How John Hicks helped Tigers thwart some sign espionage by Astros

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Tigers catcher John Hicks, right, is greeted at home plate after hitting his first pinch-hit home run in Thursday's 6-3 loss to the Astros.

Minneapolis — This is probably a better question for the folks at Statcast, but can a player get credit for a defensive run saved when he’s not in the game?

John Hicks was on the bench in the seventh inning Thursday night in Houston when the Astros sent nine hitters to the plate and scored three runs. But he may have prevented further damage.

As manager Ron Gardenhire told it, Hicks got up on the top step of the dugout and yelled for catcher Jake Rogers to call timeout and have pitcher Nick Ramirez step off the mound. 

He told them they needed to change their signs.

“He was really into the game and that was good to see,” Gardenhire said.

Alex Bregman had reached on a fielder’s choice and advanced to second on a walk. While he was on second base, Hicks sensed that Bregman was relaying signals to both Yordan Alvarez (who walked) and Yuli Gurriel (who singled).

“Me, (Gordon) Beckham and Jordy (Mercer) were watching,” Hicks said. “And when Bregman got to third base, he was trying to get the guy's attention at second base, like, 'Hey, they are doing this.' I saw that and I just tried to get Jake's attention and let him know."

More: Pitch-framing at root of Tigers catcher Jake Rogers' passed ball issue

Rogers and Ramirez immediately changed their sequence of signs and Ramirez retired the next two batters to end the seventh. Then he got the Astros out in order in the eighth.

“I mean he was up yelling at the kid (Rogers) to switch it up,” Gardenhire said. “That was a first. We hadn’t seen him do that before. Just shows how they are staying in the game.”

Hicks, who hit a game-winning home run off Justin Verlander on Wednesday and then hit a pinch-hit two-run homer in the ninth on Thursday, shrugged it off.

"There are more teams that do it (steal signs) than don't,” Hicks said. “When you are sitting there watching the game you try to do stuff to help out. I was paying attention to that."

The Astros and Indians are two teams that have a reputation for being adept at stealing signs. To which Hicks laughed and said, “A lot of the teams that are really good are really good at it."

Funny how that works out.

Candelario optioned

Just as they did with left fielder Christin Stewart, the Tigers will keep third baseman Jeimer Candelario at Triple-A until rosters expand in September. He was taken off the injured list and optioned to Toledo on Friday.

“He’s still working his way through some things,” Gardenhire said.

The other side of that coin, though, is the progress Dawel Lugo has made, especially defensively, in his audition at third base.

“We like what he’s doing,” Gardenhire said. “He’s making an adjustment at the plate right now so he’s been out of whack.”

More: Justin Verlander responds as dispute with Tigers beat writer heats up

Lugo was hitting .333 with an .859 OPS at Toledo, but since he’s been back with the Tigers this month, he’s struggled — .194 with 15 strikeouts in 67 at-bats. But he came within a couple of feet of hitting a game-tying home run off Astros closer Roberto Osuna Thursday.

“He did exactly what Lloyd (McClendon, hitting coach) has been telling him in that at-bat,” Gardenhire said. “He really stayed on the ball and kept his balance. He loses his front side. He’s got to keep his weight back and use his legs better. He just collapses up front chasing pitches all the time.”

Defensively, though, Lugo has been a revelation.

“The improvement he’s made at third base is probably as much as I’ve seen in a player in a long, long time,” Gardenhire said.

Around the horn

Gardenhire said catcher Grayson Greiner is on track to return to the club in September.

“He’s doing fine,” he said. “He should be joining us as the third catcher in September if he stays healthy.”

Greiner, who began the year as the starting catcher, has been out with a back injury since June 14.

…Speaking of Hicks’ home run Thursday, it was his first career pinch-hit home run. And he can forever tell his kids and grandkids that he once pinch-hit for Hall-of-Famer Miguel Cabrera and hit a homer.

Tigers at Twins

First pitch: 7:10 p.m. Saturday, Target Field, Minneapolis

TV/radio: FSD/97.1

Scouting report:

►RHP Edwin Jackson (3-6, 8.46), Tigers: It’s not a trend you want to see. Over his three starts with the Tigers, his velocity has dropped on all three of fastballs — four-seam from 95.5 to 92.7; two-seam from 95 to 91; cutter from 93.7 to 92. He gave up three runs in his first two starts, covering 11.1 innings. He was tagged for five runs, with seven hits and four walks, over five innings in his last.  

►RHP Kyle Gibson (11-6, 4.40), Twins: He’s got a low spin rate on his 93-mph fastball and that’s the pitch teams need to do damage on because his slider is lethal. Opponents are hitting .140 against it with just five extra-base hits on 132 put in play. He’s got a 48.5 percent strikeout rate and a 53.1 swing-and-miss rate with it.

Twitter: @cmccosky