CHICAGO -- One reason Leonys Martin ended up as the Tigers' leadoff hitter with a .300 career on-base percentage entering the season is that manager Ron Gardenhire didn't have many natural options to bat in that spot. A week and a half into the season, he can see Dixon Machado
CHICAGO -- One reason Leonys Martin ended up as the Tigers' leadoff hitter with a .300 career on-base percentage entering the season is that manager Ron Gardenhire didn't have many natural options to bat in that spot. A week and a half into the season, he can see Dixon Machado becoming an option.
It won't happen yet, aside from days when Martin is out of the lineup. But Gardenhire sees it in Machado's future.
"I think eventually we'll work our way towards that if everything keeps going," Gardenhire said before Sunday's series finale against the White Sox. "But right now, he's swinging good; the lineup's doing fine. I'm not going to mess with his head. I don't want him to change anything right now."
While Jose Cabrera's resurgence after an injury-plagued 2017 season has been critical to the Tigers' offense, Machado has been the biggest surprise in the lineup in his first season as an everyday player. The 26-year-old entered Sunday batting .300 (9-for-30) with six doubles -- second to Xander Bogaerts of the Red Sox on the Major League leaderboard -- and seven RBIs, behind only Cabrera for the club lead in that category.
More than the results, Machado's calm, confident approach at the plate has won over Gardenhire.
Martin has had a slow start at the plate, entering Sunday just 5-for-27 with eight strikeouts. However, his emphasis on patience at the plate has yielded four walks.
"I've had some experience with those things, and I don't want to turn the lineup now," Gardenhire said. "We're doing OK; everything's going fine. But ultimately, you want to work your way up to where [Machado] is a top-of-the-order type of guy. I think that's probably in his future. But let's just leave it alone and be careful with these guys right now, not mess with their heads. It's early in the season.
"There are going to be times when Martin's not in there and Machado will probably be up there. He'll be up there. Will it be for good? Not right away."
Metrics bring McCann closer to plate
The pitch-framing metrics have not been kind to James McCann since he broke into the league. The Tigers' new coaching staff has tried to address it with physics.
McCann moved closer to home plate this spring in an effort to snag more called strikes on pitches low in the zone. The idea behind it is a matter of perception: The sooner he catches a breaking ball or any pitch headed low in the zone, the less it breaks before it pops his mitt, and theoretically, the more likely it is to draw a call.
"It's just common sense," McCann said. "If you set up further back, the pitch that's down is going to appear to be lower than it really is. If you scoot up, that pitch down is going to appear to be higher. And vice versa for the pitch up."
McCann placed at the bottom of Baseball Prospectus' pitch-framing metric -- Framing Runs Above Average. His metrics were better the year before, but he rated second-to-last in 2015.
The Tigers also presented McCann with metrics comparing his positioning with those of higher-rated pitch-framers.
"If you look at the top pitch-framers in the game, and they're all within a certain distance behind the hitter," McCann said. "In the past, I've been a little too far back, which could explain part of the reason why I've been good with the pitch up in the zone, but haven't gotten as many calls with the pitch at the bottom of the zone.
"Even though I'm stealing more strikes at the top of the zone in the past, the majority of pitches are at the bottom. That's why the numbers, even though I'm one of the best with the ball up, the ball down heavily outweighs the ball up."
• Though Warwick Saupold worked as a long reliever in the Tigers' bullpen since coming up last season, the Aussie right-hander will reprise his old job as a starter at Triple-A Toledo, according to general manager Al Avila. The Tigers optioned Saupold after Saturday's game to open a roster spot for Mike Fiers' return from the disabled list.
• Though Sunday's decision to put Cabrera at designated hitter was somewhat related to his hip flexor bruise from Thursday, Gardenhire said he plans to DH Cabrera periodically to watch his wear and tear. "We have to be careful with both [Cabrera and Victor Martinez]," Gardenhire said. "We'll do that off and on all year."
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.