Tigers rookie Mike Gerber learning hard lessons early

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Mike Gerber

Minneapolis — Mike Gerber has hit every year he’s been in professional baseball. In his worst offensive season — in 2016 when he split the year between High-A and Double-A — he hit .276 with an .811 OPS, 18 home runs and 80 RBIs.

That was his worst season.

Until this year. Of all years.

This was his show-me season. Gerber was brought to big-league camp this spring and given a real chance at winning an outfield spot. And for the first time in his life, his bat betrayed him. He was sent back to Triple-A to start the season and hit .214 with 94 strikeouts in 299 plate appearances.

But the Tigers didn’t quit on him. He is a plus defender at all three outfield positions, he runs the bases well and until this season, he’s always hit with some consistency. So, when injuries starting piling up and the roster started to get jostled around, he was summoned to Detroit.

Finally, here he is, getting his first extended action in the big leagues and wouldn’t you know, the bat has remained in exile.

“It’s been a little bit of an adjustment,” Gerber said before Saturday's 7-5 win against the Twins. “This is a spot where I am facing pitchers I’ve never seen before. Obviously, I’ve not gotten off the start I wanted to.”

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He has four hits in 35 at-bats so far, with 15 strikeouts. Entering play Saturday, he’d gone hitless in 23 straight at-bats, with 11 strikeouts.

“It’s not a little difference between the pitching here and in Triple-A, it’s a big difference,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “A big difference in everything — velocity, experience. It’s an adjustment.”

Teams have homed in one specific weakness with Gerber — off-speed pitches. He has yet to get a hit off a change-up or breaking ball. He has a 75 percent whiff percentage on off-speed pitches.

“I think it was in the Anaheim series where I was swinging over a few change-ups and teams saw that,” Gerber said. “It’s on the scouting report. It is what it is. I need to make an adjustment. I knew it wasn’t going to be all sunshine and rainbows.”

The thing is, Gerber didn’t have any real issues hitting breaking balls and off-speed pitches coming up. He gained notice in the organization for how well he, a left-handed hitter, hung in against left-handed pitchers.

But this season, especially at this level, it’s been an issue.

“We have some theories and we’re working on them, ways that we can make it better,” Gardenhire said. “There are some mechanical things he has to get better at. (Friday night) he stayed on a couple of balls and hit them in the air.

“But it wasn’t an attack swing. He’s still kind of feeling for it a little bit. Watch him in batting practice and he’s killing the ball. It’s a process. He’ll get plenty of swings.”

That’s probably what Gerber needs more than anything else, more swings and more looks at big-league pitching.

“The more you see some of these guys, the more you start getting comfortable and the more you start seeing patterns,” he said. “That’s the way it works. You make an adjustment to the league and they will come back and make another adjustment to you.

“Just have to keep working.”