Tigers’ Báez scratched but expected to return soon; McKinstry’s adjustments produce power

Detroit News

Detroit — Shortstop Javier Báez was in the original starting lineup Thursday but ended up being scratched.

Báez was hit on his left hand Wednesday by a 93-mph fastball from Milwaukee starter Freddy Peralta in the first inning and left the field in obvious pain.

But X-rays returned negative, and the Tigers called it a left hand contusion.

“We’re going to scratch Javy from the starting lineup with a sore hand,” manager AJ Hinch said before Thursday’s game. “He’s still sore to the touch. He’ll have a treatment most of the day and see how he feels as the day progresses.”

Báez expressed optimism after Wednesday’s game he wouldn’t be out of the lineup for long, at most maybe one game.

Hinch reiterated Thursday his optimism that Báez would be back soon.

“Might be four hours (for start of the game),” Hinch said.

With Báez unavailable, Hinch moved Nick Maton over to shortstop, while Jonathan Schoop played second base and Zach McKinstry third base.

McKinstry, incidentally, now batting leadoff the last couple games, is hitting with more power after recently watching Boston’s Rafael Devers and Cleveland’s Jose Ramirez in batting practice.

McKinstry is making a concerted effort to keep his shoulders level when driving through with his swing.

“I was unlevel,” McKinstry said of his swing. “It’s just more of a thought process of just keeping the shoulders even and staying on top of the ball. I was missing it underneath and fouling it off down the left-field line. I just watched the two of them, two great hitters in the league right now, and said maybe I should be keeping my shoulders level.

“It’s more of a mental cue. You don’t really think about it at the plate or anything. You just work on it in the cage and hopefully it transitions.”

McKinstry entered Thursday’s game with three doubles, two home runs, .435 slugging percentage and .721 OPS. He’s hit as many as 19 home runs in a season in the minors, so McKinstry does possess some power.

“Maybe staying on top of the ball is helping me stay in on the right plane of the ball and barreling up a little bit more,” McKinstry said. “Right now my thought process is just staying aggressive, stay competitive, in control of the at bat and get those fastballs and hit them hard.”

So long, shift

Eliminating the shift, as MLB did this season, was supposed to create more offense in the game, although that has yet to show itself statistically.

But in Hinch’s mind, that’s fine. Hinch believes the game is better for not having shifts anymore.

“I’m not sure the whole story is told through stats in that,” Hinch said. “It’s freed up the athletes to be athletes in the infield. The attention span of the infielder has to be heightened because there’s no coverage to your left or right.

“The number of hits, I haven’t studied it, but it feels and looks wide open compared to previous seasons. The middle part of the field is where most people probably thought the opening would happen and it hasn’t been that way. You can still put the guys virtually behind second base, or close to it.

“I, personally, have enjoyed not seeing the second baseman in right field or not seeing the massive shifts I often wanted to deploy. It’s a better look to the game and features the athletes more. There are no free hits in the big leagues either way, but I like the look of our game based on the adjustments we’ve made.”

Feel-good story

One of the better stories in baseball in recent days was the MLB debut Wednesday of Pittsburgh’s Drew Maggi.

Maggi, a 33-year-old infielder, played 1,155 games across 13 minor league seasons before finally being called up by the Pirates.

Maggi entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning and struck out in his lone at bat.

“It’s fun to celebrate those guys,” Hinch said.

Hinch was impressed by the reaction of the Pirates fans as well as Maggi’s teammates, who stood for the at-bat and loudly cheered knowing Maggi’s determination.

“The fans, responding and knowing his story and his journey, the Pittsburgh fans were incredible,” Hinch said. “Maybe one of the more underrated aspects of all of it is you see the dugout and his teammates, from the Triple-A call-ups (to the established veterans) were up on the top step and were so thrilled for him.

“His journey, it gives a lot of hope to a lot of players who don’t think they’ll make it or get the break they need. There are more players who deserve opportunities that may never come. But that one gives a lot of hope to a lot of people that one day may experience one day in this league.”

Around the horn

Hinch has liked the progression of catcher Jake Rogers behind the plate.

“I’m real happy with where his game calling has come,” Hinch said. “His feel for the game is getting real good back there with game. I’ve been super positive about Jake. I’m proud of how he’s developing.”

… Relief pitcher Mason Englert, a Rule-5 acquisition who is making the most of his chance, has struck out 16 in 16 innings of work.

“We told him in his entrance meeting we really wanted him to focus on pounding the strike zone if he wanted to impress us and make this team,” Hinch said. “He took it to heart. It’s something he’s relentless on.”

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tkulfan

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