Why Javier Báez isn’t worried after Detroit Tigers’ miscues spoiled clutch home run

Detroit Free Press

MINNEAPOLIS — The Detroit Tigers needed a spark.

Javier Báez missed nine games due to a lingering right thumb injury and returned to the lineup Sunday. Two days later, the 29-year-old shortstop displayed his dynamism with a go-ahead, three-run home run in the eighth inning.

“Javy had a great night at the plate,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said Tuesday. “He did everything he could to carry us tonight. It’s good to see him swinging with some freedom, no issues with the thumb.”

WHAT HAPPENED: Tigers on wrong side of bizarre play, lose 5-4 to Twins in ninth inning

The Tigers squandered Báez’s second homer of the season, losing Tuesday’s series opener, 5-4, against the Minnesota Twins on a two-run defensive miscue by catcher Eric Haase in the bottom of the ninth inning.

But Báez is playing. That’s a good start for the slumping Tigers.

“I’m really happy that I’m back,” Báez said Tuesday. “Hopefully, I’ll stay healthy the whole year and can get to help this team win more games. Trying to stay healthy and play hard.”

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The Tigers (6-10) haven’t found their groove with the bats.

Hinch’s squad has dropped four of five series to start the season, losing two out of three to the Chicago White Sox, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Colorado Rockies

Detroit needs victories Wednesday and Thursday against the Twins to avoid another series loss. The six-game road trip continues to Los Angeles, where the Tigers face the National League-powerhouse Dodgers.

“It’s baseball,” Tigers right fielder Robbie Grossman said after the Twins walked off on a single that tipped off his glove and rolled to the wall. “We got to come back tomorrow and play our game. Tomorrow is a new day.”

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The Tigers rank 18th among MLB’s 30 teams with a 96 wRC+, meaning the offensive production is slightly below average but not a disaster. They have a .232 batting average (15th in MLB), .316 on-base percentage (12th), .329 slugging percentage (25th), 10.3% walk rate (sixth), 23.8% strikeout rate (14th) and eight home runs (30th).

The pitching staff, meanwhile, ranks seventh  with a 3.22 ERA.

Báez could spark a much-needed power surge, even in chilly April temperatures in the Midwest, the region where the Tigers have played all 16 games this season.

It was 41 degrees for Tuesday’s 7:41 p.m. first pitch at Target Field.

“Today was really cold,” Báez said. “But that’s never an excuse. It’s the same for both teams. It was hard to stay warm out there, but it is what it is. I played in Chicago, and Detroit is pretty similar. We’ll see how it’s going to be tomorrow.”

Báez, who signed a six-year, $140 million contract in December, finished 2-for-3 with one walk and four RBIs in Tuesday’s loss. He drew a five-pitch walk in the first inning, grounded out to shortstop in the fourth and hammered an RBI double off the right-field wall in the sixth.

In the eighth, Báez unloaded on a second-pitch cutter from Twins reliever Emilio Pagan in a 1-0 count. His three-run blast had a 108.6 mph exit velocity, traveled 415 feet to center field and put the Tigers ahead 4-3.

“I was just trying to see the ball,” Báez said. “In the second at-bat, I kind of got jammed. I got the fastball and got jammed to the shortstop. But I made that adjustment during the game. Depending on the situation, I’ll make adjustments.”

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Báez is hitting .308 with two doubles, two homers, eight RBIs, two walks and six strikeouts in seven games.

“A big, productive night,” Hinch said. “Unfortunately, we spoiled it.”

Tuesday’s big fly should have won the game.

“We play hard, that’s the thing,” Báez said. “We got out of control with the ball, but things happen. It doesn’t bother me because we’re playing hard. We were trying. It’s not like somebody was being lazy. Things happen.”

Contact Evan Petzold 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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