Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
news

MLB News

5 players poised for turnarounds in AL Central

MLB.com @scottmerkin

It's not how you start, it's how you finish.

That particular philosophy can be applied to a group of players in the American League Central who struggled out of the gate, but have the wherewithal and track record to turn things around and help their respective teams in 2018. Some of those accomplished players already have begun making that change for the better.

It's not how you start, it's how you finish.

That particular philosophy can be applied to a group of players in the American League Central who struggled out of the gate, but have the wherewithal and track record to turn things around and help their respective teams in 2018. Some of those accomplished players already have begun making that change for the better.

Here's a look at one player on each team within the division looking to make the kind of solid contributions that teams have come to expect from them.

Video: Must C Clutch: Kipnis crushes go-ahead HR in 9th

Indians: Jason Kipnis
Despite a sluggish start for Kipnis, things have been looking up for the Indians' second baseman of late. He was moved down in the lineup after posting a .171/.259/.250 slash line and striking out 39 times through his first 42 games. However, in his past 80 plate appearances spanning 20 games since May 19, Kipnis is hitting .256/.307/.415 with 19 punchouts and three homers.

After a 2-for-6 showing against the Astros on May 27, Kipnis said he had been working to make adjustments to his swing. The two-time All-Star and eight-year veteran's track record also suggests he's a historically slow starter -- posting a career .221/.294/.334 slash line through 142 games in March and April. Kipnis, a career .264 hitter overall, also tends to heat up in the warmer months, especially in May, June and July.

As Kipnis' bat continues to heat up, so does the rest of the Tribe's offense, which ranked first in Major League Baseball in May in runs (179), hits (287), doubles (68), slugging (.499) and OPS (.848).

Video: KC@OAK: Duffy strikes out 10 in 7 scoreless innings

Royals: Danny Duffy
On May 19, after getting rocked for seven hits and five runs through four innings, Duffy watched his ERA balloon to 6.88 -- the worst in the Major Leagues among qualified starters.

Presumably the ace of the staff, Duffy was frustrated and out of answers. But Duffy finally may have found the solution that will turn his season around -- commitment to his fastball. Duffy's usage of his four-seamer had dipped below 40 percent this season (in 2012, by contrast, he used the four-seamer 65 percent of the time).

In his past four starts, Duffy has gone back to using the four-seamer nearly 50 percent of the time, and combined with his two-seamer, opponents were seeing hard stuff well over 60 percent of the time. And the results have been encouraging. In those four starts, Duffy posted a 2.10 ERA, with opponents hitting .202 against him. In his most recent outing Saturday against Oakland, Duffy threw seven shutout innings and struck out a season-high 10.

Video: CLE@DET: Fulmer tosses 7 innings of one-run ball

Tigers: Michael Fulmer
Fulmer has looked more like a mid-rotation starter than a staff ace this season after coming back from surgery to shift the ulnar nerve in his right elbow. While the Tigers and Fulmer believe he's healthy, there's also a belief he's still getting back to his old pitching form.

Fulmer's fastball is back to its past velocity after a sluggish start, and he's getting a better grasp of a slider he retinkered in Spring Training for better movement. While his strikeout rate is on par with his AL Rookie of the Year Award campaign in 2016, his homer and walk rates are both up. If he can locate his sinker down in the strike zone and pair it with a high fastball, Fulmer believes he can drop the damage.

Video: MIN@NYY: Sano slugs 114.6-mph homer vs. the Yankees

Twins: Miguel Sano
Sano has struggled offensively this season, hitting .203/.270/.405 with seven homers and 27 RBIs in 37 games. After Thursday's game, the Twins optioned the slugger to Class A Advanced Fort Myers to improve his contact skills.

Sano has been hurt by strikeouts, as he's fanned in a career-worst and Major League-worst 40.5 percent of his plate appearances. He's also seen his walk rate dip to a career-worst 8.6 percent, as he's had trouble with pitch recognition and laying off pitches outside the zone.

Sano, who was an All-Star just last season, was hurt this year by a strained left hamstring that forced him to miss nearly a month. He's had trouble finding his timing since the injury, but with his strong track record offensively, the Twins believe he can turn it around. He has immense power, but he has to cut down on his strikeouts to be effective.

Video: CLE@CWS: Shields goes 7 strong innings of 1-run ball

White Sox: James Shields
Shields, 36, posted a 5.44 ERA with 28 strikeouts and 22 walks over his first 48 innings covering eight starts and one relief appearance. Since a loss to the Cubs on May 12, Shields has a more respectable 3.70 ERA over six starts, striking out 31 and walking 11 in 41 1/3 innings. He has lasted at least six innings in 10 straight starts.

Shields doesn't have the same stuff he possessed when he was putting up past All-Star-caliber numbers. But he changes speeds effectively and drops down to different arm angles to throw off hitters. Shields began working that way in '17, and he could become an important trade component for the rebuilding White Sox.

An honorable mention goes to Joakim Soria, 34, who blew a save in the home opener against the Tigers on April 5 and had a 5.65 ERA through his first 15 appearances. But in his past 12 games, covering 11 2/3 innings, Soria has not given up an earned run while notching 13 strikeouts with two walks and five hits allowed. He has gone 6-for-6 in saves during June.

Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for MLB.com since 2003. Read his blog, Merk's Works, follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin, on Facebook and listen to his podcast.

Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins, Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Danny Duffy, Michael Fulmer, Jason Kipnis, Miguel Sano, James Shields