Tigers bringing bullpen cart to Comerica Park
DETROIT -- The first surprise development out of Opening Day at Comerica Park came out of the bullpen. It had nothing to do with the Tigers' relief arms, but rather with their wheels.
The Tigers announced Friday morning that they'll have a bullpen cart available to pitchers on either team who want a ride from the left-field bullpens to the mound. In doing so, the Tigers join the D-backs among teams bringing back the bullpen cart, which was a common sight with several teams from the 1970s and '80s (though not at Tiger Stadium) and became a topic of discussion this offseason with Major League Baseball's efforts to improve pace of play and reduce down time.
For now, it's a standard golf cart. The Tigers hope to have a more specialized cart ready for the next homestand. They're also expected to have sponsorship information available at that point.
Though the announcement was sudden, Detroit relievers have had some time to prepare for the possibility and decide whether or not they want to use it. While many Tigers relievers thought the idea made sense, no pitcher said they plan on using it. Many have grown so accustomed to running in from the bullpen that they consider it as important a part of their routine as their warmup pitches.
"It's a personal preference," Alex Wilson said. "I'd rather jog out. It gives me time to kind of think about what I'm getting ready to do. And especially in weather like today, it's going to keep me a little warmer. But with the conversations I've had, I don't think anybody's going to use it."
Said Daniel Stumpf: "You're kind of getting yourself ready. You get a little bit of blood flow going, jogging in. For me, that's part of it. I don't plan on sitting on the back and riding in, that's for sure."
Even if relievers don't use it, the cart is still expected to serve some use early in the season, bringing relievers' jackets from the bullpen to the dugout once they enter.
"I look at it, and it's not a terrible idea," Stumpf said. "You have a chance for advertisements and stuff like that. But I don't know. Some bullpens it works, but our bullpen is not super big. Then you put a golf cart back there and you take up a lot of space. But I think it's good because you get a moving advertisement."
Manager Ron Gardenhire was agnostic about it.
"I'm not driving it," he said Friday.
Gardenhire fondly remembers Staub
Rusty Staub spent parts of four seasons as a Detroit Tiger, driving in 121 runs in 1978 to lead a lineup that included a young double-play duo of Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker. The six-time All-Star passed away Thursday at age 73.
Gardenhire was a teammate of Staub with the Mets, his final stop from 1981-85, and he kept in touch during Staub's second career as a Mets broadcaster.
"We were close," Gardenhire said. "He taught me the game, was one of the best pinch-hitters ever and a great player before that. And I got to pinch-run for him, so he got my bonuses for appearances.
"Rusty was a good person, and he really taught me a lot about the game. He took care of me as a kid. A very sad day, and you wish nothing but the best for him and his family because he was a good person and a great player."
• The Tigers released catcher Derek Norris, who spent most of Spring Training in big league camp competing for a spot. Norris was assigned to Minor League camp in the later days of Spring Training, but Detroit had a logjam of veteran catchers for Triple-A Toledo after signing Jarrod Saltalamacchia earlier this month.
• Kyle Funkhouser, the sixth-ranked prospect in the Tigers' system according to MLB Pipeline, has been promoted to Double-A Erie as part of the SeaWolves' rotation. Funkhouser, who split an injury-shortened 2017 season between Class A West Michigan and Class A Advanced Lakeland, essentially fills the rotation slot that opened when top prospect Franklin Perez sustained a right lat strain late in Spring Training. Perez is expected to miss at least 12 weeks.