MILWAUKEE — Detroit Tigers shortstop Javier Báez stuck his left ring finger in the air and grinned when asked about the injury that kept him out of Sunday’s series finale against the Baltimore Orioles.
He was joking around.
“I don’t want to show it to you,” Báez said. “It’s the middle one.”
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The finger in question — his left middle finger — isn’t swollen anymore. Therefore, Báez returned to the starting lineup for Monday’s series opener against the Milwaukee Brewers at American Family Field.
“It’s fine,” he said.
Báez, the No. 3 hitter against Brewers right-hander Colin Rea, bent his ring finger backward upon diving into second base on a stolen base in the first inning of Saturday’s 5-1 loss to the Orioles. He finished the game, but by Sunday morning, the finger was too swollen to play.
The Tigers had the bases loaded, thanks to a pair of intentional walks, in the top of the 10th inning Sunday against left-hander Keegan Akin, but Báez — a right-handed hitter — wasn’t available to pinch-hit because of the injury.
Nick Maton, a lefty hitter, popped out to end the inning. Brandon Hyde, who issued intentional walks to right-handed hitters Eric Haase and Spencer Torkelson, seemingly knew Báez wouldn’t be available.
“He probably saw him in the corner with his hood up,” Hinch said. “He went and worked out a little bit mid-game and then came in at the end of the dugout. He probably saw Javy at the end of the bench not moving a ton, and that indicated that he wasn’t likely to be used.”
Riley Greene started the 10th inning on second base as the free runner.
Akin retired the three hitters he pitched to: right-hander Matt Vierling (groundout), left-hander Zach McKinstry (strikeout) and left-hander Maton (popout). The Orioles intentionally walked Haase and Torkelson before and after McKinstry’s plate appearance.
The Tigers lost, 2-1, on a walk-off wild pitch.
“Those left-handed guys can hit left-handed pitching,” Hinch said. “We just didn’t do it in that particular instance, but they’re not automatic outs against left-handed pitching. There was still a lot of risk involved in loading the bases for free. He got away with it. … When it works out, as a manager, you feel pretty good about it, but there was some risk.”
Báez returns to the lineup riding an eight-game hitting streak. It’s tied for the fourth-longest active hitting streak in the big leagues.
He hit .100 (4-for-40) with three walks and eight strikeouts in 11 games to start the season, but since then, he is hitting .345 (10-for-29) with two walks and seven strikeouts in eight games.
The 30-year-old is still searching for his first home run of the 2023 season.