” is what one texted him after a recent trip to Double-A Erie, watching infielders Isaac Paredes, Sergio Alcantara and Willi Castro.
But Casey Mize’s strong minor league debut in Lakeland and up-and-comer Wenceel Perez’s 4-for-4 day in his first Class A start at West Michigan only provide brief reprieves from the reality of losing, with a lot more losing to come. And though Thursday night’s loss was tough, he looks down at the field the next night and sees the impact that manager Ron Gardenhire and his coaching staff has made in a short period of time, in something as simple as the way the team lines up for the national anthem, which on this night runs 3 minutes and 10 seconds.
“One of the things I feel very good about, because we’re going through hell, nobody likes it and it’s very frustrating,” Avila says, “But the one thing that we do feel very good about is the way that our guys put effort on the field and even though we’re losing, sometimes we come back late in the game and they battle to the last out and I think it’s attributed to, No. 1, our manager and coach staff, but also that our players our hungry.”
It’s been a theme since the start of the season: The Tigers fight like they haven’t in years. Much of that is because of their make-up: They are younger players with much to prove; their Major League futures could be at stake. And sure, there have been losing streaks — 11 games and scoring eight runs over six games on a recent West Coast trip come to mind — but for a team that is terribly undertalented, that fight has yet to dissipate.
Not that the paying customers, who are on pace to walk through the Comerica Park turnstiles less than two million times this season, care much. They want to win and they want to win now.
“You don’t want to lose and I know Gardy doesn’t want to lose,” Avila says. “When I go out there down after a game, whether it’s on the road or at home, everybody is pissed off and generally so.”
First pitch is near, the starters walking in from the bullpen, and Avila is beginning to get antsy. He puts his glasses on and powers up his iPad.
Tonight, the process of identifying the few players on this team that will stick around long enough to win in Detroit continues. Matthew Boyd has matured this season. Niko Goodrum has been a surprise. Nicholas Castellanos, the team leader, has spoken about his desire to stay with the Tigers, however improbable it may seem.
The next great team — whenever that may be — is playing on minor league fields mostly in Erie and Lakeland. And when he watches those players, in the midst of all this losing, Avila can’t help but dream of a better time, in which he doesn’t have to squint and put his glasses on to see the vision the organization has.
“Some days, when we’re not playing that good here and you’re 0-for-9 in the minor leagues,” he says, smacking a fist against an open hand. “It hits you in the face.”
On this night, the Tigers will lose again; crushed by a three-run home run in the seventh inning, their early lead squandered. It will sting.
Before it does, as the starting pitcher is making his warm-up pitches, he is asked a final question: What is your message to the fans during these tough times?
“We’re going to get this done,” Avila says. “It’s going to take some time and it’s not going to be easy, but it will be worth it.”
It is game time.
“You gotta go,” he says, pulling his chair up for another night in the painful first season of the Tigers’ rebuilding process.
MINNEAPOLIS — Jacob Turner gets the start Sunday as the Detroit Tigers try to salvage a split of the four-game series with the Minnesota Twins at Target Field.
The Tigers plan to recall Tuner before the game from Triple-A Toledo, where he’s 2-4 with a 4.04 ERA in 12 starts this season.
Turner, who has one major league start this season with Detroit and is 14-31 with a 5.37 ERA in 102 big league appearances (56 starts), takes the place of Zach McAllister, who was designated for assignment Saturday.
McAllister allowed eight runs on 10 hits in 3 1/3 innings after he was signed earlier in the week.
“We’re so strapped for starting pitching right now, we’ve got to do something,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We weren’t going to send the guy out who won the ballgame for us tonight (Ryan Carpenter). He pitched well and we need starters.
“It’s unfortunate. I would have liked to see (McAllister) around here.”
Losing McAllister leaves Gardenhire short-handed in the bullpen for Sunday’s finale. He’ll be at a further advantage because setup man Joe Jimenez needed 33 pitches to get through his eighth inning appearance Saturday night.
“There’s not much we can do about that,” Gardenhire said.
The Twins turn to right-hander Jake Odorizzi (5-7, 4.44 ERA), who struck out nine his last outing — falling one short of his season high.
Odorizzi has been sharp in his last few turns through the rotation. Since allowing five runs over nine innings in a July 28 loss to Boston, he’s 1-0 with a 3.29 ERA over his last three starts despite not working past the fifth in any of those outings.
