More HRs? More HR robberies? Tigers like Comerica Park changes

Detroit Tigers

DETROIT — Comerica Park’s outfield walls were unchanged as Tigers manager A.J. Hinch and a few players filed in on a rainy Thursday morning. Work on the ballpark hasn’t started yet, so there’s no way to see the physical difference yet.

The mental adjustment, however, is well underway. That, catcher Eric Haase believes, is where the real impact will happen.

“I think it’s more of the psyche that you bring into the [batter’s] box with you,” he said. “When you’re walking up for your second at-bat and your first at-bat you flew out at 430 feet and it’s a 0-0 ballgame, that’s a lot different. You start feeling like, ‘I stayed with my approach, I had a perfect approach and that’s an out.’ That’s really hard grabbing your bat and going back up there the next AB trying not to do a little bit more. …

“I’m going to face a lot of left-handed pitching. So if I go up there, I have a short window to try to make my impact in what I feel like are my favorite at-bats. I do everything right, and you hit a ball like that where [Statcast] says it’s a homer in 29 other ballparks.”

Like other Tigers, Haase heard rumors last year that changes were coming. He heard Miguel Cabrera hinting that there would be alterations, and he caught Hinch joking about it. Then came the heads-up from Hinch and the team last week.

“This has been an ongoing conversation really since I’ve been here,” said Hinch, who enters his third season as the Tigers’ manager. “It’s a topic in and around the clubhouse all the time.”

Until Haase sees it, it’s still a concept. But not surprisingly, it’s a welcome change.

“I don’t think it’s going to have much of an impact as far as the way we prepare or anything,” Haase said. “I don’t think it’s going to be as big of a deal as it seems to the average fan watching. I don’t think there’s going to be a lot more homers hit. I don’t necessarily know how many homers we’re going to be able to rob [with the lower fences in center and right]. But I think it just makes it a little bit more of a fair game.”

That was the sentiment shared by pitchers Matthew Boyd and Matt Manning, both of whom are in town for team activities the next couple of days. Boyd led American League pitchers in home runs allowed as a Tiger in 2019 and ‘20, but he gave up twice as many homers at Comerica Park than on the road in ‘19 despite pitching more innings on the road.

“I think it’s going to be better for our hitters,” Boyd said. “I think there’s something ominous about looking out there and seeing that big sign [noting the distance to center field] for everybody. Our guys that play here 81 games a year, I’d rather have that benefit for them than an extra 10 feet for me. Any ball hit that far probably should get rewarded for the hitter anyways.”

Manning has allowed a relatively low home-run rate so far in his brief Major League career, but particularly so at Comerica Park, with just nine homers and a .370 slugging percentage allowed over 88 innings. He isn’t expecting this to become a hitters’ park, but he suggested a mental difference for pitchers.

“We went from having the deepest ballpark to probably still the deepest ballpark in center field,” said Manning, only a slight exaggeration considering the 412-foot distance to straightaway center will be deeper than anywhere but Coors Field (415). “It’s still deep out there. …

“I’ve kind of taken it in the context of, it plays more fair [compared] to all 30 ballparks. So if it’s [a] 2-0 [count], I can’t just grip a heater and [think] you’re not going to get it out of Comerica Park anymore. It’s going to play more fair to all the ballparks, and you can go into every stadium with the same mindset and not just play to our strengths.”

The changes won’t impact defensive positioning much, Hinch said.

“It’s going to be a big ballpark,” Hinch said. “I think the lower fence is a more exciting portion than really even caring what the dimensions are. … I’m glad we can talk about [center fielder] Riley Greene jumping up and [reaching] over a fence as opposed to jumping into a fence.”

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