Javier Baez already improving this aspect of Detroit Tigers’ shaky 2021 defense

Detroit Free Press

LAKELAND, Fla. — Pitchers were throwing live batting practice on four fields on Wednesday morning at TigerTown.

Observers had a chance to watch Matt Manning, Gregory Soto or Matt Fulmer. But Detroit Tigers manager AJ Hinch paid special attention to two young pitching prospects: Ty Madden and Dylan Smith.

And after it was done, Hinch raved about their potential.

“Both tremendous arms with both starter potential, so good first impression,” Hinch said.

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Hinch had seen Madden, who was selected 32nd overall in the 2021 MLB draft, and Smith, taken in the third round in 2021, throw during the minor-league minicamp.

But he wanted to see them pitch under more pressure in the MLB camp. They passed his test with flying colors.

“They’re good young prospects,” Hinch said. “They’re here for a short period of time. They’re won’t get into games but what a great experience for them to come right out of the draft and come into this.”

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In many ways, he was tipping the organization’s plans. Both Smith and Madden were sent down to minor league spring training camp after the workout.

But they certainly impressed in their short time in Major League camp.

And Hinch gave credit to Gabe Ribas, the Tigers director of pitching.

“Ty and and Dylan feel comfortable,” Hinch said. “It started with the minicamp. Gabe did a good job of getting them prepared, to kind of be quiet, keep your ears open and soak up as much as they can while they’re here.”

Throwing heat, building chemistry

Manning looked like he was ready to pitch in a game on Wednesday.

Then again, that’s been a theme so far in this camp. Several pitchers came out of the lockout looking like they are ready to pitch in games.

“Manning up to 96 (mph) today,” Hinch said. “Joe Jimenez yesterday look terrific, up to 96-97. That’s game ready. That’s not easing into spring training. So those two, in particular, were good.”

Clearly, these pitchers put in work during the lockout to get ready for this moment.

“It’s pretty good right now,” Hinch said.

Manning was throwing to catcher Tucker Barnhart.

“I was excited to get back there and throw to the guys for the first time,” Manning said. “It was my first time with Tuck and it was good.”

Hinch is trying to get Barnhart to catch as many pitchers as possible, trying to develop chemistry.

“We’re so excited,” Manning said. “We didn’t know when it was going to start and how long spring was gonna be, so we just got to work and we want to be ready to go from Opening Day on.”

The Javier Baez effect

The Tigers are have one particular area of emphasis this year.

“We’ve got to turn double plays at a more efficient rate,” Hinch said. “We were good at inducing double play balls (last year), we were not good at executing the number that we should.”

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Javier Baez has already improved the Tigers’ defense, at least in practice.

He turned a double play out of the shift that the Tigers wouldn’t even attempted last year.

“We turned an awkward 4-6 double play out of the shift,” Hinch said. “I don’t know if we can do that in the game. We would have never tried it last year just because of the sheer athleticism and feel for the position that Javier has.”

Baez’s presence helps everyone.

“When you add somebody like Javy in the middle, everybody else around them is just a tick better,” Hinch said. “We’ll see how second base plays out. We’ll see how first base plays out. But the message to these guys is — we’re trying to turn every ball into an out.”

Taking the finisher deep

Jeimer Candelario took Gregory Soto deep, hitting a home run against the Tigers closer.

That had Miguel Cabrera hootin’ and hollerin’ from the dugout.

A little friendly trash among friends.

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.

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