Detroit Tigers’ Nick Maton shows positive sign with approach in series opener vs. Nats

Detroit Free Press

WASHINGTON — Two underrated moments from the Detroit Tigers8-6 win over the Washington Nationals in Friday’s series opener took place in the first and third innings, both courtesy of Nick Maton.

Maton, batting .155 in 39 games this season, drew crucial two-out walks in those innings. The walks kept the innings alive and led to two hits from Akil Baddoo; those two hits produced four runs for the Tigers.

The two walks were deeper than that, though.

“It was a good sign because he knows exactly what’s going to happen when he gets up there,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said of Maton before Saturday’s game at Nationals Park. “He even took some fastballs that he couldn’t drive. To me, that’s a more well-rounded approach.”

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Hinch sent a message to Maton, who has struggled to hit non-fastballs for his entire MLB career, on May 10 while the Tigers were playing the Cleveland Guardians: “You don’t have to swing at every secondary pitch. You don’t have to be ultra-aggressive unless they’re going to land it in the strike zone.”

Ten days later, Hinch reflected on his message sent to Maton. It happened after the 26-year-old, a left-handed hitter, struck out swinging three times in three plate appearances against Guardians right-hander Shane Bieber.

All 13 pitches from Bieber to Maton were breaking balls and offspeed pitches.

Maton is an outstanding fastball hitter.

“I mean, that’s about as directly as you can mention it,” Hinch said. “It’s always easier said than done. It’s been a work in progress because you’ve got to be ready to hit in case the mistake happens, but you don’t have to premeditate your decisions on whether I’m going to go up there and be ultra-aggressive and swing at anything. If they’re balls, take them. If they’re hittable where you can drive them, great.”

In Friday’s 8-6 win, Maton didn’t swing at the first 13 pitches he saw — drawing two walks off right-handed starter Jake Irvin in the process — before swinging at an 85 mph splitter from Nationals right-handed reliever Hobie Harris.

Maton hit the splitter into right field for a two-out single in the fourth inning, his first hit since May 8 in Cleveland. He then struck out swinging in the sixth inning and lined out to center field in the ninth, finishing 1-for-3 with two walks and one strikeout.

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Maton, acquired by the Tigers in a trade with the Philadelphia Phillies in the offseason, has walked four times in nine plate appearances across his last two games, increasing his on-base percentage from .246 to .267 this season.

A better approach at the plate — like the approach he displayed Tuesday against the Pittsburgh Pirates and Friday against the Nationals — should allow him to work into fastball counts and start driving pitches again.

“He’ll get more fastballs the better counts he gets into by taking the early count offspeed for balls,” Hinch said.

Infield shuffle for Ibáñez, Schoop

With right-hander Alex Faedo starting Saturday, the Tigers put Andy Ibáñez at second base and Jonathan Schoop at third base.

Ibáñez has split time between second base and third base in his 134-game MLB career, while Schoop has primarily served as a second baseman throughout his 1,159-game MLB career.

“We think he’s better at second base than he is at third base,” Hinch said of Ibáñez. “They’re going to have a ton of left-handed hitters up with Faedo, and that plays into it a little bit. There’s a variety of things. It’s not just one thing, it’s definitely not on a whim. There’s a strategy behind it.”

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Schoop, a right-handed hitter, mainly plays against left-handed pitchers and is hitting .206 with six walks and 15 strikeouts in 26 games this season. Ibáñez, a fellow right-handed hitter, has become an almost-everyday player and is hitting .232 with two walks and 11 strikeouts in 18 games.

Maton and Zach McKinstry also can play second base and third base.

“We’re still trying to figure out the best combos,” Hinch said, “but we certainly like Andy at second base.”

Another bullpen in the books

Left-hander Tarik Skubal threw his seventh bullpen Saturday at Nationals Park.

The 26-year-old, one of the best pitchers in the organization, joined the Tigers for their six-game road trip. He traveled with the team for the first time since the season-opening series against the Tampa Bay Rays.

“It was a good step forward for him,” Hinch said. “We’ll continue to go next outing by next outing. He’s going to throw another bullpen in Kansas City. We’re doing the session-by-session update because we are kind of reading and reaching off of that. We don’t have a date circled that we’re trying to accomplish something by a certain date.”

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Hinch watched Skubal’s seventh bullpen.

Others were paying close attention, too.

“Quite a few of us went out there and watched him,” Hinch said. “We prepared like it was Skubal’s start day. Nobody talked to him. We left him alone. We let him get his warmup in. He’s in a good place.”

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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