Alpha dogs: With Hill in the mix, Tigers have speed to burn in the outfield

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit – There is no such thing as having too much speed and athleticism — especially if you are talking about defending the spacious outfield at Comerica Park. And with Derek Hill back in the mix, the Tigers’ zone coverage has expanded significantly.  

But it comes with a heightened emphasis on communication.

There have been a couple of times already this season when the aggressive pursuit of fly balls by two speedy Alpha dog outfielders has led to near collisions. And, in one case, a dropped ball. That was in Cleveland on June 30. Daz Cameron, playing right field, crossed in front of Hill, screening him from the ball and causing him to drop it.

“We do have a lot of speed out there,” Akil Baddoo said. “It can be a struggle sometimes with the communication. But that’s something we’ve been working on so that when we are out there, we’re sure we are on the same page.

“It’s going to be fine. It’s not a bad problem to have.”

Tigers center fielder Derek Hill slams into the outfield wall making a catch.

It most certainly is not. It’s a blessing, just ask any pitcher on the Tigers’ staff. But there is a new dynamic involved. Kimera Bartee, promoted internally to be the new first base coach, also will be handling the in-game positioning adjustments for the outfielders.

“Kimera will be fine,” manager AJ Hinch said. “He was with us all through spring training until the last week and he’s had a working relationship with George (Lombard, bench and outfield coach). They’ve been in contact all season. This level is not new to KB.”

In the first game of the doubleheader Saturday, Hinch started Hill in center with Eric Haase in left and Robbie Grossman in right. The best coverage defense, though, will be when Baddoo and Hill start together.

“It doesn’t change our charts,” Hinch said. “The data is the data on where guys generally hit the ball. (Hill) just makes more plays. That’s where the value is. It’s not in our positioning. That doesn’t change. Haase is a solid left fielder and Grossman can cover his ground in right. It’s just about play-making.

“The numbers don’t change just because you change the configuration of your outfield, but the number of plays you make should change. We’re excited about having him here.”

Fulmer progressing

Barring any setback, Tigers late-inning reliever Michael Fulmer could begin a rehab assignment as early as next week.

“He’s going great,” Hinch said. “He’s likely to throw a bullpen sometime this weekend, just get off the mound nice and easy. Then he’ll throw a couple more bullpens and a live batting practice. If there is no setbacks between now and the end of the weekend, we can probably see him getting off the mound (in competition).”

Fulmer has been out since June 27 with a right cervical (neck) strain.

Around the horn

… Niko Goodrum, who was in the lineup at shortstop for Game 1, was scratched with right before the game with left calf tightness. He’d gone through pre-game defensive drills but walked off gingerly with the trainer after doing sprints in the outfield. Zack Short replaced him in the lineup.

...After the game, Hinch announced that Goodrum would be placed on the injured list. Victor Reyes was summoned from Toledo and was expected to be available for Game 2. 

… Starter Matthew Boyd (elbow) still isn’t throwing off a mound. He’s throwing off flat ground, steadily increasing distance and eventually volume. He isn’t expected to be back until August at the earliest.

… Prospect Kody Clemens, a second baseman by trade, has been playing at both first base and right field at Triple-A Toledo. “We’ve said over and over that versatility can help you get to the big leagues,” Hinch said. “We want our players to move around and be an answer when we need a call-up. If you can increase your versatility, you increase opportunity.”


Twins at Tigers

1:10 p.m.

TV/Radio: BSDet, 97.1

Scouting report:

LHP J.A. Happ (5-4, 5.90), Twins: The Tigers nicked him for eight hits and a home run by Eric Haase in Minnesota last week but couldn’t deliver the knockout punch. The Tigers must’ve been sitting on his secondary pitches because he got 15 called strikes and seven swings-and-misses with 59 four-seamers.

RHP Wily Peralta (2-1, 2.08), Tigers: He’s allowed one earned run in 19⅔ innings over his last four starts. He’s had excellent command of his fastball and slider, but the key has been a split-change that he developed this winter. Hitters are 0-for-22 against it with eight strikeouts.

— Chris McCosky