‘It hasn’t been good for him’: Tigers’ Grossman keeps grinding as hitting slump deepens

Detroit News

Minneapolis — Another day, another story about a struggling Tigers hitter.

It’s where this team is right now as it tries to snap out of a season-long offensive malaise in which it has produced the fewest runs per game (2.7) than any team in baseball. It’s been a collective struggle, so it’s probably unfair to single out individual players, but you have to start somewhere.

Might as well start at the top.

Manager AJ Hinch didn’t write Robbie Grossman’s name into the leadoff spot Wednesday for the first time in two weeks, giving the veteran outfielder a mental health day.

“It’s entirely about his struggles,” Hinch said. “We’re seeing it impact him more and more every day. It’s weighing on him. That he’s not controlling the strike zone is the biggest indicator for him. He’s usually one day away from everything clicking, but it hasn’t been good for him.

“He deserves a mental break.”

Grossman, hitting just .189 on the season, is not only swinging and missing at the highest rate of his career (27%) and striking out at the highest rate since his 2015 (31%), he’s not producing hard contact when he does put the bat on the ball (85 mph average exit velocity on balls in play, lowest since 2015).

“It’s frustrating,” Grossman said Wednesday morning. “It’s part of the league and part of this game. I’ll be back. I’m just trying to do my best every day and trust the work I put in. At some point it will turn for me.”

The puzzling part has been Grossman’s plate discipline. Grossman was among the leaders in drawing walks last season (98) which contributed to a robust .357 on-base average. It’s not that he’s chasing pitches outside the zone; he’s missing pitches in the zone, particularly up in the zone, and taking more strikes than he has since 2015 (21.7% called strike rate).

“He’s not controlling the strike zone,” Hinch said. “It looks like he’s having a hard time with some of the areas pitchers are going to. He’s taking some borderline pitches that aren’t going his way and he’s taking swings at borderline pitches he doesn’t normally chase.

“He’s in a tough spot, like a lot of our guys.”

Also like a lot of Tigers’ hitters, Grossman is getting beat with fastballs. He’s hitting .147 against them with 24 strikeouts. Last season, his runs above average on fastball, per Statcast, was plus-10.8. This year, he’s a minus-4.6.

“I’m grinding a little bit,” Grossman said. “But every day is a new day. I’ve had a rough 15 games. It’s part of the season. I’m looking forward to the next time I’m in there.”

News on Manning

When Hinch addressed the media Wednesday morning, he hadn’t yet talked to general manager Al Avila or director of player development Ryan Garko about injured starting pitcher Matt Manning.

The hope was that Manning, out with shoulder inflammation, made his final rehab start at Toledo Tuesday night. But he didn’t finish two innings, and was pulled after he threw 30 pitches in the second inning.

“It sounds like the hard-and-fast 30-pitch rule that we have in the minor leagues was applied to him,” Hinch said. “He threw 13 pitches in the first inning and 30 in the second. Our minor league pitchers will be pulled after 30 pitches in an inning for health reasons.”

Hinch wasn’t aware of any health issues for Manning, though he did lose his command in that second inning. It hadn’t been decided whether Manning would have to make one more start at Toledo. He hasn’t thrown more than 43 pitches since he went on the injured list on April 17, but Hinch didn’t rule out Manning making his next start for the Tigers.

“I wish he’d gotten three outs before 30 pitches,” Hinch said. “It falls on the unfortunate side of things when we’re trying to build him up. (Forty-three pitches) is not ideal, but nothing is ideal right now. We’re in a tough spot.”

Around the horn

With his two hits Tuesday night, Miguel Cabrera upped his batting average to .289. It’s his highest average through 39 games since he hit .301 in 2018.

Additionally, Cabrera’s second hit Tuesday, a line drive to right, came off a 101.6-mph heater from Twins closer Jhoan Duran. That was the fastest pitch Cabrera has hit in the Statcast era (since 2015) and just the third pitch hit of a 101.6-mph pitch in the major leagues this season. Cabrera and Tony Kemp have singles off Duran, and Matt Olson got one off Hunter Greene.

… Spencer Torkelson is one of five first basemen in baseball to have a perfect fielding percentage this season. He’s also one of five rookie infielders since the start of 2016 to have a perfect fielding percentage over their first 38 games, with a minimum of 200 innings.

… Target Field has become a house of horrors for the Tigers. The loss Tuesday dropped them to 7-26 since 2020. They’ve lost five straight and 22 of the last 31 against the Twins overall.

… The Twins placed starting pitcher Joe Ryan on the COVID-IL before the game.

cmccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky

On deck: Guardians

Series: Four games at Comerica Park, Detroit

First pitch: Thursday-Friday — 7:10 p.m.; Saturday — 4:10 p.m.; Sunday — 1:40 p.m.

TV/radio: All games on BSD/97.1

Probables: Thursday — RHP Aaron Civale (2-3, 7.84) vs. LHP Tarik Skubal (3-2, 2.22); Friday — RHP Shane Bieber (1-3, 3.55) vs. Alex Faedo (1-1, 3.00); Saturday — RHP Triston McKenzie (2-3, 2.75) vs. RHP Elvin Rodriguez (0-0, 9.39); Sunday — RHP Zach Plesac (1-3, 4.42) vs. RHP Beau Brieske (0-4, 5.04)

Civale, Guardians: He came in scuffling when he faced the Tigers in Cleveland Friday, but he got right in a hurry. Shutting the Tigers down on three hits over 6⅓ innings with his cutter, curveball and sinker mix. The Tigers put 19 balls in play with a meek average exit velocity of 82.5 mph.

Skubal, Tigers: He completed his 19th straight scoreless inning in that game in Cleveland Friday, the last out coming on a liner off his left shin. He’s done all his between-starts work without issue and is expected to work without restriction. He ranks third in the A.L. with a 6.25 strikeout-to-walk ration and sixth averaging 10 strikeouts per nine innings.

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