Inbox: Will Tigers use Norris-VerHagen opener?

Beat reporter Jason Beck answers questions from fans

October 14th, 2019

DETROIT -- We received more questions for the first offseason Inbox last week than we had room or time to answer. So this week, here are the leftovers:

The Tigers went with openers and bullpen games for a good stretch while was out in May and June. Only one of 's seven starts lasted into the fifth inning, and that was the second game of a doubleheader. The challenge with doing that for an extended stretch, though, is that you need a capable rotation around that spot with starters capable of pitching deep into games. That was a struggle for the Tigers beyond . Part of the reason the club could pull it off with and is that five of the nine piggyback starts (eight with VerHagen, one with Tyler Alexander happened in September, when rosters were expanded and extra pitchers were available.

I wouldn’t rule out manager Ron Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson going back to a Norris-VerHagen piggyback setup next season if they determine it’s the best way to utilize them. But Norris and the Tigers want to see what he can do if he continues to stretch out like he did for the first four months of the 2019 season.

This will be a key offseason for Lou Whitaker’s chances for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Modern Baseball Committee, which considers players whose greatest contributions to the game happened from 1970-87, will meet this fall for the first time since electing Alan Trammell and Jack Morris to the Hall two years ago. Whitaker didn’t make the final ballot for their consideration that year, but he should hopefully get a lot more consideration this time around with two former teammates no longer on the ballot and Bill James among those saying he’s the best player not in Cooperstown. Look for an announcement around the Winter Meetings in December.

If Whitaker is inducted into the Hall of Fame, his number will be retired, as has been the Tigers’ custom. If not, the Modern Era Committee doesn’t meet again until after the 2022 season.

This is a big reason why the Tigers hired Gardenhire over a first-time manager: They wanted somebody who could set a culture and keep players focused on improvement. It hasn’t always been smooth, but he has largely been able to do that, in part because prominent players have bought in. Boyd has stressed the positive and talked repeatedly about wanting to be around when the rebuild yields results. Miguel Cabrera has refused to accept a losing mentality and stressed the importance of competing. They could use some help on that, which is why I think any veteran additions they make this offseason will be important as much for clubhouse presence as for performance. Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez might not be walking through that door, but even Leonys Martin made a big impact in 2018.