The Pirates managed a pair of runs, four hits and two walks against him the last time out.
“I thought controlling my split tonight was the difference-maker, between average outings and above-average outings,” Odorizzi said. “I executed a lot of pitches down in the zone tonight, more so than I have in the past, and I think that’s what help set up my split today. I’m happy with how today went overall, and stuff wise, I think that was one of my top two outings, just the way I felt with all my pitches.”
Odorizzi is 2-1 with a 2.51 ERA in five career starts versus the Tigers, including a no-decision this season when he allowed two runs in five innings of a 6-4 victory June 12 in Detroit.
Odorizzi should benefit from having Logan Forsythe in the lineup Sunday. The infielder has been on a tear, batting .379 with four doubles and eight RBIs since coming over in a trade with the Dodgers.
“His at-bats have been really consistent and he’s gotten a lot of hits,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “He’s been part of a lot of our run-scoring opportunities here the last week.”
Forsythe replaced popular second baseman Brian Dozier but has left a strong early impression Molitor.
“Guys develop reputations of being professional,” Molitor said. “It’s probably an overused word, but it’s guys that can go out and adapt and understand what it takes to play, no matter where you are or what circumstances you find yourself in, given trades or free agency or all the things that can happen to a player throughout his career.
“I don’t think replacing Brian Dozier or anything like that has affected him. He’s just gone about his business.”
Minneapolis — The mystery of the Sunday starter was solved by default Saturday night.
When the Toledo Mud Hens started Warwick Saupold in their game, that almost certainly meant that right-hander Jacob Turner was going to be summoned to start for the Tigers against the Twins.
The Tigers made that official after their 7-5 win over the Twins, but with an unexpected twist. To make room for Turner, whose contract was purchased, they designated veteran right-hander Zach McAllister for assignment.
“We saw what we were looking for in the velocity,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “But he got banged around a little bit. His breaking ball was kind of loopy. I think he’s got a better one, but we just don’t have time right now.”
McAllister appeared in three games for the Tigers and was tagged for eight runs and 10 hits in 3.1 innings.
“We’re so strapped for starting pitching right now, we’ve got to do something,” Gardenhire said. “We weren’t going to send the guy out who won the ballgame for us tonight (Ryan Carpenter). He pitched well and we need starters.
“It’s unfortunate. I would have liked to see (McAllister) around here.”
With starters Blaine Hardy (elbow), Artie Lewicki (elbow) and Michael Fulmer (oblique) on the disabled list, the Tigers have had to dip into the shallow pool of Triple-A starters. Carpenter gave the Tigers 5.1 innings Saturday and earned his first big-league win.
Turner, who has been DFA’d six times in his career and three times this year, will be looking to make amends for his first spot start with the Tigers on Aug. 7. He gave up seven runs (five earned) and six hits in just one inning.
The Tigers will be two arms short in the bullpen on Sunday. McAllister is gone and setup man Joe Jimenez threw 33 pitches in the eighth inning Saturday.
“There’s not much we can do about it,” Gardenhire said.
Minneapolis — Mikie Mahtook hasn’t had a lot to smile about this season, losing his starting spot and roster spot in April and shuttling back and forth between Detroit and Toledo all season.
He was smiling on Saturday.
Mahtook knocked in four runs — three with a tie-breaking, three-run home run in the fifth inning — to help the Tigers beat the Minnesota Twins, 7-5, at Target Field and snap both an eight-game road losing streak and a four-game skid overall.
It was Mahtook’s second home run in three games, an impressive at-bat against Twins reliever Tyler Duffey. He took a fastball for strike one, then laid off a knuckle-curve and another fastball off the plate. He swung late on a 2-1 fastball to even the count, so you might’ve expected Duffey to come back with the heater.
Mahtook did not. He stayed back on an 83-mph knuckle-curve and lashed it, exit velocity off the bat 107 mph, on a line over the left-field fence.
The inning was set up when Duffey hit Niko Goodrum in the hip with a pitch and Victor Martinez was safe at first on fielder’s choice. Martinez hit a spinning ground ball to Joe Mauer at first. Mauer spun and threw to second. Goodrum, originally called out, was safe after video review.
There was no return throw on Martinez.
