Núñez to stick with Tigers' organization

Veteran infielder will not exercise opt-out clause

March 29th, 2021

The Tigers opted to mix and match at first base to open the season, but they’ll still have just down the road in case they change their minds. The slugging first baseman decided not to exercise the opt-out clause in his contract and will report to the alternate site in Toledo, Ohio, when Spring Training ends, manager A.J. Hinch said Monday.

Núñez hasn’t yet officially been re-assigned and remains a non-roster invitee in Major League camp. He was listed on the lineup card for Monday’s game against the Yankees in Tampa, Fla.

The former Oriole’s decision to stay in the organization came after a recruiting effort from Hinch and Tigers front-office members. Detroit opted against Núñez on the Opening Day roster in lieu of positional versatility, but Hinch has acknowledged the club could be proven wrong and eventually reverse course on that if the Tigers struggle and need help.

“[Núñez] had options,” Hinch said. “I don’t know specifically what he was weighing and where he was weighing them, but it took some recruitment from the organization to his agent and me to Renato, and I’m sure our players chipped in and wanted him to stay.

“He’s very comfortable here. One of the things he told me on the phone [Sunday] when he told me he was staying here was he loves the team and he loves the fit. If he can earn an opportunity to play a little bit more first base and get some at-bats, he thinks he can be part of the solution here. So we’re really happy that he stayed.”

Speaking of Toledo
The Tigers are working on setting up games in April between their alternate-site players and players from nearby alternate sites, Hinch said.

“There’s a tentative plan to be able to combine a few alt sites,” Hinch said. “I’m not anywhere close to the logistics of that or whether it’s finalized, but there’s great optimism that these guys at least at some point during the month of April are going to be able to have a somewhat Spring Training-style of games to get themselves ready for a May opening.”

That would address one of the main concerns of the alternate-site format from last summer, when players were limited to intrasquad games. The Tigers didn’t have enough players to field two teams, so coaches like Triple-A Toledo hitting coach Mike Hessman were jumping in to play first base. Hitters saw the same pitchers each week, and vice versa, so the competitive aspect was limited. In some views, player development was hindered.

Miggy trusts the process
has learned over the years to treat Spring Training like a process, working the opposite field early to get his timing down before turning it loose later. His last game this spring came Monday, and Cabrera provided a throwback with the kind of opposite-field line drive home run he became known for hitting in his prime.

Cabrera’s liner over the right-field wall off former Tigers prospect-turned Yankees standout Chad Green’s fastball had a 104.8 mph exit velocity.

“Obviously, he knows time’s ticking when it comes to getting ready,” Hinch said. “Guys like him know how to dial it up. He’s taken some pretty good swings recently and showed a little frustration last week.”

Cabrera, who will not play in the Tigers’ Spring Training finale Tuesday against the Rays, also had a single in his first at-bat of the Tigers' 5-2 win against the Yankees in Tampa, Fla. His second two-hit game in five days allowed him to finish his spring with a .225 average (16-for-40) with two home runs and eight RBIs.

Hit ‘em where Harold isn’t
has started all over the Tigers' infield this spring to win an Opening Day roster spot as a utility player, but he looked like a natural shortstop Monday with his diving stop up the middle on Gio Urshela’s ground ball, which he then flipped to second from his belly to start a double play behind .

“That was sweet out there,” Ureña said. “When I got a man at first, I try to play Gio to roll over, hit a ground ball. That was my mindset.”

The ball was actually hard-hit, with a 100.4 mph exit velocity and a .510 expected batting average according to Statcast. The fact that Castro turned it into two outs demonstrates part of the reason he made the team over Núñez.

“Harold is very versatile,” Hinch said. “Not only can I put him there, I can count on him to be pretty good at it.”

Castro will get some work in the outfield for Tuesday’s spring finale. The Tigers probably won’t need him there much while they have five outfielders on the roster, but Hinch wants to have him ready for potential late-game moves.

Quick hits
• Ureña threw more balls (42) than strikes (36) Monday in his final outing of the spring, walking five Yankees over 4 2/3 innings on a day when New York was preparing to break camp and head north. Ureña allowed just one run and finished with a 1.93 ERA for the spring, but walked nine batters over 14 innings.

struck out three more batters Monday to finish his scoreless spring with 16 strikeouts over 9 1/3 innings.