Gardenhire lets young hitters Candelario, Machado work through struggles
Cincinnati — If he was stressing about what may be the most prolonged hitting slump of his life, Tigers third baseman Jeimer Candelario isn’t showing it.
“I just always say, you are going to have ups and downs,” he said before the game Tuesday. “You just have to work hard. Thank God we’ve been winning games. That’s helped. That’s a good thing.”
Since coming off the disabled list with a wrist injury on May 25, Candelario has hit .210 with 30 strikeouts in 23 games. In the last nine games, he’s gone 4-for-33 with 15 strikeouts.
“They aren’t pitching me different, nothing like that,” he said. “I just have to stay aggressive and be ready to hit my pitch.”
Candelario is still getting his walks, which is a positive sign. His on-base percentage since May 25 is a robust .340. He’s also hit five home runs in that span. So, it’s not been a complete drought.
“This is a hard level,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “The pitching is tough. And he’s coming up in situations where they are bearing down on him more because he’s had some success.”
Candelario is hitting .226 in 72 plate appearances with runners in scoring position. With two outs and runners in scoring position, he’s hitting .200 (25 plate appearances). Gardenhire moved him into the cleanup spot for six games, which coincided with this recent slide. He went 3-for-24 with one, albeit game-winning, home run, in the four-spot.
“Sometimes when you aren’t getting the pitches you want, you try to force it and it gets in your head, ‘I’ve got to get a hit,’” Gardenhire said. “He’s a young player and he’s going to go through it. He’s a really good player and he has a great swing. But he’s going to have to go through some of these battles.
“Every one of them do.”
Gardenhire wonders if maybe Candelario is wearing down. He’s played, before the off-day Monday, 23 games in 22 days. But as far as taking him out of the lineup for a longer stretch, that’s not going to happen.
“We’ve got to let him ride it out,” he said. “He’ll be a better player if he rides it out and starts hitting again.”
Work in progress
Gardenhire couldn’t give Dixon Machado as much rope to work through his offensive struggles. For one, Machado is in the process of a major swing overhaul. And for another, Niko Goodrum is hitting .313 over the last seven games and been hard to take out of the lineup.
“Machie has played fine,” Gardenhire said. “He’s working real hard on his defense and on (turning) double plays. Offensively, he knows he hasn’t put up enough numbers. Now he’s trying to do something about it.”
Machado spent the last two winters working on increasing his launch angle, hoping to boost, not so much his home run count, but his ability to drive the ball into the gaps and get more extra-base hits. It didn’t work. The only thing he increased was his fly-ball out rate.
“When you’ve been doing something and you’ve done it for a couple of winters in a row, working on a change, and now it doesn’t look like it’s going to work out in the big leagues — hitting balls in the air, especially in Detroit — you’ve got to make another adjustment,” Gardenhire said. “When a team plays a shift on a guy like him, he needs to make an adjustment.
“He needs to get that infielder back on the other side, and you do that by hitting the ball the other way.”
Gardenhire has expressed to Machado that he wants him to be a player who can handle the bat, push bunt, drag bunt, hit the ball to the opposite field to move runners, execute hit-and-run plays.
“If you are hitting the ball in the air, none of those things come into play,” he said.
Machado is hitting .206 this year with a career-high 30.2 fly ball rate (FanGraphs).
A state secret
Gardenhire said he knows how his pitching rotation will line up after the off-day Thursday, and he could tell you — but then he’d have to kill you. Not really, but he’s not trying to do other teams any favors.
“Why would I want to give people an extra week to prepare for us,” he said. “We’ve got it all worked out and you’re going to enjoy the heck out of it.”
One thing for certain, left-hander Francisco Liriano, who has been out since May 26 with a hamstring strain, will pitch this weekend in Cleveland.
“He’s back,” Gardenhire said. “He feels great and we’re going to slot him back in.”
As he talked about Sunday, Blaine Hardy will remain in the rotation — but not in a strict six-man cycle.
“Hardy will be slotted in somewhere back in there, too,” Gardenhire said. “He might be in the bullpen for a little bit, but he’ll get slotted back in there.”
After an off-day Thursday, the Tigers will play 20 games in 20 days. That’s when Gardenhire will likely deploy the six-man rotation for a couple of turns before the All-Star break.
Around the horn
Left-handed reliever Daniel Stumpf (ulnar nerve irritation) made the first of what will be at least two rehab outings with Triple-A Toledo Tuesday night. He threw 22 pitches,14 strikes, allowed a run on two hits with a strikeout and no walks.
… How good has the Tigers’ pitching been through this recent surge: The starting pitchers had, entering play Tuesday, allowed three runs or less in nine of the last 10 games and the 3.05 ERA in that stretch is fourth best in the American League. And the bullpen hadn’t allowed a run after the sixth inning in the last five games.
… Gardenhire was joking about the free-swinging offensive approach of rookie Ronny Rodriguez. “Oh he swings,” he said. “He’s not up there to see too much other than the ball out of the pitcher’s hand.”
… With a win Tuesday, the Tigers would be back to .500 for the first time since April 4 (4-4). They had gone 0-for-4 in their previous bids to reach the break-even mark.
Tigers at Reds
First pitch: 12:35 p.m., Wednesday
TV/radio: FSD, 97.1
RHP Tyler Mahle (5-6, 3.96), Reds: The Reds have won his last four starts. He’s allowed six earned runs in those 21⅓ innings and opponents have hit .260 and a .351 slugging percentage. He’s 23 and in his first full season. He loves his 93-mph four-seamer, throwing it 68 percent of the time, mixing in a slider (84 mph) and change-up (84).
RHP Michael Fulmer (3-5, 4.13), Tigers: He has gone back to playing country hardball and it’s put him back on track. He’s allowed a single run in each of his last two outs (both seven innings). He’s only walked one and struck out 11 in those two starts. And he’d done with heat. He’s thrown 71 and 67 fastballs (two-seamers and four-seamers) all 95-mph and firmer in those two starts. His average fastball velocity in those two starts, 97.5.