Upton aims to build on two-run double

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Tigers' Justin Upton doubles to score Miguel Cabrera and J.D. Martinez to make it 5-1 Tigers in the fifth inning.

Detroit — Justin Upton’s not one for sugarcoating anything.

“Nobody wants to be terrible,” he said. “I’ve been terrible up till this point.”

Things got a whole lot better during Sunday’s 5-2 victory over the Chicago White Sox, however, with Upton’s two-run double proving the biggest blow.

It was Upton’s second hit of the day, and he figured he had three good swings.

There have been weeks this season — the first of a six-year, $132.75-million contract signed this winter — where he hasn’t had three good swings.

“It (stinks),” Upton said. “Every time I’ve felt good at the plate, it’s only a couple days at a time.”

So, we’ll see if there’s any carryover here.

Or if it’s just another positive blip on an otherwise rough start to his time in Detroit.

Manager Brad Ausmus sure is hoping it’s the former.

“He certainly looked better today,” Ausmus said.

Upton struck out his first time up, on a called strike that was at least six inches off the plate inside. It was Upton’s 76th strikeout in his 211th plate appearance of the season, a wildly alarming rate of 36 percent.

But while he gestured with his arms subtly while walking back to the dugout, he didn’t dwell. Next time up, he singled, and then he came to bat with the bases loaded and the Tigers up 3-1 with two outs in the fifth inning. He quickly worked the count to 3-0.

Then Ausmus gave him the green light; Upton, given his struggles, had to do a double-take.

“It was a bit of a surprise,” Upton said. “That was a vote of confidence, for sure.”

Ausmus gave the green light knowing it was a fastball count — really the only true fastball count in baseball these days. And Upton didn’t miss the pitch from Jose Quintana.

He drilled it down the line in left for a two-run double, giving him 14 RBIs in 52 games this season.

“I gave him the green light and I’m sure he was looking fastball,” Ausmus said.

“It also could be a way to get him out of a slump.”

That’s what Upton, 28, is counting on.

His slash line still is just .220/.266/.325, nearly a third of the way into the season — down from his career marks of .269/.316/.578

“I’ll try to build off that,” Upton said.

Upton, who got the day off Saturday and was batting seventh Sunday (the lowest he’s hit in a starting lineup in six years), still has the support of the clubhouse and his teammates, no question.

And there probably was nobody more excited for him and his double than Justin Verlander, who was seen on camera celebrating when Upton delivered.

“I’m excited,” Verlander said. “That was a huge, huge hit, kind of a backbreaker.

“That’s something that can really get a guy rolling.”

Around the horn

Verlander admitted it was a bit strange pitching against his old batterymate, Alex Avila, who walked his first time up — and then immediately drew a pickoff attempt from Verlander. Avila, with no stolen bases since 2012, just shook his head and smiled. His third time up, Avila singled off Verlander.

... Ausmus said he thinks the pitching could be starting to stabilize, and he credited the return of Shane Greene (blister) as a big part of that. Greene pitched for a second consecutive day, and again was perfect.

Ausmus was encouraged to see Greene sitting 94-96 mph Sunday, suggesting he can bounce back nicely in a relief role.

... Cameron Maybin has speed, but really impressed with his legs in the third inning, scoring from first — and really easily — on a rocket double to left by Miguel Cabrera. Maybin batted second for a third straight game, and Ausmus conceded that there really isn’t a good reason to move him anytime soon.

... The Tigers, who oddly struggled against lefties early in the season, beat three darn good ones in this series, and they’ll get another one Monday, when they face J.A. Happ in the opener of a three-game series with the Blue Jays.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

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