Houston — AJ Hinch had to make one of those lesser-of-two-evil type decisions when he built the Tigers’ lineup against Astros right-hander Luis Garcia Friday night.
Garcia is a tough night for most right-handed hitters. Over his career, he’s held right-handers to a .177 average, .311 slugging percentage and .554 OPS. Lefties hit nearly 100 points better, slug 173 points higher with an OPS nearly 300 points higher.
He also has a couple of right-handed hitting regulars who are struggling at the plate, but he couldn’t very well sit out both Jonathan Schoop and Spencer Torkelson, the right side of his infield. Especially since he gave Schoop the night off Thursday.
Thus, Torkelson, after playing in 21 straight games, sat for the second time in three.
“It was a little bit about not playing all the right-handed hitters and a little bit about Harold (Castro),” Hinch said. “Harold finds a way to contribute every single time I play him. Facing a guy like Garcia, who can handle right-handed hitters, it’s a good matchup for Harold.”
Castro, who got the start at first base, came in riding a five-game hitting streak, going 6-for-14 in that stretch. He’s hitting .341 on the season.
Torkelson, on the other hand, is in a 3-for-33 rut with no extra base hits or RBIs and 13 strikeouts since he homered on April 23.
“For Tork, it’s a step-by-step learning process,” Hinch said. “He’s going to be fine. He is fine. He hit a ball pretty well to right field last night and he took early batting practice today. This is more a positive about Harold than it is concern about Tork.”
Schoop, hitting .136, came in with seven hits in his last 65 at-bats with no extra base hits, two RBIs and 16 strikeouts. He’s off to a colder start this year than last year when he was hitting under .200 into the second week of May.
“We need him to lock into his approach and be able to contribute offensively,” Hinch said. “He’s putting in a ton of work. Yesterday was more of a mental day than a physical day for him. He didn’t need a day off.”
Schoop’s sense of humor is intact, though.
“He told me he was well aware the difference between a day off and a benching,” Hinch said. “Maybe with his good spirits and great attitude he will come out with a more productive game tonight.”
It’s hard to worry too much about Schoop’s slow start, given his track record and especially after the way he turned his season around last year.
“When he did lock in form mid-May to mid-July, he was pretty good,” Hinch said. “It comes around to knowing the strike zone and swinging at strikes.”
Schoop took a 36% chase rate into the game Friday.
“This stretch has been a little longer than he would like or that we would like, but we still believe in him,” Hinch said.
Hello old friend
When Hinch came out to home plate Thursday night to exchange lineup cards with the umpires, he expected Dusty Baker to stroll out of the Astros dugout. Instead, it was former Tiger Niko Goodrum.
“It was fun,” Hinch said. “That’s the first time I’ve seen Niko in a different uniform other than the Tigers’. I don’t think he’d ever brought a lineup card out. That was different for him. We had a fun little time.”
Goodrum, untendered by the Tigers after spending four seasons in Detroit, signed a one-year, $2.1 million deal with the Astros in March.
“This is an amazing team,” said Goodrum, who is playing a utility role for the Astros. “I guarantee you every player will say they want to play for Dusty Baker. The culture here, the opportunity to get better – it’s a great opportunity here. It’s a good fit.”
Playing time has been a little hard to come by for him, though, with everyday starters at around the diamond. He’s 5 for 32 with 15 strikeouts in 11 games.
“I have good memories from my time in Detroit,” he said. “The fans were amazing, my teammates, coaching staff – no hard feelings. All love. It was an amazing four years.”
He was surprised that Baker tapped him to take out the lineup card.
“Yeah, but with Dusty you never know,” he said. “It was definitely a treat to do that. We talked (him and Hinch). We had a nice little conversation. He wished me the best.”
Goodrum had a little unfinished business with Miguel Cabrera, though.
“Yeah, I still need to get a bat,” he said. “I need him to sign one for me with the 3,000 hits.”
Around the horn
…Outfielder Austin Meadows was scratched from the starting lineup Friday because of a non-COVID illness. Hinch said he was hoping Meadows might recover enough to be available to pinch-hit but he wasn’t counting on it. Meadows will not start on Saturday, either. That was a scheduled day off against Astros’ left-handed starter Framber Valdez.
…In the third inning Thursday night, Hinch and head athletic trainer Doug Teter raced out to the mound to check on Tarik Skubal, who had just run down Jose Altuve after picking him off first base. “He’d complained about a sore ankle earlier and we just wanted to make sure he was OK,” Hinch said. Skubal said there had been discomfort in the ankle since the second inning, but it did not linger. “It felt good to the end of the outing (six innings),” Skubal said. “And it still feels good.”
…Skubal, by the way, became the first Tigers pitcher to accumulate at least 29 strikeouts and no more than three walks over the first five starts to a season.
Tigers at Astros
When: 4: 10 p.m. Saturday, Minute Maid Park, Houston
LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (0-2, 5.33), Tigers: Left-handed hitters have always hit him a little better than right-handers, but not has well as they have so far this season. Lefties are 9 for 19 against him, slugging 1.053 (five doubles, two homers), with a 1.5 OPS. His primary weapons against lefties are his four- and two-seam fastballs. Lefties are 6 for 13 against those pitches.
LHP Framber Valdez (1-2, 3.42), Astros: There have been 75 balls put in play against him in his five starts, not one has been recorded by Statcast as a barrel (meaning a ball hit with an exit velocity of 95 mph or harder with a steep launch angle). He gave up six runs in one start against the Angels, four total in his other four. He gets a lot of swing-and-miss using his slow curve and change-up off a 93-94 mph sinker.