Next step, damage: Tigers' Nomar Mazara showing gradual signs of catching fire

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Arlington, Texas —  Nomar Mazara can sit in the visitor’s dugout here at the new Globe Life Field, look out the big vertical window panes behind the seats in left field and see, still intact, the old ballpark that he played in from 2016 through 2019, where he clubbed 41 of the 79 homers he hit in his time with the Rangers.

But he’s not looking out there, nor is he looking back.

“This is a big-league ballpark right here,” he said before the game Tuesday. “This is nice. Everything about it.”

If he’s wistful about anything, it’s the short 326-foot porch down the line in right field —  especially playing his home games in spacious Comerica Park these days where a 326-foot drive to right gets caught before the warning track.

Detroit Tigers' Nomar Mazara connects for a run-scoring fielders choice as Texas Rangers catcher Jonah Heim (28) and umpire Doug Eddings, right, look on in the fourth inning.

“I’m not going to lie, when you smoke a ball all the time right at people and it gets caught, it’s so hard,” he said. “But the thing is, my mind, mental toughness —  I’m always positive no matter what the situation.

“It’s frustrating to go out and not see results when you are feeling good. But you’ve got to look at it differently. If you keep looking at it negatively, it’s just going to keep putting you down in that hole.”

The Tigers signed Mazara for one year and $1.75 million to provide some power and run production from the left side of the plate. Though recently there have been positive signs, it hasn’t happened. He’s produced three home runs, 19 RBIs and a wRC-plus (weighted runs created) of 69.

“He’s done better than his overall numbers indicate, but he’s still behind where we’d hoped he’d be and where he hoped he’d be,” said manager AJ Hinch, who has recently used him almost exclusively against right-handed pitchers. “He’s hitting the ball to the opposite field maybe a little too much. He hasn’t been able to get that pull swing.”

Mazara, entering play Tuesday, was hitting .300 (12 for 40) with a .370 on-base percentage and .400 slugging over his last 12 games. He also drew five walks and knocked in six runs. But several hits have been opposite-field shift busters or flares —  the Baseball Gods evening things up for him.

He’s still not driving the ball. Which seems counterintuitive when you consider that his launch angle (11.1 degrees) is the steepest it has been since 2017 and the average exit velocity on balls he puts in play (90.9 mph) and his hard-hit rate (41%) are career highs.

“I think that’s a product of focusing so much on trying not to roll over and ground out to the right side so much,” Hinch said. “He’s been caught in between. We’re ready for him to catch one out front and get the ball airborne like we know he’s done so many times.”

Detroit Tigers' Nomar Mazara, right, and Harold Castro celebrate after the Tigers defeated the Cleveland Indians 9-4 .

Mazara is ready for that, too, believe it. But that, the power stroke, is going to be the last piece of the puzzle that he and hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh have been putting together since spring training.

“At the beginning, something was wrong (with his swing),” Mazara said. "I was a little wider (in his stance) and all the pitches inside I couldn’t get to. I was drifting to the ball (leading with his hips) instead of rotating. You can’t do that with how hard these pitchers all throw now. They were throwing me hard inside and I would see the ball but I couldn’t get to it.”

To correct that, Coolbaugh tied a rope around Mazara’s waist during cage work and pulled him back every time he drifted toward the pitch.

“You can’t go forward with that, just up and down, up and down,” Mazara said. “Once I got rid of that, I started smoking the ball. There’s nothing wrong with my swing now. We just have to start getting some results.”

During a recent cage session where Mazara was barreling up ball after ball, Coolbaugh yelled, “Good swing, that’s it.”

Mazara said he looked at him and said, "“Coolie, I don’t care about a good swing, I just want a knock.' And he was like, 'The game is not fair for you.'

“This is a game of failure and that crazy thing about it, you can go out there feeling good and go 0-for-4. You just have to keep working hard, keep adjusting. Finally I’m starting to swing better and swing at the pitches I want to.”

He’s seen Jonathan Schoop and Miguel Cabrera both fall under the .200 mark and come roaring back with strong, productive months in June. Mazara thinks July might just be his month.

“I keep working and I keep believing in myself,” he said. “This is my first year with the Tigers so I wanted to see success and show what I got. They know what I’m capable of, but I want to make it happen. I’m starting to drive the ball the way I want. Next step is to use the same approach and try to do more damage.”

Tigers manager AJ Hinch, right, comes out to talk with home plate umpire Bruce Dreckman while asking for a review in the seventh inning.

No deadline freebies

Hinch, talking on MLB Network Radio on Sirius XM Tuesday, offered a note of caution to teams who may be thinking they can come pluck players off his roster at the trade deadline for free. It’s not happening.

“When you get to this point and you’re under .500, everybody thinks they can just come and pick your players that are free agents or come get a bullpen arm,” Hinch said. “I think where we’re sitting is like, ‘You have to come and pay for our guys, if you’re going to come and get our guys.’”

Tigers general manager Al Avila essentially said the same thing when he addressed the media last month. He said he was under no urgency to move players or flip expiring contracts for prospects. 

“We are trying to develop winners here. We’re trying to maintain a high standard,” Hinch said. “You might have a reliever arm that people want, or you might have an expiring contract that people think they can just come pay for and you’re going to get something rather than nothing.”

Schoop, with his expiring contract, and Jose Cisnero, the veteran reliever, are believed to be among the players teams would covet.

“Where we’re at, keeping our players, if we choose to do so, is going to help our culture and help us develop that winning mindset that we’re trying to instill here in Detroit,” Hinch said. “If some team wants to come and offer Al something, I’m sure he’ll listen and he’ll be fair about it.

“But we’re not going to give away our players to a closer-to-contending team than people see us to be.”

Around the horn

…It looks like center fielder Daz Cameron is bound for a stint on the injured list. He sprained his toe Monday night crashing into the wall chasing a fly ball in batting practice and Hinch said he doesn’t want to use him on the artificial turf here. If Cameron is still hobbling by Wednesday, Hinch will probably call up an outfielder from Triple-A Toledo.

…Derek Hill probably won’t get the call this time. Hinch said Hill was playing through a toe injury of his own. Victor Reyes and Niko Goodrum are both finishing up rehab stints in Toledo. Goodrum started in center field for Toledo Tuesday night, with Hill playing right.

…With the All-Star break coming up, it’s possible the Tigers will bring up another reliever for the series in Minnesota, which will feature a bullpen start on Saturday. Lefty Derek Holland, who had his rehab assignment shifted to Toledo, could be an option.


Tigers at Rangers

► First pitch: 2:05 p.m.

► TV/Radio: BSD, 97.1

Scouting report

► RHP Casey Mize (5-5, 3.55), Tigers: This will the second of three, possibly four, short starts for the rookie. The Tigers are trying to manage his workload now so that he can stay on turn and not have to be fully shutdown in September. He went three innings and 56 pitches in his last outing.

► RHP Kyle Gibson (6-0, 1.98), Rangers: If it lines up, he could be the American League starter in the All-Star Game. He has the lowest ERA in the league and one of the lowest hard-hit rates. This isn’t the same guy the Tigers beat around when he was with the Twins (.300 average, nearly six runs a game). Same six-pitch mix. Same wipe out slider (47 percent whiff rate). But he’s throwing more cutters than ever before and it’s been a good pitch for him.

— Chris McCosky