The Comerica Park effect: Frustrated Tigers hitters look for relief on the road

Detroit News

Detroit — Robbie Grossman, already in a full sweat after early work at 10:30 Sunday morning, sat quietly at his locker, scrolling around on his phone. Few in the Tigers’ clubhouse are as ready for a nine-game road trip than he is.

“Can’t wait,” he said.

Hitting in spacious Comerica Park, especially in the chilly April weather, has not been a joy. He went into the game Sunday on an 0-for-25 skid with 10 strikeouts. He’s hitting under .200 and slugging just barely over .200 (.227) at home. He’s still looking for his first home run, even though he’s driven a lot of balls to the track and wall that landed in defender’s gloves.

“We’re going on the road for the next 10 days,” he said. “By the end of the month it’ll be fine.”

Pitchers, like they did in stretches last year, have been beating Grossman at the top of the strike zone with fastballs. He’s hitting just .170 off heaters, with 18 strikeouts. His 30% strikeout rate overall is a career-high.

Also, his exit velocity is down — a career-low 85 mph, with a career-low 3.2% hard contact rate.

“It’s been a rough 50 (plate appearances),” he said.

Grossman has talked a lot about the ball being deader and flying as far, but when he was asked Sunday if that concern had gotten in his head a little bit he said, “It’s more the stadium. We all know this stadium is big. But listen, I just need to put up good at-bats and the hit will come. All I need is one good week, just get on a run.

“It is what it is. I’d rather have this now than later. As long as we keep rolling wins, it’ll be OK.”

Javier Báez is experiencing a similar Comerica Park effect. He’s in a rollover ground ball rut. Thirteen of his last 22 outs before Sunday were ground ball outs. His ground ball rate on the season is a career-high 57.5%. His launch angle is 8.4 degrees, over two degrees more level than last season.

“He’s in pull mode,” manager AJ Hinch said. “Some of our guys have grown frustrated with the early season lack of success and have gone into pull mode. When you go into pull mode and your contact isn’t perfect, it tends to be a rollover ground ball. We have a couple of guys doing that.”

Baez, 8 for 54 with no homers or RBIs in May, also has had some long fly balls swallowed up in right-center field at Comerica.

“Javy’s contact point is a little inconsistent and he’s not been rewarded for some of the balls he’s hit oppo,” Hinch said. “It’s been kind of a vicious cycle. Easier said than done to correct it, but generally, trying to generate too much to the pull side can get you in trouble.”

Hinch empathizes with the players. He knows how tough it is to hit in the big leagues, period. Add in the distraction of the deader balls and too-spacious yards and it can be overwhelming, even for talented hitters with long track records.

“Generally speaking, anything that distracts you from the competition between you and the pitcher is going to weigh on you,” Hinch said. “We’re human and players can have a hard time getting that out of their head. Then when something else happens negatively, it impacts you.

“We try to cleanse these guys of all that noise and start fresh. But what usually solves it is hits.”

Austin Meadows, back in the lineup after missing the first two games dealing with vertigo, has gone 115 plate appearances without a home run. Seventy-six of those have been at Comerica Park. To say he’s looking forward to playing back at Tropicana Field this week where he spent the last four seasons is an understatement.

“I know it’s easier to hit homers there,” he said with a smile.

Meadows, though, has done his level-best to keep dead balls and stadium dimensions out of his head.

“I know numbers are down across the league,” he said. “But I try to focus on our team and focus on having good at-bats and continuing to win games. It’s easy to get caught up in that stuff, get caught up in the baseballs and that stuff.

“But that’s just negative energy. I try to continue to be positive. We know as the summer goes along the ball will fly a little more here. The biggest thing is to not focus on power numbers right now. Focus on having good at-bats. The homers will come.”

Around the horn

Former Tigers catcher Alex Avila will be joining Dan Dickerson in the radio booth for all three games in Tampa.

Victor Reyes was activated before the game Sunday, three weeks after going on the IL with a quad strain. “When I was down there, I was rehabbing, of course, but I was working on stuff, too,” Reyes said through Tigers’ bilingual interpreter Carlos Guillen. “Just keeping myself in shape, doing cage work. I never stopped hitting. I feel pretty good.” Reyes was 7 for 14 with two homers at Triple-A Toledo.

Michael Pineda was placed on the 15-day injured list with a broken middle finger on his right (pitching) hand. Hinch said Pineda will get more tests done in Tampa on Monday.

…The Tigers will have to make another roster move Monday to activate right-hander Alex Faedo, who is expected to get the start in the first game of the series with the Rays.

…The Tigers bullpen contributed 7.2 shutout innings in the win Saturday. According to Elias Sports Bureau, it was the first time since June 8, 2008 the Tigers’ bullpen covered that many outs without allowing a run in a nine-inning game. Wily Peralta (2.2 IP), Jason Foley (two), Joe Jiménez (one), Andrew Chafin (one) and Gregory Soto (one) combined to allow just four hits and two walks.

On deck: Rays

Series: Three games at Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Florida

First pitch: Monday-Tuesday — 6:40 p.m., Wednesday — 1:10, p.m.

TV/radio: All three games on BSD/97.1 FM

Probables: Monday —  RHP Alex Faedo (0-1, 3.60) vs. RHP Corey Kluber (1-2, 4.55); Tuesday — RHP Beau Brieske (0-2, 3.86) vs. LHP Shane McClanahan (2-2, 2.52); Wednesday — LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (1-2, 3.72) vs. RHP Drew Rasmussen (3-1, 2.67).

Kluber, Rays: He wore one in his last outing, enduring an 11-hit, eight-run beating over three innings against the Angels. He works mostly in the under-90 mph range these days, relying on his cutter, curve ball and sinker.

Faedo, Tigers: It’s storybook time for Alex Faedo. He grew up in the Tampa area, starred at Braulio Alonso High and won a national championship at Florida. Now, after grinding his way back after Tommy John surgery, he gets to pitch against his hometown team in his third big-league start. Not too shabby.

Twitter: @cmccosky

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