‘Just be me’: Akil Baddoo back and ready to provide some fire in Tigers’ lineup

Detroit News

Kansas City, Mo. — Turns out, all Akil Baddoo needed to do was trust that being Akil Baddoo was plenty good enough.

He didn’t need to hit 400-foot home runs. He didn’t need to be the next Rickey Henderson or Kirby Puckett. Being the best version of himself is all the Tigers ever asked him to be.

“I was searching too much,” Baddoo said Tuesday, a couple of hours before making his first start with the Tigers since being optioned to Toledo on May 8. “Just have fun and know it’s a game of failure. Just accept that and when I’m going through my little ups and downs stay even keel and keep having fun.”

Baddoo seemed to come out of nowhere last season, a Rule 5 rookie full of fire whose energy and production helped sparked the Tigers’ turnaround last season. His 110 OPS-plus was third highest on the team, his 2.1 WAR was fourth. He produced 20 doubles, seven triples, 13 homers, 18 stolen bases, scored 60 runs and knocked in 55.

He was electric.

“I love everything about Akil,” manager AJ Hinch said. “His overall vibe is a difference-maker for our team. When he’s playing well, he brings a ton of things to our team — his energy, his infectious personality. He’s a central part of what we’re doing.”

None of that was present in spring training and through the first month of the regular season. Baddoo in the offseason, like so many players do, tried to add more power to his game. He adjusted his launch angle and when that didn’t work, he couldn’t find his way back to his original swing.

He was 7-for-50 with 15 strikeouts when the Tigers sent him down. The smile, the infectious personality, the energy — gone.

“He was lost and couldn’t get himself out of the rut he was in,” Hinch said. “Whether it was bat-path related or overall not playing well or trying to chase the success he had before — it piled up on him too much. Part of sending him down was to give him that breather and get him back to being the player he was.”

It took a minute. He got COVID-19. He tweaked his oblique. But eventually, he hunkered down, put in the work on his game and on his mental approach and fought his way back. In his last 13 games with Toledo he hit .438 with a .526 on-base percentage and slugged .750.

“I had time to decompress and work on some things and get my mental game right,” Baddoo said. “I want to give a lot of thanks to the coaching staff at Toledo, they were really patient with me. We did a lot of work. That’s what you saw. I’m finally playing my game and relaxing and just having fun.”

There is a lot of money to be made in this game for guys who can get on base, drive balls to the gap, take their walks and create mayhem for the opposition on the bases. That is Baddoo’s game, the one the Tigers fell in love with last year.

“Just be me and not try to be anybody else,” he said. “I’m not trying to impress anyone. Just have fun and play my game. That’s what I did down there and it worked out pretty well. I was able to decompress and find myself again.”

Outfield alignment

Hinch said Baddoo’s return was long overdue, but the Tigers were stuck in a holding pattern waiting for Austin Meadows to get healthy. It became clear that wasn’t happening any time soon so, after a frustrating doubleheader loss to the Royals on Monday, Hinch made the call for Baddoo.

“Meadows did impact the timing of it,” Hinch said. “If we weren’t going to get Meadows back, we wanted to open the door for Akil. He definitely earned his way back.”

Meadows, still reporting general soreness in his legs, was pulled off his rehab assignment again and will be shut down for at least five days. He is expected to resume workouts in Lakeland over the All-Star break.

So, Baddoo re-enters the fray. Hinch started him in left field against left-handed pitcher Kris Bubic on Tuesday and he’s going to be in the lineup most days going into the break.

Hinch was asked how he planned to disperse playing time among outfielders Riley Greene, Robbie Grossman, Victor Reyes, Willi Castro and Baddoo.

“I’m not sure I would consider it a rotation,” he said. “Riley is going to play every day (in center field), giving him a day off when he needs it. Akil will be playing most days (in left field) and we will fill in the rest.”

Hinch said he’d plug one of the outfielders in the designated hitter spot when Miguel Cabrera gets a day off and Castro, who started at third base Tuesday, will get more time in the infield.

That leaves Grossman and Reyes to split time in right field. Both are switch-hitters but Grossman has been more productive batting right-handed against left-handed pitching and Reyes the opposite.

Reyes is hitting .321 with a .745 OPS left-handed. Grossman, hitting .149 and slugging .196 left-handed, is hitting .369 and slugging .508 with a .976 OPS right-handed.

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

Around the horn

Starting pitcher Matt Manning (shoulder) was scheduled to make a rehab start at Low-A Lakeland Tuesday night. Hinch said if he came out of it without issue, he would be in line to transfer his rehab assignment to Toledo and pitch on Sunday.

… Starting pitcher Rony Garcia (shoulder) is also scheduled to make a rehab appearance with Toledo on Sunday.


Twitter: @cmccosky

Tigers at Royals

First pitch: 2:10 p.m. Wednesday, Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City, Mo.

TV/radio: BSD/97.1


LHP Tarik Skubal (6-7, 3.99), Tigers: After four rough ones, Skubal spun a beauty against the White Sox last Friday in Chicago. He allowed a two-run homer to Luis Robert in the first inning and then shut the door through six innings, striking out seven. Against an all right-handed lineup, he was able to command his two-seamer inside and work changeup, curveballs and sliders off that.

RHP Brady Singer (3-3, 4.25), Royals: He’s not exactly been baffling hitters in recent starts. Over his last seven he’s posted an ERA of 5.36 with opponents hitting .274 and slugging .497 with an .822 OPS. The Tigers got six hits and three walks off him on July 3 in Detroit but struck out nine times and turned all that traffic into just two runs.

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