Despite struggles, Hinch committed to Detroit: "I love being a Tiger"

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Amid another brutal start to the season for the Tigers, whose six-year rebuild feels stuck on the ground, one might wonder if A.J. Hinch is getting restless. He came here to push the Tigers back into contention, and they were headed there in the second half of last season. Now they're back in the cellar of the American League.

Hinch, 48, is rumored to have an opt-out in his contract after this season. His offseason home -- and a big piece of his heart -- remains in Houston, where he managed the Astros to three division titles and the 2017 World Series title before the club's cheating scandal cost him his job. If current Astros manager Dusty Baker, who's working on a one-year contract, turns 73 next month and just won his 2,000th MLB game, gets his elusive World Series ring this year, who's to say he won't call it a career?

And if the Tigers continue down their current road, who's to say Hinch won't think about going home? (Surely, the Astros would have him.) Regardless of the situation in Houston, who's to say he won't want out in Detroit?

Fear not. Asked Thursday on the Stoney & Jansen Show if there are reasons to believe he might not 'be here for the long haul,' Hinch said, "No, this is a great place, a great fan base. We are super frustrated, all of us are, that we are in this position, but we have a bright future here."

The Tigers had five of the top 25 prospects in baseball when Hinch arrived in 2020, a big reason he took the job. Right now, only two of those players are on the big-league team: Tarik Skubal, who's lived up to every bit of the hype, and Spencer Torkelson, a rookie trying to find his way. The other three are rehabbing injuries: Casey Mize, Matt Manning and Riley Greene. All of them were expected to be major contributors this season. All of them still can be.

Meanwhile, owner Chris Ilitch proved his willingness to spend when he sunk about $260 million into the Tigers' roster this offseason, fifth most in the majors. It remains to be seen if that money was spent wisely, but Hinch can rest assured he's not the face of a cheap franchise.

All to say, he remains bullish on the Tigers' future, even if the present feels bleak.

"I know there’s a lot of attention on a lot of different things," said Hinch. "At the end of the day, I’m trying to get everybody to just look at today’s game and try to win it. But the future was just as bright when I signed here as it is now. I know that it doesn’t feel like it because of the record, but I love being in the trenches here, I love being a Tiger. The people here have treated me tremendously well.

"We’ve gotta win more games, that’s the bottom line. And that’s only done collectively if we stay in the same mindset and on the same mission."

Other highlights from Hinch's interview on 97.1 The Ticket:

On if he's worried about Javier Baez's slump: "No, because his track record has shown he’s snapped out of it every time. He’s started to hit the ball a little bit harder. But we’ve gotta get him in the strike zone and he’s gotta commit to a little more refined approach. He did draw a walk yesterday, which is a good sign. But it can be a little frustrating from the standpoint of, we all want him to be the productive guy that he’s been. He’s going to be that guy. He’s proved it over time. But as he’s tried to do more, he’s actually done less.

"I think if we can relieve some pressure off him and get some other guys going, you’ll find that he can pick it up more. The more he tries to carry this team, the more outside the strike zone he’s gone, and that’s not productive."

On Spencer Torkelson's positive road trip: "Better steps forward. I think his pitch selection has continued to be pretty good. He’s still smoking the ball to the opposite field, which is encouraging, and even drawing a walk yesterday. There’s some things that he’s doing that are pretty consistent. I think he is a sort of plodding, methodical type of player and I don’t know that he’s going to snap out of this type of thing with these explosive, monster weekends. But I think over time, he chisels away at his performance.

"He’s super comfortable, he’s never wavered. It’s one of the things that I’ve loved about him: he hasn’t looked overwhelmed. There’s one or two times where he’s gotten emotional, I know people have seen him slam his bat or get upset. But for the most part, he’s pretty even keel and kind of a one-foot-in-front-of-the-other type dude, and that’s encouraging."

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