Miggy getting acclimated to more starts as DH

April 21st, 2019

DETROIT -- 's first start for the Tigers came at first base for Sunday’s series finale against the White Sox. It was also 's 12th start as the designated hitter.

The former was manager Ron Gardenhire’s move to get Dixon’s bat in the lineup after sitting the last few days. His only long drive so far with the Tigers was the trek he took from Indianapolis to Detroit to join the club from Triple-A Toledo on Thursday.

The latest start at DH for Cabrera is part of Gardenhire’s effort to keep his former Triple Crown winner healthy. When the Tigers broke camp from Spring Training, Gardenhire said he’d play it by ear on how much Cabrera serves as the DH, but that he wanted to make sure Cabrera had some starts at first base since he enjoys being active on the field.

Through 20 games, the mix is 60-40 in favor of DH, but most of those games have been played in cold weather.

“He’s fine with it right now,” Gardenhire said on Sunday morning. “With the weather being as bad as it’s been, he’s OK with it. He likes to play first base, but it does take its toll on him with his legs and everything else. We want to try to keep him healthy, and in this weather [lately], trying to stay loose out there in the cold is not good.”

Cabrera said last week that being a DH on a semi-regular basis is an adjustment for him, figuring out a routine between at-bats to keep his body stretched and his bat fresh. Among those he consulted was Victor Martinez, the Tigers’ everyday DH the previous few years. Cabrera believes he’s finding a routine that works for him.

“You have to learn how to do that, too, sitting on the bench and how to stay ready,” Gardenhire said. “How do you not take too many swings where you absolutely wear yourself out between at-bats? There’s a process to that, too, how to be a DH. He’s handling it better. He’s doing better.”

Now that spring weather seems to be taking over -- the forecast for Boston in the Tigers’ upcoming series against the Red Sox calls for high temperatures in the 60s, followed by temperatures near 60 in Chicago next weekend -- look for Cabrera to get some more starts at first base. Still, Gardenhire wants to be cautious.

“It’s still about keeping him in the lineup,” Gardenhire said. “If his body’s telling him and he’s in there having some problems, then I’m definitely going to DH him.”

Harrison sticking atop lineup

The Tigers signed Josh Harrison in February in part to serve as a veteran presence in the leadoff spot. The early returns have been less than productive -- Harrison entered Sunday 9-for-70 (.129) with five walks and a .205 on-base percentage -- but Gardenhire is hopeful he’s coming out of it.

“He just needs to lay off the higher pitches,” Gardenhire said. “When he swings at those, it really goes straight up in the air.”

Harrison has always been more apt to put the ball in the air than on the ground. His ground ball/fly ball ratio of 0.60 entering Sunday was the same as last season and virtually the same as '17. However, his line-drive rate has fallen from 27 percent in '18 to 21 percent entering Sunday, which would be his lowest rate for a season since his first few years in the Majors from 2011-13, according to baseball-reference.com.

The metrics from Statcast shed a little more light on it:

• Harrison’s average launch angle has jumped from 14.9 degrees last season to a career-high 18.9 degrees in 2019 entering Sunday.

• Harrison’s chase rate of 36.2 percent is nearly even with 2018 (36.0 percent), but his contact rate on chase pitches is down from 68.9 percent last year to 58.8 percent entering Sunday.

• While Harrison’s solid contact (7.1 percent) and barrel (3.6 percent) rates are about the same as last season, the percentage of batted balls he has gotten under is up to 41.1 percent, well above his 30 percent rate last year.

“I just want him to cover the ball a little bit,” Gardenhire said. “He’s chasing up in the zone a little bit too much, and to be a good leadoff man, you have to stay off those pitches. This ballpark’s not conducive.”

Though Gardenhire admits he has pondered moving Harrison in the lineup for a stretch to reduce the pressure, he’s inclined to stick with Harrison up top. Jeimer Candelario has batted leadoff the two times Harrison hasn’t played, and he was scheduled to lead off on Saturday with Harrison off before the rainout. But both games prior to Saturday were before Christin Stewart went on the injured list, dwindling the Tigers’ options for the middle of the order. Ronny Rodriguez was scheduled to bat fifth on Saturday; John Hicks batted cleanup and Grayson Greiner hit fifth when Candelario led off last Sunday.

“Taking Candy and leading him off, the depth from the rest of the way on down gets really dicey,” Gardenhire said.