Mahtook made them pay for that indiscretion, just like he’d done in the third inning against Twins starter Kohl Stewart.
Stewart, making his second big-league start (both against the Tigers), loaded the bases with a single and two walks. But with two outs, and two strikes on Mahtook, he drilled him in the leg with a pitch, forcing in a run.
Ronny Rodriguez then dumped salt in the wound with a two-run double to right field.
Those two three-run innings offset three solo home runs allowed by Tigers’ emergency starter Ryan Carpenter. Called up from Toledo after Artie Lewicki (elbow inflammation) and Blaine Hardy (elbow tendinitis) went on the disabled list, Carpenter was making his first start in the big leagues since May 31.
On that day, after pitching four strong innings against the Angels, Carpenter left with an oblique strain that put him out for two months.
He had made just four starts at Toledo before being summoned Friday, but he gave the Tigers a solid 5.1 innings. The only damage was three solo home runs, one in each of the first three innings by Mauer (his first career leadoff homer, after hitting the game-winner in his only at-bat Friday), Tyler Austin and Miguel Sano.
Mauer has had himself a series. He’s 6-for-10, two doubles, two home runs, five runs scored and four RBIs.
In the top of the eighth, the Tigers gladly accepted an unearned run from the Twins, extending the lead to 7-3 courtesy of a throwing error by shortstop Jorge Polanco. That allowed Grayson Greiner, who had walked, to score on a fielder’s choice grounder by Jim Adduci.
The Tigers bullpen closed it out, eventually.
Drew VerHagen finished out the sixth inning. Victor Alcantara gave up a leadoff double to Mauer in the seventh, but he worked out of it by striking out Logan Forsythe with two on and two out. Alcantara has allowed one run in 17.2 innings over 14 outings this season.
Joe Jimenez had a stumble in the eighth inning. He ended up throwing 33 pitches and only got two outs.
He walked Max Kepler to start the inning and then spun a slider to Mitch Garver that ended up 404 feet into the seats in left field. It was the third homer off Jimenez in his last six innings of work.
With one out, he walked Jake Cave, which brought Mauer to the plate as the tying run.
In a 13-pitch at-bat, Mauer hit a ball some 400 feet, to straightaway center field, that Victor Reyes tracked and caught.
Closer Shane Greene ended the eighth by getting Eddie Rosario to line out. Then he completed the four-out save with a clean ninth, dispatching the Twins’ Nos. 3-4-5 hitters.
It was Greene’s 26th save. He has not taken a loss or blown a save since June 26 — a span of 14 games.
Mahtook’s homer was his second of the year and came off reliever Tyler Duffey (1-2). Niko Goodrum was hit by a pitch leading off the fifth and Victor Martinez hit a grounder to first base. Mauer threw to second for the force and Goodrum initially was called out. But the call was overturned by a video review, and Mahtook followed with a no-doubt line drive deep into the left-field seats.
Carpenter (1-1) was making just his fifth major league start and first since May 31. The Twins had him on the ropes early, as the first three batters reached base, but Carpenter limited the damage and survived to pitch into the sixth.
Mauer led off the game with a home run, Eddie Rosario followed with a single, and Jorge Polanco‘s double put runners on second and third with nobody out. But Carpenter fanned Sano, got Logan Forsythe on a lineout to third, and retired Max Kepler on fly ball to get out of the inning.
Austin hit a solo shot in the second inning and Sano followed suit in the third, but that was all the Twins could manage off Carpenter, who walked none and struck out three in 5 1/3 innings. Four relievers combined to close it out, with Shane Greene picking up the last four outs for his 26th save in 29 chances.
Twins starter Kohl Stewart, the fourth pick in the 2013 draft, made his first appearance at Target Field after debuting Aug. 12 in Detroit. He was wild on Saturday, walking four in just 2 2/3 innings, and the Tigers chased him with a three-run third inning capped by Ronny Rodriguez’s two-run double.
TWINS HONOR MORRIS
The Twins officially honored Jack Morris for his induction to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in a pregame ceremony on Saturday. A video replay of Morris’ speech at last month’s induction ceremony in Cooperstown, New York was shown on the scoreboard before Morris addressed the crowd.
