Sometimes when it rains it pours, and despite the sunny days in downtown Detroit this week, it has been a monsoon at Comerica Park.
And unfortunately for the Tigers offense, it’s not unique to their home ballpark.
For the better part of three weeks, the dark gray cloud has followed the Tigers wherever they’ve traveled — from Minneapolis to Los Angeles to Houston and back home — cascading metaphorical rain on any bat that tries to heat up.
You’ve heard the refrain by now, but it bears repeating. Detroit’s lineup has been historically bad in a year that was supposed to be the end of the rebuild.
The Tigers (9-22) have the same record through 31 games as they did in 2021. Their offense has scored 85 runs, fewer than the 87 runs through 31 games from the 2003 Tigers, which was the worst team (43-119) in franchise history.
Former slugger Jason Giambi used to wear a gold thong when he wanted to break out of slumps, and while nobody in the clubhouse has gone that far, Jonathan Schoop joked it shouldn’t be out of the question.
“Maybe do something different, I’ll go pants up or pants down,” he said. “Switching up anything, but sometimes it just doesn’t go. Maybe it’s no batting gloves, but it just hasn’t come for us.
“Winning creates fun. If you win the clubhouse is fun … when you’re losing you have to erase it and come back tomorrow and that can be tough when you’re losing.”
Detroit has been shut out in three of its last five and scored just 28 total runs in its past 15 games.
The team ranks last in baseball in slugging (.301), home runs (12) and has the second-fewest total bases ahead of only Kansas City.
“It’s tough, definitely, but the main thing is continue to work and be positive, I know that’s super cliché, but you have to,” Austin Meadows said. “We’re here to win and we want to win in the moment, but this game is built off of failure, built off of adversity, so we just keep pushing.
“Sometimes when things go bad you can be so focused on that and dwell on it, you get away from the work. So I remind myself to almost work twice as hard and if you work you will get the results and everybody in here knows that.”
On top of the power struggles, the baserunning has taken a step back as well.
The Tigers, who tied for seventh in steals in 2021 (88) are last in 2022 (4), on pace for just 21 this season. For Hinch, that’s been a double-edged sword and more often than not, hasn’t been a risk worth taking.
“Not unless we have a little bit more team speed and a little bit more opportunity,” Hinch said of if he’s planning on trying to take some extra bags. “I can start runners and run us out of innings, too, I mean we did that with Akil (Baddoo), one of our best baserunners, in Houston, and Maldonado threw him out by a couple feet.
“The makeup of this team is different… We don’t have the team speed of last year’s team so comparing this to last year is not the same.”
The search for power makes it tough to take Javier Báez out of the lineup. The need for speed makes it tough to take Derek Hill out of the lineup.
Both started Thursday’s game on the bench — Harold Castro will play shortstop and Willi Castro is in center field. Hinch said this is one of the tougher parts of his job, managing a team for 162 games and giving valuable guys off days.
“We need (Javy’s) production and energy but also need to pay attention to his health and freshen up some of these guys,” Hinch said. “Everybody needs a mental day at some point, and maybe we can insert some energy from Harold and he can get a couple hits.
“Trying to pick the right time is hard enough as it is, but when you’re going through the stretch of games we are when you’re not having success you don’t ever want to sit your better players. But you’re chasing your own tail if you don’t stay diligent with their rest as well.”
Willi Castro adapting to the outfield
Castro started the 2022 season in Triple-A Toledo.
He was called up in mid-April when Báez went on the injured list with a jammed thumb and after a few weeks of consistent production, Hinch continues to try to work him into the lineup.
Through 15 games, Castro leads the team in average (.306), is second in OPS (.720) and fourth in WAR (0.2). The switch-hitting utility player was one of the highlights on the 2020 team when he hit .349 with a .932 OPS in the shortened season.
“Willi has played very well the last few days and he’s opened some eyes,” Hinch said. “I believe in the player, he can offer a lot … he’s a guy (last year) that we were relying to play the middle of the field and bat in the middle of the order.
“When you have somebody who can move around the field and be at the very least a part-time everyday player, that’s hard to find and when we’re shortening rosters to the foreseeable future, a guy who can play around, we need to play well.”
The Tigers no longer need him in the infield, with Báez and Schoop handling duties up the middle, but Hinch said Castro had “natural outfield action.” It’s why he trusts him to patrol center field in the expansive Comerica Park; a position Castro prefers to either of the corners.
“I think it’s easier because the line drives, the fly balls they go straight they don’t go to the side, don’t go left, don’t go right,” Castro said. “Reacting to the ball, that’s the main thing you have to have in the outfield … it’s about doing everything pre-pitch.”
Riley Greene, Ryan Kreidler on the mend
Riley Greene, slowly, is on his way back.
Hinch said that the 21-year-old outfielder, who would have made the Opening Day roster had he not fractured his foot on a foul ball the final week of spring training, had a “big test” on Thursday.
“He’s going to get an exam on his foot and if all things go as expected, he’s going to start to ramp up his baseball activity,” Hinch said. “He’s been doing some super-light things that aren’t going to put any stress on his foot, but today is a big check-up for him.
“The running program increases, the throwing has already been going on, the hitting will then increase … I’m encouraged he’s about to be cleared to be a baseball player again, that will be a sight for sore eyes.”
Ryan Kreidler, who has been out two weeks after breaking his right hand, is also working his way back. The 24-year-old had surgery to put a pin in his hand, but Hinch said he has started throwing and appears ahead of schedule.
Kreidler, the Tigers’ fourth-round pick in 2019, had been hitting .246 in Toledo, with four home runs, 12 RBIs and an .808 OPS.
“He’s already doing strengthening stuff, he’s thrown a little bit which is faster than anybody would have predicted, he’s doing quite well,” Hinch said. “He can do all the baserunning stuff … now that he’s throwing again that’s a good sign, the last thing that will come is the hand strength for the bat. He’s not there yet.”
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