Cleveland — It was a general discussion, not aimed at any particular Tigers player, but you could hear echoes of the names Travis Demeritte and Jake Rogers in the pauses.
“You better be able to hit a fastball,” manager Ron Gardenhire was saying last week.
Demeritte and Rogers, the two Tigers with the least amount of plate appearances at the big-league level, have struggled mightily against fastballs this season. Rogers went into play Thursday 5-for-58 (0.86) and a 40 percent strikeout rate against heaters, per Statcast.
“I think he’s taken some better swings, but he swings and misses a lot and that is a concern,” Gardenhire said. “We’ve got to watch him. He’s got a lift swing and teams recognize that.”
Rogers is in the process of undergoing a major reconstruction of both his swing mechanics and his approach at the plate — a very daunting thing to do while facing big-league pitching in September. The fruits of that endeavor won’t be seen until next spring, at the earliest.
Demeritte’s natural launch angle isn’t as severe as Rogers’ but he, too, has struggled to get the barrel of his bat on fastballs, particularly those in the upper part of the strike zone. Demeritte is seeing fastballs 65 percent of the time and he’s hitting .204 (19-for-93) with a 35 percent strikeout rate.
Of the 100 fastballs he’s seen, he’s swung and missed at 37 of them.
“He’s going to have to make some adjustments, that’s what we’re seeing,” Gardenhire said. “But that’s why you let him play this time of the season. You see if he can make adjustments and get through it. He’s got to a few of them and hit them a long way.
“But he’s got to make adjustments, in-game adjustments, as you go at-bat to at-bat. If they are throwing the ball up and you are swinging through it, you’ve got to lower your sights.”
Demeritte, acquired from the Braves in the Shane Greene trade on July 31, came into the game Thursday on a 10-for-50 skid, with 17 strikeouts and one walk. He understands that the scouting report on him shows an icy cold zone against heaters at the top of the strike zone.
“Guys at this level can locate it well,” Demeritte said. “A high fastball is one of the toughest pitches to hit and it’s also one of the most susceptible pitches for a hitter because it looks so good. More than anything, it’s more of an adjustment that needs to be made on my behalf as far as being more disciplined to lay off that pitch up there and make them bring it down in the zone.”
It’s not so much adjusting his swing, Demeritte said. It’s more about being able to recognize it sooner and letting that high fastball go.
“More times than not, it’s not a strike anyway,” he said. “If the umpire is giving them that pitch, it’ll be a long night. Most umpires don’t. It’s just a matter of being more disciplined and recognizing it’s not a strike and it’s not something you can do damage with.”
One of Demeritte’s home runs this season has come off a fastball — a 96-mph sizzler from Houston’s Hector Rondon at Minute Maid Park. The other two have come off a curveball and slider.
“Just because he can’t do it yet, doesn’t mean he never will,” Gardenhire cautioned. “He’s still a young enough guy. Maybe he will figure it out. He’s got talent. He’s got tools.”
Demeritte, in fact, is anxious for the offseason so he can begin closing that hole at the top of the strike zone.
“This is baseball, man, it’s a game of failure and I know I’m going to fail,” Demeritte said. “I just want to give myself the best chance I can. I can’t wait to get into the offseason and start working again and get back to evaluating what I’ve done this year and making some adjustments going into next year.
“I’m happy where I am at. Things will get better here, with the organization and myself. We’re going to turn this around and I am excited for next year.”