What Detroit Tigers outfielder Derek Hill thinks about demotion to Triple-A Toledo

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Outfielder Derek Hill — fully recovered from a right shoulder strain — was set to come off the 10-day injured list Tuesday, and the Detroit Tigers needed to make a decision.

But the Tigers were faced with a dilemma.

The problem was a jam-packed outfield that features Akil Baddoo, Robbie Grossman, Daz Cameron and Nomar Mazara. And Hill didn't do anything wrong; he suffered his injury June 9 by leaping into the center-field wall at Comerica Park to rob extra bases. (The out would have been a home run in 29 other MLB ballparks, according to Statcast.)

The Tigers ended up sending Hill, 25, to Triple-A Toledo upon his reinstatement from the injured list. For now, they're keeping Mazara — hitting .207 with three home runs in 43 games this season.

"I'm not sure if it's the best fit, it's just the decision that we made," Tigers manager AJ Hinch said Wednesday. "We have to make decisions in real-time, and the outfield is really crowded. We're happy with where we're at. We didn't want to carry five outfielders, given the revolving door at shortstop and the infield positions. The extra pitcher is definitely needed, even before the doubleheader today.

"He's the odd man out for now."

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Tigers center fielder Derek Hill bats against Mariners pitcher Marco Gonzales during the second inning on Tuesday, June 8, 2021, at Comerica Park.
Tigers center fielder Derek Hill bats against Mariners pitcher Marco Gonzales during the second inning on Tuesday, June 8, 2021, at Comerica Park.

What did Hill think about the timing of his injury?

"There's always a plan," Hill said Wednesday. "I just keep my head down and work as hard as I can."

And what about getting demoted?

"I didn't have any expectations going into it," he said. I've learned to just keep an open mind. Whatever happens, happens. Whatever team I'm on, I'm going to try my best to help that team win. And that's all I can do."

Upon being optioned to the minors, a player must stay there for at least 10 days before he can return to the majors. However, Hill is allowed to serve as the 27th man for a doubleheader, which is the role the Tigers gave him for Wednesday's pair of seven-inning contests against Cleveland at Progressive Field. He was penciled into the starting lineup for Game 2.

If there is an injury, Hill can be called up before the 10-day period. The move also means the Tigers seem willing to give Mazara more opportunities to turn around his season. They like the idea of having a left-handed power hitter, but Mazara continues to slump.

"He's made a great impression," Hinch said about Hill. "I immediately wanted to bring him back as the 27th man. ... It'll be a quick stay for him. It's really out of his control and nothing that he can do. He just needs to continue to play."

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Detroit Tigers center fielder Derek Hill (54) makes a leaping catch at the wall for an out against Seattle Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager (not pictured) during the first inning at Comerica Park.
Detroit Tigers center fielder Derek Hill (54) makes a leaping catch at the wall for an out against Seattle Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager (not pictured) during the first inning at Comerica Park.

In seven MLB games this season, Hill has hit .250 (3-for-12), adding two walks, three strikeouts, three stolen bases and exceptional defense in center field. He has a .360 batting average, five doubles, two triples, two home runs, 11 RBIs, nine walks and 27 strikeouts through 24 games in Toledo.

"At the end of the day, baseball is baseball," Hill said. "Obviously, you have to be a little bit cleaner up here and just slow the game down. Things can snowball a little bit. Over the last few months, I've been able to put my head down and focus on what I'm doing personally, and not worry so much about the outside aspect of it."

Before Hill's injury, the Tigers hoped they could see enough of him to get an idea about his role moving forward.

The full big-league evaluation will have to wait.

"I've always been pretty positive," Hill said. "Ever since I got Tommy John (in 2016), I realized that your career can be turned upside down at any point. I had no arm issues before that, and it was just one throw. A year and a half later, I was finally able to go back out onto a baseball field.

"Whatever happens, I'm just happy to be here. I'm trying to stay as positive as I possibly can every single day, and I think that helps, keeping that mentality. I'm just trying to get everybody up around me also, it helps the team atmosphere."

Michael Fulmer update

The Tigers don't expect to learn more about right-handed reliever Michael Fulmer's injury until the 28-year-old meets Friday with doctors in Detroit. He went to the 10-day injured list Sunday with a right cervical spine strain.

The injury is isolated to his neck, which means there isn't damage to his pitching shoulder.

"We're just trying to get through this little mini road trip," Hinch said. "He's getting some soft tissue work in the training room every day to loosen the neck and upper trap area, but he's not going to get checked again from the doctor until Friday. No activity until then."

Fulmer has a 4.05 ERA, 11 walks and 42 strikeouts over 40 innings. Although Fulmer has pitched in 25 games, most of those appearances have come out of the bullpen. In 21 games as a reliever, he has a 3.62 ERA, six walks and 35 strikeouts in 27⅔ innings. He has six saves.

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: What Detroit Tigers' Derek Hill thinks about demotion to Toledo