Houston — Hitters walk a fine line between being patient and passive at the plate.
Patience equates to an understanding of the strike zone, to plate discipline and a willingness take a borderline strike in order to get a better one later in the at-bat.
Passive equates to a lack of aggression and conviction.
In just 18 games, 73 plate appearances at the big-league level, Tigers rookie right fielder Travis Demeritte seems to walk that line expertly.
“I think he handles himself well,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He’s shown an understanding of the strike zone a little bit. He’s not afraid to take pitches — sometimes he takes too many. But we’re talking about a really small sample size.
“Let him play. Time will tell us. But I like what I see.”
Demeritte, back in the lineup Wednesday after sitting out a game with a sore groin, had hit safely in 13 of his first 18 games since the Tigers acquired him from the Braves in the Shane Greene trade. He’s had five multiple-hit games.
He entered play with a .292 average, a .356 on-base average (.354 weighted-OBA), an .848 OPS, a 120 OPS-plus and 121 weighted runs created.
He also has a .425 average on balls in play — which wouldn't seem sustainable.
“I’m not really worried about results,” Demeritte said. “I’m playing for the long haul. Whatever I accomplish over the time I am up here the rest of the year is only progress toward where I want to be in the next 10 to 15 years.
“I’m still just learning, putting the pieces together and trying to set myself up for the long haul.”
That maturity, especially the maturity he shows at the plate, is part of what drew the Tigers to him at the trade deadline. His chase rate is 23.2%. To put that in perspective, Miguel Cabrera has a 33% chase rate. Dawel Lugo has a 47% chase rate.
Demeritte’s plate discipline, at age 24, is advanced.
“It’s something that has served me well since I kind of bought into it,” Demeritte said. “I’d always been what I considered a free swinger most of my life. If I liked a pitch, I swung at it. And I think that helped me identify what I do well and what I don’t do well.”
He struck out 415 times in his first three seasons after the Braves took him the first round of the 2013 draft. He also walked 142 times. Through Double-A and then especially this season at Triple-A Gwinnett, he further locked in his strike zone.
“What I’m doing now, as I get later into my career, I can kind of pick and choose what I want to do (at the plate),” he said. “It’s allowed me that option to pick and choose whether I want to attack a certain pitch.
“It’s helped me recognize certain pitches where I can still stay aggressive.”
Demeritte understands it’s just 73 plate appearances. And he understands that he’s seen mostly fastball, as pitchers try to figure out his strengths and weaknesses.
“These guys don’t know me anymore than I know them, most of them,” he said. “I’m a fresh face. They want to see what I can do, so they’re going to challenge me with fastballs and challenge me in certain counts and see what I can do with certain pitches.
“I just have to be ready.”
He’s hitting .310 and slugging .524 so far against fastballs. He’s hitting .250 and slugging .583 on breaking balls. Of the 12 off-speed pitches he’s put in play, he’s hitting .273, all singles.
“I’m still learning,” he said. “I don’t say I’ve mastered it or anything like that. But I’ve gotten a lot better over the course of my career and I hope (this approach) continues to serve me and I’ll continue to get better.”
Demeritte might end up being a case study for players in the lower rungs of the Tigers’ minor league system, too. His is the approach that’s being emphasized throughout the organization.
“He’s not afraid to take pitches, he has a good plan at the plate — and you see that in a young guy without a lot of experience, handling himself like that, it’s kind of fun,” Gardenhire said. “It’s kind of what we will hopefully be up through our system.
“That’s something we preach throughout our system — finding ways to have guys stay in the zone and actually know the strike zone. There’s a lot of different ways you can work on stuff like that and our organization has really gone in depth to try to figure that out.”
The Tigers held Niko Goodrum out of the lineup Wednesday for the fourth straight game because of a sore groin.
“He doesn’t want to go on the injured list, which is what you’d expect,” Gardenhire said. “He texted me this morning and said it definitely felt better. But maybe that was just getting out of bed.”
Goodrum went through a full pregame workout to test the groin.
“We have to see how he does,” Gardenhire said. “If he feels anything, we’ve got to make a decision. We just have to give it time and see how he does.”
If the Tigers decide to put Goodrum on the injured list, most likely left-fielder Christin Stewart would be recalled from his rehab assignment at Triple-A Toledo. Stewart has been cleared from the concussion protocol.
“It’s just about picking the right time to get him up here,” Gardenhire said. “We were talking about Minnesota (this weekend). But we were also talking about letting him stay down there and get at-bats and play every day until the September call-ups.
“That way we don’t have to make some severe roster moves where we have to release somebody. He can get swings down there.”
Obviously, though, if Goodrum is out, then Stewart will meet the team in Minnesota.
Tigers at Astros
First pitch: 8:10 p.m. Thursday, Minute Maid Park, Houston
RHP Jordan Zimmermann (1-8, 6.66), Tigers: Coming back from a nerve-block injection in his neck, he threw a five-inning gem at Tampa his last time out. He allowed one hit. He didn’t get many swings and misses (five) but he was dotting the edges of the strike zone and getting a lot of soft contact. The average exit velocity on the 11 balls put in play was 85 mph.
RHP Gerrit Cole (14-5, 2.87), Astros: He returns to the Astros’ rotation after missing two starts with a tight right hamstring. Prior to the injury he had won five straight starts, posting a 1.59 ERA, a .171 opponents’ batting average with 43 strikeouts in 34 innings.