Kansas City — You know Jose Iglesias played a good game when even Omar Vizquel was impressed.
“I think, no doubt, he is one of the best shortstops out there when he plays at that level,” said Vizquel, one of the greatest defensive players to ever play the position. “When he plays that game he played yesterday, he’s pretty good. Pretty intense. If he can continue that intensity throughout the year, he’s going to get his recognition.”
Iglesias, who is hitting .326, made four Grade-A plays in the Tigers’ 3-2 win over the Kansas City Royals Wednesday. None was better than the diving catch he made against Kendrys Morales leading off the ninth inning.
He was shifted to the second base side of the diamond and had to move quickly to his right on a hard-hit ball. He dived, caught it, got up quickly and threw a seed to first to get Morales by a step.
“Good thing I make that one,” he said with a smile before the game Thursday. “Or we might still be playing.”
Indeed. The Royals followed with back-to-back home runs off Francisco Rodriguez. Had Morales been on, the score would have been tied.
“He’s improved tremendously,” said Ian Kinsler, Iglesias’ double-play partner. “He’s paying attention to the details of the game and he’s working hard. He wants to be better. He’s got all the tools you need to be a really good shortstop, a really good defender, and he’s taking advantage of it now.”
Kinsler and Vizquel have been willing and committed mentors to Iglesias, who is still only 26 years old and in his fourth full season in the big leagues. From the beginning of spring training on, both have noticed a more serious approach from Iglesias.
“I would say it’s maturity,” Vizquel said. “He’s always made these kinds of plays, but now he realizes it’s not all about the show. It’s more about technique and playing the game the right way.”
Manager Brad Ausmus calls it adding more “meat and potatoes” to his game. He still makes the spectacular plays, but now he’s focusing on making the routine plays with proper technique and fundamentals and not so much showmanship.
“There’s still little things he has to improve on,” Vizquel said. “We still would like to see him throwing the ball to first base more consistently, instead of throwing it at different speeds. He has the ability to do that, to flip it underhand and put the ball on the chest (of the first baseman). It’s something he’s used to doing since little league.
“We feel he should take advantage of his great arm and try to make a better throw. That comes with maturity. He’s showing this year he is better than he was last year.”
There were two plays Wednesday that illustrated Vizquel’s point. In the seventh inning, Iglesias saved a run with a diving stop of a ball hit up the middle by Omar Infante. Salvador Perez was on second and might have scored had Iglesias not gotten to that ball.
But he seemed to take an extra second to make the throw to first and Infante beat it out.
“He said he was a little bit off balance and I know when you dive after a ball sometimes you end up having your feet in a different position,” Vizquel said. “But I told him I thought he could still make a firmer throw to first base.”
On the diving play on Morales in the ninth, he got up and made a much stronger throw to first.
“You can just tell he is more focused,” Vizquel said. “He really wants the recognition that he’s one of the best shortstops in the league.”
If you ask Iglesias about which part of his development this season he is most proud of, though, it’s not anything he’s doing on the field.
“It’s more off the field,” he said. “It’s more growth as a human being, a friend, a teammate and as a player. That’s what makes me a more comfortable player. Obviously, another year of experience will get you better.”
This is not the same player who defiantly refused to take accountability for his dugout pushing match with James McCann last season. This is not the same aloof teammate who said he didn’t really worry about personal relationships with his teammates.
“We’ve got a great group here, good human beings, good people,” he said. “We have good chemistry. I like it, I really like it. We go out and compete every day.”
Vizquel gives a lot of credit to the influence Kinsler has had on Iglesias.
“I remember when I came into the league, my second baseman did the same thing for me,” said Vizquel, referring to Harold Reynolds. “He made a huge difference. When you play with a guy on the field who is trying to help you out, trying to make you improve, that communication is good. … It helps a lot to know the guys around you care about you.”
Vizquel can relate to what Iglesias has gone through early in his career. He went through the process — coming from another country and culture where you were easily the best player at your position, and being initially confounded and humbled by the unfamiliarity of a new environment.
“Coming from your country, you were the best player from where you came from and here it’s not the same,” he said. “You find yourself fighting against lions. Everybody here is good. You realize you aren’t a god here. Everybody is as good as you and if you are going to succeed, you have to do things the right way.
“He had to change a little bit and he’s been doing so. I am glad with the work he’s put in and with the maturity he has shown.”
Ausmus and Vizquel had the maturity talk with Iglesias at the end of last season. They laid out what they expected of him as a player and, more importantly, as a teammate. But, impressively, that meeting came at Iglesias’ request. He initiated the meeting. He wanted to know what he needed to do to be a better teammate.
“When you are young, you don’t see things,” Iglesias said. “Later on you realize it’s important. At the end of the day, it’s a process. We’ve all been through our 20s, you know? It’s all about making adjustments. It depends on who you want to be. If you want to be great, you make adjustments.”
On deck: Indians
Series: Three games, tonight-Sunday, Comerica Park, Detroit
First pitch: 7:10 tonight, 1:10 p.m. Saturday-Sunday
TV/radio: FSD+ tonight, FSD on Saturday-Sunday/97.1
Probables: Tonight — RHP Josh Tomlin (1-0, 1.80) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (1-1, 7.16). Saturday — RHP Corey Kluber (0-3, 6.16) vs. RHP Anibal Sanchez (2-1, 4.60). Sunday — RHP Carlos Carrasco (2-0, 2.79) vs. RHP Shane Greene (1-1, 7.15)
Tomlin: The Tigers have had success against him — he’s 3-5 with a 6.20 ERA and 1.451 WHIP. The Tigers have been a heavy right-handed hitting lineup, and his reverse splits show he is much tougher on lefties than righties.
Verlander: Since throwing five no-hit innings his first start, Verlander has allowed 13 runs and 20 hits in 11 1/3 innings. But he’s been stellar at Comerica over the years. Since 2005, he leads active pitchers in home wins (81), is second in winning percentage (.648) and third in ERA (3.30).