Detroit — Say this about Javier Báez: He may not want to talk about it much, but when he does, he shoots you pretty straight.
“I don’t have any excuses,” he said of his offensive struggles this season. “I’m not seeing the ball. I’m not following the ball. And you can’t hit what you can’t see.”
When you see his numbers through 37 games, it’s hard to believe they belong under his name: .194 batting average, career-low 32% hard-hit rate, career-low 57 wRC-plus, career-low .243 wOBA, career-low .306 slugging percentage.
“I’m just trying to make the adjustments and see the ball,” he said. “Like I said, though, I’m not going out during the game and working on it. I work on it before or after. It’s hard with these (pitchers) and their plan. But there’s no other option but to come back tomorrow and try again.”
The pitchers’ plan against Báez has been very consistent — fastballs out of the strike zone up and sliders and curve balls out of the strike zone away. Baez has had a high chase rate his entire career, but this year he’s chasing at a career-high 48%. He’s 8 for 61 with 25 strikeouts against sliders and curves — swinging and missing at 52% of them — as May draws to a close.
Not seeing the ball.
“Right now, it’s just about trust,” Báez said. “The way I’ve been struggling, I think I’m trying a lot harder and that only makes it worse.”
He went 0-for-3 on Sunday, but two of the outs were fairly well-struck balls to right field. That was a positive sign to manager AJ Hinch.
“He wants hits,” Hinch said. “He’s chasing hits and he’s swinging at a lot of things. His approach to right field today was encouraging. He’s letting the ball travel a little bit (deeper in the strike zone). But the only thing that’s going to solve it is getting better pitches to hit and some success.”
The offensive struggles, though, have not negatively impacted his defense. Even with the occasional errant throw, he and second baseman Jonathan Schoop have stabilized the middle of the Tigers’ infield.
Báez made a spectacular play in the eighth inning Sunday, robbing speedy Myles Straw of a single with a quick-action backhand play on a ball hit with an exit velocity of 96.5 mph. Straw was leading off the eighth in a one-run game.
“I always say, if you don’t hit you’ve got to play defense,” Báez said. “If you don’t hit, catch the ball. We still have to be focused. We’re still trying. Hopefully the offense comes back and we can really take off.”