Port Charlotte, Fla. — With a runner on first in the first inning of the Tigers 10-5 spring loss to the Rays Sunday, manager Ron Gardenhire ordered a hit-and-run play with Jose Iglesias at bat. He likes hitting Iglesias in the No. 2 hole for that reason.
Iglesias did what he was supposed to do. He put the bat on the ball and sent a line drive that looked like it was headed into left-center field. Rays shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria had other plans, though. He made a leaping stab of the ball and turned into a fast double play.
Iglesias playfully tried to intercept Hechavarria’s throw to first base. It probably felt like 2017 all over again. Another hard-hit ball dies in a fielder’s glove.
Iglesias has hit .255 the last two seasons — which fails to reflect how much better he hit the ball last year. His hard-hit rate, according to FanGraphs, was a career-best 28.4 percent, 10 percentage points higher than in 2016.
He also produced career highs in doubles (33), home runs (six) and RBIs (54).
“It comes from struggling,” Iglesias said of his growth as a hitter. “Struggling like I did early in my career, 2011 and 2012. But I put in the work, maturing, playing the game. All that comes with experience.”
Iglesias in his second at-bat Sunday delivered one of the two hits the Tigers managed in five-plus innings against Rays ace Chris Archer. It was a mature at-bat. He fell behind, 1-2, worked the count full (got the benefit of the doubt on a 50-50 call on the 2-2 pitch) and slapped a single to left field.
He produced another single in the sixth, after fouling a pitch hard off his left foot. He’s hitting .303 this spring, and he’s walked five times.
He’s gotten on base in 40 percent of his at-bats.
“When I first came up, my glove was always there but the bat took me a little bit longer. I struggled. It was a learning process. Keep in mind, I was learning at the highest level there is.
“It took experience. It took time. It’s taken years to feel the way I feel now.”
Whether he’s with the Tigers all season or traded before the deadline is no issue for him. As he’s said, it’s a win-win. He loves playing in Detroit and for the Tigers. And if he’s traded, that means another team values his services.
“I know what I can do,” he said. “I prepared myself this off-season really well, both mentally and physically, to be on the field every single day. That’s my goal.
“I feel like I’m getting to the point of my career, where I am physically, mentally and emotionally ready to do great things.”