New York – Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire didn’t have to explain the move, not to Christin Stewart nor to the public. It was, for the most part, a no-brainer.
In a tie game in the ninth inning Tuesday, against Yankees left-handed closer Aroldis Chapman, Gardenhire used switch-hitting Niko Goodrum to pinch-hit for the left-handed swinging Stewart. Stewart was 1 for 19 this season, and in his short MLB career he is just 2 for 12 against left-handed pitchers.
And Chapman, well, he’s a miserable at-bat for any left-handed hitter, regardless of talent or experience level (.131).
So, for sure, you improve your odds in that situation by running Goodrum up there to hit from the right side. Still, Gardenhire felt compelled to explain the move, especially to Stewart.
“I have all the confidence in the world in Stew,” he said. “But we had Goody there and Goody’s doing fine. His legs were feeling good. We might as well try it. Fortunately, he got on (walk) and when we hit a ball in the gap, you don’t want anybody else on the team running. It worked out.
“It’s not going to be the norm (pinch-hitting for Stewart against lefties), but it’s going to happen sometimes. Everybody gets pinch-hit for, except I didn’t. I was just a great player.”
He laughed at that. It was easy to laugh after Dustin Peterson sent a rocket to the wall in left field, scoring Goodrum easily from first in a 3-1 win. But Gardenhire knows he’s walking a fine line with Stewart, trying to put him in positions to succeed without coddling him too much.
“I’m not worried about him hitting lefties,” Gardenhire said. “But there comes a time in a ballgame when this big guy is out there (Chapman) and it’s not a good matchup. I know in spring training we let him face a whole bunch of lefties in a row and he got beat up a little bit.
“He’s still trying to recover from that. I don’t want to see that again.”
Stewart hit .269 against left-handed pitching at Triple-A Toledo last season, so Gardenhire believes he will figure it out at the big-league level. And, who knows, maybe next time Chapman is on the mound late in the game, Stewart will get a chance to hit against him.
“You have to deal with this,” he said. “We’re not protecting him by any means. But this guy is a big, tough left-hander and I don’t want him to get in his head. He’ll get to face him, believe me, he will."