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Tigers' Iglesias hopes worm has turned after 3-hit game

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Tigers' Jose Iglesias has been trying to get back into a groove at the plate.

Houston – It’s been a crazy start to the 2017 season for Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias.

He somewhat controversially changed agents – leaving Scott Boras for entertainment mogul Marc Anthony. On April 19, he was KO’d by Tampa’s Brad Miller in a ninth-inning collision at second base that not only cost the Tigers the game, but it cost Iglesias a sore neck and a stint in the MLB concussion protocol program.

When he got back eight days later, he endured an 0-for-11 skid. A month later, he’s still trying get himself back in a groove at the plate.

That's why his three hits Wednesday night in the Tigers’ 6-3 win were so encouraging. Fittingly, he got himself and the Tigers’ offense going with a swinging bunt to lead off a two-run third inning.

“We knew we needed to win, and as a team we had to step up,” said Iglesias, who later doubled, hit his second home run of the season and scored three times. “I thought the whole team did a good job overall of competing.”

Iglesias came into Wednesday's game hitting just .159 in the month of May. In his 12 previous games, he had six hits in 48 at-bats. That despite one of the highest hard-hit rates on the team – 31.1 percent. His hard-hit rate last year was 18.3 percent, just for perspective.

So, that little swinging bunt in the third inning had to feel a lot like justice to him.

“Hitting is difficult,” he said. “The only thing you can control is putting the ball in play and having quality at-bats for the team and for yourself. You pretty much can’t do anything about it after that.

“It’s not fun, I will tell you that. But it’s a long year and we still have a lot of baseball left.”

What has got him through, Iglesias said, was finding other ways to contribute – like with his defense, which has been sterling.

“Every single night you can do something to help the team win,” he said. “Whatever it might be – defense, moving guys over. That’s basically what I take home with me and into the next game.”

Iglesias hit .300 two years ago. And even in what was a streaky offensive season last year, he hit .255. He is presently hitting 42 points worse. His on-base percentage of .237 is 69 points less than last year and would be a career low by a lot.

He’s also been a low-strikeout guy. Last year he struck out a team-low 9.7 percent of his plate appearances. This season, he’s up to 16.7.

Manager Brad Ausmus gave him two games off to reset and it seems to be working. He had better at-bats on Tuesday and came through with three hits Wednesday.

“I just had to calm myself down a little bit, not try to do too much and stick with my plan,” Iglesias said. “But literally, when you hit the ball hard and you don’t get results, you make a mistake by changing something.

“I feel like I did that.”

Ausmus agreed.

“The good thing about the last couple of days is, he’s not over-swinging,” Ausmus said after the game Wednesday. “He got into a mode of over-swinging. He hit a few balls hard and didn’t get anything out of it, and it was like he tried to almost hit them harder.

“He’s done a good job of getting away from that.”

But trusting your process feels counterintuitive when you're making outs and watching your batting average plummet daily.

“It is hard to trust that,” Iglesias said. “When you put a good at-bat and you hit a ball hard and get nothing, you will see guys move up in the box or move back, just try to do something a little different to change.

“I was just happy to feel good and contribute to a win yesterday. That was huge.”

Iglesias has been through this enough to know he isn’t out of the woods.

“There is no guarantee it’s not going to happen again,” he said. “It will happen. This is baseball. But I have to stick with my approach every day, whatever the results might be.”

The trick, he said, is to minimize the struggles.

“Instead of (struggling) for 25 at-bats, make it 15,” he said. “That’s what you have to do.”

Iglesias quickly dismissed the notion that the agent change, which was accompanied by a much higher profile on social media and other outlets, has been a distraction for him.

“I am done with that stuff,” he said. “My first two years in the big leagues, yeah, there was a lot of stuff going on – the language, the food, the communication. Not anymore.

“I’ve been around. I know it’s a long game and you are not always going to get the results that you would like to have. There are no excuses, just baseball.”

Twitter @cmccosky