Rodriguez separating himself with new swing

Tigers release righty Smith, bringing in Jimenez's brother for tryout

March 4th, 2019

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Mike Aviles-style bat waggle high above ’s head is gone. The big swing towards the fences is not.

After Rodriguez turned on an fastball Sunday for his third home run of the spring, the former non-roster invite gave the Tigers a reason to remember him in the increasingly cluttered race for a super-utility role.

Rodriguez entered Monday batting 4-for-18 with a walk and five strikeouts in Grapefruit League play, but three of those hits are home runs. In many ways, it has been an all-or-nothing spring, even if his swing has been tweaked for more contact.

Rodriguez didn't make the Tigers out of Spring Training last year, but his strong first impression combined with a solid start at Triple-A Toledo earned him a call to Detroit by the end of May. He batted .220 (42-for-191) with five home runs and 20 RBIs.

Hitting coach Lloyd McClendon worked to make Rodriguez's swing mechanics more efficient, starting with where he started his bat. He continued the work in winter ball, where he hit .231 (24-for-104) with two walks and 20 strikeouts in the Dominican League. Now, he's trying to be more consistent with the swing.

"We tried to eliminate a lot of movement, be a little quieter at home plate and see the ball," Rodriguez said. "I know the potential I have and what I can do at the plate, so I had to change my mechanics. That's something I’ve been working on, and I see the promise lately."

Rodriguez arrived at camp battling for a utility role on the Opening Day roster. His competition grew after the Tigers signed to start at second base, and now includes and . Unlike last year, at least, Rodriguez is on the 40-man roster.

"I never think about it," he said. "I'm here to compete and give it the best I can on the field. I don't think about any decision. If I have to go to the Minor Leagues, I go to the Minor Leagues. The only thing I care about is that I have a uniform."

Soto optioned, Smith released

The Tigers made their first roster moves of camp on Monday, reassigning left-hander Gregory Soto to Minor League camp and releasing right-hander .

Though Soto is a member of Detroit’s 40-man roster, he doesn’t count while he's under suspension from Major League Baseball. He'll be suspended for the first 20 games of the Minor League season, likely while at Double-A Erie, giving the Tigers some time before they have to make a roster move.

Soto gave up three runs (two earned) on three hits with four walks over 1 2/3 innings in two appearances.

Smith's release had been expected; the 30-year-old right-hander was a non-roster invite to Spring Training fighting for a bullpen spot before he felt right elbow discomfort during a live batting-practice session earlier in camp.

Smith underwent Tommy John surgery last week. The Tigers still cover the procedure, much like they did for left-hander Travis Wood after a similar injury in last year’s camp.

Detroit has 59 players in camp after Monday’s moves.

Brotherly love in camp

An early-morning thunderstorm postponed the open tryout the Tigers had scheduled for Monday morning. The tryout will instead take place on Tuesday morning.

A familiar name will be among the players vying for a spot in Detroit’s system. Joe Jimenez’s older brother, A.J., flew in from Puerto Rico to try out. He spent 10 years as a catcher in the Blue Jays' and Rangers' farm systems, reaching the Majors with Texas in 2017, before playing last year in the independent Atlantic League.

A.J. Jimenez, 28, most recently batted .284 (25-for-88) with three home runs, 16 RBIs and a .908 OPS in 28 games for Santurce in the Puerto Rican Winter League.

Mahtook powers two home runs

The swing adjustments  made in the offseason continue to pay off. Though he isn't necessarily looking for home runs, he hit two of them Monday, both to left field, in a 9-5 win over St. Louis. His sixth-inning drive down the line hit the top of the berm at Joker Marchant Stadium and bounced over.

"For me, I've always known that it's been there," said Mahtook. "I've shown flashes of it throughout my career, but consistency has been the biggest thing. I really wanted to understand my swing this year, and that's what I worked on in the offseason, understanding cues and keys to get back to the right path."

Up next

The Tigers are back at Joker Marchant Stadium on Tuesday for a 1:05 p.m. ET game against the Blue Jays. Matt Moore will make his third start of the spring. will face Detroit’s lineup for the second time in 11 days.