The Detroit Tigers are officially preparing for the 2022 season. Manager AJ Hinch’s primary goal — winning every game in 2021 — isn’t changing, but the organization wants to find out more about certain players ahead of spring training in February.
With MLB rosters expanding Sept. 1 from 26 to 28 players, the Tigers can get looks at fresh faces and offer new opportunities.
But some decisions, such as releasing slugging first baseman Renato Nunez on Friday, didn’t need to wait until early September. Nunez was designated for assignment Aug. 21 for the second time this season. After clearing waivers Aug. 23, he reported to Triple-A Toledo.
Just four days later, the Tigers released him.
“It’s the reality of where we’re at,” Hinch said Friday. “It’s the same thing here in the big leagues. We’re trying to take care of our future decisions.”
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Mud Hens manager Tom Prince has used Nunez, Aderlin Rodriguez, top prospect Spencer Torkelson and Kody Clemens at first base this season. The designated hitter spot has been utilized for big leaguers on rehab assignments, as well as opening spots around the infield and outfield for prospects to develop secondary positions.
Rodriguez and Torkelson can play third base, but Nunez is limited to first base and designated hitter.
“We can’t play everybody (in Toledo),” Hinch said Friday. “We wanted to promote all the young guys, while it’s really exciting, it does cost guys that have done very well at Triple-A. Out of respect for Renato and other opportunities that are going to present themselves, the organization did good by him to let him pursue those.”
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Nunez played 14 games for the Tigers this season, hitting .189 (10-for-53) with four home runs, seven RBIs, one walk and 16 strikeouts. He smashed 20 home runs and 64 RBIs for Toledo — with a .291 batting averaged — over 74 games.
Despite Nunez’s past success in the big leagues with the Baltimore Orioles, the Tigers couldn’t keep him on the roster along with Miguel Cabrera, who is likewise limited to first base and designated hitter.
Obviously, the Tigers weren’t going to get rid of Cabrera.
Erasmo Ramirez DFA’d
There was another decision didn’t need to wait, this one on the mound.
Right-handed reliever Erasmo Ramirez, a 10-year veteran, was designated for assignment Friday and replaced with righty reliever Jason Foley, a hard-throwing 25-year-old who made his MLB debut earlier this season. If Ramirez clears waivers, he could end up in Toledo.
Wanting a better understanding of Foley’s potential value in 2022, the Tigers decided not to keep him in the minors.
“We always want to pay attention to what’s going on with this team and what we’re looking to learn in the next 30-40 days,” Hinch said. “Foley has thrown the ball very well since we sent him down. He’s had a taste of the big leagues. We want to start to look at guys that have more of an opportunity to be here next year.”
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Ramirez, 31, posted a 5.74 ERA, five walks and 20 strikeouts over 26⅔ innings in 17 games this season. He allowed three runs while pitching the eighth in Tuesday’s 4-3 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium.
“Bad time to struggle this time of year when decisions are starting to be made,” Hinch said. “Quite honestly, we’re running out of time to evaluate some of the younger pitchers that want to factor into offseason planning.”
Foley got called up for his MLB debut June 6 but was sent back to Toledo on June 15. Making four appearances, Foley gave up two runs across five innings — striking out two batters without a walk — for a 3.60 ERA.
He logged a 3.94 ERA with 16 walks and 29 strikeouts over 28 relief outings for the Mud Hens.
WEEKEND STARTERS: The Tigers will activate right-hander Jose Urena (right groin strain) ahead of Saturday’s matchup with the Toronto Blue Jays. He is scheduled to start, followed by lefty Tyler Alexander out of the bullpen in a piggyback role. Even if all goes well, the Tigers don’t plan to let Urena surpass three or four innings. (Left-hander Matthew Boyd — out since June 15 with left arm discomfort — will return from the injured list Sunday and start the series finale against the Jays.)
“He’s likely to not start the next time out,” Hinch said about Urena. “He’ll probably go in reverse roles with Tyler in Cincinnati. But he feels great. His stuff has ticked up. He’s rested and recovered from his groin issue. We felt it was valuable enough against this right-handed hitting lineup. It’s a team that’s eager to swing, so we’re going to give them 94-97 (mph) with some sink.”
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SEPTEMBER STARTER: Starting pitcher Wily Peralta (right finger blister) will throw one or two bullpen sessions before the roster expands Wednesday, lining him up to return from the IL and start that day against the Oakland Athletics at Comerica Park. The 32-year-old right-hander owns a 3.63 ERA over 62 innings this season.
GOOD-RUM TO GO? Utility infielder Niko Goodrum is another player the Tigers want to add when rosters expand. He is sidelined with a left groin strain, but his rehab recently transitioned to Toledo.
Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.