Upton, middle of Tigers order starting to percolate

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Tigers' Justin Upton

Minneapolis – When J.D. Martinez says, like he did on Thursday, “When the middle of our lineup gets going, it’s scary,” this is what he meant.

Friday night, in the Tigers’ 9-2 romp over the Twins, Victor Martinez, Justin Upton and Nick Castellanos — the No. 4, 5, and 6 hitters — went 10-for-14 with five RBIs, five runs scored, a double and two home runs.

According to Elias, it was the third time in the last 10 years the middle three hitters in the Tigers order had at least three hits each in the same game. It happened against the Dodgers in 2014 and against the Twins in 2012.

They stayed hot Saturday, too. In the 4-1 win, those three hitters posted five more hits and all four RBIs — three on a monster three-run home run by Upton.

Nobody was happier to see that than hitting coach Wally Joyner, who has patiently guided all three hitters, plus Miguel Cabrera and J.D. Martinez, through hitting lulls this season. He was especially relieved for Upton, who now has five hits in his last 11 at-bats.

“It’s a new team for him,” Joyner said. “He enjoys being here and he wanted to produce. He’s not unlike anyone else. That was one of our issues earlier, at least I hope it was one of our issues earlier – trying to do too much. Trying not to be the guy who is not producing.

“You saw it with Miggy, you saw it with Victor, you saw it with J.D. And I think you add a little more pressure to Upton because it’s a new team and he wants to please and show it was a good decision (to sign him). Listen, at the end of the year he’s going to be where he needs to be.”

Upton has been through this, seemingly in every one of his 10 seasons. There are droughts where he looks lost at the plate, followed by stretches where he can carry an offense. At the end of the year, he consistently produces around 25 home runs and between 80-100 RBIs with an OPS over .800.

The only difference this year is he’s on a new team in a new league.

“Our job is to get hitters back to being comfortable,” Joyner said. “When they are comfortable and confident in the batter’s box, they do some damage. We needed to do that with Up, but we also had to be patient, because it’s a process.”

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Upton, whose calm demeanor often belies his competitiveness, said he didn’t feel any extra pressure trying to make a good first impression with the Tigers.

“Nah,” he said. “Obviously it gets a little frustrating. But we’re winning ballgames, we’re playing good lately. So it’s only going to make us better when I really start rolling. It’s a lot easier when the stars are shouldering the load.”

He was moved from the No. 2 hole to the No. 5 hole four games ago. Has that made a difference in terms of his comfort level at the plate?

“I don’t think so at all, really,” he said. “I’ve been around for nine-something years. Teams have a laundry list of ways to try and get me out. So, I don’t think they change that because I’m hitting somewhere else. I’ve been pretty successful.

“It’s baseball, man. I’ve learned a lot over the years.”

One thing he’s learned is, the hardest thing to keep consistent is your timing at the plate. Slowly but surely, he’s starting to get his timing back.

“He’s kind of shortened up and getting ready a little earlier,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “That allows him to see the ball better. It’s a matter of timing. He’s been working on a few things here recently that have helped his timing and he’s looked better the last few games.”

The trick is to subdue the slumps as swiftly as you can, and you ride the hot streaks as long as you can. The Tigers have won five of the last six and averaged more than seven runs in the five wins.

Ride it.

Twitter @cmccosky