What Detroit Tigers need from Akil Baddoo before calling him everyday leadoff hitter

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Tigers manager AJ Hinch isn’t ready to call Akil Baddoo his everyday leadoff hitter.

Even as Baddoo appeared atop Sunday’s starting lineup against Kansas City Royals left-hander Daniel Lynch in search of snapping a two-game losing skid at Kauffman Stadium, Hinch was hesitant to call his 22-year-old rookie the team’s primary leadoff hitter.

“We’ll see,” Hinch said Sunday. “I’m going to be cognizant of his health and his tiredness. I want him to be challenged and get some opportunities against these lefties, but we’re going to need better at-bats from him against lefties.

“He’ll fight with you, like he’ll battle. He’ll go out there and do the best he can. The more he does that, the more comfortable he’s going to get.”

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Baddoo, a Rule 5 draft pick from December, is hitting .272 with 14 doubles, five triples, nine home runs, 38 RBIs, 29 walks and 74 strikeouts, also creating trouble for opposing teams on the bases with 14 stolen bases. He has been caught three times.

As a left-hander, Baddoo is better against right-handed pitchers: He has a .299 batting average and all nine of his home runs, with 24 walks and 55 strikeouts, in 187 at-bats. Facing left-handers, he’s hitting .173 with five walks and 19 strikeouts — without any extra-base hits — in 52 at-bats.

“The at-bats are good,” Hinch said. “He knows the strike zone. As long as we keep him in a good mental state of just trying to be a productive hitter and not necessarily selling out for anything, either damage or patience, he can be a pretty good well-rounded hitter.”

Hinch referred to Saturday’s 9-8 loss to the Royals for an example of Baddoo’s impact. In the ninth inning, Baddoo turned on a 1-0 fastball from veteran righty reliever Greg Holland. He just wanted to keep the inning alive, with one out and a runner on second base.

Without trying for power, Baddoo’s hit traveled 410 feet and beyond the right-field wall for a two-run home run to cut the Tigers’ deficit to one run.

“He’s got a ton of potential,” Hinch said. “He’s also got a ton of present contribution that we’re impressed by.”

Baddoo’s place in the lineup this season has varied: 24 starts batting first, two starts batting second, two batting fifth, four batting sixth, 10 batting seventh, 17 batting eighth and eight batting ninth.

The next step in his development is learning to hit left-handed pitching. If all goes smoothly, Hinch probably won’t have any reservations about calling Baddoo his everyday leadoff hitter by the end of the season.

“I’ll give him days off here and there, and a majority of his days off are going to be against lefties because it’s convenient,” Hinch said. “But I’d also like to give him more opportunities as we get deeper into the season against these guys.”

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Norris ‘thinks he can get anybody out’

Left-handed reliever Daniel Norris has posted four consecutive scoreless outings, spanning 4⅓ innings, since the All-Star break. His lone blemish was a walk in Friday’s three-strikeout performance against the Royals in the eighth inning.

“His command is good,” Hinch said. “His fastball has ticked up a little bit. I think he feels really good health wise, something he mentioned right before the break. This is the best he’s felt. We’re seeing a little bit better execution to go along with that uptick in stuff, and the results have followed.”

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On Friday, Norris’ fastball reached 95.5 mph and averaged 94.4 mph — up from his 92.8 mph season average — and helped him generate strikeouts against Salvador Perez, Andrew Benintendi and Michael A. Taylor. He relieved starter Casey Mize in the fifth inning Saturday and only needed six pitches to retire Benintendi for the third out.

“He does have a ton of confidence right now,” Hinch said. “He thinks he can get anybody out, and he’s right. He’s inching his way back toward that leverage role, weapon-type usefulness that we hoped for.”

Norris, 28, has a 6.06 ERA, 15 walks and 40 strikeouts over 35⅔ innings in 2021.

Injury update

The Tigers are aiming for utility player Niko Goodrum to start a rehab assignment with Triple-A Toledo on Monday or Tuesday, but his ability to take the next step in his recovery depends on how his body feels while running.

Goodrum, 29, went to the 10-day injured list July 17, retroactive to July 15, with a left calf contusion.

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“I think he’s a little apprehensive just because in the calf you can do some damage to it if you’re not careful,” Hinch said. “We’re trying to build up his confidence. He took ground balls like a regular infielder. He took batting practice. The running he did at the end, he was a little bit tentative. But that’s somewhat psychological, somewhat physical. We’ve got to get him past the fearful stage that he’s going to do more damage. The trainers are working with him, and he’s progressing nicely.

“I’m not sure if he’s going to hit the Monday, Tuesday deadline that we were hoping for to get him out to play in a rehab assignment, but it’s still trending that way.”

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

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