AJ Hinch says Tigers need to reexamine organizational hitting instruction, resources

Detroit News

Detroit — It wasn’t as if Robbie Grossman shined a light on an organizational issue the Tigers were blind to.

They’ve known that they lag behind other organizations in some aspects of player development, which is why over the last three-plus years they’ve invested millions of dollars into sports science and technology.

Clearly, as was exposed when Justin Verlander went to Houston and found a new level of analytics, when Isaac Paredes went to Tampa and started hitting home runs to the pull field and now Grossman getting unlocked from the left side of the plate in Atlanta, the Tigers’ program is still in its infancy.

Still, it was a slap to hear Grossman say in a story in The Athletic that the Braves fixed him.

“The first day when I got here, they kind of set me down and it was like, ‘Here’s the difference we saw in your swings from this year and the previous two years. This is what we think you should do,’” Grossman was quoted as saying. “And we just got to work, hit the ground running with it, and I feel a lot more normal now.

“What I’d been searching for all year, to re-create what I’ve done the last couple of years — I’ve been able to do in these last (two weeks). So, I’m excited. I just feel lucky that I’m over here and they’re given me an opportunity and showed me somethings that are helping me out.”

Not to be forgotten, Grossman had the best offensive season of his career with the Tigers last season, hitting 23 homers with a .772 OPS. And he hit well right-handed this season, too.

But try as he might, he could not find his left-handed swing in four months with the Tigers.

“Watching Robbie, it looks like he’s exhaled a little bit,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “Some of that is going to come with going into an environment where there’s an expectation of winning. But the subtle adjustments that are made that can unlock the player we knew we had with Robbie.

“Us not being able to unlock that this year was a frustration for all of us.”

Hinch said the Grossman issue, as well as the collective offensive regression of this baseball team, will be one of the challenges confronting the new general manager.

“I think we need to take a look at how we can expand our resources for players,” Hinch said. “The people, the influences from above (front office) and in the clubhouse.”

Hinch said that has been a running topic of conversation within the organization, even before general manager Al Avila was fired. Grossman’s comments weren’t the catalyst for change, but his comments forced Hinch to speak about it publicly.

“As we look at the unknowns moving forward, that’s a big one — making sure we have resources for the players that can bring the most out of them, downstairs and, quite honestly, upstairs,” he said.

Hinch said there was an infrastructure in place that included such things as a biomechanics history for each player — things that were referenced in the Grossman article.

“But we can get a lot better,” he said. “We can address it at the end of the season when we get new leadership. The vision of the new GM will include some of these things that we can enhance.

“It’s not as if we’re devoid of things. But I think we can all look ourselves in the mirror and know we’ve got to get better.”

Schoop on wheels

Quite an entrance Jonathan Schoop made Sunday morning, wheeling into the clubhouse on a scooter, his right ankle secured in a calf-high walking boot.

Schoop has a Grade 1 ankle sprain, incurred when he tried to elude a tag at home plate Saturday.

“I felt it really bad,” he said. “Normally I stay in the game, but it hurt really bad. I couldn’t stay in.”

The question now is whether he will need a stint on the injured list.

“We will take today and we have an off-day on Monday,” Hinch said. “He doesn’t necessarily have to be ready to play on Tuesday, but he has to be progressing by then for us to avoid the IL. He’s pretty emphatic that he’s going to be fine, but he would never tell me anything different unless it was broken.”

That’s fact. Schoop has played in a team-high 115 games (out of 122) this season. The last thing he wants is to miss two weeks.

“It’s swollen a little bit but it’s not broken,” he said. “That’s the good news. I’m going to do everything I can to get back out there. Get the swelling down and try to get it going in the next couple of days. I think I’m going to be fine.

“But I know if I can’t produce for my team, they’ve got to bring in somebody to fill the spot.”

Just missing

Riley Greene came into the game Sunday slashing .198/.224/.284 in August, with 30 strikeouts and two walks in 85 plate appearances.

But, he’s also coming off a two-hit day Saturday — always the best tonic.

“My swings are phenomenal,” he said.

They are. They have been. Through all the expected ups and downs of his rookie season, swing mechanics have never been an issue. The first coach who tries to change Greene’s swing likely will be looking for work soon.

His struggles have been more with approach, pitch recognition and selection, zone control — the things at the big-league level that separate the good hitters from the great hitters.

“I’m seeing the ball good and I’m starting to swing at better pitches,” he said. “The past couple of weeks were bad. I was swinging at everything, just trying to make something happen. That’s not what you’re supposed to do.”

Breaking balls have been especially vexing to him. He’s hitting .171 with a .201 on-base percentage against sliders and curveballs, swinging and missing at 40% of them. The two Angels lefties he’s faced in this series — Patrick Sandoval and Reid Detmers — taught him a lesson on left-on-left sinkers.

“They were throwing sinkers down and in,” he said. “The balls I swung at I had really good swings and I’m right on it. Just at the last second it just sinks and I’m just missing the barrel. That’s the frustrating part for me.

“But I’m putting good swings on balls and either hitting them straight into the ground or hitting it hard right at someone. But I feel really good up there right now.”

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky

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