'We're pressing a lot': Tigers' MLB-worst chase rate testing Gardenhire's patience

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — It’s to the point now where it’s costing manager Ron Gardenhire and his coaching staff sleep. Not that they ever get much anyway during a long baseball season, but losing five straight games by a combined score of 48-11 will make narcoleptics out of anybody.

So, there was Gardenhire and quality control coach Joe Vavra at 5 a.m. Saturday morning pouring over video of the previous night’s 7-2 loss to the Athletics.

John Hicks is one the Tigers' hitters who is chasing the ball at the plate.

“One of the things we saw, we swung out of the zone something like 36 or 38 times,” Gardenhire said. “That’s not good. We need to fix that. You’ve got to get back in the zone. We really chased. Their guy (Frankie Montas) was good, but we made him even better.”

Looking at the Statcast hitters’ charts, the main culprits were Nick Castellanos, John Hicks and Ronny Rodriguez, who each swung at seven pitches outside the strike zone. Christin Stewart swung at six.

“We have to try to get back to enjoying the game of baseball again,” Gardenhire said. “We’re pressing an awful lot. We watched guys swinging at so many pitches outside of the zone…We looked at a lot of different things, but ultimately it comes down to plate discipline.”

This isn’t a new issue for the Tigers hitters. According to Fangraphs, the Tigers' chase rate of 36 percent is the worst in baseball.

“It’s driving Lloyd (McClendon, hitting coach) crazy,” Gardenhire said. “He works his butt off, him and Phil (Clark, assistant hitting coach) both. They are in the cage tirelessly. They have been doing everything they possibly know how to do.

“But ultimately, they can’t walk up to the plate for you. All they can do is give you a program to follow. You’ve got to trust your hands and carry it into the game. They can’t hit for you.”

The point is well-taken. There are no drills for hitting pitches outside the strike zone. Hitters are trained to hit strikes.

“You have to get a good pitch to hit. Right now, we are fouling off the good pitches and chasing outside the zone too much.”

One thing to come out of the early morning video work, Gardenhire has juggled his batting order for the third time this season and the second time in the last couple of weeks.

With Niko Goodrum still down with the flu, Josh Harrison was moved back into the leadoff spot. Dawel Lugo was moved to the second spot in the order with Stewart, who is 3-for-27 this month and is hitting just .185, was dropped to sixth.

“Stewart is scuffling, fighting it a little bit,” Gardenhire said. “We just decided to get him out of the two spot, get him down in more RBI situations and, hopefully, he’ll put better swings on it. We’re just mixing it up. We can’t keep doing the same thing without scoring.

“If you aren’t getting enough hits, not putting enough hits together — try something else.”

Fielding slump? 

Center fielder JaCoby Jones led baseball with 21 defensive runs saved last year. This year, so far, he's a minus-5 in that defensive metric.

"We know he's an elite defender," Gardenhire said. "He's trying to do too much out there. He pushes the issue on it."

Twice in the past week Jones has had base hits scoot past him and go to the wall, with the runner ending up on third base both times. It happened Friday night on a ball hit by Matt Olson in the three-run sixth inning.

"He was going to be superman," Gardenhire said of Jones' attempt. "We don't need superman. We just need to catch the ball and get it back to the infield. He's got to calm down in some of those situations. 

"He's too good an outfielder to see that."

Around the horn

Right-hander Drew VerHagen, who was designated for assignment and then outrighted to Triple-A Toledo, was roughed up in his first start Friday. He allowed five runs and six hits (two home runs) in two innings. 


Twitter: @cmccosky