Tigers manager AJ Hinch gives master’s seminar on nuances of contact play

Detroit News

Detroit — It always seems like the contact play results in an out at home plate, does it not?

Case in point: Zach McKinstry was going on contact from third base with one out in the sixth inning Monday night with the Tigers trailing the Yankees 1-0. Riley Greene hit a ball that barely got over pitcher Luis Severino’s head.

It was close enough to being caught in the air that McKinstry had to wait a beat. That brief hesitation, which is in violation of the contact play, cost him. Shortstop Anthony Volpe threw him out at the plate with catcher Kyle Higashioka making a slick pick and tag.

But the reason it always seems like the contact play fails is because nobody thinks twice about it when it works. Remember in Boston when Matt Vierling came on contact and scored on a ground ball by Spencer Torkelson?

Of course you don’t.

Remember when Riley Greene was thrown out at the plate in Cleveland, going on contact on a Kerry Carpenter grounder? More likely.

The McKinstry play was an imperfect example of the pros and cons of the play, but manager AJ Hinch went through some of the whys, whens and when-nots of the play before the game Tuesday. It’s much more nuanced than just, if there is one out you go and with no outs you read and react.

“Some managers go with no outs and there are some that never go with one out,” he said. “It’s not a universally agreed upon rule. You know the scouting reports of the other managers on who likes to be aggressive and who likes to be more conservative.”

There is so much that goes into the decision: Where you are in the batting order, what’s the matchup coming up next, the speed of the runner at third, the quality of the infield defenders, the ground ball rate for the hitter and the pitcher, left-handed or right-handed hitter.

Some managers prefer a more conservative approach and give their hitters two shots at getting a hit. Others prefer to put the pressure on the defense to make a play.

You can probably guess which side of the line Hinch is on.

“I’m on the more aggressive side,” he said. “I like to send guys, though not necessarily with no outs. With one out, we want to make them make a play. Ironically, some people judge it by the infielder. In that play last night, it was the catcher who made the difference by picking that ball.”

Hinch was asked if McKinstry had the leeway to reverse his decision and go back, based on how Greene’s ball was hit.

“If you take a peek, that means you’re not going on contact,” he said. “If you take a peek, you’re out … It’s a hard play and you either have to be all in or all out. You can’t simply judge it on a gut feel. Managers that go, go all the time. Managers that don’t, never go.

“You have no chance to know when the soft contact is or when the ball is smoked off a defender — if you haven’t committed beforehand, you’re never going to make up that 90 feet.”

Pitcher shuffle

Lefty starter Joey Wentz and right-handed reliever Garrett Hill were back in the clubhouse Tuesday.

Wentz is expected to pitch in a bulk-innings role Wednesday. Hill was active Tuesday, replacing lefty Andrew Vasquez, who was placed on the 15-day injured list with tightness in his left calf.

“It was in his last outing (Sunday),” Hinch said of Vasquez. “We left him out there trying to get through the game and he came up sore. It’s a tough one. We were trying to work through it. It’s not that big a deal, but we also can’t pitch shorthanded. We’re going to give him a couple of days to get him back up and running and then see where he’s at.”

For Hill, who was on the club’s Opening Day roster, it’s been a confounding season. He struggled with his control and ended up on the minor-league injured list. He missed most of July and had to work his back up starting in Low-A Lakeland.

“He’s been back in the strike zone,” Hinch said. “He can provide a little bit of length for us. We’re pretty thin in the bullpen right now. We wanted someone we know we can leave out there for 40 or 50 pitches if need be. He’s been missing some bats, which is good. And he’s been throwing more strikes, which is good.

“Sometimes when guys struggle and go down, they disappear and they can get out of sight, out of mind. That’s not the case with Garrett. We wanted to give him another opportunity.”

The Tigers will have to make another move to accommodate Wentz on Wednesday. Plugging him in for another quasi-spot start allows Hinch to give his rotation an extra day of rest. That took on greater importance after Matt Manning left his last start with back tightness.

Manning will pitch the finale against the Yankees on Thursday. Eduardo Rodriguez will start the first game against the White Sox on Friday in Chicago.

“I’m glad Matt feels better,” Hinch said. “It would’ve been brutal to lose him for a couple of weeks. But we didn’t think it was serious when it happened. An extra day here won’t impact him a ton.”

Around the horn

Catcher Jake Rogers was out of the starting lineup for the second straight game. His glove hand got hit with Jeremy Pena’s bat on a catcher’s interference call Saturday. “His hand is banged up but it’s nothing he would want me to tell you about and nothing he would want to use as an excuse for why he’s not playing,” Hinch said. “The reality is, I’m just giving him a few days to mend up.” Hinch said Rogers would be available off the bench to hit or catch.

… The Tigers claimed left-handed reliever Bennett Sousa, 28, off waivers from Milwaukee and optioned him to Toledo. Sousa, who has big-league time with the White Sox last season (19 earned runs in 20.1 innings) and the Brewers this season (four runs in 2.2 innings), features a 95-mph fastball and slider mix. He missed two months the season with a nerve issue in his shoulder, returning on Aug. 7.

… Right-hander Spencer Turnbull is on the schedule to make his first start for Triple-A Toledo on Friday. It would be his first start since the Tigers’ optioned him last week.

Miguel Cabrera was out of the lineup (rest) Tuesday and Hinch said he isn’t likely to start Wednesday, either. He will be back in the lineup for the finale Thursday.

Tigers vs. Yankees

▶ First pitch: 6:40 p.m. Wednesday, Comerica Park, Detroit

▶ TV/Radio: Bally Sports Detroit, 97.1 FM

Scouting report

▶ RHP Gerrit Cole (11-4, 2.95), Yankees: Here’s your leader in the clubhouse for the American League Cy Young Award. He leads the league in pitcher WAR, ERA and innings, he’s third in strikeouts and fourth in WHIP. He bounced back from a rough start against Boston (six runs in four innings) by limiting the Rays to one earned run and three hits over 7.2 innings with 11 strikeouts.

▶ LHP Joey Wentz (2-10, 6.62), Tigers: Wentz is expected to officially be recalled from Triple-A Toledo before the game. Although he isn’t expected to pitch the first inning or two, he will be used as the bulk-innings pitcher. He made an impressive spot start on Aug. 18 when he pitched five scoreless innings, allowing four hits, in Cleveland.


Twitter/X: @cmccosky

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