Detroit — On a day of summer splendor, with an autumn football score for an epitaph, the Tigers got another gaze Thursday at a man who could be next spring’s third baseman.
Jeimer Candelario’s hitting ranked as a rare gratifying moment for a Tigers team that endured its sixth consecutive defeat, this one a 17-7 pummeling by the Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park.
Although it was the White Sox who partied to the tune of 25 hits, the Tigers mashed four home runs, with Candelario joining Miguel Cabrera, Nicholas Castellanos, and Ian Kinsler in putting balls into the outfield chairs. Candelario’s first Tigers homer came in the sixth inning, against James Shields, when the 23-year-old rookie drove a spinning change-up on a line over the right-field wall.
Candelario is a switch-hitter the Tigers got in July’s trade with the Cubs that delivered Justin Wilson and Alex Avila to Wrigley Field. The Tigers aren’t into guarantees. And they’re still unsure if Candelario will be ready by Opening Day 2018. But he had a double Thursday to go with his homer and he’s batting .349 since he was yanked from Triple A Toledo at the start of September and planted at third base.
Most switch-hitters have a dominant side. The numbers have tended to be reasonably equal during his minor-league years with the Cubs.
“He’s looked strong from either side,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said, not long after the last of eight Tigers pitchers had been attacked by White Sox hitters. “And he doesn’t get rattled.”
Candelario says it’s a matter of “slowing down” — sports parlance for dealing with nerves. He had a taste of the big leagues in 2016 with the Cubs and another cameo this season. Standing in front of his locker, lampblack etched in angles beneath his eyes, Candelario said this audition is different.
“I’m playing every day,” he said.
And then he mentioned a bonus — those one-on-one hitting seminars he has had with Cabrera.
“I’m learning every detail,” Candelario said.
He became a September storyline when the Tigers decided a hole in right field and Castellanos’ weakening defense at third might be an invitation to dual upgrades.
Castellanos, who had two hits including his 22nd home run of the season, has been scalding the ball and playing defense with startling ease since he moved to right. He has an 11-game hitting streak and moved his batting average to .265.
Candelario has settled in, for the most part deftly, at third. It was Candelario whose snare of a ground-ball and quick peg to Ian Kinsler last Friday at Toronto helped the Tigers to their first triple play in 16 years.
There has been along the way a bruise or two. One came in Thursday’s eighth inning when Avisail Garcia, once a hotshot prospect for the Tigers, bounced a grounder that Candelario grabbed easily to the right of the bag.
He took an extra hop ahead of his throw, the kind any infielder takes when he has time. And he paid for it. Garcia can run and by a stitch beat the throw to first for a single.
“It’s part of the learning curve,” Ausmus said. “He’s got to learn the players.”
Candelario knows it. When the play was mentioned afterward, he rolled his eyes and smiled ruefully, as if he still couldn’t believe it.
“I thought I had time,” he said. “I didn’t know he could run like that.
“But it’s not gonna happen again. I’m gonna be ready. You learn from your mistakes.”
Tigers pitchers made their mistakes Thursday. And the White Sox pounded them.
Chad Bell started, lasted into the fourth, then was excused as a seven-man bullpen parade arrived: Warwick Saupold, Jeff Ferrell, Joe Jimenez, Zac Reininger, Victor Alcantara, Shane Greene, and Blaine Hardy.
Ausmus acknowledged the White Sox seemed bent on setting some kind of record for ground-ball base hits. But he wasn’t fooled.
“When you have 25 hits,” he said, “there are going to be some seeing-eye singles.”
There wasn’t a lot of consolation otherwise. Except, the manager said, for those dozen hits the Tigers collected, including the four homers.
“When you get pummeled, it’s good to take away something positive,” Ausmus said. “These games can be downers.”