'Consistent' Niko Goodrum digging in at cleanup spot for Tigers
Detroit — All you need to know, to a certain extent, about the Tigers’ offense this season is the fact Niko Goodrum has been the cleanup hitter most of the time.
Goodrum has batted fourth in the lineup in 21 of the 24 games he started heading into Friday — and he was scheduled to hit fourth against the Royals, too.
The Tigers’ offense has been quiet all season. But Goodrum, to his credit, has done everything he can, with a .247/.369/.816 slash line, three home runs and 11 RBIs out of a position in the lineup where power and run production is generally expected.
Maybe Goodrum wasn’t necessarily the expected choice to hit fourth in the lineup every day. But it’s been working out just fine.
“We’re just trying to move things around,” said manager Ron Gardenhire, noting he discusses lineups with the Tigers’ analytics personnel to get the best lineup possible. “We talk about different things, who gives you the best chance, and what analytics say is Niko could bat first, or second, or fourth.
“Or fifth or sixth. Wherever you want to hit, he’s going to get his swings in.”
Goodrum’s hallmark is his versatility, exemplified by the fact he has started in five games at first base, one game at second base, nine in left field (including Friday), four in center field, and three each in right field and at designated hitter.
Gardenhire wants to get Goodrum in the lineup every day, and he’s been doing so because of Goodrum’s ability to play anywhere.
“We’re just trying to find something that balances out, with some production,” Gardenhire said. “I don’t think Niko cares where he hits, as long as he’s in the lineup and takes some whacks.
“He’s been very consistent for us. We have to keep him healthy. I don’t want to beat him up too much. But he’s been doing fine, he’s been swinging it.”
While Goodrum hitting fourth so often might raise some eyebrows, there’s also the notion of Jeimer Candelario leading off.
Candelario has now hit first in 10 games, and he had a .471 on-base percentage in those games heading into Friday.
Candelario reached base three times Wednesday in Philadelphia — he had two hits and a walk — and has now reached base safely in 15 straight games.
“We don’t have a perfect leadoff guy, so you ad lib and do the best you can,” Gardenhire said. “I talk to our guys on the computers and put them where they need to be. It doesn’t always work, but he’s doing fine.
“He had a good day on the last day in Philadelphia; had some good swings on it.”
Candelario’s patience at the plate, Gardenhire said, has made him an effective leadoff man thus far.
“He’s not afraid to take a walk, or take close pitches,” Gardenhire said. “He knows his own zone pretty good. When he gets out of the zone, that’s when you have to calm him down a little bit.”
Home sweet home
Friday’s game was the Tigers’ first at Comerica Park since April 21.
Rainouts, a couple off-days built into the schedule, and down time on the road made the trip seem even longer than it was.
“Those trips, with days off and all the weather, makes it seem a lot longer time when you have days off on the road,” Gardenhire said. “You have to figure out what to do and make it through a day.”
The month of May could be quite the opposite in terms of the schedule.
The Tigers are home for 16 of the next 27 games. Also, only 10 games are against teams currently with a .500 record or better.
Around the horn
The Tigers announced outfielder Christin Stewart (right quad strain) began an injury rehab assignment Friday in Single-A Lakeland.
Stewart has been out of the lineup since April 18, but still leads the Tigers with 13 RBIs.
...Jim Price returned to the radio booth after missing the last road trip with a virus. Dan Petry filled in for Price on the eight-game, 10-day trip.
…Tyson Ross will start Saturday against the Royals. Ross returned from paternity leave on Friday.
Royals at Tigers
First pitch: 4:10 p.m. Saturday, Comerica Park, Detroit
►RHP Homer Bailey (2-3, 5.70), Royals: Bailey has lost his last two starts, including a 7-3 loss to the Angels on April 28. Bailey went six innings in that game, allowing six hits and four earned runs with no walks and three strikeouts. In 30 innings this season, Bailey has allowed 27 hits and 19 earned runs, with a 1.27 WHIP.
►RHP Tyson Ross (1-3, 4.03), Tigers: Ross has been on paternity leave and hasn’t pitched since allowing seven hits and four earned runs over five innings in an April 24 loss at Boston. He has faced the Royals three times in his career, and his 3-0 with a 2.37 ERA (five earned runs in 19 innings).