Detroit Tigers outfielder Nomar Mazara returns from injury as ‘big presence’ for offense

Detroit Free Press

When right fielder Nomar Mazara went to the injured list April 15 with a left abdominal strain, the Detroit Tigers had a 6-6 record. They were fresh off a three-game sweep of the Houston Astros, a team with enough talent to make a deep postseason run.

Entering his return Saturday, the Tigers owned a 9-24 record.

“I’ve been there,” Mazara said Tuesday. “Everybody has been in those situations. You don’t want to be in those situations, but being down in Lakeland, I was like, ‘Man, I’ve got to go back up there.’ But at the same time, I was being smart about it.”

The Tigers (11-24) hope to get a boost from Mazara in the middle of the order, surrounded by third baseman Jeimer Candelario and first baseman Miguel Cabrera. And Mazara, 26, is poised to help as the offense begins to show life again.

“His presence just changes the look of our lineup,” manager AJ Hinch said. “You have some guys that can slide down a little bit and you have a little thump at the bottom. It’s a different look for us, so it’s nice to have him back.”

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Mazara has a .217 batting average, two home runs and five RBIs in 14 games. He crushed 19-plus home runs from 2016-19 with the Texas Rangers. The Tigers need him to be a sustainable power-threat after his struggles in 2020.

Last season, Mazara only hit one home run — adding a .228 batting average and 15 RBIs — in 42 games for the Chicago White Sox. He was non-tendered in December and signed a one-year, $1.75 million contract with the Tigers in February.

Mazara hinted at a resurgence with two homers in the first 12 games this season, but he injured his abdomen swinging in the fourth inning April 14 against the Astros. The Tigers sent him to Lakeland, Florida, home of the team’s spring training facility. Mazara played three games for Triple-A Toledo in a rehabilitation stint once the minor leagues started May 4.

He still gets daily treatment for his injury but isn’t concerned about his health.

“You don’t want to rush the process and then come back and not feel 100%,” Mazara said. “Then you have to go back to Lakeland. It’s one of those things where if you really pull it, you’re going to be out for a couple months. It was playing with my head a little bit, but now we’re here.”

Mazara returned to the lineup Saturday in a 7-3 win against the Minnesota Twins, going 1-for-4 with one triple, one walk and two runs scored. He played again Tuesday, following a rainout and an off day, against the Kansas City Royals. He went 0-for-4 with one walk in the 8-7 victory.

Against the Twins on Saturday, Mazara tripled to the right-center field gap at Comerica Park on a 2-1 curveball from starter Jose Berrios, a former two-time All-Star, in the fourth inning.

“He’s a big presence, and it was nice to see him,” Hinch said after Saturday’s game. “A lot of things got to happen for him to hit a triple, and he hit it in the perfect part of the park and legged it out.”

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The Tigers need Mazara at his best.

Their lack of offense is a big reason the team enters Wednesday with a minus-67 run differential. Without Mazara, the bats went ice cold and slipped to a league-worst .195 batting average. (The batting average is now .216.)

Across 17 games from April 15-May 2, the Tigers went 89-for-513 (.173) with 30 runs, 30 walks and 186 strikeouts. They needed 11 home runs to produce those 30 runs and registered a 2-15 record during that span.

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Recently, the offense is picking up.

Through six games from May 4-11, the Tigers went 66-for-220 (.300) with 40 runs, 30 walks and 58 strikeouts. They only needed eight doubles, two triples and four home runs, doing most of their damage with singles and walks. As a result, the Tigers have won three of those six games.

As for the catalyst of the success, Mazara has an idea.

“That’s when we start struggling, when we start chasing and striking out swinging at bad pitches,” Mazara said. “When you’re 50-50, if you’re either going to swing or not, that’s when you get in between. You don’t want to do that when you’re in the box.

“You want to commit 100% if you want to swing at a pitch or not. That is the thing we did a really good job of the last couple of games. Hopefully, we continue to do that.”

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

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