Detroit — There’s been a lot of organizational head-scratching over the play of third baseman Jeimer Candelario this season, including in the manager’s office.
“I’m not sure which is more surprising,” manager AJ Hinch said Sunday morning. “The defensive struggles? It’s always been something he’s worked really hard at and hasn’t found a comfort zone, at least while I’ve been here — albeit better last year than this year.
“But offensively, this is a guy who tied for the league lead in doubles last year and now? He’s in an out of the zone, in and out of production. I think that’s weighing on him, even subconsciously. I have to believe the offense has carried into the defense a little bit. Even though he’s worked hard to have that not be the case.”
It’s been a severe and unforeseen drop in productivity for Candelario, on both sides of the ball. In 2020 and 2021 he was worth 5.8 WAR, 3.8 last season. He hit .297 with a 137 OPS-plus in 2020 and .271 with a 120 OPS-plus last season, with 23 home runs and 96 RBIs combined.
This year, he’s hitting .195 with a 68 OPS-plus, seven home runs and 24 RBIs. As his offensive numbers plummeted, his play in the field has become more inconsistent. He misplayed ground balls on back-to-back plays Saturday night that contributed to a pivotal three-run inning for the Twins.
He’s a minus-3 in defensive runs saved and a minus-3 in outs above average. He has a negative WAR (minus-0.4).
And he’s no longer the everyday third baseman. Harold Castro, Willi Castro and Kody Clemens are all being rotated through depending on matchups.
The narrative for Candelario has changed. It’s gone from, Should the Tigers extend him beyond this season? To, Is he a candidate to be non-tendered after this season?
“He is in and out of the lineup now,” Hinch said. “So it’s hard for him to get back on track if he doesn’t play. But when he’s played he hasn’t been as productive as he had hoped and as we had hoped. And other guys are going to get opportunities. So, it’s bothersome.”
Candelario has been through this before. He’s been on the cusp of losing his starting job, been on the cusp of losing a roster spot. Until now, he’s always fought his way out of it the only way he knows how — keep the faith and keep working.
“The experience you have is going to help you, no matter what,” he said. “This is my sixth year in the big leagues. I’ve been through ups and downs. That’s really helped. I know this is going to happen in baseball, in life. You’re going to go through ups and downs. You just have to get up every time and do your best.
“This is going to turn. It has to.”
When Candelario is asked about his personal struggles, well, he doesn’t like the term “struggles.”
“What do you mean struggles?” he said. “You mean the errors? Errors are part of the game. I wouldn’t say struggles. I would say we’ve got to make those plays to win ballgames.”
He talks about his play in context of the team. His pronoun is we, not I.
“It’s tough this year,” he said. “Not putting it together to win ballgames. If I come here and tell you something is wrong, it’s that we’re not winning ballgames. We’re not doing the right things to have the success that we know we can have.
“Just keep working hard, control what you can control and we go from there.”
Asked if he felt his play has contributed to the team’s disappointing record this season, Candelario got defensive.
“It’s not just on me,” he said. “Not one person is going to do it all. Look at LeBron James. He’s the best player and he cannot do it all by himself. It takes a lot of people to get involved to win ballgames and have a successful season like we did last year.
“It wasn’t one person. It’s everybody putting little things together to win ballgames.”
Last season, Candelario made nine errors in 373 chances. This season, he’s already made six in 166 chances.
“Errors are part of the game,” he said. “We don’t want to make errors, for sure. We want to make every play. Yesterday, I made mistakes. Turn the page.”
It is fair to wonder how many pages Candelario has left to turn, at least with the Tigers.
“We’re all searching for solutions and not just trying to analyze it,” Hinch said. “We have to find a solution to either unlock the potential we’ve seen in these guys or find a different solution to get more consistent play.”
About the rotation
Veteran Michael Pineda, as expected, was placed on the 15-day injured list after he left the game Saturday night with tightness in his right triceps.
Hinch said Tyler Alexander would replace him in the rotation, at least for one or two turns.
“Tyler will start Thursday in Toronto,” Hinch said. “But August is right around the corner. Matt Manning (shoulder) could come back. Beau Brieske (arm fatigue) is not too far behind him. There are some ways to absorb this with multiple guys over the next couple of times through the rotation.”
By the end of August, the Tigers hope Eduardo Rodriguez will be ready to come off the restricted list and rejoin the rotation. They are also holding out hope Spencer Turnbull (Tommy John surgery) will be able to make a few starts before the end of the season, too.
“I feel for the guys who got some opportunity and found some adversity, as well,” Hinch said. “Alex Faedo (out for the season with a hip injury), Beau to some extent to more established guys like Casey Mize (Tommy John) who was going to help anchor the staff — it’s hit all kinds.
“But losing young pitchers, especially a guy like Faedo who battled back from his first injury only to have a secondary injury — I feel for him.”
Around the horn
To take the roster spot vacated by Pineda, the Tigers recalled right-hander Angel De Jesus.
… The Tigers agreed to terms with 11 of their picks from the 2022 MLB Draft: SS Peyton Graham (second round), RHP Troy Melton (fourth round), 3B Luke Gold (fifth round), SS Danny Serretti (sixth round), OF Seth Stephenson (seventh round), LHP Jake Miller (eighth round), 1B Andrew Jenkins (ninth round), RHP Trevin Michael (10th round), LHP Joseph Miller (11th round), RHP Patrick Pridgen (15th round) and RHP Quinn Gudaitis (16th round).
On deck: Padres
► Series: Three games at Comerica Park, Detroit
► First pitch: Monday-Tuesday — 7:10 p.m.; Wednesday — 1:10 p.m.
► TV/radio: All three games, Bally Sports Detroit/97.1 FM
► Probables: Monday — LHP Sean Manaea (5-4, 4.11) vs. RHP Drew Hutchison (1-4, 4.46); Tuesday — RHP Mike Clevinger (2-3, 3.50) vs. RHP Garrett Hill, tentative (1-2, 5.63); Wednesday — RHP Yu Darvish (9-4, 3.28) vs. LHP Tarik Skubal (7-8, 3.88).
► Manaea, Padres: He’s coming off two good starts, beating Colorado and Arizona, but he hasn’t quite hit his stride yet in San Diego. His walk rate is up (9%) and his strikeout and chase rates are down. His signature pitch, the changeup, has been fickle for him so far. Opponents hitting .275 and slugging .549 (seven homers) off it. His sinker and slider have been his best pitches to this point.
► Hutchison, Tigers: Here’s a window into how this veteran craftsman likes to work: He gets ahead early, 65.5% first-pitch strike rate. Then he attacks the edges of the zone looking for chase and weak contact. Only 47% of his pitches land in the strike zone, 41% are on the edges. And he’s getting a 30% chase rate.