Detroit Tigers first-round draft pick Riley Greene, 18, on what it feels like to be a pro ballplayer. John Greilick, The Detroit News
Detroit – Tigers Brandon Dixon waited a long time to sneak a ball through an over-shifted defense designed by the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Rays loaded up the left side of their infield against the right-handed hitting Dixon on Thursday, and he rolled two singles between the shortstop and second baseman – who were playing only a few feet apart.
“That felt good,” he said. “Especially against them.”
The Rays' Triple-A team at Durham has vexed Dixon the last couple of years with its uncanny ability to have a defender in the way of most balls he put in play.
“I swear at one point I hit it right into the shift six at-bats in a row,” he said. “They’re always pushing the envelope with that kind of stuff. So, to finally get a couple through, especially when you don’t hit it super hard and it just sneaks its way through.
“Feels good for sure.”
Dixon has hit his way into a regular spot in manager Ron Gardenhire’s batting order, hitting .319 and slugging .532 with an .865 OPS in 13 games since May 23.
“All I can do is keep putting him out there and see it,” Gardenhire said. “He does have a nice plan at the plate and he sees the ball pretty good. He’s getting his hits. As long as he keeps doing it, you just keep running him out there and see how far it goes.”
Although he doesn't agree, Dixon is proving to be somewhat shift-proof.
"I don't know about that," he said.
According to Statcast, his weighted on-base average (wOBA) is .316 when the defense plays straight up. It’s .498 against the shift.
Two other Tigers’ regulars aren’t fairing as well against the shift. Left-handed hitting Christin Stewart’s wOBA into the shift is .297 – and it’s risen considerably in the last couple of weeks as he’s dumped several hits into shallow left field.
His wOBA is .356 without a shift.
Switch-hitting Niko Goodrum, when he’s batting left-handed, often faces an extreme over-shift and his wOBA into the shift is .272, nearly 100 points less than he hits without the shift (.362).
Gardenhire, though, said he doesn’t want Goodrum to get overly concerned about adjusting to that.
“He’s still getting his hits,” Gardenhire said. “Niko is swinging it pretty good. I don’t want to let that get in his head, then he starts trying something different – he did that once already and really chased balls all over the place trying to do too much.
“He’s been swinging good so just stay there. You can’t control where they play and if you start trying to hit it there, you will get yourself in a mess mentally and with your swing.”
Good first impression
Asked what he liked about Tigers first-round pick Riley Greene, who took batting practice on the field at 3 p.m. Friday, Gardenhire said, “The ball he hit in the Pepsi Club. I like distance.”
Greene, the 18-year-old from Oviedo, Fla., put on a show in batting practice.
With Hall-of-Famers Al Kaline and Jack Morris watching, with future Hall-of-Famer Miguel Cabrera hooting and hollering from the dugout, Greene sprayed line drives all over the park.
And then in his last round, he put four or five balls into the seats in right field, including one onto the Pepsi Porch.
“I tried to get him not to leave,” Gardenhire joked. “Stay here. But he left anyway.”
Gardenhire over the years has seen many first-round draft picks come to the big-league park for the first time and get overwhelmed. He’s seen them try too hard to impress and it ends up being an awkward session.
This wasn’t that.
“You could tell the kid wasn’t nervous,” Gardenhire said. “He was excited to be here and it looked like he had everything under control. I’m sure he was bubbling inside, but he didn’t show it. He looks like a kid who is pretty sure of his abilities and comfortable with it.
“He’s been in the spotlight before, being one of the elite high school players in the country. He’s probably had to handle a lot of this already and that’s good for him.”
Around the horn
The Tigers are going to use an opener on Saturday against the Twins. Gardenhire said they will need to see which relievers are used Friday night before determining who will get the start. Lefty Nick Ramirez will end up being the primary pitcher, unless he too is forced into duty Friday.
… The Tigers promoted former Royals first baseman Frank Schwindel to High-A Lakeland. He had been working in extended spring training.
… Stewart came into the game Friday having hit safely in 11 of his last 14 games. He’s hitting .339 and slugging. 482 in that span.
… JaCoby Jones took a 12-game hitting streak into play Friday.
Twins at Tigers
First pitch: 4:10 p.m. Saturday
TV/Radio: FSD/97.1 FM
RHP Kyle Gibson (6-2, 3.75), Twins: This will be the Tigers’ first look at Gibson this season, but he’s beaten them four of the last five times he’s faced them. He’s allowed just one earned run in 12 innings over his last two starts (against the White Sox and Rays). Opponents are hitting .239 against him in those two outings, with 12 strikeouts and two walks.
TBA, Tigers: The Tigers will use a relief pitcher to start this game (an opener). They will determine who that will be after the game Friday night. Left-hander Nick Ramirez will pitch after the opener.