'Trying to shake it up': Tigers working to add first base to Candelario's resume

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Seattle — The idea was initiated from upstairs.

Tigers general manager Al Avila and assistant general manager David Chadd urged manager Ron Gardenhire to start giving Jeimer Candelario some work at first base.

Third baseman Dawel Lugo’s bat has perked up at Triple-A Toledo and he’s likely to be called back up to the big leagues soon.

Third baseman Dawel Lugo’s bat has perked up at Triple-A Toledo and he’s likely to be called back up to the big leagues soon. Prospect Isaac Parades, who projects to play third base in the big leagues, is rising fast through the system.

And the Tigers also drafted a third baseman in the second round in June — Nick Quintana.

And, on the flip side, with Miguel Cabrera relegated to a full-time designated hitter role, John Hicks taking on more of the catching duties, if Nick Castellanos is traded, then Harold Castro and-or Brandon Dixon — who have been playing a lot of first base — will be needed in the outfield. 

So, there was Candelario before Thursday's game, wearing Hicks’ first baseman’s glove, taking ground balls and throws under the tutelage of Gardenhire.

“He’s played there before,” Gardenhire said. “He just hasn’t played there in a while. It’s just an opportunity. We’ve got a guy down there in Triple-A (Lugo) swinging the living fire out of the bat, just killing it down there.

“And we’re trying to shake it up. This is an option. And he’s willing to do it.”

Lugo, who hit just .207 in a 28-game audition this season, is hitting at a .346 clip (.808 OPS) in his last six games at Toledo. In the month of July, his slash-line is .291/.453/.760. And although Candelario has made huge strides defensively at third base, the Tigers believe Lugo is the better fielder.

“It surprised me a little bit,” Candelario said. “But I feel comfortable wherever I can help the team win. It’s almost the same as playing third base. Just the glove, it’s bigger. You’ve got to get used to it. That, and making the toss instead of throwing the ball.

“But it’s almost the same thing.”

Candelario played one game at first base in the big leagues, with the Cubs in 2017. He’s played 35 games there in the minor leagues.

“It will be good for me to have that versatility,” he said. “I would play left field, right field, anywhere. With the Cubs, everybody had to take fly balls in left field and right field. You see everybody there can play almost every position.

“This will be good for me and for the team.”

It’s not clear how soon the Tigers are planning to bring Lugo back up, but Gardenhire said he expects Candelario to get a start at first base during this 10-game trip.

“We’ve got to shake things up,” Gardenhire said. “We’ve got guys swinging good at Triple-A, you’ve got to find a spot for them. And one way to keep Candy’s bat in the lineup is to move to first base. It wasn’t presented to him as a request, we said, ‘This is something we want to do to help the ball club.’”

Since June 26, Candelario has an OPS of .918 and is slugging .544 with five home runs and 14 RBIs. He’s also been playing his best third base since he’s been a Tiger (10 defensive runs saved, second to Matt Chapman in the American League). Which is something Gardenhire acknowledged.

“He’s been doing real well and now we’re asking him to do something else,” he said. “But that’s what a rebuild is. We’re going to have to be flexible and find the right guys and give people chances. This is really a feather in his cap if he can play first and third and hit a little bit.

“This could be a bonus for him.”

Thompson back in fold

Seven years later, the Tigers have brought back their top pick in the 2012 draft.

Needing to restock the organizational shelves with starting pitching, the Tigers agreed to terms with right-handed pitcher Jake Thompson, whom they traded along with Corey Knebel to Texas in 2014 for Joakim Soria.

He was assigned to High-A Lakeland.

Thompson, still just 25, was pitching this season in Korea where he made 11 starts for the Lotte Giants before being released. He posted a 4.74 ERA and a 1.229 WHIP, with 60 strikeouts in 62 2/3 innings.

He got to the big leagues with the Phillies in 2016 and pitched parts of three seasons.

What up, Stumpf?

When the Tigers sent lefty Daniel Stumpf back to Toledo on Wednesday, they told him to go find his slider. The pitch has abandoned him this season, with opponents hitting .318 and slugging .455 off it.

The average exit velocity on balls put in play against him (90.4) is in the bottom eight percentile in the major leagues, and his hard-hit rate (46.5 percent) is in the bottom three percentile.

“He hasn’t been consistent,” Gardenhire said. “I told him, I’m seeing more of a curve action to his slider than it used to be. He used to throw it straight down, over the top. He’s throwing it flat across the zone and anytime it starts going flat it stays in the zone longer and hitters have a better chance to put it in play.

“I think he’s had some bad luck, but I also think his ball was staying in the zone too long.”

Around the horn

The Tigers relievers entered play Thursday having allowed just two runs in 16 2/3 innings with 20 strikeouts in the last three games. Opponents were just 8 for 57 against them in that stretch.

… The Tigers were shutout on Wednesday for an American League-leading 10th time.

Tigers at Mariners

First pitch: Friday, 10:10 p.m.

TV/radio: FSD, 97.1

Scouting report

LHP Daniel Norris (2-8, 5.02), Tigers: The Mariners have roughed him up over the years, averaging nearly six runs a game in five starts. They’ve also hit five homers off him in five games, the most any non-Central Division team has against him. This will be Norris’ 18th start, matching his career-high in the big leagues.

LHP Yusei Kikuchi (4-7, 5.37), Mariners: It’s been a grind for him since mid-May. In his last 10 starts, he’s 1-6 with a 7.85 ERA. Opponents are slugging .644 with a 1.062 OPS. His best pitch is a slider (27.6-percent strikeout rate), which he uses off a 92-93 mph fastball. He also mixes in a curveball and slider.  

Twitter.com: @cmccosky