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Gardenhire considering carrying three catchers

Norris or Pena could join McCann, Hicks; Zimmermann starts Saturday
MLB.com @beckjason

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The swing from John Hicks was that classic right-handed pull-power swing that opened eyes last Spring Training and earned him an extended call with the Tigers last year. The resulting home run in Wednesday's win over the Yankees landed in a fan's glove beyond the left-field fence.

The more Hicks swings, the more assured it seems that he'll be a part of Detroit's Opening Day roster as a backup catcher. Depending on how manager Ron Gardenhire assembles his 25-man roster, and whether he uses one of his old tricks from his Twins days, he could have a bigger role than that.

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LAKELAND, Fla. -- The swing from John Hicks was that classic right-handed pull-power swing that opened eyes last Spring Training and earned him an extended call with the Tigers last year. The resulting home run in Wednesday's win over the Yankees landed in a fan's glove beyond the left-field fence.

The more Hicks swings, the more assured it seems that he'll be a part of Detroit's Opening Day roster as a backup catcher. Depending on how manager Ron Gardenhire assembles his 25-man roster, and whether he uses one of his old tricks from his Twins days, he could have a bigger role than that.

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More than once this spring, Gardenhire has referenced the idea of carrying three catchers. He used the tactic in Minnesota back when Joe Mauer was a regular catcher and Ryan Doumit and Chris Herrmann were versatile hitters who could catch and play the outfield.

"If you have that luxury, it's really nice," Gardenhire said. "I've had that before. That's a really nice luxury to have. But I don't know if we have that here right now."

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For one, Hicks is not an outfielder; he tried playing there for a handful of games at Triple-A Toledo before the Tigers ended the experiment. The extra position Hicks plays is first base, where the Tigers already have an established starter in Miguel Cabrera. Hicks has seen time at first this spring and likely will continue to do so. The Tigers would like to get Cabrera more days at designated hitter to ease the wear and tear on his back, but Victor Martinez is at DH.

Though Martinez has been taking grounders at first base, there has been no talk of the 39-year-old playing in the field, given last year's heart issues and his history of knee troubles. Martinez's 107 games played was his lowest total since 2008. As for Cabrera, he missed at least 18 games due to injury, including nine games on the disabled list and seven at the end of the season. He had five other games off during the season, plus the suspension in August/September.

"We have two big, strong catchers. That's always a good thing," Gardenhire said. "But Hicksy can move around a little bit. I think [starter James McCann] probably could, too, play some first base. So maybe against a tough lefty, you could get more righties in the lineup. That's where [it helps] having a guy somewhere on the team that can be a third catcher."

Video: DET@NYY: Hicks hammers a three-run homer to left

It would put a twist into the competition for the final spot on the Tigers bench. Assuming Detroit goes with 13 position players, one of the four bench spots would go to a backup catcher such as Hicks, another to a utility infielder, another to a fourth outfielder. That leaves one spot with which Gardenhire could get creative, depending on whether he wants another bat on the bench or someone who could fill in at a specific spot.

If Gardenhire were to go with three catchers, it would open that last spot for a veteran backup like Brayan Pena or Derek Norris, both of whom are in camp on non-roster invites after signing Minor League contracts this past offseason.

Zimmermann starts Saturday

Jordan Zimmermann, who received a nerve block injection in his back shortly before Spring Training began, is scheduled to make his second spring start Saturday against the Rays. He'll be pitching on six days' rest after making his spring debut with two innings last Saturday against the Blue Jays.

Up next

Matthew Boyd will make his second start of the spring Friday against the Marlins (1:05 p.m. ET, Gameday Audio) at Joker Marchant Stadium. Boyd gave up one run over two innings against the Blue Jays on Sunday.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.

Detroit Tigers, John Hicks, James McCann, Derek Norris, Brayan Pena, Jordan Zimmermann