Detroit Tigers outfielder Christin Stewart only had one hit — and only nine in 21 games this season — but his swing against the Chicago Cubs in a two-strike count in the seventh inning on Monday was much-needed.
When starter Alec Mills threw an 89.6 mph fastball inside, Stewart simply reacted.
And the baseball landed among the right-field seats for a two-run home run to cut the Tigers’ deficit to three in an eventual 9-3 loss at Comerica Park. The organization expects the Stewart to make a significant stride this year, and those involved remain cautiously optimistic though Monday’s homer was just Stewart’s fourth extra-base hit of 2020 and his second homer of the season, his first since July 28.
This gives him yet another chance to get back on track.
[ Stewart knows he needs to ‘put the ball in the seats’ this season ]
“If you want to stay in the major leagues, you got to get it done,” manager Ron Gardenhire said Monday. “Next year, hopefully, is going to be a full year, but you’ve got to get through this one just like everybody else. … Hopefully, he’ll just get better and better. That’s what we’re waiting for.”
Stewart, 26, says he has been relentless in the batting cage, focusing daily to make adjustments and improve his swing. The Tigers selected him No. 34 overall in the 2015 draft, but he hasn’t lived up to the lofty projections coming out of Tennessee, where he belted 15 homers in 50 games as a junior.
Through 12 games and 33 at-bats in August entering Monday, Stewart had one double, one RBI, two walks and nine strikeouts with a .121/.194/.152 slash line. And for the entire season? Only a .151 batting average with a .245 slugging percentage.
Poor offensive numbers for a supposed-to-be slugger.
“I wasn’t getting the results I wanted at the plate lately,” Stewart said Monday, “but this swing today felt really good. Just trying to keep that momentum going.”
He tries not to let the ebbs and flows disrupt his mentality. He knows he is struggling, and he understands that he has to be better if he wants to keep his spot on the Tigers’ roster with prospects Riley Greene, Daz Cameron and Derek Hill on the rise.
In 104 games last season, his first full year in the majors, Stewart hit .233 with 10 homers, 25 doubles and 40 RBIs, striking out 103 times compared to 34 walks.
“Well, you need consistency,” Gardenhire said. “That’s what it always is about up here. He’s been around a couple of years now, and he still goes through those struggles where he doesn’t put too many good swings out there. … You got to be able to do with a little more consistency than he’s been right now.
“The kid works really, really hard. He’s just got to keep working. He’s got talent. We’re just trying to harness it in and get him to understand what he needs to do to really, really get going.”
[ Tigers need Candelario, Stewart to ‘step up’ or else they’ll be replaced ]
The analytics don’t project future success, as he ranks low in a number of categories according to the Baseball Savant website: second-percentile in expected batting average (.169), fifth-percentile in weighted on-base average (.211), seventh-percentile in strike-swinging rate (36.8%) and 15th-percentile in strikeout rate (32.2%). Still, he is in the 80th-percentile for barrel percentage at 11.8%, an increase from 7.4% in 2019.
He hasn’t been very good defensively in left field, either. He ranks in the ninth-percentile in outfielder jump. Gardenhire said Stewart misplayed a line-drive double from Jason Heyward, who later scored, in the ninth inning on Monday.
Despite the struggles and the lack of analytical support, Stewart sees a bright future for himself based on his work ethic.
And he thinks Monday’s performance could be the beginning of a turnaround.
“From the big picture, I feel like I’ve made strides in my game,” Stewart said. “Even though I’m not getting the results I want, I definitely feel like all the work I’ve put in and reps I’ve done, not just hitting but also in the field, are starting to show off.
“I see the results of that, so that’s something I can definitely hang my hat on.”
Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Detroit Tigers content.