Boston — Often it is mentioned. How changing leagues can lead to tough times for a pitcher or for a hitter.
Justin Upton says there’s no particular link to his switch from the National League to the American and to a 2016 season that has been well beneath Upton’s past portfolio.
Not that Monday night’s leadoff triple in the seventh, which came on a torched liner to center and turned into the Tigers’ winning run in a 4-2 victory over the Red Sox at Fenway Park, was any sign of stress.
“There are guys you haven’t seen,” Upton said, speaking of opposing pitchers. “About half you’ve seen (in past years) and half you haven’t. You see some fresh faces.”
But that doesn’t explain a year that only recently began to remotely resemble Upton’s past work, crafted during nine earlier big-league seasons: .271 career batting average, a heavy .352 on-base percentage, and overall OPS of .825.
Even after his 1-for-4 night Monday, Upton was at .235, .289, and .680. He has, however, been inching up of late and has 11 home runs.
“I haven’t been chasing anything,” he said. “It really comes down to swinging at good pitches. I’ve been seeing better pitches and squaring them up more.”
Upton turns 29 next month and has time to make 2016 a bit more comforting. He wants not only to boost his 2016 numbers but, at least privately, he understands that getting a jump-start on 2017 could help all parties. Upton can become a free agent at the end of next year, a potential opt-out that seems remote now, given the six-year, $132-million deal he otherwise is guaranteed.
Upton says neither the contract nor any urge to justify it has been chewing at him in 2016.
“Not really,” he said. “You don’t feel any (undue) pressure in this lineup, because everybody’s so good.
“I’m feeling good now. Just trying to fine-tune and make adjustments. And make it all work.”
Cameron Maybin was gone from Monday’s lineup with a strained back that had flared up Sunday in Chicago. Tigers manager Brad Ausmus opted for Andrew Romine in center field. Jose Iglesias moved into the No. 2 hole in Ausmus’ batting order.
Maybin is not expected to miss any extended time.
Jordan Zimmermann’s rehab start Sunday for Toledo was solid: four innings, four hits, no runs, two strikeouts, no walks.
“He felt rusty but healthy,” Ausmus said Monday.
Zimmermann will pitch at least once more before he rejoins the Tigers rotation, from which he’s been missing since July 4 with a neck strain.
Daniel Norris didn’t fare as well Saturday (five hits, five runs, three walks, 42/3 innings) and also will work at least once more before he’s reunited with Ausmus’ rotation. But that start will come at Double A Erie with the Mud Hens and the International League having its All-Star break.
It can get taxing for a big league team, the mental game particularly, when days grow hot and tough losses pile up, and a follow-up road series against a tough foe (the Red Sox) stared at the Tigers Monday.
Did the Tigers skipper sense any lack of pep, common to all teams as the season wears on and as losses as tough as Sunday’s tumbles to the White Sox become part of a big league club’s experience?
“The vast majority of teams always feel like they’re on a roller-coaster,” Ausmus said, “and that’s because even division champions and wild-cards teams are gonna lose 70 games.
“You can get myopic. You can forget good teams lose that many games.”
The Tigers, of course, were still in the chase Monday. They were in second place in the American League Central, six games behind the Indians.
Tigers at Red Sox
First pitch: 7:10 p.m. Tuesday, Fenway Park, Boston
■RHP Mike Pelfrey, Tigers (3-9, 4.78): Generally deals with plenty of runners on base, and generally minimizes damage thanks to ground balls and double plays. Always seems to live on the edge of a debacle, but can often hang in a game.
■RHP Steven Wright (12-5, 2.67): The knuckleball lives, and so does its effectiveness, in Wright, who has bamboozled hitters galore with his fluttering butterfly of a pitch. The Tigers likely have some frustrating labor ahead.