DETROIT -- A year ago, while Tigers players awaited the fate of the season amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Eric Haase was a hero for Matthew Boyd. The Tigers left-hander stayed in Detroit rather than going home to Seattle, and he needed somebody to catch his throwing sessions while he tried to keep his arm ready for a season. Haase was the one catcher who lives in the area, so they became workout partners.
Haase and Boyd could be spotted around area parks playing catch, since Comerica Park was closed. When they regained access to Comerica Park, Haase became Boyd’s live hitter for batting practice, facing off for as many as 18 at-bats at a time.
“I got the book,” Boyd said after Tuesday’s 5-3 win over the Mariners. “I got to throw to Eric all quarantine here last year. Getting to throw to him, getting to see him take at-bats off me, probably 80-plus times over a couple months.”
Through all of the at-bats, all the throws, Boyd could see a Major Leaguer -- he could see himself throwing to Haase at some point. Whether anyone saw Haase batting cleanup for his hometown team a year later, as the Tigers’ hottest hitter, batting behind the future Hall of Famer he idolized growing up, is another story.
The first Tigers home game without capacity restrictions wasn’t going to produce a capacity crowd on a rainy Tuesday evening, but it did produce a hometown hero. As Haase’s two-run homer went screaming into the left-field seats, a 424-foot drive according to Statcast, the legend of the Detroit-born star continued to grow.
“I’m just happy for him,” Boyd said. “Once he got the opportunity, he really made the most of it. He’s a good ballplayer. He’s a great catcher. He can really hit the ball. You look at his Minor League stats, and you know he has power.”
Haase hit 75 home runs over a three-year span in Cleveland’s Minor League system before the Tigers acquired him for catching depth. Still, nobody saw a tear like this coming.
Haase’s eighth home run in 20 games this season continued a power display that began with a two-homer game last month in Seattle, shortly after his callup to shore up the Tigers’ catching depth following Wilson Ramos’ back injury. Not only has Haase become a regular in the Tigers’ lineup with his hitting, he became Detroit’s cleanup hitter Tuesday with Jeimer Candelario away on the bereavement list.
“Haase has got a lot of confidence right now. He’s rolling pretty good,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “Even though you guys keep writing about him, he’s staying pretty humble about it and just taking his at-bats day by day. When he produces, it’s a good feeling because he’s worked his way up towards the middle of our order. Today, it was necessary with Candy out.”
On a night when the Tigers used defense and small ball to win in spacious Comerica Park, Haase’s sixth home run of June made the ballpark look small. Much like his tape-measure drives last weekend against the White Sox in Chicago, his drive to left off Mariners starter Marco Gonzales was a no-doubter.
Haase hit five homers over four games on the Tigers’ road trip to Milwaukee and Chicago last week before the White Sox threw him a steady diet of offspeed pitches and breaking balls Sunday. The Mariners took a similar strategy Tuesday behind Gonzales, who threw back-to-back changeups to Haase after Miguel Cabrera singled home Robbie Grossman to open the scoring.
Gonzales’ first changeup to Haase that nearly caught the bottom edge of the zone didn’t get the call. His next changeup was up just enough for Haase to punish.
Haase saw a mix of speeds in a third-inning strikeout, but hit an opposite-field single on an 0-2 fastball off Yacksel Ríos in the fifth. His 2-for-4 performance has raised his average to .278, and his OPS to 1.014.
Haase’s offense and Jake Rogers’ defense have produced a formidable catching combination out of what had been a tough situation. Both began the season in Triple-A Toledo but were called up following injuries to Ramos and Grayson Greiner. Now both have a case for sticking around even after Ramos eventually returns from his lower back strain.
Haase brings the bonus of being able to play left field, a position he picked up in Spring Training to get regular at-bats in a Tigers camp that was crowded with catchers. A few months later, Haase is standing out.