August 10, 2013 at 9:40 pm

John Niyo

Think the Tigers are dangerous now? Well just wait until Prince Fielder starts hitting

Just wait. Be patient.

Thats the message Lloyd McClendon has been preaching for weeks now to Prince Fielder, and to anyone asking about Fielders summer-long power outage in the middle of the Tigers lineup.

And that was, quite understandably, the question earlier this week in Cleveland. After all, Fielder had gone the entire month of July without a double. Hed homered just five times in 54 games exactly one-third of the season. In a three-month span, dating to early June, hed batted .244 with a meager .385 slugging percentage and a .707 OPS.

Those arent the kind of numbers you expect from your cleanup hitter. Those arent the kind of numbers you expect from your No. 7 hitter, frankly.

And for a lineup in need of a lift at the time, with Austin Jackson scuffling in the leadoff spot (hes not anymore) and Miguel Cabrera playing hurt (not that it seems to matter) and Jhonny Peralta playing solitaire somewhere, well, its hard to ignore Fielder when hes flailing.

Especially when youre handing him nearly $24 million a season to handle a good share of the heavy lifting for your team. The Tigers certainly arent paying Fielder for his defense or baserunning.

But just wait. That was the message from McClendon, the Tigers hitting coach.

Because thats the thing with true sluggers, he said. Theyll go through some stretches, but when they get hot they can put up some ungodly numbers real quick. I suspect thats whats gonna happen with him. I believe hell get hot and well have a stretch of 10 or 15 games where hell just be unconscious.

He said that Tuesday in Cleveland, before another hitless night for Fielder. As if on cue, Fielder appeared to be heating up, going 5-for-15 the next three games with a pair of walks and four extra-base hits as many as he had in 26 games in July. His two-run double in the 14th inning won Wednesdays game against the Indians, and another sparked Thursdays rout. Fielder added a couple more hits Saturday in the Tigers 9-3 drubbing of the Yankees.

Its like when I had Magglio Ordonez, McClendon said. Id look back and say, Let me see what he was doing when he was struggling. But the guy never struggled. Its just something that happens, and you work your way through it.

Prince is a tough guy, hes strong mentally. He works extremely hard, he looks at video. On all fronts, hes doing everything he can to get out of this. And I believe this: When its all said and done, his numbers are gonna be right where theyre supposed to be.

Obviously, theyre not right now, those 80 RBIs notwithstanding. (Fielder leads the league in base runners aboard, 391, when hitting, by the way.) And this isnt a small sample size were talking about, either.

Fielder has just one homer in his last 25 games, and now five in his last 59 after Saturdays game in the Bronx. By comparison, Don Kelly has five in his last 52 in half as many plate appearances. Fielders slugging percentage, thanks largely to a torrid April, is the lowest of his career. His on-base percentage in June was .325. It was .310 in July. The last four seasons it has been over .400.

And its that last number, perhaps, that speaks to his silent frustration. In searching for a solution, he appeared to expand his strike zone this summer, chasing too many pitches on too many nights.

Thats one thing, McClendon said of Fielder, whos hitting 50 points below his career average against right-handed pitching this season. We had that issue some last year. The only thing we talked about is making sure he continues to take his walks. Dont get too overly aggressive and get outside the zone. He did that for a stretch.

And thats the point. If he can start hitting like Prince Fielder again down the stretch with patience and, presumably, more power just wait and see how dangerous this Tigers lineup can be.

john.niyo@detroitnews.com

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Tigers slugger Prince Fielder reacts after hitting a single in the sixth inning of Saturday's victory. / Frank Franklin II/Associated Press