After slow start, Meadows connects for 1st home run of '24

April 17th, 2024

DETROIT -- From his spot in center field, saw fans leaving Comerica Park’s lower bowl in the ninth inning of a one-run game and wondered what was going on.

“I started panicking when they said on the loudspeaker for everyone to take cover,” Meadows said. “I was like, ‘Is there a tornado or something?’”

Not quite that bad, but with a line of severe thunderstorms approaching, the Tigers took precautions with fans, ushering them to covered seats or the concourse. The worst of the weather held off until just after Rangers closer Kirby Yates struck out Spencer Torkelson and Kerry Carpenter to finish off Detroit’s 5-4 loss.

It was uncanny timing. By contrast, Meadows’ timing is rapidly improving. He has been working on that for a while.

As Meadows pondered his slow start last weekend, he had an air of confidence that he could dig out of it. His 2-for-36 performance to start the season entering Wednesday looked ugly, but Meadows felt he had isolated what was holding him back. Being late on fastballs was an effort to stay on time for offspeed pitches, but he was caught in between both.

“I think the moment you lose confidence is the moment you’re defeated,” Meadows said last Saturday. “I know this game is like a roller coaster, so I’m going to continue to ride it and go out there with full confidence.”

It took some work, but as Meadows watched his first home run of the year sail to right-center, just over where Comerica Park’s out-of-town scoreboard used to sit, he finally reaped the rewards. The seventh-inning solo shot drew Detroit within a run, further whittling what was once a three-run deficit. It punctuated a comeback for team and player alike.

“Felt great,” Meadows said. “Felt like it had been too long.”

Said manager A.J. Hinch: “It was nice to see him contribute. He needed that.”

The at-bats had been building. Though Meadows went 0-for-3 on Tuesday, he worked ahead in all three counts. He did a good job of not chasing pitches, though he took a José Ureña 96.5 sinker for a called third strike in his final at-bat, after working the count to 3-2.

Meadows’ Statcast-projected 361-foot flyout near the warning track in right-center in his first at-bat Wednesday against Rangers starter Dane Dunning was a good sign. He grounded out to first his next time up, but when Austin Pruitt put a 90 mph fastball over the plate in just about the same spot he had flipped a first-pitch curveball in Meadows' third at-bat, he pounced.

“Took advantage of the 0-1 heater,” Meadows said. “Just told myself to stay on the heater.”

It was the last fastball he saw. When Meadows came back up with the potential go-ahead run on first and two outs in the eighth, David Robertson gave him almost nothing to center. Four of the six pitches were curveballs or sliders, and the only pitch with velocity in the zone was a 2-1 cutter that barely caught the outside corner. Robertson tried to get Meadows to chase a couple curveballs just off the plate, but Meadows declined.

“Robertson was working me. Everything was away,” Meadows said. “But I saw the ball a little better today and did the best I could to help the team.”

That discipline has stayed relatively consistent, even if his timing has not. Despite the slow start, he still ranks just outside the top 20 percent of MLB hitters with a 21.8 percent chase rate according to Statcast, and his 16.3 percent walk rate ranks among the top six percent. His struggle reflected more in a low contact rate on pitches in the zone.

“Controlling the at-bats was good,” Hinch said. “I think the homer was [good], for [the team] and for him. The walk is a good sign moving forward that he’s starting to zone the ball in a little bit.”

The Tigers have been patient with Meadows, aside from moving him down in the batting order, in large part thanks to his defense. Even while he wasn’t doing much offensively, he improved the team in the field. With Detroit scheduled to face four more right-handed starters this week, including Jack Leiter in his MLB debut Thursday, Meadows should get a chance to keep building.

“This game’s a process,” Meadows said. “Just continue to build off of the little things. I’ll go into tomorrow with a full head of confidence and go about my day.”