Henning: Jose Iglesias’ hitting woes worrisome

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News
Tigers’ shortstop Jose Iglesias is batting .215 compared to .338 a year ago. His on-base and slugging percentage numbers are also down.

Notes, thoughts, items as the Tigers move toward June and to, they hope, status as something more than a break-even team:

Jose Iglesias is having one brutal season.

It’s almost as if his ugly numbers have been lost in the fixation on Justin Upton’s woes.

But here’s how sad of an offensive player Iglesias has been in 2016, particularly when compared with his All-Star season of a year ago.

Iglesias arrived at Angel Stadium on Monday with a .215 batting average, a .259 on-base percentage, and a slugging percentage that wasn’t much better at .268. This was good — make that bad — for an OPS of .528, which is about what you’d expect from a pitcher who isn’t a throwaway at the plate.

A year ago Iglesias was a plus: .300 batting average, .347 on-base, .370 slugging. He wasn’t an extra-base threat, but with a .717 OPS he was helping when his primary reason for being in a big-league lineup was his glove at short.

This sudden plunge makes no more sense than does Upton’s nosedive. Iglesias is 26. He has respectable career numbers. But he seems to be half the player he was during his 2013 cameo with the Tigers, which, after a year layoff due to fractured shins, saw him punch an All-Star ticket in 2015.

It isn’t only on the field that Iglesias has lost luster. He was animated and personable when he arrived three years ago. Now, you rarely hear his voice. He isn’t as interactive. He seems greatly diminished from the man who arrived from Boston, full of antics and exploits and so much magic on the field.

If his bat picks up, it’s likely the old energy and color might follow. But two months into a new season he isn’t the player who seemed a lock to dazzle and to drive the Tigers in the fashion of high-performance shortstops.

Justin Upton’s tough times continue.

When a good hitter is fighting his at-bats, trying to reconnect with some past prowess, you look for small signs he’s snapping out of it.

Upton gives a hint now and then that strikeouts are waning and better contact will bring on big numbers.

But then he goes 0-for-4 with a pair of whiffs, as he did in Sunday’s loss at Oakland, and you wonder again how a 28-year-old man’s offense could have so thoroughly collapsed.

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It still seems as if big-picture facts should be trusted.

Upton is in his prime. He has 10 seasons of big-league numbers that pretty much mandate he’ll bust out of hitter’s prison and begin cracking pitches with his old crunch.

To think otherwise is to imply Upton is all but finished at 28. It does not add up.

The Tigers can’t bear thoughts of Upton becoming one of the biggest free-agent busts in baseball history. They owe him, potentially, $132 million through 2021.

They’ll instead consider this a hideous start by an established star whose hitting is fraught with self-imposed pressure and mental demons. Those scourges figure to wane once he puts together a couple of back-to-back games when hard contact and extra-base hits signal his 2016 ordeal is history.

It must happen. It will happen. Or so the Tigers believe, because, as they can’t publicly acknowledge, alternative thoughts are simply too cruel to consider.

Justin Upton

A potential increase in center field contestants.

Anthony Gose returned to Triple A Toledo earlier this month and the Tigers had a couple of reasons to grieve.

They had spent heavily to get Gose from the Jays 18 months ago when they handed Toronto a glitzy prospect in second baseman Devon Travis. The Tigers had banked on Gose’s bat picking up and Gose becoming an affordable, long-term answer at a position of immense two-way importance to a lineup.

Returning Gose to the bushes was a painful concession that the Tigers might have misjudged and landed a player no better than a guy Toronto had determined was unlikely to be a big-league regular.

But the Tigers have caught a break that has nothing to do with Gose. Cameron Maybin is playing like a guy the Tigers might well decide deserves that $9 million team option for 2017.

Every bit as important is what’s going on with prospect JaCoby Jones at Double A Erie. Check out Erie manager Lance Parrish’s take on Jones, who heading into Monday’s game was batting .348, with four homers in 12 games, and playing center with flair.

Jones’ big-league timetable is for him to determine based on strike-zone refinements. But it’s all but certain he’ll factor in Detroit’s plans for 2017, in one manner or another, all because his skills are top-shelf.

It offers the Tigers potential for protection at a position this team hasn’t been come close to filling with homegrown talent.

Twitter: @Lynn_Henning