St. Petersburg, Fla. — The conversation with manager AJ Hinch before the game Tuesday turned into an illuminating discourse on the art and craft of hitting at the big-league level.
The central theme was hitters versus swingers.
Miguel Cabrera, we can all agree, is a hitter. He can adjust his swing mechanics to react to the variations of velocity, spin and location he sees from pitchers. Harold Castro is a hitter. Jose Altuve, Jose Ramirez — hitters.
Spencer Torkelson, Derek Hill, even Robbie Grossman to a degree, are swingers. They are typically a byproduct of newer-age hitting instructors and essentially apply the same swing to every pitch.
“I’ve seen that a lot in recent years,” Hinch said. “You call it a groove swing and they have a certain mechanic to get the bat to a certain position. There is so much data that gives us feedback on where the bat should be. But then you realize it’s never an exact science because the ball is not on a tee. That’s for golf.”
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Hitters will talk about taking A-swings and B-swings, but Hinch said hitters can’t always get their A-swing off in perfect time or get a pitch with perfect location or make the perfect swing.
“Then what?” he said. “You still have to find a way to get hits. When you see a little more of the old-school, hitter-ish approach — Miggy, Joey Votto, Freddie Freeman. It’s the same approach but not necessarily the same swing mechanics.
“They have some consistencies in the things they do, but we can’t get robotic at this level. With the way the pitching is, the advanced scouting, the hop on the fastball, the vertical and horizontal break, if you have a groove swing, we will expose you.”
Not all groove swinger are bad hitters. Houston’s Alex Bregman has figured out how to make his strict swing mechanics work.
And it would be too simple and unfair, really, to blame Torkelson’s early struggles at the plate to his groove swing. He’s still seeing big-league pitchers for the first time, still learning the game at this level. But it’s a contributing factor. Teams have isolated areas of the strike zone that, with his by-the-numbers swing path, he has not shown the ability to hit.
“This is easy for me to say from my chair,” Hinch said. “I am a way better hitter standing on the front row of the dugout than I ever was in the batter’s box. But the bottom line on hitting is, if you are missing pitches inside the strike zone, that’s a little bit more mechanical. If you are swinging at pitches outside the strike zone, we can’t judge your mechanics until we fix your approach.
“That goes hand in hand.”
Javier Báez, an accomplished, seasoned hitter, is struggling with his approach right now, chasing pitches outside the zone at a 47% clip. That has nothing to do with swing mechanics.
Torkelson’s approach is mature for his experience. His chase rate is 21%. But he’s had trouble hitting strikes, especially fastballs, in certain areas of the plate. He’s been getting jammed on fastballs, unable to get the barrel of the bat out front enough to unleash his power.
“I’m rarely concerned for a hitter if he’s making contact inside the zone, not chasing and getting out,” Hinch said. “That’s going to even itself out over time. It’s the other things that happen that cause concern.”
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Switch-hitter Willi Castro has seemingly taken strides to make the transition from swinger to hitter. As Hinch pointed out, he still chases outside the zone too often, but he mostly hits fastballs in whatever zone they are thrown (.435 average on heaters).
He came into the game Tuesday having hit safely in eight of nine games, slashing .433/.455/.600 with a 1.055 OPS over that span. He struck out just four times in 33 plate appearances during the run — that despite an average exit velocity of a mild 82.5 mph and a hard-hit rate of 17.8%.
“If you can manipulate the bat, you can find a way to some soft hits,” Hinch said.
Isaac Paredes, the former Tiger infielder traded to Tampa for Austin Meadows, is about to get an extended opportunity with the Rays, who put infielder Brandon Lowe on the injured list Tuesday with a stress reaction in his back.
“My goal when I came here was to take it as something positive,” Paredes said before the game. “There are many more opportunities here, the way the manager (Kevin Cash) uses us. Whether you are starting or not, you’re going to have an opportunity to play.”
The Tigers gave Paredes a chance to win the third base job in 2020 and then win a job as a utility infielder last year. But he ended up hitting just .215 with no power (.302 slugging) in 193 plate appearances over 57 games.
“It was tough over there (with the Tigers),” Paredes said. “It was out of my control. But I think the opportunity for me here is much more positive.”
Paredes spent time before the game talking with Hinch and general manager Al Avila.
“I’m very appreciative for them allowing me to live out my dream and for giving me the opportunity to reach the level that I did,” he said.
Around the horn
After seeing hand specialist Dr. Douglas Carlan in Tampa, Michael Pineda’s broken right middle finger will not require surgery. Hinch said he will be in a splint for a few weeks to allow pain and swelling to subside. At that point, the finger will be re-examined.
“If he can initiate a throwing program at that point it will be very encouraging,” Hinch said. “If it’s determined that he needs more time, then we are talking about a longer stint.”
… Hinch also gave updates on relievers Jose Cisnero and Kyle Funkhouser, both on the injured list with shoulder issues. Cisnero is expected to throw off a mound for the first time next Monday. Funkhouser, though, has not been cleared to throw.
… Lefty Tyler Alexander (elbow sprain) could resume throwing this weekend or early next week.
… Hinch also confirmed that Alex Faedo will remain in the rotation, his next start Saturday in Cleveland.
Tigers at Rays
First pitch: 1:10 p.m. Wednesday, Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Fla.
LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (1-2, 3.72), Tigers: He has allowed three earned runs or less in six of his seven starts and been ultra-stingy in his last two, allowing one earned run with 11 strikeouts pitching into the seventh inning in both games (13⅓ total innings). His command with his four-seam, sinker and cutter has been so sharp, he’s scarcely needed his breaking balls or change-up.
RHP Drew Rasmussen (3-1, 2.67), Rays: Since the Rays put him in the rotation full-time last Aug. 12, they are 12-3 when he starts and he’s holding hitters to a .176 batting average with 50 strikeouts and 14 walks. He throws a firm four-seam fastball (95-96) but his cutter (.128 opponent average) and slider (.146) do a lot of the heavy lifting for him.