Tip from Pujols helps turn McCann’s season around

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
James McCann

Detroit – It may turn out to be the most important walk of James McCann’s career.

It was May 31 in Anaheim. The Tigers were in the process of their fourth straight loss. McCann was hitting .150 and battling the worst slump of his career. He drew a two-out walk, which prompted an Angels’ pitching change.

With some extra time on his hands, future Hall-of-Famer Albert Pujols sidled over to McCann at first base and offered him an impromptu batting tip.

“We started talking and when a guy like that makes a comment about your lead foot not being down in time – his track record is pretty good,” McCann said. “Someone like that speaks to you, you keep your ears open.”

McCann took Pujols’ advice back to hitting coach Wally Joyner and they got busy restructuring his swing and eliminating the leg kick he had used most of his professional career.

“You just try to simplify things,” McCann said. “This game is hard enough. There’s no reason to make it harder than it already is. … What I was doing wasn’t working, so you’ve got to make adjustments.

“The game is not going to adjust to you. You’ve got to adjust to the game.”

After that game in Anaheim, after the chat with Pujols, manager Brad Ausmus gave McCann two days off to work solely on the swing change. In his first at-bat after that, against the White Sox, he hit a home run. He later tripled in that game.

He has hit .298 with a .907 OPS, clubbing four home runs and knocking in 12 runs since May 31. Thank you, Albert Pujols.

“Really, it’s just keeping it simple,” McCann said. “Not trying to do too much and letting your hands work and your body work.”

'Awful night': Tigers fall to 0-7 against Indians

Hitters are at times reluctant to abandon a leg kick for fear of losing power. That hasn’t been the case for McCann.

“It’s still the same principle (for transferring the force from the back leg to the front leg),” he said. “I’m just not lifting my leg high. I’m trying to keep my feet in the ground as long as possible.”

There have been times when, out of pure habit, the front leg will come up. But that’s happening less and less.

“At times I might still get a little big (with the swing) and Wally and I have talked about it,” McCann said. “But you look at my home runs, three or four of them have been with two strikes. I’m just trying to put the ball in play and trying to stay short. I think that says a lot.”

Waiting for Raj

McCann and former Tiger Rajai Davis have been enjoying some good-natured banter during the last two days. Davis, who leads the American League with 21 stolen bases and has successfully swiped 16 straight, has essentially told McCann that he’s going to steal on him.

“I was waiting for him to run (Friday), and he didn’t,” McCann said.

Davis said before the game on Friday that he doesn’t care what a catcher’s pop time to second base is, or how fast a pitcher’s delivery is to the plate.

“There’s no number (he won’t run on),” Davis said.

McCann, who leads the American League throwing out 56 percent of attempted base stealers, isn’t easily intimidated.

“I’m giving him a hard time,” McCann said. “He told me, he says, ‘It doesn’t matter what the pitchers (times) are, I’m going to steal off you.’ We will see.”

Moya out

Right-fielder Steven Moya was pulled from the lineup Saturday after complaining of soreness in his right knee.

"Just a little soreness," he said. "It was not related to that play."

That play was the sinking liner that he lost in the lights Friday. He fell awkwardly on the play. But he said it was general soreness, something that has progressively become more bothersome. Mike Aviles got the start in his place.

Twitter @cmccosky