Tigers’ Báez getting pointed hitting work; Turnbull has ‘new weapon’

Detroit News

Detroit – Javier Báez was on the field four hours before Saturday’s game, taking early batting practice with Miguel Cabrera, Jonathan Schoop, Spencer Torkelson, Ryan Kreidler and Zach McKinstry.

For Báez, it was a very specific hitting drill. The pitching machine was firing high-ride, four-seam fastballs at him and he was driving ball after ball to the opposite field.

“If his contact point can back up closer to the plate, it will give him a better chance to cover more pitches,” manager AJ Hinch said. “He has to decide so fast whether to swing or not and that contact point gets too far out front.”

The result of that isn’t as much about Báez’s 2-for-25 start as it is the fact he’s been rolling so many balls over to the pull side of the field. Seventy-nine percent of the 19 balls he had put in play entering play Saturday were up the middle or to left field — 47% were pulled. And only three of those balls were hit hard (with an exit velocity above 95 mph).

“He’s committing to trying to get the ball a little deeper in the hitting zone to give himself a little more time to make decisions,” Hinch said.

It’s a batting practice drill Miguel Cabrera has done his entire career, hitting ball after ball to the opposite field. Again, though, the point is getting comfortable letting pitches get deeper into the hitting zone, not necessarily to become an opposite-field hitter.

“Every time somebody hits the ball the opposite way, the first thing everybody says is, ‘That’s a good piece of hitting,’” Hinch said. “Some of that is truthful and some of it is, it just feels natural to say that. … It is a good piece of hitting when you stay through the ball and hit it up the middle.

“But nobody complains about the pull homer.”

A first for Turnbull

Kiki Hernandez didn’t see it coming. Tigers right-hander Spencer Turnbull has never showed up on a scouting report as a pitcher with a plus move to first base.

But in the third inning Thursday in the Tigers’ home opener, Turnbull spun, threw to first base and picked off Hernandez.

“That’s the first time I’ve ever picked a guy off,” Turnbull said.

Like, ever? At any level? At Alabama? High school?

“Pretty sure that was the first one,” he said. “But hey, new weapon (laughing). If I can’t get you out, I’ll pick you off first.”

Catcher Jake Rogers punched up “throw over” on the PitchCom.

“Yeah, it was called, but I held the ball a good bit,” Turnbull said. “I waited for him to get out there and I just did my quick move. I thought he was safe, actually, but they didn’t challenge it. I was like, ‘OK.’”

As rules changes limiting throw-overs and step-offs to two per at-bat have increased stolen bases and attempts throughout the league in the first week, pitchers are learning to make those throw-overs count. There are no token moves to first base anymore.

Turnbull was the second Tigers pitcher to pick off a runner. Right-hander Matt Manning picked off Astros outfielder Corey Julks on Tuesday.

“Before I would never really try to pick guys off,” Turnbull said. “I would just show the move to keep them honest, not really going for the pickoff. But guys are getting more aggressive and they are getting bigger leads. You have to make them count.”

Knocking on the door

The competition for roster spots was intense right down to the end of spring training and it hasn’t abated, even though the final cuts have been made.

Outfielder Akil Baddoo and infielders Tyler Nevin and Justin-Henry Malloy are off to torrid starts at Triple-A Toledo.

Going into play Saturday, Baddoo was 9-for-28 (.321) with two doubles, a triple, a home run, six RBIs with more walks (six) than strikeouts (five). He also stole two bases and scored four runs.

He was recalled from Toledo Saturday to replace Austin Meadows, who went on the IL (anxiety).

Nevin, who got knocked out of the roster competition by an oblique injury, was 13 for 33 (.591) with three doubles, a triple and a homer.

Malloy, who came to the Tigers from the Braves in the Joe Jimenez trade, has started the season 7-for-22 (.318) with nine walks in six strikeouts. His on-base percentage is .516.

“We’re all paying attention to what is going on throughout the organization,” Hinch said. “But specifically Triple-A to the big leagues gets looked at all the time. The games are on television and we get a lot of opportunity to see those guys play.

“We’re going to need a lot of contribution, but our focus needs to be here. We’re seven games in and they’re just a few games in at Triple-A – that will be kept in perspective, as well.”

That said, this is the ultimate goal of the revamped player development – to have players at Triple-A pushing the performance level of players on the big-league club.

“We feel like we have a lot of depth,” Hinch said. “And you have to use it for multiple reasons throughout the year. The better guys play the more pressure they put on the decision makers – that is a good thing.”

Around the horn

Right-hander Michael Lorenzen (groin) made his first rehab start Saturday for Triple-A Toledo. It was labor-intensive. He needed 56 pitches to get through 2.1 innings. He allowed a run on two hits with three walks. He also struck out two.

Twitter@cmccosky

Red Sox at Tigers

First pitch: 1:10 p.m. Sunday, Comerica Park

TV/radio: BSD/97.1.

Scouting report

RHP Kutter Crawford (0-1, 15.75), Red Sox: He faced a left-handed heavy Pirates lineup in his season debut and it didn’t go well. The Pirates lefties went 6 for 16 against him, belting a pair of homers. He will see a lefty-stacked Tigers lineup, as well. And yes, one of Kutter’s best pitches is a cutter, which he throws off a 94-mph four-seam fastball. He also has a change-up, curveball and slider in his toolbox.

LHP Matthew Boyd (0-0, 4.15), Tigers: He only allowed a pair of singles to the Astros in his season debut, but three walks and seven three-ball counts kept him in duress and forced an early ouster with just one out in the fifth inning. Not counting the inning of relief he pitched last Sept. 1 with the Mariners, this will be his first start at Comerica Park since Aug. 29, 2021.

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