What we learned about Detroit Tigers in first 3 games of season vs. White Sox

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Tigers third baseman Jeimer Candelario is one of the most optimistic players on the roster, whether he’s discussing his team’s chances of winning or his performance in the batter’s box. His positive mindset feeds into his on-field consistency, the reason the Tigers employ him as their starting third baseman.

“We played one of the top teams in our division,” Candelario said Sunday afternoon. “They won the series, but we got more games. We’re going to get them.”

Manager A.J. Hinch simplified Candelario’s statement.

“This is one series in a long journey,” he said.

The Tigers were beat up by the Chicago White Sox on opening weekend, losing two of three games at Comerica Park. The losses were a product of falling behind in the first inning of each game. Chicago’s starting pitchers — Lucas Giolito, Dylan Cease and Michael Kopech — owned Detroit’s starters — Eduardo Rodriguez, Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal — in the first three games between the American League Central rivals.

The trio of pitchers will get another chance against the power-hitting White Sox. But they collectively faltered this time in the first inning.

Rodriguez struggled to command all his pitches, and the free-swinging White Sox were uncharacteristically patient against him.

Mize left too many pitches over the heart of the plate, and despite his resiliency through the middle part of his outing, the White Sox forced his exit before he could record an out in the sixth inning.

Skubal relied too heavily on a fastball-changeup mix. He didn’t throw enough sliders and became predictable, so the White Sox made him pay.

“They made (Skubal) work,” catcher Tucker Barnhart said Sunday. “It’s a good lineup. They made Eduardo work. They made Casey work. That’s just what they do. We’ll have to regroup and get back at it. … They were maybe a tick more patient than we thought they would be, but it’s a game of adjustments. They were able to make more adjustments than we did.”

The White Sox took advantage of the Tigers’ mistakes, and right now, the South Siders are best-in-class in the AL Central. They boast one of the top offenses in the AL and are poised to return to the postseason for the third season in a row.

White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson, in particular, gave the Tigers trouble upon returning from his two-game suspension for making contact with umpire Tim Timmons last September. He went 3-for-5 in Sunday’s finale and now has a .346 batting average in 92 career games against the Tigers. Facing Skubal, Anderson is 7-for-13 (.539) with five doubles, one home run, two RBIs, one walk and three strikeouts.

“He’s as dangerous as any leadoff hitter in baseball,” Hinch said. “There’s something about him against the whole league, not just us. He’s an All-Star-caliber player against everybody in the league.”

What Hinch said about the “long journey” is true. The Tigers and White Sox will clash 16 more times this season, and the Tigers haven’t even started their 19 games apiece against the Minnesota Twins, Cleveland Guardians and Kansas City Royals. The AL Central accounts for nearly 47% of the schedule.

Detroit Tigers’ 2022 schedule: Predicting all 162 games this season ]

To make big-picture conclusions based on the first weekend would be foolish; there are 159 games to be played. The Tigers are determined to find their way into the 12-team postseason.

Here are two more takeaways, and some tidbits, from the Tigers’ season-opening series:

Javy being Javy

The Tigers got the full Javier Báez experience in the first weekend.

“Fans, it’s not going to be easy this year, but it’s going to be fun,” Báez told 43,480 fans at Comerica Park, moments after hitting a walk-off single for an Opening Day victory. “We need your support. Let’s go, Tigers.”

Báez crushed a 98.1 mph fastball from White Sox closer Liam Hendriks with a runner on third base and two outs. The ball appeared to be caught by right fielder AJ Pollock, but a replay review showed the ball hit the wall before Pollock’s glove.

Game over, 5-4 Tigers win.

“You can beat him with a single in that situation,” Hinch said. “You don’t have to hit the ball 20 rows deep. It’s just trying to calm down the moment to where you’re in control of the moment. … When Javy hits it, electric things happen.”

Báez wasn’t having any of Hinch’s advice.

“That’s not going to happen with me,” Báez said. “I’m going to swing hard. Sometimes I’m going to control it better than the first two at-bats (strikeouts), but I’m going to swing hard. I’m going to do me out there.”

Báez likes to let his play do the talking, but through his on-field success, he sometimes unleashes genuine emotions Tigers fans will surely fall in love with. He gave fans a taste of his personality Friday.

As for his play, the 29-year-old is 4-for-12 (.333) with one RBI and three strikeouts. Three of his 12 at-bats resulted in balls to the warning track, two of which were caught in front of the wall.

