Getting the leadoff spot a point of pride for Tigers’ Akil Baddoo

Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — Akil Baddoo was back where he wants to be in the Tigers’ spring opener. Hitting leadoff.

“That’s something I’ve done my entire career and I do take it with a lot of pride and confidence,” said Baddoo, who was named Tigers rookie of the year by the Detroit Sports Media Association before the game Friday. “It’s something I want to do for the rest of my career. Just have to continue to learn and build off what I did last year.”

Baddoo hit leadoff in 64 games in his rookie season a year ago. In 284 at-bats, he produced 10 doubles, two triples, eight home runs, 11 stolen bases, 33 RBIs with a slash-line of .256/.310/.401.

“The goal is to do damage and set the tone for the entire team,” he said.

That Baddoo hit leadoff in the spring opener, though, doesn’t mean manager AJ Hinch is completely sold on him being his sole leadoff hitter this season.

“No, I like Robbie (Grossman) up there, too,” Hinch said. “I like Akil up there and against certain pitchers I like other guys, as well. We need Akil to settle in like he did last season and we need to see some adjustment against left-handed pitchers.”

That’s the next frontier for Baddoo, being able to produce consistently against lefties. Hinch smartly protected him against lefties last year, sitting him against the especially tough ones and feeding him lefty-on-lefty at-bats judiciously throughout the season.

By the end of the year, Baddoo was having more comfortable at-bats against lefties. He ended up hitting .214 with a .278 on-base percentage. He had 21 hits in 108 plate appearances, just two extra-base hits, and 33 strikeouts.

“I focused on trying to see as many lefties as I could in the offseason,” Baddoo said. “It was good.”

He’s changed his approach, too.

“Yeah, just a different thought process,” he said. “I’m scooting up in the (batters) box a little bit to take away the spin and shorten up my swing.”

Funny thing, though. Lefties were mostly beating him with fastballs last season. Sixty-five percent of the pitches he saw from left-handers were fastballs. He hit .175 against them. He hit .258 against lefty breaking balls.

“It’s just a matter of getting familiar with it,” he said. “Just trying to see those lefty pitchers as much as I can.”

Opening day is 20 days away, so obviously Hinch hasn’t locked into any set batting order.

“The big question is where does (Javier) Báez hit and how the balance of the lineup works?” Hinch said. “Also, being honest, does Riley Greene make the team? Does Spencer Torkelson make the team? Who is our extra infielder? I have a general idea what I’m going to do with Báez, but it changes everything when you add a big bat like that to the middle of the order.

“Either we’ll have to slide Candy (Jeimer Candelario) up or slide him down, or slide (Jonathan) Schoop up or slide him down.”

And as for Baddoo hitting leadoff?

“I like the spark,” Hinch said. “If the on-base continues and the power-steal threat is there, he’s a viable candidate for sure.”

Opening Day starter

Lefty Eduardo Rodriguez got the ball for the spring opener, and unlike with Baddoo hitting leadoff, that was absolutely a precursor for Opening Day.

“Yep, he’s going to be our Opening Day starter,” Hinch said. “He has four starts to get ready.”

The plan could get altered, though.

“The only thing that can change that is a hiccup in the program,” Hinch said. “I worry about rain and other things in the next 20 days. But we are lining him up on purpose this way to be our Opening Day guy. He’s been on the biggest stage, he’s our most veteran starting pitcher and he’s excited.”

Hinch has been having some fun with both Rodriguez and Schoop in the team meetings, playing off the history between those two.

“Faced each other 10 times,” Hinch said. “Schoop always wants to talk about the home run he got off him. Eduardo wants to talk about the nine punch-outs.”

Love the throwback

Hinch smiled when he was asked about lefty reliever Andrew Chafin’s anti-analytics comments Thursday. Chafin, whom the Tigers signed for two years and $13 million, made it very clear he didn’t pay attention to the modern day metrics and date.

“I actually don’t really care if the player speaks the language as much if they listen to how we want to use their best stuff,” Hinch said. “So it’s not about everybody being an expert or being openly able to articulate every analytical angle that teams take. It’s about utilizing your best stuff.”

Hinch, personally, kind of appreciates Chafin’s just-give-me-the-ball attitude.

“I can already tell his personality is going to fit in really well around here,” he said. “He’s proud to be here, too. He’s kind of a semi-local guy being from the upper Midwest. He said he just needed to throw a bullpen or two and put him a game.”

It’s seems logical to assume that having another leverage left-hander in the bullpen would help solidify closer Gregory Soto as the ninth-inning guy. Hinch warned against making assumptions.

“Nope,” he said. “I think the other way. The more versatility you have the more pathways to win you have … Anytime we need Soto I’m going to consider using him. As a soft concept, having Chafin means Soto will get the ninth more often.

“But actually, the more we have, the more options I have when the game is on the line.”

‘A great gesture’

Speaking of the team meeting, Friday morning the Tigers were treated to highlights of Spencer Turnbull’s no-hitter in Seattle last season. Hinch played the last three outs and subsequent celebration.

The video was a prelude to the main event. Turnbull then presented his catcher that night, Eric Haase, with a Rolex watch.

“Spence came to me in the morning and said he wanted to present Haase with a gift for the no-hitter,” Hinch said. “Just a great gesture. Just a cool moment for Spencer to say thanks to his catcher and for the group to relive a really cool game from last year.”

The story offered a little window into the tightness of this clubhouse.

“It was nice to see players enjoy each other in a moment like that,” Hinch said. “I think it matters to a team. It somewhat galvanizes a team. The guys that were here, it brought back a great memory. The guys that weren’t here saw how we celebrate a big accomplishment.”

Around the horn

Turnbull revealed on Wednesday that while he was rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, he also had an arthroscopic procedure done to clean up loose debris in his right knee. He said the knee had been bothering him for two years, though not enough to shut him down. “I can’t remember the last time the knee has felt this good,” he said.

… Báez and Grossman both worked on the back fields Friday. They are expected to start Saturday against the Yankees in Tampa.

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky

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