LAKELAND, Fla. -- Many players will arrive in Spring Training claiming to be in the best shape of their lives. Those days passed a long time ago for Tigers manager and former Major League infielder Ron Gardenhire.
In terms of quotes, however, Gardenhire was in midseason form Wednesday afternoon for his first media session of this Spring Training:
“Don’t get hurt. Let’s start there.”
Gardenhire’s first goal for Spring Training is pretty basic. After losing All-Star starter Michael Fulmer to Tommy John surgery last Spring Training, he has good reason to keep it simple. In a camp that has the potential for plenty of competition among pitchers -- not just among candidates in a wide-open Detroit bullpen but for starting pitching prospects vying for promotions to Triple-A Toledo -- Gardenhire wants to make sure pitchers don’t push themselves too far, too soon trying to make an impression.
“Well, his favorite actor is Chuck, and he wants to be like him.”
Gardenhire’s answer to a question on Daniel Norris’ offseason workout program was an easy punchline for him. But after watching Norris battle health and effectiveness for a rotation spot last year and listening to Norris’ plea to keep starting down the stretch rather than be shut down for innings limits, Gardenhire has a soft spot for the lefty.
“He’s a good guy. He works really hard. He really wants this,” Gardenhire continued. “I mean, everybody wants it, but he has this other gear. He wants it to happen yesterday. So we just have to keep him calm and let him not overthrow the ball too early. … I think if he can just control himself and not let his emotions take over, he’ll be fine, because he learned an awful lot last year and he had some success and I think now he really feels that he can do some things.”
“I think if they just make every team in the Central division automatically in, we’ll be good.”
That was Gardenhire’s first answer when asked for his take on the potential for an expanded postseason in Major League Baseball. He didn’t have many strong opinions on it, aside from concern about the schedule stretching into November. But with his team coming off a 114-loss season, the levity at least allows him to work past it.
Gardenhire said he brought up last year in his Wednesday morning speech to players before the first formal workout of camp.
“I know the final record was 114 losses,” he said, “but it just didn’t feel like it, the way the kids played so stinking hard every day. The clubhouse was good. There was a good mood in there. They were coming and trying, and I enjoyed that part of it. When you sit back and look at it, that’s a lot of losses in one year, and we took it on the chin, so I would hope that they would come back ready to fight. We’ve added some new people to help us do that, and I think that’s going to be the standing call out here.
“I told the pitchers, some of the players who are here now, 'It’s time to step up and do some things and start winning some ballgames and let our fans know that we’re serious about this, that we’re going to get better and better and we’re going to get back in the playoffs one of these years.' It would be great if we could go from last to first.”
“Well, if he got it from A&M, it really doesn’t mean that much. That degree won’t help anybody other than an Aggie.”
Yeah, don’t read too much into Gardenhire’s punchline about reliever Alex Wilson's recently completed bachelor’s degree. Wilson went to Texas A&M, and Gardenhire starred at the University of Texas. The rivalry ran deep between the two when Wilson was a key part of Detroit’s bullpen during Gardenhire’s first season as Tigers manager in 2018, and it hasn’t softened much.