When it was announced that defensive whiz Jose Iglesias would miss most (or all) of the season with stress fractures in both of his legs, the Tigers said they were content with considering internal replacements at shortstop. That search apparently included the coaching staff, as Tigers manager Brad Ausmus acknowledged to Jayson Stark of ESPN.com that the team discussed the possibility of a comeback for 46-year-old first base coach Omar Vizquel:
“We talked about it.”
OK, so they’ve mostly joked about it. Mostly. But in a spring in which the Tigers have suffered injuries that will cost them their shortstop (Jose Iglesias), primary set-up man (Bruce Rondon) and platoon left fielder (Andy Dirks) for all or most of the season, just about nothing is off the table anymore.
Even a comeback by their 46-year-old first-base coach, who last played 85 games in a season at short in 2007.
“He probably could do it part-time,” Ausmus said of Vizquel, who finally retired after the 2012 season, after 24 seasons in the big leagues. “But then I’d have to go find a first-base coach.”
The manager laughed. And you would have thought that was the end of this discussion. Except Ausmus then picked it up again, musing out loud that Vizquel “could probably handle it. I don’t know if he could play 150 games. But he could probably be a platoon shortstop if he got himself in shape. He certainly still has the hands.”
While it’s an interesting tidbit, there’s nothing to indicate that a comeback for the 11-time Gold Glove Award winner is a serious consideration. Still, it puts things in perspective about where the Tigers stand at shortstop without Iglesias. Andrew Romine was acquired from the Angels yesterday, adding him to an underwhelming group which includes Danny Worth, Hernan Perez, and Eugenio Suarez. It’s not an ideal situation for a team with designs on the World Series.
There’s certainly never a bad time to hit a home run, but when you get the opportunity to crush a triple-deck, 493-foot shot off of Tyler Duffey, you should take it. With the Mariners down 2-0 to the Twins in the fourth inning, Cruz hammered a fastball to deep left field for his 39th long ball of the season — and the second-longest home run hit in 2016, to boot.
It doesn’t hurt that the Mariners are 1.5 games back of a playoff spot, although they’ll have to oust the Blue Jays, Orioles, or Tigers to get a wild card. They’ve gone 3-3 in the last week, dropping two consecutive series to the Astros and Blue Jays and taking their series opener against Minnesota 10-1 on Friday night.
Cruz, for his part, entered Saturday’s game with a .299/.337/.610 batting line and six home runs in September. According to ESPN.com’s Home Run Tracker, Cruz sits behind Edwin Encarnacion and Mike Napoli with 13 “no-doubt” home runs in 2016, third-most among major league sluggers. It’s safe to say he can add Saturday’s moonshot to that list.
Marlins’ outfielder and undisputed home run king Giancarlo Stanton remains untouched at the top of the Statcast leaderboard with a 504-ft. home run, and it’s difficult to envision any slugger reaching beyond that before the end of the season. Even so, Cruz won’t need to clear 500 feet to extend an impressive hitting record. One more home run will put the 36-year-old at 40 on the year, making 2016 his third consecutive season with at least 40 homers, and his second such season doing so in Seattle.
It’s been a strange season for Red Sox’ third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who lost his starting role in spring training, went 0-for-6 in three regular season appearances, and underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in May. That was the last the Red Sox were supposed to hear about Sandoval until spring 2017, when he was expected to rejoin the team after a lengthy rehab stint in Florida.
On Saturday, manager John Farrell was telling a different story. Per MLB.com’s Sam Blum, Farrell hinted that Sandoval could return to the team as soon as October, albeit in a very limited capacity.
At the time of the surgery, it was all looking at the start of next Spring Training,” Farrell said. “We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves here, but at the same time, we compliment him for the work he’s put in, the way he’s responded to the rehab, the way he’s worked himself into better condition. We’re staying open-minded.
If the 30-year-old does return in 2016, don’t expect him to look like the three-home run hitter of the 2012 World Series. Should the Red Sox lose another player to injury, Sandoval might be called on as a backup option, but he’s unlikely to see substantial playing time under any other circumstances. Despite making two appearances at DH in the instructional league, Sandoval has not started at third base since undergoing surgery, though Farrell noted that a return to third base would be the next logical step in his recovery process.
Sandoval has yet to hit his stride within the Red Sox’ organization after hitting career-worst numbers in 2015. According to FanGraphs, his Offensive Runs Above Average (Off) plummeted to -20.2, contributing approximately two wins fewer than the average offensive player in 2015. (The Diamondbacks’ Chris Owings held the lowest Off mark in 2015, with -26.3 runs below average.) Sandoval has not appeared in a postseason race since the Giants’ championship run in 2014.
Heading into Saturday evening, the Red Sox could clinch their spot in the postseason with a win over the Rays and an Orioles’ loss.