DETROIT -- Sparky Anderson became famous as a Tigers manager for saying he could tell what kind of team he had. Thirty-six years after Anderson’s Tigers had their 35-5 start, Ron Gardenhire’s Tigers are readying for the challenge of a 60-game season.
“We are thrilled that baseball is back,” Tigers chairman and CEO Christopher Ilitch said in a statement. “As fans, we all love the game. We’ve all missed the game. And here in Detroit, we can’t wait to welcome the Tigers home.”
• Play Ball: MLB announces 2020 regular season
In a season that was already hoped to give fans a glimpse of the future with their pitching prospects on Detroit’s doorstep, the Tigers are embracing the possibilities of a truncated 2020 schedule that could feature Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal in Detroit -- if only in a reserve role.
• FAQ: All you need to know about the 2020 season
Gardenhire’s Tigers teams have looked better at the start than the finish. Last year’s squad had a 23-37 record through its first 60 games. After sitting within a game of .500 at the 33-game mark, Detroit went 17-43 to end the season. The 2018 team was 28-32 through its first 60 games before losing Miguel Cabrera for the season. Part of that was attrition, both through injuries and trades.
Nobody expects the Tigers to approach their 44-16 start from 1984, but the shortened schedule is expected to put a premium on starting pitching, the one area where the team has some depth.
“I'm excited. We're all excited,” left-hander Matthew Boyd said. “We know what we're capable of individually and then collectively. Have we come close to our potentials? Absolutely not.”
Here’s a quick overview of the setup for this season:
Where will “Spring Training” take place, and when?
The Tigers will report to Detroit next week and work out at Comerica Park. It will be the first time the team has spent a Spring Training in Detroit since the American League’s inaugural season in 1901. The team was originally expected to return to Lakeland, Fla.; general manager Al Avila spent the MLB Draft in his office there in preparation for that plan. That changed with virtually every other Major League team moving their camp to their regular-season home parks.
“Obviously, Lakeland would've been the best place from a baseball perspective with all the facilities that we have,” Avila said. “But from a safety issue, after speaking to Major League Baseball and getting their recommendations and our medical experts' recommendations, we thought it was the prudent and safe thing to do to come back to Detroit. Gardy and his staff and the front office came up with a great plan, I thought, and we feel we can make it work really well under the circumstances.”
When and where is Opening Day?
MLB anticipates Opening Day occurring July 23 or July 24. The official schedule will need to be approved by players before being released so, for now, we still don’t know if the Tigers will start at home or on the road, or who they'll play in the opening series.
Which teams will be on the schedule?
For this season, Major League Baseball has adopted a 60-game regional schedule to shorten travel during the coronavirus pandemic. The Tigers will play 10 games against each of their AL Central rivals (Indians, Royals, Twins and White Sox). But instead of playing the rest of the American League, the Tigers will face National League Central teams (Brewers, Cardinals, Cubs, Pirates and Reds) for the remaining 20 games.
How are the Tigers’ injured players doing?
Michael Fulmer remained in Lakeland to continue his rehab from Tommy John surgery when Spring Training was suspended. He has progressed through much of his throwing program and has thrown in three-inning simulated games, Avila said Wednesday. He’s clear to pitch in game settings. It would not be a surprise if the Tigers place him in the bullpen so they can regulate his workload.
What are some competitions to watch when camp resumes?
The Tigers were still trying to determine a starter at third base when Spring Training was suspended in March. Neither Jeimer Candelario nor Dawel Lugo had a strong Grapefruit League campaign, but they have a second chance to win the job. Both players are out of Minor League options, but an expanded roster could give the Tigers a chance to carry both.
Detroit also has to sort out its outfield, where center fielder JaCoby Jones and Cameron Maybin appear to be the only Tigers assured of starting roles. Christin Stewart, Victor Reyes, Travis Demeritte and Troy Stokes Jr. were in the mix for roster spots and playing time when Spring Training was suspended, with Demeritte and Stokes enjoying strong starts.
The competition for the final spots on the pitching staff largely depends on roster size. Non-roster invites such as Nick Ramirez, Hector Santiago, Zack Godley, Dario Agrazal and Shao-Ching Chiang have an easier path to the big league roster than they did in early March.
How do the roster rules affect the Tigers?
Teams will be allowed to carry 30 active players at the start of the season, which will be reduced to 28 players after two weeks, then to 26 after four weeks. Besides carrying an extra infielder and possibly outfielder in potential platoon roles, an expanded roster gives the Tigers an opportunity to build pitching depth.
In addition to the 40-man roster, teams will be allowed to carry 20 additional players on a taxi squad. Top pitching prospects Mize, Skubal, Matt Manning and Alex Faedo are likely to spend the season on the taxi squad to try to continue their development, even though they might not pitch in Detroit this season.
“These guys are going to be part of our 60 people in Spring Training,” Gardenhire said. “They're going to get their work in, and then as we go along, they're going to continue to work, maybe [on] the taxi squad. This organization hasn't drafted these guys and brought them up to this point to all of a sudden say, 'You're not doing anything, just go ahead and go home.' No, they're going to be a part of it with a lot of other guys. We'll keep them busy so that when we have an opportunity, we'll give them their shot. They deserve that.”
Slugging corner infielder Spencer Torkelson, the top pick in the 2020 Draft, could also be a candidate.
The regular injured list will be for 10 days in 2020 for both position players and pitchers, as it was in '19. MLB is also instituting a special COVID-19-related injured list for players who test positive, have confirmed exposure or are exhibiting symptoms. There is no minimum or maximum number of days players can spend on this list.
Players optioned or outrighted off the roster must remain that way for a minimum of 10 days before they can be recalled.
What are they saying?
“This year's going to look different any way that you shake it compared to years past,” Boyd said. “I think you have to look at it as the new normal, and that's perfectly OK. Normal is what we make it, right?
“It's going to be different not giving guys big hugs and high-fives and stuff. i mean, the second that we hit a walk-off home run, everybody's going to probably jump up and be like, 'Wait, hold up.' The thing is that we're going to be tested very, very, very frequently. The guys are going to be taking care of themselves. Obviously stuff happens, but hopefully we'll have a pretty close-knit bubble at the field. It's going to be different not being able to high-five and stuff, but we're baseball players. We'll get creative.”
How can I watch the games?
Tigers telecasts are available locally on Fox Sports Detroit. Matt Shepard, Kirk Gibson and Jack Morris return on the call for their second full season together. Stream out-of-market Tigers games LIVE on MLB.TV on your favorite supported devices.
How can I listen?
Tigers radio broadcasts are available on 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit and elsewhere in Michigan on the Tigers radio network. You can also listen to every Tigers game LIVE online or on the go with MLB Audio.
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.