Tigers glad to have Sardinha in the fold
With Treanor likely out for year, catcher to see plenty of time
DETROIT -- Call Dane Sardinha a Minor League journeyman. Call him a light-hitting extra catcher, too, if you want. But for the foreseeable future, call him a Major Leaguer, and a pretty valuable piece for the Tigers.
He isn't going to argue he's getting disrespected or underestimated. He knows his track record and he's self-deprecating about it, even after his seventh-inning double Sunday set up his go-ahead run to beat the Indians.
"They don't expect much from me offensively," Sardinha said, "so that was a plus. I still need to get better. No one wants to hit under .200. I need a lot of work."
With Matt Treanor possibly out for the season after hip surgery, Sardinha is going to get quite a bit of work while he backs up Gerald Laird. And he won't be getting any disrespect in Detroit.
Not only are the Tigers not looking for another catcher, they're grateful to have brought back Sardinha over the offseason, especially manager Jim Leyland.
"He's a tremendous backup catcher, in my opinion," Leyland said, "because he can catch and throw as good as anybody. He's good. He's really good. Defensively, he's as good as there is in the league, in my opinion."
That fits the Tigers' resume for an ideal backup catcher, especially with plenty of offense here. The offensive expectations are pretty low.
Yet even if Sardinha hadn't started Sunday's winning rally, his impact was all over the game. His cohesion with staff ace Justin Verlander was almost seamless.
"We were pretty much on the same page the whole [game]," Verlander said afterward. "He called a great game. There were a lot of situations where I was thinking I would have to shake to a pitch because of something I saw or felt, and he went right to it."
When asked if that might be unusual for a third catcher, Verlander stopped the question in mid-sentence.
"It's not because he can't catch," Verlander answered.
On the contrary, even with prospect Dusty Ryan ticketed for Triple-A Toledo, the Tigers brought back Sardinha as Major League insurance because they knew he could catch well. And Leyland was very glad when they did.
Sardinha knows that reputation, which is why he makes his work behind the plate his priority over anything at the plate.
"My main goal is just to keep the pitchers' ERAs down," he said, "because we've got a really good offensive team. We're going to put up runs. I just try to get pitchers to throw strikes. I'll take giving up two runs a game, because I think we'll score more than that."
He still works on his hitting, and it's paying off. Both Leyland and hitting coach Lloyd McClendon noted Sardinha hit better in Spring Training than he did last year, showing the tools for at least better hitting than he has shown to date. They've been working together since his contract was purchased a week and a half ago.
"He's making strides," McClendon said. "He still has a ways to go, but when he stays inside the ball, he's not bad. He could be a productive player for us, but he's got to continue to work and believe in what he's doing."
Sardinha's willing to work, even if his belief is relative.
"We'll see," he said. "I might need a miracle."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.