Detroit Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire shouldn’t have sounded so disappointed after a 12-1 win Tuesday against the Milwaukee Brewers — the team’s sixth straight victory for a 17-16 record with 27 games left in the shortened season.
But he was upset.
As he had been since the eighth inning when he bounced out of the dugout with head athletic trainer Doug Teter to check on JaCoby Jones. His finger was “a lot of different colors,” and it was “not a pretty sight” after a 90.3 mph fastball drilled his left hand.
His hand was fractured. The spark plug of the Tigers — offensively, defensively and with his personality in the clubhouse — is done for the season. For the second time in as many years, Gardenhire must find a way to finish the season without Jones. Last time, it was a broken wrist from a fastball that plunked him in August amid a 114-loss campaign.
This time, the Tigers are only a half-game back of the AL’s final spot in the playoffs.
Gardenhire announced on WXYT-FM (97.1) on Wednesday morning that the team will call up outfielder Derek Hill to replace Jones on the roster.
“That’s what I was afraid of,” right-handed pitcher Michael Fulmer, who threw three scoreless innings Tuesday, said when he learned the diagnosis. “Tough blow. Yeah, it just sucks to lose a guy like that.”
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So how does Gardenhire plan to respond?
“Drink heavily?” he asked.
He was only trying to lighten the mood.
Truly, the Tigers lost a valuable player. He battled through minor injuries and showcased his competitive emotions each day while slashing .247/.327/.526 with five homers and 14 RBIs.
But it’s now time for a new “John Wayne” to step up, namely 25-year-old Victor Reyes.
“Reyes definitely goes to center,” Gardenhire said Tuesday, admitting the plan still needs to be finalized. “(Travis) Demeritte will probably be out there in right. We can mix and match with (Christin Stewart) and (Jorge) Bonifacio in left. We’ve got a lot going on tonight.”
For now, center field is Reyes’ job to lose.
Against the Brewers, he finished 4-for-6 with five RBIs, including a two-run homer in the sixth inning, to ignite the 11-run victory. His slash line has spiked to .303/.333/.477, with six doubles, two triples, three homers and 11 RBIs in 32 games.
“It’s very, very bad news for the team,” Reyes said through translator Carlos Guillen. “You know, JaCoby, he gives defense and plays on offense, but no matter what, we got to keep moving forward and winning games.”
A Rule 5 draft pick from 2017, Reyes has made 58 starts in center field through 201 career games. On Saturday, he started in Jones’ place for the second game of a doubleheader against the Minnesota Twins. He robbed a home run from slugger Miguel Sano in the fourth inning, and in the fifth, he added a diving catch in shallow center field.
Reyes isn’t concerned about the transition. Neither is Gardenhire.
“There are a few things you worry about, but not Reyes — on offense or defense,” Gardenhire said. “He’s grown into a player at this level, and he proves it every night. I don’t have to tell Ray-Ray anything but just go out there and have some fun like you’ve been doing. We’re gonna miss JaCoby, but Reyes will fill in. He’ll do his job.”
His offensive surge is nothing new. Last season, Reyes hit .304 with three homers and 25 RBIs in 69 games. The biggest concern with Reyes is his strikeout rate, something he did 46 times compared to five walks through 100 games in 2018.
He fanned 64 times with 14 walks in 2019.
And in 2020? He has 21 strikeouts and four walks.
“Normally, you put those two together, it’s not a great situation,” Gardenhire said. “But he gets it. He just finds a way to get hits. They may be bloops, they may be rockets. But this guy, he just has the knack. He has the feel from both sides.
“And he’s a heck of a baseball player. We’re lucky we got that guy.”
Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Detroit Tigers content.