Detroit (AP) — The Detroit Tigers unveiled new leadership in the clubhouse this week at their Lakeland Florida facility. After what was described as a “mad scramble at the last hour” by Tigers insiders, new Manager Mark Bellhorn was announced just a day before spring games were set to begin. Here’s what Tiger fans can expect headed into 2021 from the new staff.
Out: Mark Loretta (Manager), Brooks Kieschnick (Bench Coach), Rick Ankiel (Hitting Coach)
In: Mark Bellhorn (Manager), Eric Owens (Bench Coach), Anthony Sanders (Hitting Coach)
The dugout is going to look a bit different from last year with the hirings of Bellhorn, Owens and Sanders. Mark Loretta wore out his welcome with the club during a horrendous 2020 campaign and Kieschnick and Ankiel were casualties of that failed regime.
“With the plethora of young talent making its way to the Major Leagues over the course of the next three years we just felt Mark Loretta wasn’t the right guy to manage that roster. We know the timing was extremely unfortunate for Mark and his staff. We wish him well.” was the message released by General Manager Jim Melichar over the weekend.
While bench coach Brooks Kieschnick had developed a good rapport with many of the players on the roster, new manager Mark Bellhorn wanted to bring in his own guy for that role. Enter Eric Owens, known for his “one of the guys” approach in the dugout and clubhouse, Owens looks to make his mark on the team in a similar fashion to the way Kieschnick operated.
“Hey, what Kiesch brought to this clubhouse was special. He kept the guys loose, but focused. That’s the type of atmosphere I want to replicate that feeling but at the same time put my own stamp on it. And above all else, I’m looking for results from these guys.” said Owens in a short media session early in the day in Lakeland.
Owens is known as a pretty tactical and old-school guy around the dugout. He’s got a keen eye for defensive positioning and has been described as a mentor for the pitchers he’s worked with in the past. Owens presided over a pretty dismal club in Boston last year, but inherits a group of players that are itching to pick his brain – especially Eric Braun.
“Yeah, Braunie has already been texting me to talk about the hitters he’s likely to face early in camp. I’m happy to share with him what I know. He and Jim and I have been texting quite a bit, so I can tell he’s ready to go.” offered Owens about the up-and-coming young arm.
Jim Czakowski was retained by Bellhorn and is one of the only holdovers from the 2020 staff.
“Jimmy does great work. Ask anyone around here or anyone in baseball. Jim knows his stuff and I trust him to keep running his bullpen how he sees fit.” said Bellhorn. He continued “Look, I’m giving him the leeway he needs to make the staff successful while I continue to work with Tony and the hitters. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
“Tony” is Anthony Sanders. Bellhorn had to drag him out of “retirement” to come and work with the young Tigers hitters. “I’d like him to spend some time working with X [Xavier Noonan], honing his craft.” said Bellhorn. “Tony and I go way back, we first met when I was winding down my career in Colorado, he was a hitting coach there with one of the minor league clubs. Anyway, we talked a lot that spring about hitting and I always loved his approach to hitting. He preaches patience.” Bellhorn retold.
Sanders, a former MLB player and gold medal winning Olympian, was content managing one of the local high school teams back in his hometown of Tucsan when Bellhorn came calling. Sanders hadn’t coached in the MLB since 2012.
“Belly gave me a call and said “Hey, I’m going to be managing the Tigers this year and thought you’d be a great fit for us” and I joked and said: What? As the guy who refills the bubble gum buckets?” Sanders joked.
Sanders said he was ready to take on the new challenge and was excited to get back to coaching at the MLB level. He joins Bellhorn’s staff that’s hoping to get Detroit back to being a relevant team in the AL Central and eventually lead these young hitters to an AL pennant. While the Tigers may have shook things up at the last minute, it looks like they’re moving things in the right direction. Stay tuned to see if the results follow.