Detroit — AJ Hinch has been thinking about moving Akil Baddoo into the leadoff spot for a while now. But he wanted him to earn the privilege, which he certainly did hitting .300 with a .400 on-base average the last two weeks.
Baddoo then validated the strategy Thursday afternoon, triggering a four-run fifth inning that helped the Tigers equal a season-long six-game winning streak and sweep the Royals, 10-3 at Comerica Park.
The left-handed hitting Baddoo has been batting in the No. 9 hole since he’s come back from Triple-A and often by the time his turn comes around a third time, the opposing team has gone to the bullpen for a left-handed pitcher.
Which Hinch typically counters by removing Baddoo for a right-handed pinch-hitter. By stacking Baddoo and left-handed hitting Riley Greene, who has been hitting in the leadoff spot, in front of Javier Báez, Hinch has a chance to control the matchups later in the game.
BOX SCORE: Tigers 10, Royals 3
“It’s trying to get guys as many at-bats against the right-handed pitcher as we can,” Hinch said. “Maybe we can get a third at-bat for Akil. We wanted Akil to start having better at-bats and earn that. Then slotting Riley right behind him, it gives me a lot of options and a lot of speed, which we missed.
“It just sets up our lineup to get the most platoon advantages that we can.”
Case in point, the fifth inning Thursday: The Tigers were up 1-0 and Baddoo and Greene were coming up for the third time against right-hander Jonathan Heasley.
Kansas City manager Mike Matheny might’ve been reluctant to go to one of his lefties in the bullpen — one, because Heasley was pitching well, allowing only a solo homer by Willi Castro; and two, he knew that lefty would have to face the right-handed hitting Báez, who is slugging .519 with an .850 OPS against lefties.
So, with one on and one out, Baddoo hit a rocket (98 mph) off Heasley through first baseman Vinnie Pasquantino, scoring Tucker Barnhart from second base. Greene followed with a double to right-center, scoring Baddoo, who was running on the pitch from first base.
At that point, Matheny let Heasley face Báez, right-on-right, and Báez shellacked a hanging breaking ball, knocking it into the Tigers’ bullpen for his 16th home run.
Even if Matheny would’ve gone to a lefty, Hinch would’ve felt in control of the matchups with right-handed slugger Eric Haase available off the bench to pinch-hit for Baddoo if he wanted, then with Greene, who hits lefties better than righties, and Báez.
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Speaking of being in control, Tigers starter Eduardo Rodriguez breezed through the first six innings, allowing just five, well-spaced singles. He was working his changeup masterfully off his four-seam fastball and sinker.
The changeup, which he was throwing firmer and with an additional inch of vertical break than his season average, induced seven misses on 15 swings and the five that were put in play were soft contact outs (72 mph average exit velocity).
His four-seamer was livelier, too, with three more inches of vertical break than his season norm.
He ran out of steam in the seventh, though. He walked three in the inning, though one was erased in a double play. Rodriguez left to a warm applause with two on and two out.
Jason Foley got the final out in the seventh to keep the zero on Rodriguez’s final line. But he couldn’t keep a crooked number off of his. The Royals scored three times off him in the eighth. He gave up a two-run double to Ryan O’Hearn and an RBI double to Nate Eaton.
He also issued a walk in the inning, his first in 20 outings.
It was a big afternoon for Barnhart. The Tigers catcher had three hits and a walk with a pair of RBIs. His RBI double keyed a four-run seventh as they cashed in on two walks and a hit batsman.
Castro, who homered in the second inning, felt something grab in his left hamstring area as he was running to second on his fourth-inning double. He left the game with the Tigers later announced as a left hamstring strain.
With the sweep, the Tigers win the season series against the Royals, 10-9, and climb out of the basement of the Central Division.