TAMPA, Fla. – In a surprising move, Detroit Tigers first baseman Renato Nunez remains with the organization, although it was not cut off from the idea of doing so on Friday 26-man roster for the opening day.
The racket turns 27 next week and will report back to Toledo. He is scheduled to compete at the alternative training ground in April before the Triple A games begin in May. Manager AJ Hinch wants him to emphasize his defense on first base.
Hinch found out about Nunez’s decision on Sunday.
“One of the things he told me on the phone was that he loves this team and that he loves the fit,” said Hinch on Monday. “If he can earn the chance to play a little more first base and get some bats, he thinks he can be part of the solution here.”
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The Tigers had to recruit Nunez to stay in the franchise. Hinch believes Nunez had the opportunity to join other clubs, but isn’t entirely sure which options those were. But Nunez – a real big leaguer of the last three seasons – could have jumped the ship.
“We wanted him to stay with us and eventually climb into the big leagues,” said Hinch. “It took some recruiting, both from the organization through his agent and Renato. I’m sure our players came on and wanted him to stay.”
Nunez racked up 43 homers and 121 RBIs (and an average of 0.247) in 203 games for the Baltimore Orioles in the 2019 and 2020 seasons. He has recorded 293 career games in the Oakland Athletics (2016-17), Texas Rangers (2018) and Orioles (2018-20).
But the Orioles cut him – like the Tigers this spring – because he defensively creates roadblocks.
Since Nunez can only fill in the line-up in first base and as a designated batsman, the Tigers had less flexibility in the line-up in view of the 37-year-old Miguel Cabrera is the primarily designated batsman. Had Nunez formed the team, finding a catcher would have been rare Wilson Ramos or one of the five outfielders in the DH slot that Hinch would like to keep open as much as possible.
If Nunez’s defense was better on the first base, he would have increased his chances of making the team. Instead, the tigers went with them Harold Castrowho can play seven positions and five outfielders, including Rule 5 Draft Pick Akil Baddoo.
Nevertheless, the Tigers enter the opening day without a full-time first baseman.
“The way the squad was configured with five outfield players was not to his advantage,” said Hinch. “I was very transparent with him. That can change quickly. We can change our minds. That does not mean that the next decision will not be in his favor.”
Becoming a full first baseman is the fastest way for Nunez to return to major leagues. That spring he went with two doubles, a homer and three RBIs, with 11 strikeouts and no walks 6 against 30 (.200).
And it’s been too long since the Tigers posed a real threat of power in the lineup.
“We have full confidence,” said Hinch. “When we have the bats and the job description, he can show up and really help us. He can hit.”