Tigers work with Dixon Machado to reduce launch angle, use all fields

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — Dixon Machado didn’t want to talk about it; not yet.

“Let’s see how it goes first,” he said.

The Tigers’ Dixon Machado hits an RBI single in the fifth inning Sunday against the White Sox at Comerica Park in Detroit.

Machado is in the process of adjusting his swing plane, to facilitate more line drives and ground balls, and, more importantly, to hit balls to the entire field.

“I just don’t believe he is type of player that teams should be playing an over-shift on,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “The whole right side of the field is open and he should be the type of hitter that can cover the field.

“A middle infielder like him, who is not a big home run guy, when a team is playing a shift against you, that ought to tell you something. You might have to start shooting balls the other way and cover the whole field.”

Machado went into the game Sunday hitting .206 and in the throes of an 0-for-15 slump. He was given the last two games off to clear his head as he worked with hitting coach Lloyd McClendon on leveling his swing plane and trying to hit the top half of the ball, rather than the bottom.

But he was back at it Sunday and the early results were encouraging.

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In his first at-bat, Machado crushed a pitch from James Shields. It left his bat at 100.8 mph, struck with a launch angle of 25 degrees — a line drive toward the gap in right-center. But it landed harmlessly in center fielder Adam Engel’s glove.

“He hit that ball really hard, unfortunately for an out,” Gardenhire said. “That’s what they are at this park.”

Second time up, Machado again barreled a ball that left his bat at 100.8 mph. This one was hit with 6-degree launch — a line-drive single up the middle that scored JaCoby Jones from second, broke a 1-1 tie.

“He covered that ball and hit it up the middle,” Gardenhire said. “That was really nice.”

It’s going to be a process, both Gardenhire and Machado understand that.

“It’s just a transition,” Gardenhire said. “I think he understands that he has to try to get the ball out of the air a little bit and start hitting line drives and use the whole field more. That’s what we talked about. It’s about covering the ball.

“I know the theory about trying to lift the ball. But this park (Comerica) doesn’t play well for smaller guys. He needs to bang the ball on the ground a little bit and hit line drives. I think he will be a better player for it.”

Before Sunday, Machado had batted against the shift in 168 of his 173 plate appearances, and he had a weighted on-base average of .217 (Statcast) on balls in play against the shift. His .246 batting average on balls in play is reflective of many long fly ball outs, as well as the futility of banging balls into defensive shifts.

His fly ball percentage was 28 percent and his pull rate was 47 percent. He’s hit balls to center or left field 79 percent of the time.

His launch angle this season is 8.5 degrees, 3 degrees more than he’s had in the past. It was 3.9 last season. On fastballs, his launch angle is more severe — 10 degrees. And, he’d only barreled up five of the 120 balls he’s put in play.

“I think he knows what we’re asking,” Gardenhire said. “We told him what we wanted him to do to help him out and help out our ball club. But he has to be comfortable with the changes. It’s his career and he has to be comfortable with it. We don’t want him thinking, ‘I hate this,’ because he’ll never get anything done.

“We explained that to him. You have to be on board with this. If you aren’t, just go back and do your thing.”

Machado said he was on board and he said he felt like it was coming together. But going into the game Sunday, he just wanted to clear his head and go back to the raw basics — see the ball, hit the ball.

“Lloyd has been happy with his progress,” Gardenhire said. “He just needs to keep swinging. It’ll become muscle memory as he goes along and gets into the swing. He’ll get back out there today and hopefully the pitcher helps him out, throws something over the plate and let him take a whack at it.”