Detroit Tigers president Scott Harris said the positive way Javier Baez responded to being removed from a game last month has helped contribute to his team’s improved play since.
Baez, in the second season of a six-year, $140 million contract, was removed from a game against the Toronto Blue Jays on April 13 by manager A.J. Hinch after losing track of how many outs there were and running into a double play.
The infielder has since responded by hitting his first three home runs of the season during a stretch in which he’s batting .321 and has raised his average to .256. The Tigers have gone 14-11 in those 25 games after starting the season 3-8.
“My takeaway from that whole benching incident was that A.J. did a great job of making a tough decision in a really high-pressure moment. But he did an even better job of messaging it,” Harris said in an interview with MLB Network on Wednesday. “It wasn’t just about Javy. We wanted to get to a place where we were playing clean, more competitive baseball in this organization. And that was a real turning point for our season.
“Since then, we’ve been playing a very aggressive brand of baseball, we’ve been pounding the zone, and we’ve been trying to get into better counts on both sides of the ball. And A.J. has done a great job of picking his spots and getting players ready to come through in high-leverage moments. I think Javy is one of the leaders on the team. He sets the tone for the entire team. And it’s been really fun to watch him respond to that moment.”
Harris credited Baez for focusing on pitches he can “really drive” and setting the tone for the rest of the hitters.
Baez hit .238 with 17 home runs and 67 RBIs in 144 games for the Tigers last season, his first with the franchise. He was removed from the game against the Blue Jays when he broke for third and rounded the base on a liner to center and was easily doubled up for the third out. That came after he didn’t run hard out of the batter’s box, apparently thinking he had homered on a ball that hit the left-field wall instead.
Baez said after that game, which the Tigers won 3-1, that he respected Hinch’s decision and acknowledged that he needed to show respect for the game of baseball.
Entering Thursday’s games, the Tigers (17-19) are in second place in the American League Central standings, 2½ games behind the first-place Minnesota Twins.