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The Detroit Tigers started Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018, with individual pictures, followed by practice. First rounder pitcher Alex Faedo faced major-league hitters for the first time, too. Video by Kirthmon F. Dozier/DFP
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PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Normally, Ron Gardenhire’s team meetings every morning are happy in nature. They’re mostly fun, nice little chats before the spring training workday gets underway.

But his tone on Monday morning might be a little different.

“Tomorrow may not be a really happy meeting,” Gardenhire said, quickly packing up his belongings after the team’s ugly Grapefruit League loss against the Rays on Sunday afternoon.

The Tigers were beat up, 10-5, most notably on the mound, where minor-leaguer Artie Lewicki struggled first and relievers Alex Wilson and Warwick Saupold struggled next. There were a couple of errors. Nothing much happening at the plate.

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But it wasn’t any of that which drew Gardenhire’s ire. It was watching from the visiting dugout as Wilson and Saupold both failed to back up bases while they were giving up hits.

“You’re going to give up hits,” Gardenhire said. “But we didn’t back up bases. They stood on the mound, not backing up bases. Not acceptable. The other stuff is going to happen, but when we don’t do these things, then I get irritated. And that’s what I’m irritated about. It’s not about the pitches, it’s about standing on the mound after a base hit. You’re supposed to get to a place and back up and they were just standing there, just watching. It can’t happen. That’s not acceptable.

“That’s where I’m at right now. I’m a little pissed off, so again, I know you’re supposed to talk about the pitching part of it — they’re supposed to get people out — but I’ll be … damned if we’re not going to back up the bases and do those things. That’s not going to happen, so that’s kind of where I’m at.”

Wilson couldn’t escape the bottom of the fifth inning, allowing four runs on six hits with a walk. He certainly wasn’t helped by his defense — Jarrod Saltalamacchia air-mailed a pick-off attempt at second base and Dixon Machado booted a likely double play ball — but allowed plenty of hard contact. Even the soft contact fell in for hits.

But that, from Gardenhire’s perspective, was not nearly as much of a concern as the failure to back up bases.

“We talk about it all the time,” he said. “Today was just sloppy, running around and it’s not acceptable. We’ve been pretty good at backing up bases and all that but today was just not good. Not acceptable. Noticeable by me and everybody else. Everybody has the same standard. That’s what you’re taught from the ground up.”

It was noticed by the Rays, too. At one point, with Gardenhire barking at his pitchers from the dugout, third base coach Matt Quatraro wondered if Gardenhire was yelling at him.

The irritation served as the latest test for a manager who came to town with a lot of fundamentals to clean up. Some issues are bigger than others. Runners have run through stop signs, cut-off men have been missed, coverage assignments have been blown, but in Gardenhire’s book, watching Wilson and Saupold not hustling — or even backing up bases — served as a breaking point.

“You can’t be frustrated and stand on the mound and watch the ball in play and then all of a sudden take a couple steps,” he said. “Not acceptable. We’ll address that. Believe me, we’ll address that. Because I don’t accept that and these guys know that coming in.
“That’s what pisses me off. That.”

Contact Anthony Fenech: afenech@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @anthonyfenech.