Detroit — So what the heck was shortstop Niko Goodrum doing on the second base side of the infield in the ninth inning Wednesday night?
Good thing he was. He was perfectly positioned to snag Josh Naylor’s line drive and turn it into a game-ending double-play to lock down the Tigers’ 1-0 win over the Indians.
The fact Goodrum was in the right place at the right time was the last perfectly-executed play for the Tigers in a game full of them, and it was not by accident.
“We were unshifted for (left-handed hitting) Naylor with a runner on first,” manager AJ Hinch explained, keeping his middle infielders in double-play position at the start of the at-bat. “But with two strikes, he’s more of a pull hitter.”
As Hinch explained, conventional wisdom says most left-handed hitters, especially against a left-handed pitcher (Gregory Soto), will try to hit the ball to the other side of the field when they get into a two-strike mode at the plate.
“That’s not the case (with Naylor),” Hinch said. “He actually pulls the ball more with two strikes, so we moved Niko over right before the pitch. The recommendation by our analytics department was spot-on and the player delivered the expected result.”
The Tigers, per data collected by Sports Information Solutions, are in the middle of the pack with a plus-6 runs saved in the shift. But they were perfect Wednesday. No ground balls got through. The only ground-ball single came on a ball Miguel Cabrera snared going far to his right. Jose Cisnero dropped the throw covering first.
“There are two ways to evaluate it,” Hinch said. “Are we in the positions that we intend to be in, and we look at that every night. The second thing is the results, and the result doesn’t always dictate whether it was a good shift or not.
“I’m more interested in making sure we are lined up where we are supposed to be more than I am fixated on every singular result.”
It’s nice, though, when you get both.
A sticky issue
St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Shildt let baseball’s “dirty little secret,” as he called it, out of the bag Wednesday night.
After umpire Joe West confiscated relief pitcher Giovanny Gallegos’ hat because he suspected it was loaded with sticky substances, Shildt went off.
“Major League Baseball has got a very, very, very tough position here,’’ Shildt told reporters. “Because there are people effectively, and not even trying to hide, essentially flipping the bird at the league with how they’re cheating in this game with concocted substances. There are players that have been monetized for it. There are players obviously doing it going to their glove. There’s clear video of it. You can tell the pitchers who are doing it because they don’t want to go to their mouth.
“Understandably, Major League Baseball is trying to do their best to do it in a matter that doesn’t create any black eye to the integrity of the game that we love.’’
Hinch applauded Shildt for bringing the topic to light. MLB has sent memos warning teams against the excessive use of sticky substances by pitchers — which helps increase the spin rate on their pitches — but hasn’t much enforced it.
“I appreciate and can understand and empathize with Mike and the position he was in because it was a random occurrence where one of his guys got challenged,” Hinch said. “Despite the fact that it’s been one of those hushed secret topics across the league.
“I know the league is trying to address it in its own way, and we have to trust the league is going to do things right and find a way to get away from this mess. Yesterday was a tipping point to where everybody is going to have to address and deal with whatever the fallout is.”
Hinch said he’s discussed the topic with his own staff.
“We all have a responsibility to monitor it,” he said. “I wouldn’t put that on one person. We all have the responsibility to be thorough with that.”
Time for a reset
Hinch gave outfielder Nomar Mazara an unscheduled day off Thursday.
He’s scuffled since coming off the injured list (ab strain), hitting .171 (7 for 41) with two extra-base hits and 14 strikeouts.
“He’s trying to get his feel back, his timing and his rhythm,” Hinch said. “He’s got a lot of moving parts with his timing mechanism. Right now he looks a little bit early and a little bit late. And when you get on both sides of that timing issue it’s really difficult.”
Hinch started Victor Reyes in right field.
“I thought it was important to give Nomar a break today,” he said. “It’ll be good for him to work with Coolie (hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh) and try to sync up his timing. He doesn’t look right, but he’s one click away. These hitters, I tell you, they will work and work and work and then it just clicks in the game and they can take off.”
Around the horn
Catcher Grayson Greiner had a double in two at-bats in his first rehab start with Triple-A Toledo on Wednesday night. He’s been out since May 12 with a left hamstring strain.
On deck: Yankees
► Series: Three games at Comerica Park, Detroit
► First pitch: Friday — 7:10 p.m.; Saturday — 4:10 p.m.; Sunday — 1:10 p.m.
► TV/radio: Friday — BSD/97.1 FM; Saturday-Sunday — BSDet, MLBN/97.1 FM
► Probables: Friday — RHP Gerrit Cole (6-2, 1.81) vs. RHP Casey Mize (3-3, 3.42); Saturday — TBA vs. RHP Spencer Turnbull (3-2, 3.12); Sunday — TBA vs. LHP Tarik Skubal (1-7, 5.23).
► Cole, Yankees: How about these chase rates? 31% with his four-seam fastball (97 mph), 39% with the slider, 31% with the curve and 41% with the change-up. Just oppressive stuff. He’s got an MLB-best 11.5 strikeout-to-walk rate.
► Mize, Tigers: Over his last five starts he has a 2.25 ERA and opponents are slashing .152/.262/.210 against him. Stingy. His slider has been a consistent weapon for him with a .174 opponent average and a 30% whiff rate.