Detroit Tigers’ Eric Haase thinks playing time is reason for underwhelming power production

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Tigers entered the season with several candidates for regression. Some of those players, like Eric Haase, had solidified roles for 2022 throughout the offseason and into spring training.

Haase took on a utility role: backup catcher, sometimes left fielder and pinch-hitter against left-handed pitchers. He thought he might play some first base too, but that hasn’t happened yet.

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One of the best stories from the 2021 season is trying to manage and keep role in the big leagues. He is hitting .204 with three home runs, though he has played just 39 of the Tigers’ 69 games. And playing time is exactly what Haase thinks is impacting his performance in 2022.

“It’s not as easy when you’re not in the flow of it every day,” Haase said.

Haase, bursting onto the scene with surplus of power, spent nearly his entire 2021 season in the starting lineup, finishing with 22 home runs in 98 games. By the middle of July, he took over as the Tigers’ starting catcher when Jake Rogers landed on the injured list.

But Haase hit .208 over his final 40 games last season.

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Since Aug. 1 of last year, Haase is hitting .206 with seven home runs — one homer per 36 at-bats — and an 64 wRC+ in 79 games. The Tigers traded for catcher Tucker Barnhart in the offseason. He immediately took over as the starting catcher, teeing up Haase for an unpredictable workload. Still, the Tigers planned to keep him in the lineup if his bat produced.

In 2022, he started back-to-back games twice before June 16.

“I might have a couple good ABs in a row and then not play for a couple days, and it’s a whole new team,” Haase said, “so I’m trying to figure out what adjustments I need to make, what they might be trying to do. If I guess wrong, it’s an ugly day. If I guess right, I get a couple hits and I don’t play.”

Manager A.J. Hinch started Haase for two games in a row for the third time June 15-16, then for a fourth time June 18-19. He played three of four games against the Texas Rangers and felt locked in by the end of the series.

He went 5-for-12 (.417) with two doubles and one home run.

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“Of course, it’s in there,” Hinch said June 18, after Haase’s third home run. “You don’t hit 20 homers and have it not be in there. Going out and doing it in a game is good. He needs to get more at-bats. I’ve said that for three or four weeks now. He’s going to do that. I’m committed to it.”

The day of Haase’s third homer, the Tigers added a catcher to the 40-man roster when they claimed Ali Sanchez off waivers from the St. Louis Cardinals. He spent some time with Yadier Molina over the past two seasons.

Hinch mentioned Haase’s name when discussing the catching competition within the organization, also naming Sanchez and Dustin Garneau, who made the Opening Day roster but is no longer on the 40-man roster.

The lack of consistent playing time, Haase said, also affects his performance behind the plate. The Tigers, as July approaches, have a jam-packed outfield even with Austin Meadows on the injured list again.

Haase hasn’t played left field since May 18. Before that, it was May 1. He hasn’t started a game in left field since April 23. His role is nothing like what he expected coming out of spring training.

“When you’re playing once or twice a week, new teams every time, play a couple games in left, you lose that rhythm in the game,” Haase said. “It doesn’t really speed up, but it’s not necessarily a seamless transition. Same thing at the plate.”

Again, Haase has played in 57% of games.

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He thinks he spent too much time going through the motions of practice and drill work on games he rode the bench. He began focusing more on accomplishing the drill than staying game ready. Trying to make adjustments didn’t work. Frustration from failure seemed like a daily emotion.

Moving forward, Haase is going to trim his practice reps. No more mundane drills. He plans to work at game speed on off days. It’s impossible to replicate the actual game, and he knows this, but something about his routine as a multi-positional bench player must change.

Hopefully, better results ensue.

“If I am going to do some reps, do a couple as close to game speed as possible and get out of there,” Haase said. “Not just sit there all day and try to throw and make adjustments in the cage.”

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

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