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'He's not afraid:' Led by bold Akil Baddoo, Tigers' run game is gaining traction

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit – The baseball acumen isn’t supposed to be this advanced for a 22-year-old who hadn’t ever played above High-A ball.

Akil Baddoo led off second base against veteran right-hander Lance Lynn in the first inning Friday night. The Tigers scouting reports said Lynn could be run on, but that was more about stealing second base.

Baddoo, though, saw that rookie third baseman Jake Burger, making his big-league debut, was playing well over toward second base in the shift.

Akil Baddoo stole two bases Friday and has 12 on the season.

He calculated the risk and his chances of winning a sprint to third against Burger against the reward of getting to third base with less than two outs and he bolted. He not only stole the base, Burger never got to the bag.

“He’s not afraid,” Hinch said of Baddoo. “That’s a great trait to have. He’s very aggressive. But he’s also very smart. He has the best first step on our team and arguably on a lot of teams. His awareness has grown from the beginning of the season until now on what he’s looking for.

“That was being opportunistic at taking a base when the game allows it.”

Baddoo stole two bases Friday and has 12 on the season. This is a facet of offense we haven't seen much of the last bunch of years. Niko Goodrum has 12 steals and Robbie Grossman 10 – the first time since 2018 that three different players have double-digit steals and we’re not even to the All-Star break yet.

Incidentally, the Tigers steals leaders for the full 2018 season were Jose Iglesias (15), JaCoby Jones (13) and Goodrum (12). They finished with a 70 percent success rate.

“If pitchers are going to be slow and we feel like we can exploit that and get an extra 90 feet, we’re going to be aggressive,” Hinch said. “It’s not just the totals, I’m happy with our success rate.”

The Tigers have 53 stolen bases on the season — 27 in the last 28 games — tied for second most in the American League and for third in the Majors. They’ve only been caught 12 times. That’s an 81% success rate.

“We’ve been very hard on these guys about paying attention to small details in the running game,” Hinch said. “Can we get to the next base without putting a ball in play. It’s very advantageous. I know it’s old-school and a lot of guys don’t want to risk an out near as much as they used to.

“But we’re trying to gain a competitive advantage by being an aggressive team on the base paths.”

And by the way, Baddoo is starting to look really natural in the leadoff spot in Hinch’s lineup. He was there again Saturday, even though the White Sox started crafty veteran left-hander Dallas Keuchel.

“We’re going to continue to put things in front of him,” Hinch said. “One of the reasons he’s in there is he’s got pretty good (strike) zone control and understands a strike from a ball. Akil is just one of our best hitters at the end of the day.

“It doesn’t guarantee he will be there against (left-handed pitchers) in Texas or Minnesota next week. But I like where Akil is at. I like what he brings. Today, our best lineup has Akil in it.”

In his previous eight starts in the leadoff spot, Baddoo hit .333 (11 for 33) with a .389 on-base percentage and an .813 OPS. Overall, he’s hit safely in 22 of his last 30 games in which he’s had an at-bat, slashing .350/.463/.480 with eight doubles, a triple, a home run and nine RBIs over that span.

There are 20 rookies with at least 140 plate appearances so far this season, among them Baddoo ranks first in stolen bases and OPS (.857), second in batting average (.282), slugging percentage (.486) and walk rate (12.7%) and third in on-base percentage (.371).

Twitter@cmccosky