Tigers, AJ Hinch proving they can deliver in a pinch

Detroit News

Detroit — To understand why Tigers infielder Zack Short was ready when his number was called Wednesday night in Kansas City, it helps to understand the idea of leaning heavily on pinch hitters is something the Tigers are prepared for.

It was, in fact, part of a plan that began back in spring training when manager AJ Hinch let his team know that just because a player wasn’t in the starting lineup, it didn’t mean that player wasn’t going to play.

“We met about it and talked about it,” Hinch said Thursday before the Tigers hosted the Chicago White Sox in the first of four games at Comerica Park. “I kind of warned them like, ‘Hey, heads up, this is going to happen a lot.’”

It had already paid off multiple times this season when, in the sixth inning against the Royals, Hinch opted to go with Short for Akil Baddoo against Kansas City lefty reliever Josh Taylor. The Tigers manager proved to push the right button once again as Short blasted a three-run home run to give the Tigers a 4-1 lead en route to a 6-4 victory and another series win.

Short was hardly certain he would be called upon in that situation, but as the game progressed, he knew there was a chance he’d get to swing the bat. After a few trips to the batting cage, he sat back and waited for Hinch to make the move.

“It’s that Stanford education,” Short said of his manager. “He’s a smart guy and he’s managed winning teams before. He’s a few steps ahead of what he’s going to do before it ever happens. Like, he’ll text guys a few nights before and say, ‘Hey, you’re not playing a few days but you might come off the bench and face so-and-so.’ And, of course, it works out.

“I mean, I think that’s part of being a great manager and his record is showing where he’s been there before. He’s a smart guy, he knows the game and he’s always one step ahead.”

Short’s home run was the third pinch-hit home run for the Tigers this season after Zach McKinstry went deep on April 19 against Cleveland and Tyler Nevin did the same April 29 against Baltimore.

While Hinch is drawing plenty of praise for making the right moves, he was quick to point out how crucial it has been for the role the players have played in making it all work.

“As the year has progressed, I’ve seen the team get better,” Hinch said. “I’ve seen everybody come to the park and not really flinch whether they’re playing or not, because they know there’s a situation that they could be in the game. That, in itself, is exceptional buy-in by the players to be prepared at a moment’s notice. And I think the biggest message, and something that I think is really important, is that it’s about the player coming off the bench. It’s the strength of the player coming off the bench, not an indictment of the player that is currently playing.

“I just talked to a couple of Akil Baddoo fans and they were mad at me last night and then happy Zack Short hit the home run. I get that emotional connection with these players and what we’re doing wasn’t against Akil. But do we have a right-handed hitter with some power against left-handed pitching in a position with somebody he’s faced actually more than what the major the numbers will show. All of that is factored into what I have to do. … And last night if you check the video, you see the first person out of the dugout when he hit the homer was Akil. He jumped out and he was the loudest. They were all barking, yelling, screaming. They were all super-excited. The guy that actually hit for him, that was probably disappointed as he walked back to the dugout, was the first one there to greet him. That’s pretty cool.”

Hinch understands it won’t always work as well as it did on Wednesday, pointing out a recent decision to insert Andy Ibanez early into a game only to have the infield strike out on three straight pitches.

But often, it has been working out, something that is emphasized by how well the players are adapting.

“We’re not going to bat 1.000,” Hinch said. “But I think we’re trying to create opportunities. So far, so good. We may go on a cold stretch, and it’s not perfect. These are hard things that we’re asking the players to do, and I’m proud of this group for how they’ve accepted it.”

Quick turnaround

The Royals didn’t do the Tigers any favors by scheduling Wednesday’s game at night when the Tigers were scheduled to play at home again the following day.

More often, games will be played in the afternoon when the visiting team is playing again the next night in another city, but that wasn’t the case for the Tigers as they also endured a short rain delay in Kansas City.

The result was a late flight with Hinch saying he got home around 3:30 a.m. Thursday. The Tigers opted to cancel batting practice Thursday and instead get as much rest before the 6:40 p.m. first pitch against the White Sox.

“I think it’s being smart about your workload,” Hinch said. “We came off a long road trip – even though it’s only six or seven days, it was a little hotter in Kansas City. Then we got pulled off the field yesterday with the rain, so we got rest yesterday. We had rest today and we’ve got day games coming up Saturday, Sunday, Monday. Just be smarter with your workload but not your preparedness.”

White Sox at Tigers

When: 6:40 p.m., Friday, Comerica Park, Detroit

TV/radio: Apple TV+/97.1

Scouting report

RHP Lance Lynn (3-5, 6.28), White Sox: After a slow start to the season, the veteran right-hander has started to settle in for the White Sox. He gave up one run on seven hits over seven innings in a win over Cleveland on May 16 and followed that five days later by allowing just four hits and two runs over six innings against Kansas City.

LHP Joey Wentz (1-4, 7.45), Tigers: After giving up 10 hits and six runs in his two-plus innings in his last start at Washington, there was some talk about whether the struggling lefty would be pulled from the rotation. Instead, the Tigers are opting to stick with Wentz as he looks to rebound.

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @mattcharboneau

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