Tigers' Robbie Grossman not rattled by Blue Jays' four-outfielder alignment

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — When Robbie Grossman walked up to the plate in the first inning Saturday night, something didn’t look right. The Blue Jays were short an infielder. Then he looked out beyond the infield and there were four fielders stationed around the outfield.

“That’s different,” Grossman said.

Tigers outfielder Robbie Grossman entered Sunday's series finale against the Blue Jays hitting .236 with 19 home runs and 57 RBIs.

When he flew out to left-center field in the first, the third baseman was backing up the play 300 feet from home plate. When he flew out to left field in the fourth inning, the third baseman made the catch.

“I’ve been on the other side of it, where I’ve been the fourth outfielder,” Grossman said. “I didn’t really try to do anything different. Just tried to do the same thing, stay with my approach. Just try to hit the ball hard and go from there.”

Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoya was taking a page out of AJ Hinch’s playbook. Hinch deployed four outfielders against Joey Gallo this season when he was still playing with the Texas Rangers.

“I don’t blame him with Robbie,” Hinch said. “This ballpark, with the biggest outfield imaginable, it doesn’t really surprise me. Ironically, he hit a couple of balls in that direction and then when they had to undo it, Robbie got a hit. Proof that it works.”

The Blue Jays played a full infield shift against Grossman with a runner on base in the seventh and he lined a single over it. Grossman, a switch-hitter, batted left in his four at-bats Saturday. The Blue Jays wouldn’t have deployed four outfielders against him batting right-handed.

“It didn’t bother me as much as I thought it might,” he said. “Part of it is, hey, you might hit the ball in the air too much. But it is a compliment, too. It just a matter of how you look at it.”

For certain, Grossman said, it won’t make him change his plan of attack.

“I think that’s the psychological part of it — they want you to do that, to change your approach,” he said. “That, more so than where the fielders are positioned, is the mind game. If I try to hit a ball that way (toward the vacated left side of the infield), it takes me out of my whole game.”

Grossman, who has 19 home runs and a 118 OPS-plus, learned that lesson the hard way earlier in his career when he consciously altered his swing to try to beat a traditional shift.

“It was like when they first started playing the shifts against me and I tried to hit the ball the other way,” he said. “It went really downhill for me. So this, it just makes me want to pull the ball even more.”

Grossman was 0-for-2 against the four-man outfield Sunday (two strikeouts) and then doubled against a traditional shift in the sixth inning.

Daz vs. Reyes

As much as the Tigers want to give rookie Daz Cameron extended time in the big leagues, keeping him on the active roster over Victor Reyes at this point in the season would have counterproductive to the team and unjustifiable to both players.

Cameron was 2 for 21 since coming off the injured list. He wasn’t playing every day and he has some things he needs to work through at the Triple-A level. Reyes, on the other hand, is a switch-hitter, can play all three outfield positions, runs the bases intelligently and has adapted well to playing a bench role.

“Yeah, from a role standpoint, Victor really fits that role of the extra outfielder off the bench,” Hinch said. “You can play him a day or two, sit him a day or two. His swing is more consistent and he can put the ball in play.

“And being a switch-hitter is an advantage, as we saw (Friday night when he came off the bench and delivered the game-winning, inside-the-park home run).”

And the best move for Cameron’s development was to go play every day in Toledo.

“He has stuff to work on around the margins of the game,” Hinch said of Cameron. “He’s still learning and growing — whether it’s base running or outfield play or having a consistent swing. He’s not a finished product, and Victor can do a lot of things to help a team win.”

Hinch said Cameron’s stint at Toledo might only last 10 days, or it could be longer, depending on how he responds.

“It’s important for Daz to figure out his swing,” Hinch said. “One day he comes in with different hand placements, different rhythm, different timing and that’s hard to do at this level. We see his electrifying skills and he could be back in short order. But consistency can only come with playing. He needs to play.”

What a play

Down 2-1 in the top of the seventh, the Tigers finally breaking through against Blue Jays starter Jose Berrios, reliever Jose Cisnero very quickly found himself in a bases-loaded, no-out mess.

"We had to keep the game close right there," Hinch said. 

Cisnero first got Teoscar Hernandez to fly to shallow right field. And then the Castro boys turned a most impressive and improbable double-play to end the inning.

Alejandro Kirk hit a ground ball to the shortstop side of second base with the Tigers shifted to that side. Willi Castro fielded the ball while shortstop Harold Castro hustled to the bag. Harold caught Willi’s throw with his bare hand, found the bag and made a jump throw to first base, which had to be scooped by Jonathan Schoop to get Kirk.

"I liked how we were positioned and then let the athletes play," Hinch said. "Both Willi and Harold did a nice job. When we ended that inning with the same score we started it with, it felt like momentum had shifted to us.

"We just couldn't quite capitalize on it."

Around the horn

The Tigers after the game Sunday optioned right-hander Jason Foley back to Triple-A Toledo. Presumably, the Tigers will call up a fresh bullpen arm before the game Monday.

… Hinch said right-hander Jose Urena might still get another start or two before the end of the season, but mostly, he will be used every third or fourth day in a bulk reliever, tandem starter role.

Twins at Tigers

First pitch: 2:10 p.m. Monday, Comerica Park, Detroit

TV/radio: BSD, MLBN/97.1 FM

Scouting report

RHP Bailey Ober (1-2, 4.06), Twins: Primarily a four-seam fastball (92 mph) and slider pitcher, he has good spin on both. The four-seam rides up in the zone and the slider he works down. The Tigers got him for four runs (back-to-back homers by Niko Goodrum and Zack Short) in 3.1 innings on July 10. But the Twins are 4-2 in his last six starts and he’s allowed just 8 runs in 30.2 innings.

RHP Casey Mize (7-6, 3.55), Tigers: He pitched five scoreless innings against a right-handed heavy Cardinals lineup in St. Louis his last time out. It was a clinical performance, not overpowering, but he spotted his pitches expertly and got mostly soft-contact outs (85.5 average exit velocity).


Twitter: @cmccosky