Hitting in front of Cabrera should boost Upton

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Justin Upton, LF, age 28, R-R, 6-2, 205: This was the icing on the cake for this particular roster. Instead of some type of platoon between Tyler Collins and Cameron Maybin, owner Mike Ilitch wanted an elite hitter in left field. So the Tigers now have Upton, who in the last three seasons averaged 27 homers and 84 RBIs. He will bat second in the lineup, which fits well with his .352 lifetime on-base percentage.

Lakeland, Fla. – The new guy is batting second.

That’s how it was written on the lineup card by bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer Monday – batting second, “New Guy.”

That’s how it will be at least at the start and it’s how manager Brad Ausmus envisioned it when the Tigers signed left fielder Justin Upton in January.

“Yeah, I mean, I said from the time we signed him that second was a logical spot to hit him,” Ausmus said.

Last year, Yoenis Cespedes was the new guy, but he mostly hit down in the order, in the No. 5 or No. 6 hole when Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez were in the lineup. So what’s the difference with Upton?

“Upton tends to get on base more,” Ausmus said. “You want as many guys on base in front of Miggy, Victor and J.D. (Martinez).”

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Upton’s career on-base percentage is .352; Cespedes’ is .319.

He struck out on three pitches in his only at-bat Monday, but hitting second and in front of Cabrera should be a boon to Upton in terms of seeing more strikes. It certainly was for Torii Hunter two years ago.

“I looked into that two years ago with Torii and there was a difference,” Ausmus said. “Oftentimes there isn’t a difference, but hitting in front of Miggy, there was a difference.”

In 2014, Hunter hit .291, with six home runs and a .777 OPS hitting in front of Cabrera. Ausmus looked deeper into the numbers and found that Hunter got significantly more strikes and more fastballs than he was getting when he hit lower in the lineup.

“You probably find across baseball that it’s not a significant statistic (hitting in front of the No. 3 hitter),” Ausmus said. “But with Miggy, it was significant that year.”

The feeling is it will have a similarly positive affect on Upton.

Around the horn

… Tests revealed that Montreal Robertson, Tigers’ right-handed pitching prospect, suffered a subluxation of his right shoulder while lifting weights Sunday. It has yet to be determined the course of treatment or how long he may be out, according to Ausmus.

… Ausmus also said Victor Martinez was held out of drills Sunday due to illness. He is the third player to miss time with an illness, joining Cabrera and Anthony Gose.

Twitter @cmccosky