Tigers’ AJ Hinch praises Javier Báez for staying invested through a trying first season

Detroit News

Detroit — It might surprise you to know that Javier Báez’s slash-line since the All-Star break is a most respectable .281/.329/.406 with a 112 wRC-plus. He’s been especially scorching in September, hitting .370, slugging .593 (two doubles, two triples and two homers) with a .996 OPS.

For him, for you, for the club, it’s taken way too long for him to find this groove. But, hey, better late than never.

“Javy is real,” manager AJ Hinch said. “He’s not an excuse-maker. He doesn’t like when he makes errors. He doesn’t like when he struggles. He doesn’t like our lack of winning.”

This discussion took place before the game Saturday in the Tigers’ dugout, and Hinch shared insight into some of the things he’s learned about Báez.

“He is very coachable and we’ve got to do a better job as a group of pushing his buttons faster and getting him in a better place and confronting things even a little bit faster,” Hinch said. “At the beginning there was a feeling-out period on all fronts.

“Lately, the communication we’ve all had, the emphasis on the right things and his implementation of things and taking them into games has been much more manageable. Javy made a great investment in trying to find something and not just play out the string.”

Báez admits he struggled longer than he ever has in his career to find and apply the right adjustments at the plate. At the end of August, using a trick Manny Ramirez taught him back in 2015 of slightly separating his hands on his grip, he was finally able to activate his top hand and keep his bat through the hitting zone longer.

The result: He’s staying on more pitches, hitting balls more to the big part of the field and having a lot more success.

“Early in the year he wasn’t getting rewarded for going to those areas of the ballpark, here (at Comerica Park) specifically,” Hinch said. “He got into some bad habits. He is more than capable of hitting the ball out of any part of the ballpark. But if you look at where the hits are, the plot doesn’t lie. The approach doesn’t lie.

“It’s generally gap to gap for him, especially with two strikes when like 80 percent of the time he’s getting off-speed pitches outside of the strike zone. He’s got to stay up the middle to fight those pitches off.”

There’s not enough time left in the season for Báez to get his numbers back up to his career norms. But finishing strong the way he is sure lets the organization breath a little easier this offseason knowing there is five years left on his $140 million contract.

“We just have to focus and play better baseball than we have this year,” Báez said. “Right now, hitting-wise, I’m seeing the ball good and my timing has been pretty good…I just want to finish the season strong and healthy and try to get my numbers up.”

Until next year

Hinch announced after the game Saturday that rookie right-hander Beau Brieske’s season was over.

Out with a forearm strain since July 12, the 24-year-old Brieske was on the verge of coming off the injured list, but time ran out on him.

“We’ve gone back and forth with Beau,” Hinch said. “He did an up-and-down bullpen (Thursday) and he was sitting at 92-93 mph (below his season average of 94 mph). There was a little bit of a scratch-your-head, like, what are we doing? Let’s just call it a successful year for him.”

And by all measures, Brieske’s first year was an unqualified success. A 27th-round draft pick in 2019, he started the season as a non-roster player competing at minor league minicamp and ended up making 15 starts and putting himself in position to earn a full-time rotation spot next season.

“I did make progress in that sense,” Brieske said Sunday morning. “I showed that I can go out and compete at this level. In that sense I did have a successful year. It’s good. I’m going to come back ready and I’m going to come back better and compete for a job and hopefully be a part of a rotation that’s going to win a lot of games.”

Six of his 15 starts were quality starts. He limited the Dodgers to a run and three hits in five innings at a jam-packed Dodger Stadium pitching against his boyhood idol Clayton Kershaw in his second career start. He also made starts at Tampa Bay’s Tropicana Field, Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park.

He threw 12.2 consecutive scoreless innings in back-to-back starts against the White Sox and Rangers.

“One of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had was pitching at Dodger Stadium,” he said. “My second start in the big leagues in front of that many people, with my family out there. I will look back and always remember that one. Just how nervous I was.

“I will look back and say, man, if I can do that I can do pretty much anything.”

Brieske was packing up and heading home Sunday. He will not be with the club the rest of the season. But he doesn’t plan on staying inactive too long.

“I’m going to go home and hang out with my family, but it’s going to be hard for me to relax too long,” he said. “I want to get out and start training as soon as possible. I will unwind and take a look at the year as a whole on a different perspective, talk with my family and then get back to work.

“I’m very excited to get back to work.”

Around the horn

Closer Gregory Soto, who has 25 saves this season, lost his ninth game Saturday. He is the fourth big-league closer in the last 10 years to lose at least nine games with 25 or more saves. The last to do it was Raisel Iglesias, who lost 12 games with 40 saves for the Reds in 2019. The last Tigers’ closer to do it was Willie Hernandez, who lost 10 games and made 31 saves in 1985.

On deck: Orioles

Series: Three games at Orioles Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore

First pitch: Monday-Wednesday — 7:05 p.m.

TV/radio: All three games, Bally Sports Detroit/97.1 FM

Probables: Monday — LHP Tyler Alexander (3-10, 5.35) vs. TBA; Tuesday — LHP Joey Wentz (1-2, 4.15) vs. TBA; Wednesday — RHP Matt Manning (2-2, 3.28) vs. TBA.

Alexander, Tigers: After four rough starts the Tigers gave Alexander a couple of extra days of rest. He’s been tagged for 19 earned runs, 28 hits and seven homers in his last four, covering 17 innings. As he said after the Royals beat him last time out, his good pitches are getting hit and his mistakes are getting hit harder.

TBA, Orioles: Baltimore had not set their rotation for this series before action on Sunday.

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky

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