Short makes big impression in MLB debut

April 21st, 2021

DETROIT -- Snow coated the outfield at Comerica Park as Tigers players and coaches arrived Wednesday morning for their split doubleheader against the Pirates. It was still topping the shrubs beyond center field as Michael Fulmer threw the day’s first pitch in 40-degree weather, creating an interesting backdrop for hitters.

Zack Short didn’t care. Between his high school days in New York state and college at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut, he played in similar weather plenty of times.

“I’ll be the first to admit it: I am very soft when it comes to cold weather,” the Tigers infielder said after his Major League debut in Wednesday’s 3-2 loss to open the twin bill. “I’ll never get used to it. I don’t want to get used to it. I kind of make the best of it.”

He had his manager fooled.

“He may be the only guy today who’s super warm,” manager A.J. Hinch said before the game. “But man, I’m proud of him and the work that he can do.”

The Tigers managed just three hits in five innings against lefty Tyler Anderson and two relievers for Detroit’s fifth consecutive defeat. But Short put on a display of what he can provide in the big leagues and why he opened eyes in Spring Training, getting on base twice via walk and making a great diving stop at third in Wednesday's game.

Short came over to the Tigers from the Cubs last August in the Cameron Maybin trade, but was limited to a September stint at the alternate training site in Toledo, Ohio. He was a 17th-round pick out of Sacred Heart, the only school to offer him a scholarship. The shortstop was in big league Spring Training as part of the 40-man roster and an extra infielder late in Grapefruit League games.

While most of the late-game attention focused on top prospect Spencer Torkelson, Short impressed with his defense all over the infield and with his steady plate discipline and sneaky power. His 5-for-19 performance included three doubles, a home run, five walks and seven strikeouts.

“When the spring got here, our scouts were telling me, ‘You’re going to like this kid. You’re going to like the way he plays. He’s a baseball player,’” Hinch said. “He’s sort of a baseball rat, and you can see that very quickly. He will wear out coaches with work. He will always be at the right place at the right time. He’s got a bigger swing than his physical body. I mean, he swings big, and he’s got some pop in his bat.

“The more you watch him, the more you appreciate him. And that’s where I think he got on the map with us, coming to the big leagues this early, is how he prepares and how he competes.”

Short was on the taxi squad last week when Hinch gave him a heads up that a callup could happen soon. He was already back at the alternate training site on Tuesday, getting ready for a game there when Tuesday’s snowout presented an opportunity.

“I called my mom, she’s a crier, and she started bawling her eyes out,” Short said. “She said, ‘You’ve gotta call Dad.’ And he was like, ‘I’m about to tee off, what’s up?’

“I’m glad that I halted his tee shot.”

Short’s parents and brother were among the scattered crowd in the stands on Wednesday. Short’s mom told Bally Sports Detroit that they hit a deer on their way to the airport, but both they and the deer were fine.

“It’s par for the course for them,” Short laughed.

Short didn’t have an Akil Baddoo moment. In fact, he could barely pick up Anderson’s first-pitch strike through the snow on the shrubs in the background.

“I saw the first pitch, kind of,” he said, “and I was like, ‘Everyone’s gotta do it, so you can’t really complain about it.’”

A few hours away in Chicago, Short’s former Cubs teammate and podcast partner Ian Happ was following.

"I was actually driving in during his first at-bat and I got in the parking lot,” Happ told the media. “I sat in the parking lot and watched the at-bat on FaceTime.”

In that first at-bat, Short swung and missed on a high fastball to fall into an 0-2 count, but battled back for a walk, fouling off a couple of tough pitches. Two innings later, he recovered from a 1-2 count for a walk to lead off the fifth. He became the ninth player in Tigers history, and just the second in the last 44 years, to walk twice in his big league debut.

“Very Zack Short-esque two at-bats today,” Happ said of his podcast co-host.

In between, Short contributed in the field. He was the only defender on the left side of the infield when Colin Moran hit a ground ball towards an open gap. Short made a diving stop and fired to first for the out.

“He’s got a lot of baseball skills,” Hinch said, “and we saw a little bit of that today watching him at third base.”