Tigers' C.J. Cron hit reset button after surgery and got his swing back
Fort Myers, Fla. — Tigers first baseman C.J Cron played the final two-plus months of the 2019 season with a serious injury to his right thumb, serious enough to require off-season surgery to fix. Can you imagine trying to hit big-league pitching with a broken thumb on your top hand?
It would force you to significantly change your hitting mechanics, wouldn’t it?
“Not on purpose,” said Cron, who bashed a three-run home run way beyond the mini-Monster in left field in the first inning of the Tigers 13-9 Grapefruit League win against the Red Sox at Fenway Park South (jetBlue Park) on Wednesday.
Fact is, he had to adjust his swing to compensate for the pain, so much so that by the end of the season he was completely out of whack at the plate. He ended up on the injured list twice and slashed .229/.280/.420 in the last 47 games he played for the Twins after June 16.
“When you are carrying some stuff (playing hurt), it’s almost impossible to do things the right way,” he said. “I think that when you have injuries toward the hand and wrist area, it messes up your swing just enough to where it doesn’t feel right.
“It’s a game where we fail quite a bit, and you need to be locked in. Even when I started to feel better, my swing at that point was so messed up it was hard for me to find it again.”
Cron had been a stabilizing presence on a young, slugging Twins team that was running away with the Central Division title last year. He and Jonathan Schoop, now with him in Detroit, helped bring balance to both the infield and the batting order.
Batting after Nelson Cruz and Eddie Rosario, and in front of Miguel Sano or Marwin Gonzalez, Cron was hitting .266 with an .821 OPS, 17 home runs and 54 RBIs before the injury. He also did extreme damage against the Tigers, if you don’t remember — slugging .689, 1.020 OPS, seven home runs in 16 games.
Down the stretch, though, he was limited to seven starts after Sept. 8 and wasn’t a factor in the Twins’ brief playoff run. In his first postseason appearance since 2014, he made one start and got just five at-bats as the Twins were swept by the Yankees.
“I had full faith in (Twins manager) Rocco Baldelli,” Cron said during the offseason. “I loved him as a manager and I trusted my team. We were there not just for me and Schoop. We were there as a team. We did nothing but support the guys.”
That kind of selflessness and professionalism, not to mention the power stroke, are part of what made them top targets for general manager Al Avila this offseason. Cron and Schoop each signed one-year, $6.1 million contracts.
“I feel good and my swing feels good,” Cron said. “I’m just meeting new teammates and trying to get to know them a bit more. That’s the most important part of all this. Everything baseball-wise is fine.”
Cron, who was 1 for 3 Wednesday, is 5 for 16 with two home runs, a double and four walks this spring. He’s been mostly playing every other day — which is fine with him. He gets his most important work done in the batting cage.
“Not much can prepare you for the regular season,” he said. “It’s nice to get at-bats, but you can feel it in the cage. You can feel what you need to do. I’ve had springs where I’ve had a lot of at-bats and springs where I haven’t. There’s absolutely no correlation.
“I’ll play whenever they want me to play. I don’t have any particular schedule. I just try to get a lot of work in the cage and make sure my body is OK.”
So how did Cron get back to his natural swing mechanics? Did he study video, compare and contrast his mechanics pre- and post-injury? Did he have to retrain his swing, break it down the ground and start anew?
Yeah, none of that.
“Just natural, I guess,” he said. “In the offseason you take a couple of months without swinging and when you start doing it again; it’s almost like muscle memory puts you back in the right position. I just started swinging and it felt fine, felt a lot better.
“I felt confident.”
Huh. Almost like he had a reset button.
... Shortstop Niko Goodrum had two hits, including his first home run of the spring. Catcher and Dearborn Divine Child product Eric Haase hit his second home run of the spring, clearing the center field wall and capping a five-run ninth.
... Ivan Nova got the start for the Tigers and gave back the five runs over three innings. The two big mistakes were a 1-0 fastball he yanked over the heart of the plate to former Tiger J.D. Martinez — which ended up clearing the Monster in left, a three-run homer. And a solo home run to Jackie Bradley, Jr.
... After laboring through 50 pitches in his previous starts, Nova got through three innings in 32 pitches Wednesday, despite allowing seven hits. "I felt better today," he said. "I feel like I'm making progress." He induced two double-play balls.
... Riley Greene, the Tigers first-round pick last year, played in his seventh spring game. He rolled an infield single and struck out after a long battle in the eighth. He's 5 for 18 with six walks and 11 total bases.