Milwaukee — Christin Stewart got a hard lesson in how quickly you can go from way up to way down at this level of professional baseball.
The Tigers rookie left fielder got three hits, walked and drove in a run Thursday night in Minnesota. On Friday, he learned that his first taste of big-league life, in all probability, is over. The Tigers announced before the game that Stewart had a lower abdominal strain.
It's similar to the injury that ended shortstop Jose Iglesias' season earlier this month.
“I don’t know, it was random,” said Stewart, fighting his emotions and trying to be careful with his words. “I don’t really know what to say. I want to play, obviously. I don’t think I’m going to finish the season playing. It sucks.”
Neither manager Ron Gardenhire, trainer Doug Teter nor Stewart know exactly when the injury happened. Gardenhire suspected it was when Stewart was running the bases Thursday night.
“He just came in sore,” Gardenhire said. “I'm not going to let him hurt it again. But we'll give him the benefit of the doubt and go day-to-day. He wants to play, like all players, but it doesn't make sense. He's done what he needs to do. He's shown us what he can do here. He's swinging good.
“I don't want him to go out there and have to come out of the game hurt. I don't like that.”
Stewart said there was no exact moment when he sustained the injury. He indicated it was something he’d been dealing with for some time.
“It was just something that was lingering,” he said.
Told that the Tigers weren’t going to risk turning the strain into something more serious with three games remaining, Stewart said, “I think that’s what they think. I don’t know. It’s kind of out of my hands. It’s frustrating.”
Stewart had started 16 straight games since he was added to the active roster after his Triple-A season ended. And he made a strong first impression. He reached base safely in 14 of those 16 games. He hit .267 with a .375 on-base percentage (10 walks) and a .417 slugging percentage.
His two home runs came in the same game. He also had a double, a triple and 10 RBIs.
It was just 17 games, with 16 starts, but it was a valuable jump-start on 2019, when he figures to be the Tigers every day left fielder.
“Being up here, being around these guys, being in a big-league clubhouse talking to these guys, being around this whole coaching staff, it’s been great,” Stewart said. “I can just go to spring training next year just be ready to get after it.
“I’ve already done everything. There’s nothing for me to prove. Just go out and play and have fun. That’s the big thing.”
Teams have fed him a lot of breaking balls lately and he’s hitting just .176 against curveballs. But if you throw him a change-up, duck. He’s hitting .455 against off-speed pitches.
“Being up here, the pitchers make adjustments a lot faster,” Stewart said. “But it’s also nice because us as hitters, we can make adjustments easier, too, because of all the stuff they have up here to help me at this level (analytics, video resources).
“It’s the same game up here. It’s just the pitchers are more consistent with everything they throw. You have to be more focused and take each at-bat as it comes and not try to do too much. That’s what I’ve been trying to do. Try to take each at-bat as it comes, try to relax in the box and just have good swings.”
Defensively, which has been the main concern with Stewart, he adapted to a more spacious left field in Comerica Park relatively well. He made a Tigers’ season-high nine putouts in the game Wednesday at Target Field.
He is still a work-in-progress defensively, and his throwing arm is suspect and his technique needs refinement. But he wasn’t a liability in left field over the last three weeks.
“I feel like I belong,” Stewart said. “Obviously you are always going to have to make adjustments. You always have to get better offensively, defensively and even the mental side of the game. But being up here shows I can compete at this level.
“It gives me a little confidence coming into next year.”
Stewart, even though he was the Tigers’ minor-league position player of the year two years in a row at Double-A and Triple-A, will be attending his first big-league camp next spring. Gardenhire, who had only seen him in a handful of spring games before September, has been impressed.
“They told me he could hit,” Gardenhire said. “He knows what he's doing at the plate. He's a really strong guy. I mean, he's been on the baseball. He's been fun to watch. Long, good at-bats. A lot of pitches thrown. He fouls balls off and fights them off. He's been good.
“We're excited about him. He's what we're looking for: talented people with a great upside, and I think he really does have that.”
Tigers at Brewers
First pitch: 7:10 p.m. Saturday, Miller Park, Milwaukee
LHP Wade Miley (5-2, 2.32), Brewers: The Brewers have won his last six starts. He’s posted a 2.51 ERA and a .250 opponents’ batting average in those starts. He’s allowed just three home runs in 77.2 innings this season. He missed most of May and June with a groin injury.
LHP Daniel Norris (0-5, 5.22), Tigers: That he will be making his sixth start this month and is stretched out to 100 pitches, after missing four months recovering from groin surgery, is one of the Tigers success stories of the second half. That he’s allowed three runs or less in four of the previous five — that’s just a bonus.