Niyo: As Tigers’ frustration mounts, Javier Báez has to be the answer

Detroit News

Detroit — There are 100 games remaining in the regular season, Tigers fans.

That’s not a threat. Just a fact.

But so is this, after AJ Hinch’s team reached another low-water mark Wednesday with an embarrassing 13-0 loss to the Chicago White Sox: It’s a salvage operation now.

That’s all you can say after the Tigers (24-38) were shut out for the ninth time this year and swept in a series for the fourth time. It’s probably more than we should say, really, after a game that began with Alex Faedo plunking the first batter he faced with the first pitch he threw and ended with three different position players tossing an assortment of 45 mph cookies in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings.

It’s the first time in franchise history the Tigers have had three position players pitch in the same game. And, really, it’s the last thing Hinch thought he’d be talking about here in the middle of June, which is why he was using words like “embarrassed” and “unacceptable” in his postgame media session.

It’s also why his players held a closed-door meeting in the clubhouse for 30 minutes following Thursday’s gong show: They’re all feeling the heat now.

“No one likes going out there and getting their ass handed to them every night,” catcher Eric Haase said.

BOX SCORE: White Sox 13, Tigers 0

But on a day where the temperatures were in the mid-90s — the hottest game in 10 years at Comerica Park — and the bats somehow remained ice-cold, it is a fair question now to ask just what can be saved in this season.

Jobs should be on the line, starting with the general manager, Al Avila, whose broken-down rebuild is still sitting in the front yard on cinder blocks. But we’ve seen little evidence — none, actually — of owner Chris Ilitch’s impatience to date, and I don’t imagine that’s going to change anytime soon.

Still, something has to give, right?

Injury-riddled rotation

Beyond Tarik Skubal and a bullpen that’s starting to strain under the weight of carrying an injury-riddled rotation and an anemic lineup, there’s nothing much to see here. Aside from an entertaining relief appearance by Hittin’ Harold Castro, that is. (He notched his first career strikeout with a quick-pitch 80 mph heater to Leury Garcia after a pair of 43-mph eephus pitches.)

Hinch keeps preaching the need for his hitters to “move the ball forward,” but on Wednesday his team managed just four hits and five baserunners. The Tigers saw only two three-ball counts the entire game. And it will surprise no one who has been watching this punchless bunch — the Tigers have scored 2 runs or fewer in half of their games — that they rank last in the majors in walk rate, chase rate, slugging percentage and runs created.

Or to put it in more tangible terms, consider that the Yankees’ Aaron Judge hit his 25th home run of the season Wednesday night, and his seventh in the month of June. The Tigers’ entire roster has combined for 31 homers thus far, with just two coming in 13 games in June.

‘Unacceptable’: Tigers hold players-only meeting after being swept by White Sox

School’s out for summer, but good luck getting more than 20,000 people to show up to watch that the next few months.

Hinch made it clear again Wednesday he’s not looking for any scapegoats, so don’t expect a hitting coach to get fired. Likewise, I wouldn’t expect any dramatic trades this far out from the Aug. 2 deadline, not that fans are that enthused with Avila fielding those calls, anyway.

Maybe Spencer Torkelson — mired in a 3-for-41 funk over his last 13 games — gets a ticket to Toledo at some point, and presumably Riley Greene makes his debut in Detroit, though his .710 OPS after 52 at-bats with the Mud Hens suggests it may be another 2-3 weeks away.

But the real hope here has to be that the big-money star the Tigers thought they’d landed in free agency finally shows up. Because as Hinch noted just last week, this team is “not going anywhere without the production of Javier Báez, whether it’s this series or the season or in the coming years.”

Báez was given the day off Wednesday, after another fitful night at the plate Tuesday against the White Sox, striking out with the bases loaded in the first inning and finishing with another 0-for-4 showing.

“It is tough to keep trying and trying and not get the results,” Báez said Wednesday after spending a good chunk of this latest loss working on his own in the batting cage.

Weight of expectations

Tougher still considering the weight of expectations that comes with that hefty contract he signed last November. Six years and $140 million was supposed to buy more than a .188 batting average and the lowest OPS (.520) among qualified MLB hitters this deep into the season.

No one feels that “burden,” as Hinch described it Wednesday, more than Báez himself. You can see it in his body language at the plate just as easily as he can hear the boos when he heads back to the dugout after every strikeout.

“It’s been a bad stretch for him to start his Tigers career, and he knows it and he cares,” Hinch said.

In case you care, Báez insists there’s nothing wrong with his swing, other than the fact it’s flailing at nearly 50 percent of the pitches he sees out of the strike zone this season.

“It’s more about focus,” Báez said.

Tigers’ AJ Hinch on Chris Fetter rumors: ‘We really want him to stay here’

And the fix for that? Well, that’s sort of what that players-only meeting was about Wednesday afternoon. Not about Báez specifically, but rather about finding solutions to problems that everyone can see, again and again.

“It’s not like I’m gonna do something different,” Báez said. “I’m still gonna swing the bat and I’m just gonna trust my talent.”

But ever since that Opening Day walk-off double from Báez, the talent has been hard to trust. He still makes the dynamic plays in the field at shortstop, but he hasn’t been close to the offensive catalyst the Tigers needed. And that message he delivered to the crowd after his smashing debut — “It’s not gonna be easy, but it’s gonna be fun” — is no longer ringing in everyone’s ears.

Instead, it’s the boos that are getting harder to ignore.

“If people want to let us know how they feel, great, I can’t control that,” Báez said. “Obviously, we’re losing a lot of games and it’s frustrating to them. We understand. Trust me, we’re frustrated in the dugout.”

No doubt they are. But trust is earned, and right now Báez and the Tigers are coming up woefully short.

Twitter: @JohnNiyo

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