Candelario antsy for game action at camp

After exhausting 2018, third baseman chose rest over winter ball; Fulmer expected back Sunday

February 16th, 2019

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The trail of red clay led from the batting cages across the street down the sidewalk to the clubhouse doors. It continued inside down the hallway, little clumps every few feet until it stopped near 's locker.

It was the most telling sign that the Tigers third baseman reported to camp on Saturday. Though the team's first full-squad workout doesn't take place until Monday, Candelario is the latest Tiger ready to get to work.

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After Candelario's first offseason without winter ball in years, he's almost antsy for it.

"I'd been playing in the winter all the time. If not in the winter, I'd play in the [Arizona Fall League], instructional league," Candelario said Saturday morning. "I've never been 'off' with my body, working on what I need to do to get better and to be consistent. It was good for me and for my family. It was awesome."

The Tigers wanted him to avoid winter ball this time around after injuries and a long season seemingly wore him down. His OPS dropped 100 points from the first half of the season (.753) to the second (.653), and he batted just .201 from June 1 to season's end. A mid-May stint on the disabled list to rest a chronic left wrist injury didn't help.

Only had more games played and at-bats than Candelario, which was asking a lot for a 24-year-old switch-hitter in his first full Major League season. He batted .224 with 19 home runs, 54 RBIs and a .710 OPS. He also led the team with 66 walks, but he finished with more strikeouts (160) than hits (121).

"That first full season is a learning experience on how to take care of yourself," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Taking so many swings, you have to learn to back off, give your hands a break every once in a while, and that's one thing he never wanted to do. He wants to hit every day. When your body tells you to back off, you back off. You see veterans do that all the time. And he'll learn. He'll grow from that."

Candelario got away from game action, but he didn't completely rest. He worked out with a group of Major Leaguers that included good friend , and . Together, they worked with a hitting coach on his approach at the plate, putting himself in a better position to make contact. He also worked on his strength and agility.

"I concentrated on the little things that I know are going to help me be consistent," Candelario said, "because it's all about being consistent in the big leagues. You guys know we're competing against good teams, and I have to bring the best that I can to compete."

Candelario will again have plenty of chances to do so. With no prototypical leadoff hitters on the team, Candelario could reprise his late-season role of batting near the top of the order. With back from injury, Castellanos likely still around barring a trade and Christin Stewart back in the lineup, Candelario could have a chance to be a table-setter.

"I think he fits up there getting on ahead of your big boys," Gardenhire said. "And he can get on base, we know that. But that doesn't mean he can't be down in the six-hole or something like that. You can put him just about anywhere in the lineup, because he is versatile."

Quick hits

was away from the team for a second straight day. He's back home in Oklahoma attending to a family matter, according to Gardenhire. Fulmer could be back as early as Sunday.

• Though is now eligible to be optioned to the Minor Leagues after spending all of last season on the big league roster as a Rule 5 Draft pick, Gardenhire will let him compete for a roster spot in camp.

"He's in the mix," Gardenhire said. "The thing that we know about Victor is he needs at-bats. And if I can't get him everyday at-bats up here, that's not going to be the right thing for him."