Moving Josh Harrison out of lead-off spot problematic for Tigers

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Tigers lead-off hitter Josh Harrison is batting .122 to open the season.

Detroit — Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire and his staff have discussed moving the struggling Josh Harrison out of the lead-off spot.

But there are a few problems with that. Like, there is only one other legitimate option to hit at the top of the Tigers' order, Jeimer Candelario, and if you put him at the top, who do you put in the fifth or sixth spots?

“It just screws up our whole lineup,” Gardenhire said. “It screws with the depth of our lineup. If I put Candy at the top of the lineup, the depth the rest of the way down gets real dicey.”

Especially with Christin Stewart and Jordy Mercer on the injured list.

“That’s what’s really bad about doing it,” Gardenhire said. “From the fifth spot on down, like, what do we do? There’s no fit. Not even analytically. My computer just starts spitting and crying.”

The other side of the issue is that Harrison has a track record. Nobody expects him to continue hitting .122.

“He just needs to lay off the high pitches,” Gardenhire said. “He swings at those and they go straight up in the air. I just want him to cover the ball. He’s chasing up in the strike zone too much, and to be a good lead-off man, you’ve got to stay off those pitches.”

Harrison had two hits in his last 30 at-bats after taking an 0-for-4 Sunday, though one of them was a home run that he poked out to right field Friday. Gardenhire thinks adjusting to the spacious Comerica Park is part of the issue for Harrison.

“He’s played in other parks, Pittsburgh, and he’s hit balls here that he thought were gone,” Gardenhire said. “We’re not in Pittsburgh anymore, Dorothy. This park is not conducive. This ballpark is what it is. He’s crushed some balls (that were caught), and I know that’s frustrated him.

“He’s got to start covering the ball, hitting more line drives and ground balls and trying to get on base.”

Boyd at Fenway

Historically, Fenway Park isn’t a fun place for left-handed pitchers, with that short, high, green wall in left field. But Tigers lefty Matthew Boyd, who gets the ball Monday against the Red Sox, is mostly undaunted by the challenge.

“I don’t think so,” he said when asked if he had to change how he approaches hitters at Fenway. “You attack hitters, pitch to your strengths and to the hitters’ weaknesses. When it comes down to it, I’m not really going to change too much.”

Boyd made his Fenway debut last June, and pitched 6⅓ strong innings (four hits, two runs, six strikeouts) in a Tigers’ win.

“It’s a cool park,” he said. “It’s an awesome opportunity to go out and pitch in a park that’s been around since when Babe Ruth played. That in itself is special.”

Super slider

Though his four starts, Boyd has relied primarily on his four-seam fastball and slider. And why wouldn’t he? Opponents are hitting .233 off the fastball and .222 off the slider. And with the slider, hitters are swinging and missing 45.6 percent of the time. He has a 46 percent strikeout rate with that pitch.

But, lest there be a misunderstanding, Boyd hasn’t shelved his curveball or change-up. They are still in the tool bag.

“The game will decide what you need to go with,” said Boyd, who is tied for fourth in the American League with 36 strikeouts. “What’s working that day will dictate it. You stick the with plan, right? At the same time, you have to be able to change on the fly.

“This is how it’s worked out so far, with the fastball and slider. But we can pitch with the change-up and we can pitch with the curveball — whatever is working. They are all there.”

Staying aggressive

The Tigers aren't going to stop pushing the envelope on the bases, even though they had two more runners thrown out Sunday. 

"You can't just stand there all day long," Gardenhire said. "We're not scoring a lot of runs."

Candelario established an aggressive tone Sunday when he stretched a double to a triple with one out in the second inning. It looked like the Tigers were testing the arm strength of relay man, second baseman Yolmer Sanchez.

Candelario scored on a bloop single by recently promoted Brandon Dixon. Dixon tried to stretch it to a double and was easily thrown out by shortstop Tim Anderson.

"The ball kind of just checked up, like a good golf shot," Gardenhire joked.

John Hicks led off the third inning with a smash to the right-center field gap — similar to the ball Candelario hit. He, too, tried to stretch it to a triple. This time, Sanchez made a strong relay throw and nailed Hicks.

The Tigers have had nine runners thrown out on the bases this season, not counting two runners caught stealing, including Harrison Sunday.

"We just have to try to take advantage when the situation presents itself," Gardenhire said.

On deck: Red Sox

Series: Four games, Monday-Thursday, Fenway Park, Boston

First pitch: 7:10 p.m. Monday-Thursday

TV/radio: Monday — FSD-plus/97.1; Tuesday-Thursday — FSD/97.1

Probables: Monday — LHP Chris Sale (0-4, 8.50) vs. LHP Matthew Boyd (1-1, 2.96); Tuesday — TBA vs. RHP Spencer Turnbull (0-2, 3.43); Wednesday — LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (1-2, 7.20) vs. RHP Tyson Ross (1-2, 3.38); Thursday — RHP Rick Porcello (0-3, 8.47) vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann (0-3, 4.94).

Scouting report

Sale, Red Sox: Rough start, to say the least. His fastball velocity is down to 92 mph and it’s been getting clobbered. Opponents are hitting .524 and slugging 1.098 off the fastball through four starts.  

Boyd, Tigers: He’s tied for fourth in the American League with 36 strikeouts and his 13.3 strikeouts-per-nine innings rate is second to Gerrit Cole. He’s got the lowest fielding independent pitching average in the league. He made his first start at Fenway last June and pitched 6⅓ strong innings (four hits, two runs).

Twitter: @cmccosky