May Day: Tigers hitters happy to put the April atrocities behind them

Detroit News

New York – This isn’t a movie. AJ Hinch isn’t going to storm into the clubhouse and throw a dozen bats at the feet of his players and accuse them of being lollygaggers. He’s not going to officiate voodoo rituals or knit hats for the team’s bats.

The only way the Tigers can get out of this month-long funk is to keep fighting. Kick and scratch at the darkness until it bleeds light.

“Our job is to create an environment that’s as positive as can be,” Hinch said before the game Saturday. “I’ve largely avoided talking (to the players) about what we’re not doing in the clubhouse. That’s the psychology background I have. It’s just not going to do any good to tell them to not swing and miss. It just fulfills negative thoughts when they do swing and miss.

“You coach them on what we need them to do and you still hold them accountable on what they need to do to play a more winning style of baseball.”

The Tigers collectively may have never been happier to see the calendar flip. They endured the franchise’s worst offensive month of April since 2003.

“The entire lineup is trying to put the entire offense on their backs,” Hinch said. “You run into some good pitching and that can be a negative outcome. You run into putting pressure on yourself and that creates a negative outcome.

“The guys know exactly the struggles we’ve had. When you show up and don’t score, it building on that continual mental grind.”

The Tigers in the month of April ranked last in baseball in:

► Batting average — .199

► On-base percentage — .257

► Slugging percentage — .345

► On-base plus slugging — .602.

The only team that struck out more than the Tigers in April (280) were the Rangers. Only two teams, the Angels and Nationals, walked less (63). And if you want to go Statcast with it, the Tigers also rank last in baseball in:

► wRC-plus (weighted runs created) — 70

► Chase rate — 35%

► Contact rate — 71.7%

► Swinging strike rate — 14%

“This season as a whole has grown into that frustration,” Hinch said. “And it’s unique because it’s the entirety of the team for the most part. … When you turn to the locker at your left and then to your right, usually you are looking for encouragement from someone who is doing a little better.

“Collectively they are looking around trying to find encouragement and it’s hard to find.”

Hinch and the coaching staff continue to preach “new day, new opportunity.” They took batting practice on the field Saturday, which is rare before a day game after playing the night before. But the only way to ease the tension and release the frustration is to string together some productive at-bats and put some runs on the board.

“It’s a difficult sport mentally when you are getting it handed to you on a daily basis,” Hinch said. “We’re trying to take that off their plate and create an environment of singular focus on today’s game.”

Another option will be available to Hinch beginning next week when the Triple-A season starts. He’s going to have a player pool of guys who have been getting daily game reps and he’s going to have a place to send struggling players where they can get daily game reps in true competitive settings.

“The way it is now, if you wanted to get guys at-bats in a quick, 10-day stint, (the alternate site) wasn’t a conducive environment to kickstart somebody or evaluate a player who could come up here. As the minor league season opens up and guys start playing, there’s more consideration on what our options are.”

In the meantime, Hinch drew up his 28th different lineup for Game 28 Saturday. Searching for some kind of spark.

“We need a break. We need a big swing. We need to put pressure on today’s opposing pitcher,” Hinch said. “I’m just going to keep being an encourager that today could be the day we switch it up.”

Rotation update

Matthew Boyd (left knee tendinitis) will not make his start in Boston on Tuesday, but Hinch is hopeful he can plug the lefty back into the rotation when the Twins come to Comerica Park May 7-9.

“He’s going to do a rehab, therapy session (Saturday) and play catch tomorrow,” Hinch said. “The official timetable will be determined after he gets more active tomorrow.”

Hinch said the starter for Tuesday is still undecided, but it could be Michael Fulmer. It could also be a bullpen start. Casey Mize will pitch Wednesday and either Spencer Turnbull or Tarik Skubal will go Thursday.

Twitter: @cmccosky

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