Minneapolis — Manager Ron Gardenhire pulled Miguel Cabrera aside when the Tigers were in Philadelphia a week ago.
“I told him, ‘My goal, once we get Christin Stewart back, was to bat you fourth,’” Gardenhire said. “He really liked that. Just an opportunity to get more guys on base in front of him and Nicky (Castellanos).
"They weren’t getting to hit with runners in scoring position.”
This is the second major alteration Gardenhire has made to his batting order. The first was moving Josh Harrison out and Jeimer Candelario into the leadoff spot.
Entering Friday's series opener against the Twins at Target Field, Gardenhire moved Niko Goodrum into the leadoff spot, with Stewart hitting second ahead of Castellanos and Cabrera.
“Getting Stewart back makes all the difference in the world,” Gardenhire said. “Candy’s been scuffling along. Even though he’s getting on base some, he’s still not swinging very good. We just decided to try something.”
The primary reason for the move is to get more runners on base ahead of Cabrera and Castellanos. Cabrera, who leads the Tigers with 14 RBIs, has had 35 plate appearances with runners in scoring position (he’s 14-for-30 in those situations).
Castellanos had only 20 plate appearances with runners in scoring position (5-for-17).
“It lengthens our lineup a little, too, which is good,” Gardenhire said. “And it lets Candy relax and just go up and swing, not worry about trying to be too picky and just swing.”
Candelario, whose batting average has dipped to .205 with just one home run, was moved down to sixth. Ronny Rodriguez, who has been swinging a hot bat, is in the fifth spot. Harold Castro, Grayson Greiner and JaCoby Jones were in the seven, eight and nine spots.
“Hitting sixth gives Candy a chance to see the pitcher throw, too,” Gardenhire said. “He’s been taking a lot of close pitches and you see him up there shaking his head, ‘No, no.’ But, if they are calling that pitch a strike, you have to adjust and put a swing on it.
“Maybe moving him down in the order will get him to be a little more aggressive in there.”
Goodrum, whose on-base percentage is .328 even though he’s hitting just .200 this month, has just 25 plate appearances from the leadoff spot, and six of those came in 2017 during his brief stint with the Twins. He is 2-for-22 with three walks.
But, analytical trends indicate Goodrum could be ready to perk up offensively. According to Statcast, based on his hard-hit rate (45 percent), average exit velocity (87 mph) and launch angle (14 degrees), his expected average (.283), slugging percentage (.493) and weighted on-base average (.375) are well higher than his actual numbers (.227/.391/.316).
“Niko’s not a prototype leadoff hitter and we know that,” Gardenhire said. “But the guy can hit. I don’t mind him getting four or five at-bats every ballgame. And if we can get the guys at the bottom of the lineup to start hitting and getting on base, then everybody’s going to get more chances to hit with runners in scoring position.”
Getting Stewart back is one step forward for the Tigers offense, but it is mitigated by the continued absence of Harrison and shortstop Jordy Mercer (who aggravated his quad injury).