BOSTON — Javier Báez hit his first home run as a member of the Tigers on April 11 against the Red Sox. At the time, he was batting .333 with a .908 OPS through the first four games of the 2022 season.
Two months later, when Detroit opened another series against Boston, Báez’s average was down to .194 and he’d added just two more home runs. Báez then homered in back-to-back games at Fenway Park, including a two-run shot in the first inning of Wednesday’s 6-2 loss to the Red Sox.
It was the first time Báez homered in consecutive games since July 5-6, 2021, suggesting that his recent shift from a season-long slump could be here to stay. In the month of May, Báez hit just .159 in 28 games. Through 17 games in June, his .262 average trails only Miguel Cabrera (.313) for the team lead.
After the three-game series in Boston, Báez is 11-for-27 (.407) with three doubles, one triple, three homers, five RBIs and two steals in his last seven games.
“I think his at-bats are very encouraging,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “I mean, obviously, we’ve seen him do a little bit of everything so far in his time here with us. But when he is selective, and when he does go after pitches that he can handle, he does a lot of damage. And he’s doing it to all fields. And so it’s an encouraging sign to see him get warmed up.”
Báez came to Detroit a career .265 hitter with a World Series ring, two All-Star appearances, an NLCS MVP Award, a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger. Which made the rough start to his six-year contract even more staggering. His sub-.200 average through the first 54 games of his Tigers tenure marked the shortstop’s lowest in that span over his seven-year career.
The low offensive numbers aren’t isolated to Báez — the entire Detroit lineup has struggled to produce this season, with the team average of .226 ranking near the bottom of the Majors. Ahead of the series, Hinch touched on the team’s approach of working on pitch selectivity rather than focusing solely on being patient at the plate.
“I wouldn’t use the word ‘patient’; I would use ‘selective,’” Hinch said Monday. “Because patient means you’re trying to see a lot of pitches; selective means you’re trying to hit the right pitches and take the other ones. So, we’re not trying to draw walks, yet we are drawing walks. We’re trying to be selective to where we’re not trying to hit every pitch that’s thrown at us.”
In the series finale, Báez exemplified that sentiment when he belted the first pitch he saw from starter Michael Wacha into the stands of the Green Monster for a two-run home run.
In his next at-bat, Báez watched Wacha’s first pitch, took a ball and then fouled off a fastball before singling to right field on the fourth pitch. Perhaps the biggest display of selectivity over patience came in the sixth inning, when Báez drew a walk on the seventh pitch of his at-bat.
“I think what encourages me is the track record. He’s been very good for a very long time,” Hinch said. “The inconsistencies have been his battle, but he’s very talented and very dangerous as a hitter, and he’s carried teams for months at a time.”
Even as a seven-year veteran, Báez is still making changes. Though the sample size is small at just 69 games into the 2022 season, one noticeable change has been his ability to push the ball to the opposite field more this year.
2022 vs. 2021
Pull: 39.1 percent/40.2 percent
Center: 34.8 percent/37.7 percent
Opposite: 26.1 percent/22.1 percent
“What I like about this situation, it’s just the adjustment. It’s something different than just continuing to go up there and try to pull the ball,” Hinch said. “I think being rewarded for that type of adjustment is a good sign. He’s still going to pull the ball a ton. He pulled the ball yesterday, pulled the ball the day before. But I like that he’s been a tougher two-strike hitter. … Just glad he’s seeing the ball better.”