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Feb. 24—LAKELAND, Fla. — Tigers manager AJ Hinch has been impressed with what he's seen so far of Niko Goodrum.
"He might be the most graceful athlete we have in our group," Hinch said. "He's put together pretty good, just a great-looking athlete, and that's going to translate to the field."
Hinch said he likes Goodrum's power potential, especially from the left side of the plate. He loves his versatility. And he loves his swagger and his trash-talking skills — which were on full display Tuesday.
"Niko has a positive chip on his shoulder, with trying to get better and to get established as a real dude in this league," Hinch said. "He's got the ability to change the game."
Had he known Goodrum a couple of years ago, Hinch would have seen the full force of that positive chip. The Tigers in 2019 were in the process of losing 114 games. Hinch's Astros would win 107. So, naturally, when the Astros came into Comerica Park for a series, the media attention was on the visitors. David vs. Goliath might've been a theme.
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That did not sit well with Goodrum.
"I haven't told Hinch this," he said. "But it was like they were talking about the Astros, giving them the nod already, like we had no chance — that right there pissed me off," he said. "Every night I am going to try to get after you, that's just the way I play. I don't care.
"You brush your teeth the same way I brush my teeth. You put your socks on the same way I do. You drive to the stadium just like I drive to the stadium. When someone is crowning or anointing somebody and they're predicting stuff — how are you going to count me out? That's the attitude I bring every day."
Goodrum was a Gold Glove finalist last season at shortstop. But one of the first things Hinch did as manager of the Tigers was tell Goodrum he would be moving back to a utility role. But, he also told him it was not necessarily a demotion to a secondary role on the team.
"I know he hasn't given up on being an everyday shortstop, I know that's important to him," Hinch said. "But his ability to play all over the field is incredibly beneficial to him and to us."
Hinch, as he showed in Houston with Marwin Gonzalez, puts a high value on multi-positional players.
"There aren't that many players in the league who can play and play well at all those positions," he said. "Those guys make it look easy. But that part of it where you can be a graceful fielding a ground ball in the hole, backhand, and throw it to first, and then go out to the outfield and look just as natural running down fly balls — there aren't more than a handful of guys in the entire league who can do that."
For Goodrum, that was nice to hear.
"It's something that I already knew — there's not a lot of people that can do what I can do," he said. "But for someone to respect it, it feels good."
Goodrum has had a love-hate relationship with the utility-man tag. It used to be that being a utility player meant you weren't good enough to play every day.
"At first you don't know how to deal with it," he said. "Meaning the way they label you, the way they make it seem that a player that does all that isn't as valuable. That's how they make it seem. So as a young player, you're like, 'Well, I don't want to be this. I'm not this.'
"No, you're supposed to embrace what you can do on that baseball field."
So the Tigers were doing pop-up communication drills Tuesday. Goodrum and right-fielder Daz Cameron were both chasing a ball. Cameron's voice cracked when he tried to call for the ball and Goodrum started laughing.
"It was like he was out there singing, 'I got it,'" Goodrum said, still chuckling about it. "I never let anything slide. Just keeping it fun."
The next time a pop-up came Cameron's way, you heard a full-throated, clear-as-a-foghorn, "I got it!!" And the whole infield exploded in laughter.
"I'm going to trash talk you, regardless," Goodrum said. "It's either I'm joking with you or I'm for real about it. I'm just trying to make you understand how much better you can be and I'm trying to help you on a path to get there."
MAN WITH THE STACHE
A few weeks ago, Jake Rogers was sporting a beard. These days, he's rocking a mini-Fu Manchu mustache. It's, well, a conversation starter.
"It's getting mixed reviews," he said. "A lot of people are saying, 'Bold.' A lot of people love it. I'm just going with the flow."
He said it was about 80-20 in favor in the clubhouse. It's about 99-1 opposed back home.
"I know as far as my family goes, they don't like it," he said.
AROUND THE HORN
...Lefty Tarik Skubal spent last spring living in a house with Casey Mize and his wife. Not this year. Skubal said he is staying in his own place, with his fiancé. He said the wedding is set for November.
...Tuesday was the first day of live batting practice, but the hitters mostly were tracking pitches. Not swinging. Miguel Cabrera stood in against Matt Manning and apparently was impressed. He tipped his head at Manning and said, "Bueno."
...Harold Castro looked noticeably bigger as he bounced around three different positions Tuesday. That has been somewhat of a theme. Willi Castro and Michael Fulmer also look to have packed on some muscle. "I know we're as physical as any team I've been around," Hinch said. "It's a very physical team. I don't know if Harold is stronger, or if he has more weight in his lower half. But I will say I liked the way he looked."