Back with Detroit Tigers, Akil Baddoo is determined to focus on ‘playing my game’

Detroit Free Press

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Akil Baddoo is a big leaguer with the Detroit Tigers again, roughly two months after the organization, citing his poor performance, demoted him to Triple-A Toledo.

These days, Baddoo appears both determined and calm.

He wants to be a difference maker, and he knows he can be, but the 23-year-old isn’t going to force his way there by selling out for power or trying to do too much at the plate. His new goal is to have fun playing baseball by relying on his natural abilities, and with that, he believes the results will follow.

CONCERT OF COLORS: Fest including Iggy Pop tribute, Ukraine band returns to Detroit

“Just being that spark plug,” Baddoo said, “having fun, getting the guys going, just playing my game. That’s it.”

The Tigers promoted Baddoo — a 2020 Rule 5 draft pick — after the Kanas City Royals swept them in Monday’s doubleheader at Kauffman Stadium. Manager A.J. Hinch wasted no time getting him in the lineup.

Baddoo started in left field and batted ninth in the lineup for Tuesday’s matchup against Royals left-hander Kris Bubic. He has struggled against lefties in his MLB career, but the Tigers are giving Baddoo an opportunity to shine.

After all, he had been on fire for Triple-A Toledo.

“He’s cleaned up his bat path,” Hinch said. “He’s hung in there against lefties. His bat-to-ball data is really good. The overall production has been good. His on-base has been really good. He’s running the bases fearlessly. He’s just being the Akil Baddoo that we fell in love with last year.”

He hit .438 (21-for-48) with six doubles, three home runs, nine walks and 10 strikeouts in his past 13 games for Toledo. During this stretch, he started thinking about a promotion and waited patiently for Toledo manager Lloyd McClendon’s instructions to pack his bags.

On Monday, McClendon shared the news.

WILLIE HORTON BOOK EXCERPT: 1967 riot may have been first time I embraced my community

“Mostly, I was just having fun and playing my game,” Baddoo said. “I’m not trying to be anybody else. I’m not trying to impress someone. Just have fun and play my game. That’s what I did down there, and it worked out pretty well.”

In 30 games, Baddoo posted a .300 batting average with 19 walks and 26 strikeouts, along with seven stolen bases in 11 attempts, for the Mud Hens this season.

The Tigers sent Baddoo to Toledo on May 9.

“I had time to decompress, work on some things and get my mental side right,” Baddoo said. “I want to give a lot of thanks to the Toledo coaching staff. They were really patient with me, and we did a lot of work. That’s what you saw. I finally played my game, relaxed and was having fun.”

Now that Baddoo has returned, the Tigers have one everyday outfielder in rookie center fielder Riley Greene. Baddoo is expected to play most days heading into the All-Star break, regardless of the pitcher’s throwing arm.

“And then I have to fill in the rest,” Hinch said.

That means Robbie Grossman and Victor Reyes, a pair of switch hitters, will compete for the third starting spot.

Grossman, batting .210 and slugging .283 in 69 games, is having his worst season since 2015, but he has a .369 batting average against left-handed pitchers compared to a .149 mark against righties.

Reyes has a .295 batting average in 33 games. He is hitting .321 against righties and .208 against lefties.

As Hinch sorts out playing time, he hopes Baddoo provides a spark to the offense.

“I love everything about Akil,” Hinch said. “His overall vibe is a big difference maker for our team, and certainly when he’s playing well, it brings a ton of things to our team. He is a central part of what we were doing. It never changed because he got sent down. It was long overdue to get him back here, and he earned his way back here by the way he played.”

The plan for Austin Meadows

Injured outfielder Austin Meadows is the reason for the timing of Baddoo’s return. The Tigers once expected Meadows to complete his Triple-A Toledo rehab assignment by Monday, but he never made the trip to Kansas City.

Instead, Meadows has been shut down. The 27-year-old is dealing with continued soreness in his right and left Achilles tendons, the latest of several health problems this season.

“If we’re not going to get Meadows back,” Hinch said, “then we certainly want to open up the door for Akil. … That did help fast forward the game plan for Akil.”

Now that Meadows has been pulled from his rehab assignment, the 2019 All-Star will remove himself from baseball activities for five days. Of the Tigers’ past 64 games, dating to May 5, Meadows has played in 15 of them.

The All-Star break begins Monday, which is when Meadows will report daily to the spring training facility in Lakeland, Florida.

Coming out of the break, the Tigers play a July 21 doubleheader on the road against the Oakland Athletics, then a five-game homestand against the Minnesota Twins (July 23-24) and San Diego Padres (July 25-27).

The Tigers hope Meadows will be in Triple-A Toledo rehabbing during the homestand against the Twins and Padres, possibly setting him up to return to the majors in late July or early August.

Willi Castro at third base

As Meadows’ absence helped Baddoo, Baddoo’s presence changes the plan for utility player Willi Castro, a key bat in the lineup recently and a mainstay in the outfield this season.

Castro, hitting .260 in 61 games, is lined up to play more often in the infield moving forward, now that the Tigers have Greene, Baddoo, Grossman and Reyes in the outfield.

For Tuesday’s game, Castro started at third base for the first time since September 1, 2020. The 25-year-old appeared at third base in two games this season, both times as a defensive replacement for two innings.

“I feel really comfortable,” Castro said. “I’ve been taking ground balls at third, and I’ve been feeling good. I’m prepared.”

Most of Castro’s opportunities will come at third base, thus cutting into third baseman Jeimer Candelario‘s playing time. He has continued taking ground balls in the infield, so the transition shouldn’t faze him.

The Tigers shifting away from using Candelario as an everyday player isn’t a surprise. The 28-year-old looks uncomfortable at the plate and is hitting .191 with a .254 on-base percentage in 68 games.

“We’re going to try to find the best lineup and play it,” Hinch said.

Matt Manning starts rehab assignment

Right-hander Matt Manning (right shoulder injury) started his rehab assignment Tuesday for Low-A Lakeland. He pitched two scoreless innings, allowing one hit and one walk without a strikeout.

The 24-year-old threw 13 of 28 pitches for strikes.

Manning used three pitches — 20 four-seam fastballs, six curveballs and two sliders — but didn’t register any swings and misses. His fastball averaged 92.8 mph and topped out at 94.1 mph.

He is scheduled to pitch again Sunday for Triple-A Toledo. Manning hasn’t pitched for the Tigers since April 16, but he appears on schedule to return sometime around early August.

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.

Articles You May Like

DoubleHeader: Tigers vs. Twins, 1:10 p.m.
Tigers 8, Twins 2: A low-stress win is apparently possible
Pennsylvania Lottery Online Plays
Tigers Minor League Report Podcast with Brandon Day
Pennsylvania Lottery Online Plays

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *