July 1, 2022

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Hinch preaches patience with offense: 'They're going to hit'

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DETROIT — Miguel Cabrera made it clear over the last couple weeks, throughout his run toward 3,000 hits, that he was focused more on the team than on his individual numbers. Now that he has his milestone, the entire focus turns to what he was talking about.

Manager A.J. Hinch didn’t want to hear about an energy lull after Saturday’s doubleheader and the Cabrera celebration. He was focused on results, including Sunday’s 6-2 loss to the Rockies that cost Detroit a chance to take a series that it had begun 24 hours earlier with a 13-0 win.

“We got beat. We didn’t play well. Nothing about energy,” Hinch said. “There’s no excuse. There’s no letdown. This is a Major League team across the way. We need to show up better to win a series, and I’m not going to take any sort of excuse out of a lull on the weekend. We had a chance to win a series and didn’t play well enough.”

It has become somewhat of a pattern. This weekend marked the third time in five series this season that the Tigers (6-9) opened a set with a victory before dropping the next two. They’ve won consecutive games just twice so far this year, compared to four stretches of two or more losses in a row.

Still, the Tigers looked like a team that no longer had the energy rush of Cabrera’s chase and the big crowds that came with it. Some of that drain came from Rockies starter Chad Kuhl, who continued his surprising start with six innings of one-run ball fueled by a slider that continues to confound hitters. The Tigers swung at 21 Kuhl sliders and whiffed on 14 of them, on par with Kuhl’s 61.9 percent whiff rate on sliders through his first two starts.

“Even when it was in the zone, it was down. He was getting it away,” said Eric Haase, who fanned on one of them for a strikeout to end the second inning. “He had just enough on his heater to kind of keep us off the slider. I mean, a lot of ABs looked like guys were looking for it and still, he just didn’t make mistakes over the plate. Kind of tough. I mean, even if you know you’re getting it, if guys make their pitches, not much we can really do with it.”

The struggles continued after Kuhl left, aside from Robbie Grossman’s RBI single off Justin Lawrence. The Tigers hit six balls with exit velocities over 100 miles per hour on Sunday compared to eight for Colorado, while four of Detroit’s hard-hit balls went for outs.

The Tigers scored four runs over the last two games this weekend after pounding out 13 in Saturday’s opener. Including Sunday, however, the 13-run outburst is the only time Detroit has topped three runs in its last eight games, and just its third game in 15 this season with more than four runs scored.

Coincidentally, Sunday was Detroit’s first game since April 12 with Javier Báez in the starting lineup. The Tigers activated him from the 10-day injured list before the game, and Hinch referred to the potential boost.

“I think anytime you put a marquee player, a star player back in your lineup, the clubhouse wakes up,” Hinch said.

Báez went 0-for-4 with a couple strikeouts, both against Kuhl, an old National League foe against whom he was just 2-for-20 for his career entering the game.

“I just think with injuries and everything, kind of depleted [Sunday] after the doubleheader yesterday, a little depleted look, maybe a little flat,” Haase said. “But we had our opportunities to score, and we just didn’t.”

While Austin Meadows and Spencer Torkelson have provided early boosts that the Tigers lineup didn’t have last season, the middle of the order is still looking to click. Cleanup hitter Jeimer Candelario went 2-for-12 with two RBIs and four strikeouts in the series, and is batting .158 with four RBIs so far this season. Jonathan Schoop is batting .155 with a home run and five RBIs this year after going 4-for-13 with two RBIs in the series.

“Selectivity is the biggest difference,” Hinch said. “These guys have a track record. They’re going to hit. I think selection of pitches is always key, controlling the strike zone, getting into better counts is going to be key.”

It’s not like the Tigers are the only team struggling for offense, especially in the Central amidst chilly April weather — until this weekend’s warmup, anyway. Detroit has 53 runs in 15 games, and has outscored the division powerhouse White Sox. The Tigers’ .640 OPS is middle of the pack in the Majors.

“It’s hard not to look into it,” Haase said, “but it’s only the first few weeks of the season. We swung the bats well in spring. We’ve had some horrible weather and we’ve faced some very good pitching staffs. So I don’t think it’s but a matter of time before we start clicking.”

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