The St. Paul, Minnesota native only pitched one season for the Twins, but it was a memorable one. In 1991 he won 18 games to lead the Twins to the postseason, then threw 10 scoreless innings in Game 7 of the World Series. Morris was joined at the podium by two other hometown Hall of Famers, Twins manager Paul Molitor and outfielder Dave Winfield, each of whom got his 3,000th career hit in a Twins uniform.
Tigers: Detroit has not yet named a starter for Sunday’s series finale.
Twins: RHP Jake Odorizzi (5-7, 4.44) will face the Tigers on Sunday. In his last start, Odorizzi picked up his first win in five weeks by pitching into the sixth inning and striking out nine in a 5-2 win over the Pirates.
Jack Morris Hall of Fame Night provided a comforting bit of nostalgia on Saturday night at Target Field.
The modern-day Twins, however, were unable to do their part in a 7-5 loss to the Detroit Tigers.
Despite bashing 10 homers and scoring 25 total runs through the first three games of this weekend series against Ron Gardenhire’s new club, the Twins need a win on Sunday just to avoid a split. They lost for just the fifth time in their past 23 home games, dating to June 24.
Mitch Garver’s two-run shot in the eighth cut the deficit in half and gave the Twins their fourth four-homer game of the season, thing a season high. Their last one was June 3 at home against the Cleveland Indians.
Mikie Mahtook mashed the Tigers’ only homer of the night, but it was a tiebreaking three-run shot off Tyler Duffey in the fifth.
Joe Mauer opened the game with his first career leadoff homer, sending a 3-1 pitch from rookie lefty Ryan Carpenter into the bullpen. That gave Mauer, who delivered a three-run pinch homer in Friday’s 5-4 win, homers in consecutive plate appearances for just the second time in his 15 seasons.
Mauer also went deep against former Angels right-hander John Lackey on July 24, 2009 at Anaheim. That same season, May 23 and 24 against Milwaukee, Mauer homered in consecutive at-bats off Braden Looper and David Bush with a walk in between.
Mauer hadn’t homered in consecutive games since May 27-29, 2016 at Seattle, when his homer streak reached three games. Saturday’s clout carried 404 feet with an exit velocity of 105.4 mph.
Mauer’s seventh three-hit game of the year, all since June 29, left him three hits shy of tying Rod Carew for second-most in Twins history. Mauer needs five more extra-base hits to tie Tony Oliva for fourth in Twins history.
Tyler Austin and Miguel Sano each added their 11th homers as the Twins outhit the Tigers 11-6 in a losing cause.
Rookie right-hander Kohl Stewart struggled in his home debut. Facing the Tigers after hearing Morris address the crowd for the second time in six days, the former fourth-overall draft pick worked out of a first-inning jam and made it through the lineup the first time unscathed.
Staked to a 2-0 lead, Stewart failed to glove a one-out comebacker by slow-footed Jim Adduci in the third. Back-to-back walks followed that infield hit.
After retiring Victor Martinez on a pop to shortstop, Stewart hit Mahtook with a wayward sinker to force in the first Tigers run. Ronny Rodriguez followed with a two-run double off the wall in right to end Stewart’s night after just 65 pitches (31 strikes).
Stewart fell behind with ball one to 10 of 16 batters while tying a season-high with four walks. He issued that same number of free passes on May 18 at Double-A Biloxi while tossing five scoreless innings.
This time Stewart was charged with three earned runs, pushing his earned run average to 7.71. He struck out two and recorded seven swinging strikes, five more than he got in his big-league debut on Sunday at Comerica Park.
Over his previous nine starts, including Triple-A Rochester, Stewart had allowed no more than two walks in any outing.
Should the Twins keep Stewart in their starting rotation, his next turn would fall on Aug. 23 in the opener of a four-game home set against the surging Oakland A’s. Now tied for first in the American League West, the A’s have gone 38-13 since the middle of June.
From there, Stewart projects to face the first-place Cleveland Indians and reigning World Series-champion Houston Astros, both on the road. Stewart hails from Houston.
Right-hander Chase De Jong, one of two prospects acquired from the Seattle Mariners in the Zach Duke trade on July 30, could be an option to start in Stewart’s place. De Jong, 24, worked seven innings of one-run ball on Saturday for Triple-A Rochester, lowering his ERA to 3.33 in 27 innings for the Red Wings.
Shane Greene got the final four outs for his 26th save in 29 tries.