Candelario comes out of break with renewed confidence

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Jeimer Candelario looks skyward after hitting a solo home run during the seventh inning on Sunday.

Detroit — Jeimer Candelario went back to the Dominican Republic during the All-Star break, back to his father's baseball academy, where everything started for him.

His father, Rogelio, has always been able to identify how and why his swing gets out of whack. He also spent time sharing the batting cage with suspended Mariners All-Star Robinson Cano, who has been a lifelong mentor for him. 

Mostly, though, Candelario went back home to clear his mind. He had been mired in the worst batting slump of his life, hitting .155 since June 4, his batting average dropping from .276 to .226.

"The big thing was just to refresh," Candelario said. "I learn about how to have confidence in myself all of the time. Everything is not going to be perfect. You’ve got to learn from it and I have learned from everything I have been through.”

The early evidence supports that. He went 4-for-11 against the Red Sox this weekend, and two of the outs came Sunday in two of the best at-bats the Tigers had against All-Star left-hander Chris Sale.

"I always want to compete against the best," Candelario said. "He is one of the best in the business."

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Candelario's first at-bat was a 12-pitch marathon, with six foul balls after he had two strikes on him. He ended up grounding out to third base.

The second at-bat was a nine-pitch grind, with four more foul balls after two strikes. It ended in another ground out. 

Still, 21 pitches, 10 two-strike foul balls — impressive.

"I try to be in a good position to recognize the ball," he said. "And then just battle. He won, but I want to be in that position to battle every time and not be an easy out."

You could feel his confidence building through those two right-handed at-bats. His next at-bat was against right-hander Brandon Workman. Hitting left-handed, he belted a 92-mph fastball 401 feet into the seats in right-center field for his 14th home run.

"When you have good at-bats, you feel confident going to the next at-bat," Candelario said. "You just compete, compete, it's all about competing. Then in the third at-bat, I got the hit."

Manager Ron Gardenhire could see this coming. In the team's first batting practice on Friday after the break, the ball was jumping off Candelario's bat.

"It looked like he was starting to get it back," Gardenhire said. "He looked more confident...If he can keep swinging it like that, he's going to be fun to watch in the second half."

Teams had started spotting fastballs off the plate to Candelario and trying to get him out with breaking balls and off-speed pitches. As his slump deepened, he found himself chasing both the fastball and the secondary pitches — something that was very uncharacteristic of him.

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But he insisted the pitchers weren't showing him anything he hadn't seen before.

"Nothing like that," he said. "You see guys like Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, the best players in the big leagues, and they go through a lot of things, too. This is my first year here and I just want to learn and try to get better every day.”

Candelario had one more good at-bat on Sunday. With the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth against reliever Joe Kelly, again batting left-handed, he hit a ball to 390 feet to center field, with an exit velocity of 101 mph.

It had, according to Statcast, a hit probability of 78 percent. 

Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. raced back and caught it on the warning track. 

Still, Candelario smiled as he rounded first base. He's almost back. 

McCann stumble

If you are losing by eight runs in the seventh inning, the last thing you want to do is get thrown out at a base.

James McCann suffered that ignominy Sunday, though he still believes he was safe (and certain angles of the replay support that).

McCann was on first when Jose Iglesias rolled one softly through the right side of the Red Sox infield. McCann rounded the base, seemed to stumble a little and was thrown out by second baseman Eduardo Nunez, who got to the ball in shallow right field.

"Looking out of the corner of my eye, I thought it had gotten by him," McCann said. "As I rounded the bag, I realized it didn't. At that point, I hadn't gotten far off the bag, but the ball wasn't that far into the outfield and he was able to throw me out."

McCann made an acrobatic sprawl and seemed to elude the tag of shortstop Xander Bogaerts. Second base umpire Gary Cederstrom called him out. The Tigers challenged but apparently there wasn't enough evidence to overturn the call.

"I will probably get in trouble for saying this, but there were a lot of people who thought that (he was safe)," McCann said.

Around the horn

Drew VerHagen gave up a three-run home run to Jackie Bradley Jr. in the fourth inning, but then retired nine straight batters. Louis Coleman, who has struggled recently, retired five straight hitters in his stint. 

...Nick Castellanos had a double in three at-bats against Chris Sale, raising his MLB-leading average against left-handed pitchers to .410.