Tigers’ Tucker Barnhart has second thoughts about going back to switch-hitting

Detroit News

Chicago — Regret is the wrong word.

“Yeah, that’s too strong,” Tucker Barnhart said before Sunday’s game against the White Sox. “But it makes you wonder.”

After hitting exclusively from the left side of the plate since 2019, Barnhart decided in spring training to go back to hitting from both sides, which he did for the first six years of his career. He did it in hopes of not losing starts or at-bats against left-handed pitching.

The move backfired on a couple of levels.

He’s just 9 for 43 with one extra-base hit batting right-handed, and he’s still lost starts and at-bats against lefties. Also, he has battled all season to get his left-handed swing back on point. He went into the game Sunday hitting .191 batting left-handed, the lowest of his career.

“In a way, I think hitting left on left made me a better hitter,” Barnhart said. “You wonder if I continued hitting left of left if what I did for the majority of last season would’ve carried over without that bad September.”

Going into September last year, hitting exclusively from the left side, Barnhart was slashing .266/.333/.410 with a .744 OPS. He had 21 doubles, seven homers and 42 RBIs. Then, for whatever reason, he went dry in September (9 for 56) and he started entertaining thoughts of hitting right-handed again.

“There is a part of me that wishes I would’ve stayed left on left,” he said, candidly. “It’s something I will revisit this offseason. Just because in order to hit left of left, you have to make sure you are consistently in a good spot to hit.”

A big part of Barnhart’s struggles from the left side of the plate have been caused by not being in a good position to hit. He’s too often found himself pulling off pitches, spinning, trying to get the bat head out in front and it’s caused him to hit the ball to the pull side almost exclusively.

To face lefties from the left side would only exacerbate that problem.

“When you are trying to hit a slider that’s running away from you, you have to be able to stay closed and stay in the middle of the field,” he said. “For me and for a lot of guys, you start pulling off and I think that’s led to some of my issues this year.”

He’s never stopped working on it and recently his swing from the left side has been much more balanced and fluid, even if the results haven’t followed.

“Tucker can play,” manager AJ Hinch said. “This is a season he will quickly want to forget, unfortunately. I’m bummed for him. We’ve all had these kinds of seasons where you just get to the offseason and get on to the next challenge. He’s a Major League player. He can really do some things to help a team, he’s just been in a bad spot offensively for the majority of the year.

“The fact that he is being honest and being very forthright and forthcoming in his understanding of it gives him the best chance to rebound and be a productive player.”

Barnhart, who is 31 and entering a free-agent winter, said he won’t abandon the right-handed swing until the offseason.

“I could do it right now, for sure,” he said. “I could do it today, I don’t doubt that whatsoever. I just don’t know how that would look. I don’t want it to look like I’m out there tinkering and trying something out in the middle of the season. The optics of it, for me, it would look like I was cashing it in and treating these last weeks like kind of a spring training.

“I owe it to this team and this organization to put my best foot forward and try to succeed the way I came into the season. I will look back at this in the offseason and make a decision.”

Never stop learning

Talk about feeling naked on the mound. Matt Manning could not get a feel for his spin Saturday night, to the point where he felt like neither his slider nor curve were usable.

“They were taking bad swings at my fastball early in counts and I just couldn’t come off it,” Manning said. “I just thought it would feed a slider or curve into their bat path. During at-bats I felt like my heater was the best option. I had a good heater, they just got to it with two strikes.”

Hinch’s response?

“If you eliminate anything on the mound, you are asking for trouble,” he said. “If he felt that way and couldn’t do it, I wish he would’ve told me earlier in the game. I would’ve taken him out.”

Manning continued to battle. He moved his two-seam and four-same fastballs around the zone the best he could. Against an all-right-handed lineup, he didn’t want to throw a lot of changeups, though when he did, they were effective.

He got through five innings on 10 hits, leaving a 4-4 game.

“He wasn’t finishing his spin like he normally does,” catcher Eric Haase said. “So it’s like you are doing them a favor when you throw other stuff in the zone.”

If Manning had his usual command of his breaking pitches, he could’ve used those heaters to set up breaking balls outside the strike zone and get more swings and misses.

“But we kind of had our hands tied as far as pitch selection,” Haase said. “As the game went on, if they were going to beat us, it might as well be on his heater.”

Couldn’t have been a good feeling going to battle without all your weapons.

“You can’t concede the game, and he didn’t,” Hinch said. “He battled through it. He started raring back a little bit and his velo ticked up (96-97 mph). The angry fastball came out. He felt like he had to exert himself because he felt he was getting  little more predictable.

“It’s all learning.”

Around the horn

The Tigers made a minor league trade Sunday, acquiring right-handed pitcher Ricardo Sanchez from the Phillies for cash. Sanchez, 25, pitched in three games with the Cardinals in 2020. He had Tommy John surgery and missed the 2021 season. He is 6-4 with a 4.79 ERA in 21 starts at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He is expected to report to Toledo.

On deck: Guardians

Series: Four games at Progressive Field, Cleveland

First pitch: Monday — 3:10 p.m. and 7:10 p.m. (approx.); Tuesday-Wednesday — 7:10 p.m.

TV/radio: All games on Bally Sports Detroit/97.1 FM

Probables: Monday Game 1 — RHP Drew Hutchison (1-6, 4.45) vs. RHP Aaron Civale (2-5, 6.05); Game 2 — RHP Bryan Garcia (0-0, 2.35) vs. TBD; Tuesday — RHP Garrett Hill (2-3, 4.66) vs. Zach Plesac (2-10, 4.32); Wednesday — LHP Daniel Norris (0-4, 5.97) vs. RHP Cal Quantrill (8-5, 3.86).

Scouting report

Game 1

Hutchison, Tigers: He seems to hit one wonky patch in every start, but finds a way to grind through five or six innings and keep the Tigers in contention. His last start was against the Guardians and it followed that script. Three runs and six hits in the first two innings, then nada through the fifth. He dispatched the last 11 hitters he faced.

Civale, Guardians: This will be his second start coming back off the injured list and of course they are both against the Tigers, a team he has dominated. In his nine previous starts against Detroit, he is 7-0 with a 2.11 ERA. Last week he went four innings at Comerica Park and allowed two runs and three hits with four strikeouts.

Game 2

Garcia, Tigers: The former Tigers’ closer will be making his third start at the big-league level. He allowed just two runs in 7.2 innings in his first two, but the eight walks in that span is concerning. Especially after he walked four more and allowed six runs and seven hits, in four innings at Toledo on Wednesday.

TBD, Guardians: They will likely add a 27th player from Triple-A to make this start.


Twitter: @cmccosky

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