The time is now for Tigers former first-round pick Derek Hill
Chicago — Nothing against his teammates in Toledo, but Derek Hill would just as soon not see them for a while.
“The boys down there are doing unbelievable,” he said. “It’s a fun team to be on. But I can’t wait to be on this one.”
For the second time this season, the Tigers have recalled Hill from Toledo and this time, it sounds like his stay might be more extended than the last, which was for one game.
“He’s earned this opportunity,” manager AJ Hinch said. “We’ve only given him the 27th man job (extra player in double-headers). When he got here he had a big smile on his face. I kind of hope he gets to stay here for a while.”
Hill replaces Victor Reyes, who was put on the injured list with a left intercostal (chest-ribs) strain.
“We had a couple of options,” Hinch said. “JaCoby (Jones) is on the roster. Daz Cameron is playing well. But Derek has outperformed everybody. We’ve seen Derek a couple of times. I’m glad he’s getting the chance to stick and get a little playing time.”
Hill, 25 and the Tigers first round pick in 2014, is seeing the dividends from a major swing change he made over the winter. He was destroying Triple-A pitching, slashing .355/.417/.526 with a .943 OPS.
“I’m just trying to simplify things as much as possible and get into a good hitting position early on so I can read the pitches a little better,” he said. “It’s kind of been a stigma in my head that I needed to perform better with the bat.”
That was the message Hinch delivered to Hill when he sent him back to Triple-A this spring. He’s an elite fielding center fielder, but he’s going to have to find a way to contribute with the bat if he’s going to play in the big leagues.
“I just had to stay mentally strong and grind out every single at-bat and not give a pitch away," Hill said. "And thank God I didn’t.”
Hill worked with his father, Orsino, who is scout in the Dodgers organization, on streamlining his hitting mechanics, taking out a lot of the moving parts that were prohibiting his swing from getting sync’d up and on time through the zone.
“It’s nice to see it pay off,” Hill said. “Early on I wasn’t seeing results but I was feeling very good, very comfortable and I knew with time and when things started heating up weather-wise, I knew mentally the product would start showing.”
Hill wasn’t in the starting lineup Thursday, but Hinch said he planned to start him on Friday.
“When I got to see him in spring training, you could see the electrifying athleticism,” Hinch said. “You see he has more strength than he’s given credit for and he can redirect the ball with a little bit of force. His pitch selection is getting cleaned up and it looks like it improved in Triple-A.
“He’s hitting it hard and to all fields. He’s not in the mode of trying to separate and hit balls in the air a ton, but he’s not content with just touching the ball and hitting it on the ground.”
Hill went 1-for-11 in his brief call-up last September, but he calls that experience “all positive.”
“Obviously, the results part of it wasn’t what I wanted, but I learned a lot about the game,” he said. “Even in 11 at-bats, just learning how the game functions up here. It’s different than in the minor leagues, you can’t deny that.
“But once you get comfortable, it’s the same game as before.”
How long Hill stays depends solely on how he performs. He knows the tenuous nature of that better than most, especially playing alongside former Tigers Christin Stewart and Jones, in Toledo this season.
“This is the end goal, staying here,” Hill said. “And whatever I have to do to stay here, I’m going to do it and see where the cards play after that. I can only control what I do on my side and I will live with the results.”
Rough road for Reyes
Reyes just can’t seem to get untracked this season. From arriving late to spring training, struggling out of the gate, getting optioned back to Toledo for a short stint and now this. The soreness in his ribs and chest area started more than a week ago, but it became unplayable after his last swing in the seventh inning in Milwaukee on Tuesday.
“It felt like it got better and then he took an awkward swing in Milwaukee,” Hinch said. “That’s when I had (Akil) Baddoo hit for him later. Victor never complained about anything. He’s a real hard read. But after talking to him more, we felt like it was best to pull him.
“And the more we talked we realized the extent that it was bothering him.”
Around the horn
… Both Hinch and assistant general manager David Chadd watched Jose Urena’s bullpen session intently before the game Thursday. Urena, who missed one start with a cramp in his lower right forearm, is expected to return to the rotation on Sunday. This was to be his final test and he appeared to throw with no discomfort.
… Jeimer Candelario took a 28-game on-base streak, the leading active streak in the big leagues, into play Thursday. It’s the longest streak of his young career and also puts him in some good company historically. Since 2010, only two Tigers have had longer streaks: Miguel Cabrera (44, 35, 32, 29 twice) and Prince Fielder (29). No Tiger hitter has had a streak this long since Cabrera’s 44-gamer in 2013.
... JaCoby Jones is still searching. He's 4 for 33 with 15 strikeouts at Toledo.
… It’s All-Star Game voting time again. The 91st Summer Classic will be at Coors Field in Denver on July 13. On the ballot for the Tigers -- Jonathan Schoop (1B), Willi Castro (2B), Jeimer Candelario (3B), Niko Goodrum (SS), Wilson Ramos (C), Miguel Cabrera (DH), Akil Baddoo (OF), Robbie Grossman (OF) and Nomar Mazara (OF). Go to MLB.com/vote for voting details.
Tigers at White Sox
►First pitch: 8:10 p.m.
►TV/Radio: BSD, 97.1
►RHP Spencer Turnbull (4-2, 2.93), Tigers: Turnbull, according to Statcast, he has thrown six different pitches this season and none of them have been hit hard or consistently – four seam (.217), slider (.229), sinker (.206), curveball (.100), change-up (.200) and cutter (none in play).
►LHP Dallas Keuchel (4-1, 4.53), White Sox: The two-time All-Star and former staple of Tigers manager AJ Hinch’s rotation in Houston has been hit or miss in 11 starts. He’s allowed eight home runs in 251 plate appearances, significant since last year he allowed just two in 257 plate appearances. His strikeout rate (12%) is lowest since his rookie year.
— Chris McCosky