Candelario back to help solidify Tigers' infield

Gardy hopes days of improvising lineups are coming to an end

June 27th, 2019

DETROIT – Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire has been shuffling players around the infield for over a month, trying to make his lineup work amidst a rash of injuries and demotions. With ’s return to third base, Gardenhire hopes his infield is on its way to stability and productivity on both sides of the ball.

“We need to get some people in positions and keep them there, where we’re not having to move people all over the place and try different things,” Gardenhire said Wednesday afternoon before the Tigers’ 4-1 loss to the Rangers. “He can do that for us. We can count on him and hopefully he’ll take off from here and do what he did last year and consistently play.”

Candelario doubled in his first at-bat in his return, a ground ball just inside first base with two outs in the second inning. He singled leading off the fifth, providing two of Detroit’s five hits off Mike Minor in his complete-game win.

The Tigers took their time with Candelario upon his arrival in Triple-A Toledo in mid-May. He rejoined the Tigers for four games around Memorial Day out of necessity, with injuries to middle infielders Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison, but stayed in Triple-A Toledo for an extra stint after going on the injured list with left shoulder inflammation.

Candelario played in 21 games for the Mud Hens over the two stints, batting .345 (29-for-84) with five doubles, two triples, five home runs, 24 RBIs and a 1.058 OPS. More important, he cut down on his strikeouts, as would be expected against Triple-A pitching, with help from Mud Hens hitting coach Mike Hessman.

“Just working on little things,” Candelario said. “Always working on seeing the ball well, just getting my swing back. Thank God that I put in good work with the coaches over there to get back.”

By comparison, Candelario hit .265 with an .827 OPS in Triple-A ball in 2017 between Iowa and Toledo, separated by his July trade from the Cubs to the Tigers.

Now he’ll face Major League pitching that had been getting the better of him since the midpoint of last season. Candelario was batting .192 (28-for-146) with 46 strikeouts with the Tigers when he was optioned to Toledo, then went 0-for-10 in his brief return at the end of May.

Go back to the midpoint of last season, and Candelario entered Wednesday batting .201 (90-for-448) over the last year with 10 home runs, 32 RBIs, 53 walks and 137 strikeouts.

“When you have to step back, everything comes to your mind,” Candelario said. “I remember when I was in the Minor Leagues [on the way up], I was pining to come to the big leagues. It’s the same thing now. I’m just blessed to be here again.”

The Tigers are hoping the blessing is theirs. What was initially seen as an opportunity for Dawel Lugo to prove he belongs in the Majors eventually became a mix between Lugo, Ronny Rodriguez, Harold Castro and Brandon Dixon. Much like at second base, the mixing and matching hurt the Tigers’ continuity, and in turn their defense.

The Tigers optioned Lugo to Toledo after Tuesday night’s 5-3 loss to Texas to make room for Candelario.

Now that Candelario is set to get a good run at the hot corner, and Niko Goodrum continues to get starts at shortstop until Mercer returns, Gardenhire hopes he can have other players focus on second base, including Castro.

“We’re in need right now,” Gardenhire said. “We need some people to step up. He’s a guy that’s been here and done it. He’s not going to panic up there. We’re just in need of a player right now to get out there and settle things down, and hopefully he’ll be one of the guys who can help us.”