Báez benched early by Hinch, Tigers go on to snap 6-game skid

Detroit News

Toronto – After all the tumult and drama around manager AJ Hinch’s early-game benching of shortstop Javier Baez Thursday night, the Tigers scrapped and clawed and found a way to win a baseball game.

Right-hander Spencer Turnbull pitched five strong innings, earning his first win since May 29, 2021 and the bullpen, after giving up a 3-1 lead Wednesday night, closed it out with four scoreless innings and the Tigers ended their six-game losing streak with a 3-1 win over the Blue Jays at Rogers Center.

“This was huge,” said Turnbull, who struck out six. “It snaps the losing streak. The team needed that. It’ll be a happy flight home.”

But the story of the night was the benching of Baez, the Tigers’ $140 million shortstop.

After a couple of base running blunders in the 4-3 loss Wednesday night, the last thing Hinch was going to have the stomach for Thursday was another one. Earlier in the day he had meetings with both Eric Haase and Matt Vierling about their mental miscues Wednesday. Neither was in the starting lineup Thursday.

“It’s not even all about Javy,” Hinch said. “If you watched the last couple of series, we made a number of mental mistakes. The one thing we can control is our preparedness and our readiness. Javy happened to be the runner who made the big mistake when I made the move.

“But it’s a message to our whole team that we need to clean that up.”

Baez, who has been struggling mightily at the plate, hit a long fly ball to left field with one out in the second inning. He didn’t run hard out of the box and had to turn on the jets to get to second base when the ball hit off the top of the wall. Not a good look.

Next batter Akil Baddoo lofted a routine fly ball to center. Baez thought there were two outs and jogged around third. He was doubled-off without a play. Baez played shortstop in the bottom half of the inning, but when the Tigers came back in to bat in the third inning, Hinch took him down inside the tunnel and told him he was dismissed for the night.

Baez came back into the dugout, untucked his jersey, grabbed his gear and then went back down the steps and into the clubhouse.

“It’s very rare for Javy to do that,” Hinch said. “He has one of the better baseball minds on our team. But it was a big move because it took a potential bat out of our lineup. He’d just got a hit. But he had a lot on his mind and he wasn’t locked in.

“You’ve got to lock in a little bit.”

Baez said he understood why Hinch made the decision to bench him.

“Obviously, we’ve got to show respect to the game,” Baez said. “He made the decision. He’s the manager and we’ve got to respect what he does…You take the decision. We are on the same page about the decision.”

Baez admitted that his mind was scattered. He said he’s been so focused on trying to get on track at the plate and finding his timing that when he finally barreled a ball up, he exhaled but didn’t run hard out of the box.

“I’ve been so focused on hitting the ball,” he said. “I hit it good and I just took my time out of the box. I got to second, but I took my time because I was so focused on hitting the ball good. It is what it is. We have to respect the game.”

A similar thing happened to Baez with the Cubs in 2021. Manager David Ross benched him for a lack of mental focus in a game.

His explanation for losing track of the outs was confusing. He said it stemmed from him batting sixth in the order and that when he came up in the second inning he thought there were two outs. Even though he was the second batter in the inning.

“It was a mistake,” he said. “Everybody can make a mistake. But at this point, the way we are playing, the way I am playing, it’s obviously going to be worse. If I’m hot and I have seven homers and I make that same mistake, I would’ve stayed in the game.

“But I’ve got no excuse. It’s part of the game.”

The decision to pull Baez from the game certainly sent the intended message to the rest of the team.

“Honestly, everyone has a brain fart,” first baseman Spencer Torkelson said. “He just happened to have two in a matter of five minutes. We’re not mad at him. We care, but it happens. It shows that it doesn’t matter what your name is, you will get disciplined.

“I don’t know what the guys think about this in the clubhouse, but I think it was the right thing to do.”

Torkelson said he’d expect to get benched if he made that mental mistake.

“I think it’s important for any clubhouse,” he said. “I bet it doesn’t happen again because of that. If you let that play out, it might happen again. But we know that’s not going to happen again. That’s not who he is.”

Essentially, Baez’s miscue was the straw that broke Hinch’s patience.

“It’s always hard,” he said. “I don’t want to embarrass anybody. I don’t want to lessen our bench. I don’t to take out one of our starters. He’s a premium player. But I also don’t want to see a team make mental mistakes. It’s always hard to do that.

“But you rely on your relationship, and you rely on your communication skills. He’ll come out of it better and be back in the lineup tomorrow…He understands where I’m coming from and I understand mistakes happen.”

Twitter@cmccosky

BOX SCORE: Tigers 3, Blue Jays 1

turtleneck under his jersey, warmed up.

He was not rattled. He worked a clean ninth and earned his second career save. The first was on Sept. 20, 2021.

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky

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