Lakeland, Fla. — You slump early in camp and nobody notices. You slump late in camp, and it’s a story.
Tigers rookie Isaac Paredes, as his fight for one of the last position-player spots on the roster comes down to the wire, has hit the skids offensively. He’s 4 for 31 this spring with seven strikeouts. Since he homered on March 10, he’s gone 1 for 24.
“I think it’s been building on him over the course of the spring,” manager AJ Hinch said Tuesday morning before the Yankees and Tigers played to a 5-5 tie at Joker Marchant Stadium. “He came off a really hot winter and obviously hasn’t swung the bat the same way this spring.”
Paredes, 22, was the batting champion in the Mexican Winter League, slashing .379/480/.579. But, no disrespect to winter league pitchers in Mexico, he’s facing much more diverse and skilled pitching.
“He looks a little in between, to me,” Hinch said. “As the at-bats have piled up on him and he’s been making outs, he’s gone patient and gone 0-2 very quickly; and he’s gone aggressive and not hit the ball off the barrel early on.
“He’s kind of found himself in a rut that he will get out of eventually. Right now, they are beating him a couple of different ways.”
The upside, though, is that his defensive play hasn’t suffered, not at third base and especially not a second base where he’s probably exceeded the club’s initial expectations.
“I love how he’s adapted to being at second base,” Hinch said. “His feet, his hands, turning the double-play – it feels like he’s played there his whole life. It hasn’t really bothered him to move over to a different position.
“Right away you could tell he was equipped to handle second base.”
Paredes’ main battle for a roster spot is likely with non-roster first baseman Renato Nunez. The Tigers still don’t seem to be sold on whether Nunez’s power potential is worth living with his defensive limitations.
“AJ is leaning toward having first base as an open base where we can shuffle guys through there as needed,” general manager Al Avila said Tuesday morning on SiriusXM MLB radio. “We really haven’t made any final decisions.
“We like Nunez’s bat a lot and we like Paredes a lot, too. The next few days will determine what we’re doing.”
If Nunez is released, then Jeimer Candelario could move to first base and Paredes would slot in at third. Miguel Cabrera is also going to play first base once or twice a week. Niko Goodrum and Jonathan Schoop may also rotate in at first base.
It’s hard to envision Paredes making the roster as a second utility player, but it’s not out of the question.
“He’s played tremendous defense, specifically at second base,” Hinch said. “He’s been very impressive on that side of the ball. We all know he can hit, so it’s not that alarming. It’s probably disappointing to him that he hasn’t found success and he’s in the middle of a competition.
“But that’s the nature of competing and the difficulty of the game.”
Too much nibbling
Lefty Tarik Skubal is still fighting with his fastball command, but he continues to find ways to limit damage.
He walked five in four-plus innings Tuesday, but the only loud damage was a leadoff home run by left-handed hitting Mike Tauchman, who destroyed a hanging 2-2 slider.
“I think mentally, I am not where I need to be to have success,” said Skubal, who struck out three. “I just wasn’t as aggressive as I’d like to be and I am not competing like I need to.”
Asked if that was a by-product of not having command of his fastball, he said, “Just being too fine. I need to get back to competing in the strike zone and letting my stuff play. If I get burned, I get burned. But just compete in the strike zone and go from there.”
He threw just 43 strikes in 82 pitches. Walks aside, the average exit velocity on the 11 balls the Yankees put in play was a soft 83 mph.
“He’s not always going to have his best stuff or his best execution,” Hinch said. “But the extra base runners and having to come out of games early, I just think that’s something that’s a work in progress for him. His good days are going to be really good and in his bad days, he’s going to have to find a way to control it and at least give us a chance.
“He did that.”
Around the horn
Rookie outfielder Daz Cameron, who has been limited all spring by an elbow injury, was cleared for full baseball activity and saw his first action in right field. He also got a base hit.
… The game was an aesthetic nightmare. There were a combined 18 walks, 11 by Tigers pitchers who twice walked the bases loaded. There two hit batsmen, three wild pitches and two passed balls.
…Catcher/left fielder Eric Haase drilled a three-run home run in the bottom of the eighth inning to tie the game. It was his second homer of the spring.
…The Tigers recorded four outs on the bases. Skubal picked off Clint Frazier and catcher Wilson Ramos threw out three runners trying to steal, two at second, one at third.