Afraid. Nervous. Uncontrollable.
That is how the Detroit Tigers have described the 60-game season amid the novel coronavirus spreading, but infielder Jordy Mercer may have summed it up in the best way possible.
“You’re blind if you’re saying this wasn’t going to happen,” he said.
The uncontrollable came crashing down on the Tigers’ 5-5 season Monday when MLB announced the four-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals was postponed. That leaves the Tigers with four consecutive days off before the 2020 schedule continues Friday with a three-game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park.
Seven players and six staff members from the Cardinals tested positive for COVID-19 in the last week, forcing a shutdown of St. Louis’ organization. MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reported some members of the Cardinals went to a casino before the outbreak began.
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“We understood there were going to be risks … just the inherent risk playing in the middle of a pandemic,” Cardinals president John Mozeliak said to reporters, after denying the team visited a casino. “Would it make it easier if we said, ‘Oh, somebody went to a strip joint?’ ”
The Tigers haven’t had any positive tests.
Outfielder Cameron Maybin has reminded his teammates to follow the rules in a group chat. Left-hander Daniel Norris, who tested positive for COVID-19 before summer camp, told his peers to be careful. Numerous team meetings have been called.
Nobody goes out for celebratory beers.
“Hopefully, we do the right things,” Gardenhire said. “If somebody doesn’t follow protocol, it’s gonna happen. And even if you do, it could possibly happen.”
Halting the Tigers’ campaign is a byproduct of an imperfect system and an unsolvable scenario. A team striving on home runs and a strong back end of the bullpen, the Tigers must hit the pause button on their hopes of revival from last year’s dismal season.
Actually, the slow-motion button is a better choice.
While players and coaches alike want to play as often as possible, they’re going to adjust – as we all continue to do in these historic times. The Tigers are holding workouts Tuesday through Thursday at Comerica Park to clean up the headaches from the first 17% of the season.
If they play their cards right, the time off could be beneficial.
The main task is bolstering the starting rotation.
Take away the excellence of right-hander Spencer Turnbull. Toss out the expected five innings of average-to-above-average production from Ivan Nova.
What does that leave the Tigers? Pretty much nothing.
Left-hander Matthew Boyd has been the opposite of an ace in his first two starts. Righty Michael Fulmer still has steps to climb to a full recovery from Tommy John surgery. And the misfires from Norris in his first start weren’t pleasant.
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Gardenhire doesn’t have much to work with between unstable starters and a taxed bullpen. He knows the formula of two consecutive limited starters – Fulmer and Rule 5 pick Rony Garcia – won’t suffice, not even in a 60-game season.
“We have to get our rotation straightened out,” Gardenhire said. “That’s the biggest thing because using two openers and using the bullpen as much as we have, that won’t last. The health of our starting rotation has got to get a little better here and more consistent.”
While the three-inning opener problem doesn’t directly influence relievers such as Gregory Soto in the seventh inning, Buck Farmer in the eighth and Joe Jimenez in the ninth, those tossing earlier innings get put in an unsettling position.
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In the seven-inning doubleheader Sunday, the Tigers only got two innings from Garcia before using three relievers in Game 1. Had it not been for left-hander Tyler Alexander’s nine consecutive strikeouts, they might’ve needed four or five. In Game 2, Norris didn’t make it out of the second inning, forcing Gardenhire to call on five pitchers in relief.
“I wish it would’ve went…