The Detroit Tigers were down to their final two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. Runners stood on first and second base as rookie infielder Isaac Paredes stepped to the plate for the 62nd time this season and the 170th time in his MLB career.
He pulled a 1-2 slider from Kansas City Royals reliever Scott Barlow into the left-field corner. The ball bounced in fair territory before traveling over the wall. Paredes received credit for a one-run, ground-rule double, but the Tigers — aggressive as ever on the bases — should have scored two runs.
The Tigers ended up losing, 2-1, to the Royals on Sunday afternoon at Comerica Park.
“We’ve seen more pull power out of him, some more aggressive swings to the pull side,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said Monday. “I think teams pounded him in early in the year, and he kept trying to fight the ball to center field and right-center field. Now he’s pulling the ball with some authority.”
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With six games remaining, Paredes is hitting .222 with one home run, five RBIs, 10 walks and seven strikeouts over 19 games this season.
He made his MLB debut and played 34 games last year, giving him a career .221 batting average, two homers, 11 RBIs, 18 walks and 31 strikeouts across 53 games. The Tigers acquired Paredes (with Jeimer Candelario) in the same 2017 trade with the Chicago Cubs, shipping away reliever Justin Wilson and catcher Alex Avila in hopes of boosting the rebuild.
“It’s been a very tough situation,” Paredes said Sunday. “Remember that I came (back) from an injury. My health comes first, so I can come back, be ready for spring training and give 100%. But yeah, I got to prepare myself to be ready for spring training.”
The 22-year-old is best known for his awareness of the strike zone, but the Tigers have asked him keep an aggressive approach in mind, as well. They want him to pull the ball to left field, rather than solely relying on walks and hits up the middle and to the opposite field.
“If you’re a strike-zone judgment guy, you can get a little passive,” Hinch said. “If you are a singles hitter, you can fall in the trap of chasing hits. If you’re a power guy, you start swinging for power all the time. It’s an evolving process of getting these guys to understand who they are and who they can be. Isaac doesn’t even know who he is yet at the major-league level, and nor do we. I think we just have to continue to push him to be a more well-rounded hitter.”
Paredes added: “It’s something that I have to do better, be more aggressive, have a good strike zone and be aggressive on the first pitches of every at-bat. Getting back that old Isaac, that’s one of the things the coaches have told me so far.”
Most of Paredes’ year has been spent in Triple-A Toledo, where he logged a .265 batting average, 11 home runs, 42 RBIs, 56 walks and 47 strikeouts over 72 games. He landed on the injured list from July 22 through Aug. 18 with a right hip strain.
Right now, Paredes is not playing at full health.
But he needs the at-bats, so what choice does he have?
“Watching him tough it out a little bit, that’s been nice,” Hinch said. “He’s setting himself up nicely by responding to the fact that he wasn’t given an opportunity much in the middle part of this year, but he knows he’s up here getting a look.”
The Tigers enter the offseason counting on three starting infielders for most of the 2022 season: Spencer Torkelson at first base, Jonathan Schoop at second base and Candelario at third base. (Expect Schoop to play first base until Torkelson arrives.) The shortstop position could become clear — maybe All-Star Carlos Correa — with owner Christopher Ilitch’s suggested “high-impact” free agent.
That leaves Paredes, Willi Castro, Harold Castro and Zack Short competing for backup jobs as versatile infielders, otherwise known as utility players. These roles will be quite important, especially if the Tigers are serious about aiming for the postseason for the first time since 2014.
“He’s going to be in a competition,” Hinch said about Paredes. “He’s responded well.”
Paredes seems to be on the right track, even though he hasn’t received ample chances this season. Willi Castro, for example, struggles offensively with his .211 batting average and defensively with his poor throwing at second base and shortstop. He has played in 122 MLB games in 2021.
Hinch has used Paredes at second base (seven starts), third base (six starts) and shortstop (four starts) because of his ability to accomplish the fundamentals on defense, something the manager might not be as certain about with Willi Castro.
“His movements around the bases,” Hinch said of Paredes, “he’s got some of the best actions on our team of any infielder.”
Whatever happens next won’t be decided until the end of the aforementioned competition, sometime during final days of spring training in March 2022. After all, there’s still plenty to learn about the infielders preparing to clash for a spot on the Opening Day roster.
“This year was a little bit tougher,” Paredes said. “I didn’t have a lot of activity, but I’m thankful. I’m thankful because every year, you learn new stuff to help you grow up and learn about the sport. I’m thankful to be here.”
Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.