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Old school Gardenhire considering 'opener'

MLB.com @beckjason

LAS VEGAS -- Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire began his media session at baseball's Winter Meetings on Wednesday by saying he's open to the idea of using an "opener" as part of his pitching rotation.

As he ended his half-hour interview, Gardenhire told the cameraman, "Man, you must have run out of film."

LAS VEGAS -- Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire began his media session at baseball's Winter Meetings on Wednesday by saying he's open to the idea of using an "opener" as part of his pitching rotation.

As he ended his half-hour interview, Gardenhire told the cameraman, "Man, you must have run out of film."

"We have terabytes and terabytes," the cameraman replied.

Hot Stove Tracker

The two bookends of the session might sum up Gardenhire as well as anything else at these Winter Meetings. He is an old-school manager who has adapted to a new-school game. He doesn't necessarily agree with every new development -- he's one of several managers who have openly supported the idea of limiting or banning defensive shifts -- but he's open to considering anything.

Gardenhire was initially skeptical of the idea of an opener-bullpen pitching format -- in which a starting pitcher goes perhaps one trip through the batting order by design -- being sustainable for an extended stretch once the Rays introduced it last season. Now, it's at least a consideration for him as he weighs six or seven starting candidates for five rotation spots.

Video: Gardenhire on 2018 season, looking ahead

"I've watched it. I don't have a problem with it," Gardenhire said. "I saw the Twins do it to us, seemed like every game. They got through it. Tampa Bay made it an art form. So if it's part of the game, it's part of the game. If you have six dominant or five dominant starters, [that] probably makes a difference. But if you don't feel you can do that and compete, then it makes sense to try something different.

"There's nothing wrong with trying different things. I kind of enjoyed watching [other teams] do it. It irritated me, as an old-school manager, trying to figure out how to write a lineup out with a guy that pitched maybe two innings, maybe one inning. But it's an advantage for them, because we didn't know how far he was going to go or how long he was going to go to set a right-handed lineup, left-handed lineup. Made you think a little bit, which is entertaining. That's what you want in baseball."

Video: Ron Gardenhire discusses Tigers' outlook on Hot Stove

The Tigers did not use an opener last season, and Gardenhire said he hasn't identified candidates for an opener spot. By contrast, they were frequent adopters of the shift, employing 1,174 of them this past season compared with 478 in 2017 according to the Bill James Handbook. Detroit was one of five teams to double its shift usage from '17 to '18; three of those teams had a new manager.

Still, even Gardenhire wouldn't mind limits.

"Yeah, I like two guys on each side [of the infield]," Gardenhire said. "I've always said that, or at least keep them all in the dirt rather than in the grass. Ask Victor Martinez: He might have hit .300 this year if they just had them on the infield. Yeah, I am old school in that respect. That shifting and everything is all good and fine, but I think Abner [Doubleday], when he set this game up a long time ago, he set it up the right way."

Here's more from Gardenhire on particular topics regarding his team:

• Gardenhire does not have a set plan on how he'd like to use Miguel Cabrera at first base or designated hitter.

"The best thing for me to do with Miggy," Gardenhire said, "is by the time we get to Spring Training, see how he's feeling and go day by day with him throughout the course of spring, giving him enough work, and we'll figure it out as we go along."

• Gardenhire would prefer to use the now-open DH slot as a chance to rotate guys from different positions and get them a partial rest while keeping their bat in the lineup.

"It's going to depend on Miggy more than anything else," Gardenhire said.

• With James McCann gone, Grayson Greiner -- who played in 30 games as McCann's backup in his rookie season this year -- is the primary catcher, with John Hicks as the backup.

"Our thoughts are Greiner's going to be the guy," Gardenhire said. "We think he can handle it. He did some pretty good things last year. It's his turn. We've got to see what happens, and we'll go from there."

Video: DET@CWS: Greiner opens the scoring with 2-run double

• The trade talks that could send Nicholas Castellanos and other veteran Tigers elsewhere for prospects complicate Gardenhire's efforts to prepare for next season.

"It makes it harder to figure out the team," Gardenhire said. "You start thinking [a player is going to be] here, and then it kind of goes awry when they trade him. So you start having to look at it again. It's been part of the game, always been part of the game."

Shane Greene will go into next season as the closer, Gardenhire said. "Unless they trade him," he cautioned. "Never know."

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

Detroit Tigers, Miguel Cabrera, Grayson Greiner