Tigers' McCann swinging better as ankle woes subside

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — It wasn’t that long ago that James McCann’s postgame routine would include a half-hour of therapy on his right ankle. Then he’d spend another hour or more with the ankle wrapped in ice.

The ankle would still throb the next morning and he would take more treatment before the next game. 

This was going on in July, two-plus months after he spent three weeks on the disabled list at the end of April. 

Mercifully, those days are gone. 

“I am finally feeling like I’ve got my legs under me,” McCann said. “That’s been the big battle throughout the year. Think about it, for two weeks after the injury I was not only unable to do baseball activities, I wasn’t able to keep my legs in shape.”

His batting average plummeted below .200. He went from being the everyday catcher to a steady platoon with Jarrod Saltalamacchia. All the while, though, he never uttered a peep about the ankle — he just continued to work.

“Once he came off the DL, for me, he didn’t really show any sign of struggling (on the ankle),” manager Brad Ausmus said. “It didn’t look like he was limping or running funny. If he felt it in the morning … I wouldn’t be aware of that.”

Ausmus said Saltalamacchia’s playing time increased because of matchups (he hits right-handed pitching better than McCann) and because Saltalamacchia got off to a hot start, power-wise.

“But if Mac doesn’t get hurt, I don’t know if Salty plays as much,” Ausmus said. 

Starting toward the end of July, McCann started swinging the bat much better. It started with the ankle soreness subsiding, but he also altered his mechanics. He got rid of his high leg kick and started hitting the ball more consistently. 

“Since a couple of weeks after the All-Star break, I started to notice the ankle felt the same every day, regardless of what happened the night before,” McCann said. “But it is what it is. We knew it was going to be something where it wouldn’t feel 100 percent until the offseason.”

The best news, though, is it will not require surgery in the offseason. 

“No, no, no,” McCann said. “Recently we’ve been able to cut back on how much extra support I use during the game. No, it’s a lot better.”

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Since July 25, McCann is hitting .264 with a .328 on-base percentage and a .894 OPS. Much more like the numbers he put up last season. He’s hit five home runs and knocked in 16 runs in that 18-game span.

“The average is not where I expect it to be, but I have more home runs already than I had last year (10, three more than last year) and close to the same amount of RBIs (39, two less than last year),” McCann said. “For me, that’s the positive.

“But at this point in the season, the type of person I am, you can throw the numbers out the window. I’m trying to win games. Get the big hit when we need it, have a quality at-bat every time I go up there. Wins right now are what’s most important.”

There has been no step-back in the defensive part of his game. He has thrown out 54 percent of would-be base stealers, best in baseball. And he continues to improve as a pitch-caller and game-manager — to the point where he’s now the primary catcher for both Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez, and he’s caught five of Daniel Norris’ seven starts. 

“His batting average is down, but his production is good,” Ausmus said. “I would never say a year at the major league level, from a defensive standpoint is a step backward. Because that experience is vital.”

Twitter @cmccosky

Tigers' James McCann will not need postseason surgery on his right ankle, he says.