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Evaluating Jeimer Candelario's season: A hot streak or career-defining?

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Kansas City, Mo. – What do we make of Jeimer Candelario’s season?

Obviously, for him and for the Tigers’ evaluators, there wasn’t enough of it. Candelario went on the injured list Friday, effectively ending his season, with back stiffness.

“We took an MRI today and he has a back strain,” interim manager Lloyd McClendon said. “If we had a 162-games and not 60, we could probably wait it out. But it’s kind of tough with a three-man bench at this time of the year.

“He was going to miss the rest of this series, so we had to do it.”

Jeimer Candelario

It was a productive and encouraging season, certainly. Candelario finished with a career-best slash-line — .297/.369/.503, with a career-best .872 OPS and 136 OPS-plus. And yet, it was just 52 games, less than half a normal season. He had 206 plate appearances.

He started 0-for-17 and his finished 1-for-23 with 10 strikeouts over his last seven games. So hit hot streak was 40 games.

So how to evaluate that going into 2021 – as a hot streak or as a defining stretch?

“The way I look at it,” McClendon said, “you are either part of the problem or part of the solution. We feel like he’s part of the solution. He had a great year and done some really nice things. He switched positions (from third to first) and still carried on.

“We are hoping he can build on that and be the player we think he can be.”

Some of the analytical predictors are in Candelario’s favor. His hard-hit rate (47 percent) and exit velocity on balls put in play (90 mph) were both up from 2019. His strikeout rate (23.8 percent) and chase rate (26 percent) were down. His offensive WAR, 10.2, was a career-best.

“He was having a heck of a year and he wanted to finish strong,” McClendon said. “Nobody wants to finish a season on an injury. But we’ve got to protect this young man. Back stiffness can lead to something else that could be a major problem.”

General manager Al Avila said recently the organization has not given up on Candelario playing third base. It will likely depend on what free agent players Avila targets this off-season. But the club has one more year before it has to make a long-term decision on Candelario. He isn’t eligible for arbitration until after the 2021 season.

“The fact is, you still have to trust your eyes,” McClendon said, when asked about the challenges of evaluating players in this odd-ball season. “You see what you see and you report what you see, whether it’s 162 games or 60 games. What you see is what you see. You have to evaluate honestly and put it on paper.

“But Jeimer’s had a helluva a year and he should be proud of that.”

Christin Stewart

Stewart gets curtain call 

The fallout from Candelario’s injury is that Harold Castro and Brandon Dixon will share reps at first base the rest of the way and left fielder Christin Stewart gets another chance to get something positive out of this season.

“He gives us another left-handed bat and he was swinging it well at the alternate site,” McClendon said. “Hopefully he can continue it up here.”

Stewart, hitting .171 with three home runs with 27 strikeouts in 91 plate appearances, was sent to Toledo on Sept. 9. He has been on this season-ending road trip as part of the taxi squad.

“Just trust,” Stewart said. “The biggest thing, whether you are doing good or bad, is just controlling what you can control and that’s what I’ve been trying to do. Just come with a positive attitude every day and get my work in.

“Just do everything I could to prepare for when my name does get called.”

The reports from Toledo were extremely positive. He was launching balls all over Fifth Third Field in Toledo, just like he did during his Triple-A days. And in batting practice on this trip, McClendon took notice of how the ball was jumping off his bat.

“Hopefully he made a few adjustments down there and we hope it carries over,” he said. “I’ve always said, you hit 30 home runs you become a helluva left fielder.”

 Stewart said his issues weren’t mechanical. They were mental. He’d simply lost confidence at the plate.

“Honestly, I wouldn’t say I had any huge range of emotion when they sent me down,” Stewart said. “I just knew I had to go to work. Nothing really changed emotionally or how I went about my day. I was pretty much just super focused on getting back up here and I did everything I could to get back up here.”

Around the horn 

Willi Castro is living his best life right now. The rookie shortstop had his third straight multi-hit game on Thursday. He also hit his sixth home run and knocked in three. “I’m having a lot of fun,” he said. “It’s a dream come true to be here with all these amazing players. Players that you watch on TV growing up and say I want to be like him, and here you are right next to him.”

… Daz Cameron took extra base hits away from both Hunter Dozier and Whit Merrifield Thursday night. He tracked both balls into the right-center field gap and caught both just as he was about to hit the fence. He also stole his first base in the big leagues.

Tigers at Royals

First pitch: Saturday, 7:05 p.m.

TV/radio: FSD/97.1 FM

SCOUTING REPORT

LHP Matthew Boyd (2-7, 6.96), Tigers: If he stays on pattern, he’s alternated good starts and bad starts all month, he’s due to finish the season on a high note. His last one was rough, giving up five runs in five innings against the Indians.

RHP Carlos Hernandez (0-0, 3.46), Royals: This will be his third big-league start and he hasn’t gone longer than 3.2 innings in either of previous starts. He features a power sinker (96 mph) and a slow curve ball (82 mph).

Twitter @cmccosky