Rule changes, hard work feeding Tigers’ Akil Baddoo’s aggressive play

Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — There are 41 players still in camp and only eight days and six spring games left before the season opener against the Rays.

The math is bad and manager AJ Hinch understands the angst this creates in his clubhouse.

“I told our group this morning to hang with us the best you can,” he said before the Tigers were beaten by the Braves 5-3 Wednesday in a Grapefruit League game at Joker Marchant Stadium. “This is going to go down to the wire on when we make our decisions.

“That gives a little bit of a misconception that those decisions are entirely based on the performance today. Like if somebody does well or somebody doesn’t, we have to make a decision. No. Everyone in camp is making a compelling case to do something for us.”

The most current example of that is the battle for the last outfield spot, presumably between Kerry Carpenter and Akil Baddoo. On Tuesday in Tampa, Carpenter led off the game with his third homer of the spring. Power, run production is his ticket to making the club.

It was Baddoo’s turn on Wednesday. He walked and scored from first on an infield single and was safe on an error. He also made a diving catch and several other heady plays in right field. Speed, athleticism, defense, those are his tickets to making the club.

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“Part of Akil’s charm on the field is that he creates havoc,” Hinch said.

On the play where he scored from first, he was running on the pitch that Andy Ibanez smashed off the glove of second baseman Ehire Adrianza. The ball rolled into shallow right field. Baddoo didn’t pick up the ball and didn’t realize it was behind him.

“There was a lot of stuff going on there,” he said.

He started to go back to first, then pivoted and bolted to third where more mayhem ensued.

He started to ease into third, even though third base coach Gary Jones was telling him he would have to slide. The ball was coming but the throw was errant. Baddoo slid and got trapped under third baseman Mitchell Tolman.

“The guy was all up on me,” Baddoo said. “I had to take him off me and run.”

Baddoo literally lifted Tolman off him.

“I didn’t even look to see if the man was OK,” Baddoo said. “I lifted him off, like, ‘Yo, I’m sorry bro but you are in my way. I got to get this run. That’s my job to get these runs.”

Baddoo scored without a play at the plate.

“It was an adventure around the bases,” Hinch said. “But in those kinds of interactions, I’m going to take Akil. He’s pretty strong.”

Baddoo’s defensive improvement, though, is what has stood out this spring. He was a minus-2 in defensive runs saved in 2021 and improved to plus-6 last year, including plus-7 in left field (he was a minus-4 when he played in center).

So far this spring he’s been much more aggressive, attacking more balls, cutting balls off in the gaps and more often than not making correct and accurate throws.

“It’s time (being his third season in the league) and he’s put in the effort,” said Hinch, who also credited outfield coaches George Lombard, Jones and minor league outfield coach Arnie Beyeler for their work with Baddoo. “He is much more comfortable attacking the ball. You see him get to balls faster and you see him getting in good positions to throw and his throws have gotten better.

“He’s doing almost non-measurable things that you don’t notice in the plays until after he’s made the play.”

For example, he’s getting better jumps on balls off the bat.

“It’s been an accumulation of work,” Hinch said. “It doesn’t happen just by telling him. He’s done a lot of work to put himself in a better position. That’s part of the reason we’ve been able to move him around the outfield more – because his fundamentals are better.”

The swing-and-miss and the chase at the plate are still issues that he’s battling. But the rules changes — the pitch timer, the limited pickoff attempts, the shorter distance between bases – feed into his dynamism when he does get on base.

“Some of it is premeditated; we work those situations a lot, every day,” Baddoo said. “But it’s also just being an athlete and playing within the game. I was always a guy who scores runs and gets on base and that’s what I’m trying to do.

“I feel the new rules are good for me. I think they feed into my strengths and I need to take advantage of that and be aggressive.”

LABOR OF LOVE

Matt Manning, facing a lineup of mostly Braves’ minor-leaguers, scattered six hits and allowed only an unearned run in four innings in his final spring start before going into the regular season. And he had to work for it, throwing 80 pitches.

“I felt like I executed pitches when I needed to and limited the damage,” he said. “We were talking about what to do when I get in those counts where I can use the slider in the zone. Maybe use a fastball away and then have a little more weapons when I get two strikes and maybe limit some of that weak damage.”

His four-seam fastball was lively. The velocity range was between 91-95 mph and it sat at 93. Eight of his 13 swings and misses were with the fastball.

“It’s kind of a no-win situation, it feels like, when you face that type of lineup,” Hinch said. “But you still have to throw strikes, you still have to get into leverage and use your pitches…It doesn’t matter who is in the batter’s box, he needs to get outs. He did well.

“He threw the ball very well and trended in the right direction the same way he did his last start. It was a good step forward.”

Manning also flashed his athleticism. He picked off Forrest Wall off first with a quick move. And he ended his day by flagging down a hard-hit comebacker with runners at the corners and two outs.

GAME BITS

…Miguel Cabrera, who singled in the third inning, scored from second base on a single by Ryan Kreidler, sliding across home plate. “Every time Miggy runs the bases, it’s an adventure,” Hinch said, smiling. “His smile is the best after he does something like that. Now that he’s passed 3,000 hits and 500 homers, he might enjoy that as much as any part of the game.”

…Reliever Jose Cisnero, pitching in back-to-back games for the first time this spring, had a hard time getting ahead of hitters and gave up a game-flipping three-run home run to Braves shortstop Orlando Arcia. “It’s just his pace and his delivery,” Hinch said. “He’s getting in non-leverage counts, which is a terrible place to be as a pitcher. It looked like everything was just a little off. I’m not worried about him but it’s a good reminder that you can’t get away with poor execution early in counts.”

…Alex Lange, another reliever expected to pitch in the back end of games this season, continues to have command issues, mostly with this sinker. He worked out of trouble but 10 of his 17 pitches were balls. “He’s going through some delivery things, as well,” Hinch said. “He’s getting stuck and not synced up like he needs to be to execute a good fastball. It feels like his breaking ball is always there, though.”

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter@cmccosky

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