Baltimore — One reason managers love certain players, at least when they’re hitting, is they never want out of the lineup.
Even if their wrist is so sore you can see through the batting-cage mesh a wince on their face, they pretend they’re fine.
So it was in Pittsburgh on Thursday when Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire decided hot-hitting Jeimer Candelario needed a breather. Candelario’s left wrist was aching and everyone from the training staff, to the manager’s office, to Candelario’s innermost self, understood a jammed wrist was grinding at a switch-hitting third baseman every time he swung a bat, particularly right-handed.
Gardenhire decided a day’s rest would “let it calm down,” all while explaining, with the kind of smile parents sometimes reserve for tough calls on their kids, that his third baseman wasn’t happy with the verdict.
Candelario acknowledged Friday he didn’t necessarily agree with the skipper’s vote.
“I will play every day,” he said of his philosophy about baseball. “But he’s the manager. I’ll do what they want me to do.”
Candelario could also say Friday, a few hours before the Tigers met the Baltimore Orioles in the first game of a weekend series at Camden Yards, that Gardenhire had made the proper call.
“Yeah, having a day off with no swings at all,” he said, “really, really helped.”
Candelario was back in the lineup alongside his .290 batting average, not to mention his four home runs, which were tied with Leonys Martin, of all people, for the team lead.
In his last 10 games, a rookie third baseman was batting .395, with 11 runs, two doubles, two triples, four homers and nine RBIs.
He was also about to don Friday his newest piece of baseball equipment: a wrist-guard, with a pair of Velcro straps, designed to protect his left hand when sliding, which is how he jammed his wrist.
“He doesn’t like it,” Gardenhire said, again more amused than bothered by Candelario’s stubbornness, “but it protects him.”
Candelario will not wear the wrist-guard while batting, but rather, when he parks at first base after a hit, or after a walk, which he’s been known to take in the lineup’s No. 2 spot.
“Santy’s got to carry it,” Gardenhire said, speaking of Ramon Santiago, the Tigers’ first base coach who is the team’s official provider of baserunner wrist-guards.
“For sure it can help,” said Candelario, who was the top prize, for now, in last July’s trade that sent Justin Wilson and Alex Avila to the Cubs. “If it helps, I’m going to take it.”
Candelario has been one of the Tigers’ happier early stories in 2018. Not only has he settled down third base, defensively, after some past trials there, he has been ideal in the slot behind Martin, who is Gardenhire’s leadoff batter.
Candelario’s on-base percentage ahead of Friday’s game was .359. He can be particularly helpful against a right-handed pitcher when a runner such as Martin is on first base, forcing the first baseman to stay planted at the bag in a bid to keep Martin honest.
It can leave a wonderful infield hole begging for a left-handed hitter to pull a grounder through the empty right-side corridor and into right field.
Candelario’s greater plus is that he doesn’t mind hitting for distance to all fields. Defending him can be tough, particularly for outfielders when Candelario already has shown he’s an equal-opportunity prober of alleys anywhere from one foul line to another.
He runs the bases well, also, and with aggression, which gets to the source for that sore wrist.
The new apparel he’ll be wearing below his left sleeve is meant to reduce risks. After all, Candelario wants to play every inning every day. His manager and team rather enjoy it, also, which is why that wrist-guard will faithfully be attached during each and every trip to first.