Last season, Báez hit .265 with 31 home runs, 28 walks and a National League-leading 184 strikeouts in 138 games for the Chicago Cubs and New York Mets. Expect more of the same — a lot of power and a lot of strikeouts — in 2022. The Tigers signed him to a six-year, $140 million contract this offseason.

Defensively, Báez has elevated the infield with his smooth actions and top-tier instincts at shortstop.

Báez completed an Opening Day web gem on a sliding play deep in the hole, yet he made a lazy throw Sunday that pulled first baseman Spencer Torkelson off the bag. The 2020 Gold Glove winner was charged with an error.

On the bases, he made what Hinch called an “aggressive mistake” Saturday with two runners in scoring position and no outs. Báez tried to score on a pitch that bounced away from White Sox catcher Yasmani Grandal but didn’t get home safely.

TIGERS NEWSLETTER: Don’t Javy, be happy — there’s 159 more games this season

Torkelson waits

Will Torkelson ever notch his first MLB hit?

Yes, of course.

Torkelson is 0-for-8 through three games with three walks and six strikeouts. There’s no reason to be concerned about his performance, but he is clearly frustrated.

The 22-year-old dropped an F-bomb in the ninth inning Friday, after striking out swinging against Hendriks. He also slammed his bat at home plate in the ninth Saturday after striking out swinging against reliever Aaron Bummer. Both strikeouts occurred with the Tigers trailing, down by one run (bases empty) in Friday’s win and down by three runs (runners on first and second base) in Saturday’s loss.

“I’m just waiting for him to get that hit,” outfielder Robbie Grossman said. “He doesn’t need to put more pressure on himself, but it will come. Once he gets it, he’ll be running. I mean, there’s a reason why he went No. 1 overall. It’s special.”

The good news: Torkelson hasn’t appeared overwhelmed in the big leagues, and his lackluster offense hasn’t translated to poor defense. He produced a few scoops at first base in his first weekend, along with a diving catch.

Spencer Torkelson comfortable in MLB debut: ‘I wasn’t expecting the roar’ ]

Torkelson hit .267 with 30 home runs, 91 RBIs, 77 walks and 114 strikeouts in 121 games in the minor leagues last season across three levels, batting .238 with 11 homers in 40 games for Triple-A Toledo.

He had a .258 batting average in spring training, with four doubles, one homer, four RBIs, three walks and six strikeouts in 15 games. He is the Tigers’ No. 1 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, and the No. 4 prospect in baseball.

“He needs a period of adjustment, it seems, and (the Tigers) have noticed that, like when he moved up to Double-A or Triple-A,” Torkelson’s mother, Lori, said April 2, after learning her son made the Tigers’ Opening Day roster.

Mother knows best.

Give Torkelson time to get comfortable.

Tidbits

• Left fielder Austin Meadows, hitting No. 2 in the lineup, is 4-for-9 (.444) with one triple, three walks and two strikeouts in three games. He has been everything the Tigers hoped for when they traded infielder Isaac Parades and the No. 77 overall pick in the 2022 draft to the Tampa Bay Rays. “He’s completely comfortable establishing himself as a middle of the order bat, or top of the order for us,” Hinch said. “The ease in which he carries himself, still at a relatively young age, is pretty impressive.”

• Outfielder Akil Baddoo is 0-for-7 with three strikeouts. The 23-year-old doesn’t look comfortable in the batter’s box. “I’d like to see him refine his strike zone a little bit,” Hinch said, “but even when he was at his height last year, I wanted him to refine his strike zone. It’s a matter of perspective, which you get from me a lot.”

What does Akil Baddoo do for encore? Go from surprise to everyday success ]

• Second baseman Jonathan Schoop has shown why moving back to his natural position will pay off, after he spent most of the 2021 season at first base, simply because the Tigers needed a first baseman. The 30-year-old tracked down a pair of fly balls in shallow right field with his back to the infield, made quick turns and fired to home plate to hold the runners at third base. “He’s totally comfortable with the ball in his hands,” Hinch said, “so he’s calling the outfielder, Robbie, off very early in that play. This guy’s a good defender. He didn’t get moved off second last year because of skill or ability, he got moved off second last year out of need. He looks much more back in his comfort zone.”

• The Tigers have picked up early success from several relievers who were competing for a spot on the Opening Day roster into the final week of spring training: Drew Hutchison (two scoreless innings), Rony Garcia (1⅓ scoreless innings), Will Vest (1⅓ scoreless innings) and Jacob Barnes (one scoreless inning).

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzoldRead more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

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