How Detroit Tigers OF Akil Baddoo broke 2 monthlong slumps with 1 simple change

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Detroit Tigers rookie Akil Baddoo put his hands together, symbolizing a gesture of thankfulness.

"It's been forever," Baddoo said.

Entering the seventh inning of Wednesday's 8-6 win over the Oakland Athletics, Baddoo hadn't drawn a walk in 60 plate appearances. Two innings earlier, he hit a solo home run — his first since July 27 — to boost his confidence after back-to-back strikeouts.

Then, facing left-handed reliever A.J. Puk, the lefty-hitting Baddoo worked a full count and took a walk, his first since July 29. He came around to score on Miguel Cabrera's single to center field for a 7-6 lead, not long after Jonathan Schoop tied the game with his RBI single.

Baddoo continued to contribute in the eighth inning, shooting a two-strike single to left field. His base hit plated another run to give the Tigers a two-run advantage. Gregory Soto pitch a perfect ninth for his 17th save.

"He doesn't have to carry us, but he can spark us," Tigers manager AJ Hinch said Wednesday. "We've seen this now for a long time. We're in September, and he's been doing this since the first swing of his major-league career. He's a really good player. He's mature. He's got a lot of people in his corner and continues to produce and impress."

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Akil Baddoo #60 of the Detroit Tigers celebrates a solo home run against the Oakland Athletics during the bottom of the fifth inning at Comerica Park on September 01, 2021 in Detroit, Michigan.
Akil Baddoo #60 of the Detroit Tigers celebrates a solo home run against the Oakland Athletics during the bottom of the fifth inning at Comerica Park on September 01, 2021 in Detroit, Michigan.

Recently, Hinch spoke with Baddoo — a Rule 5 draft pick in December — about controlling the strike zone. For Baddoo, the team's leadoff hitter against right-handed pitchers, to finish his sensational rookie campaign on a high note, the Tigers asked him to get back to his old ways: limiting strikeouts and working deep into counts.

From May 15 through July 29, Baddoo hit .302 with 24 walks and 40 strikeouts across 54 games, leading to a .384 on-base percentage during this span.

[ Why Detroit Tigers rookie Akil Baddoo 'could be here to stay for a long time' ]

Over his next 15 games, though, Baddoo hit just .196 without a walk. He struck out 18 times and didn't seem comfortable anymore. He also landed on the injured list for concussion protocol after a frightening collision in the outfield with speedy center fielder Derek Hill.

"He told me to stick to my approach that I had when I had success, and that would keep me here and doing well," Baddoo said Wednesday, after finishing 2-for-4 with one home run, two RBIs and one walk in the comeback victory. "It was definitely good to hear, because it was something I needed to work on as far as letting go of pitches. I got too aggressive in a sense.

"I let my abilities take over and realized that I always had that eye, so just continue that and go from there."

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Baddoo has a .261 batting average and .326 on-base percentage over 99 games in 2021, producing 19 doubles, six triples, 11 home runs, 47 RBIs and 14 stolen bases in 18 attempts. He has taken 32 walks compared to 97 strikeouts.

With 28 games remaining, the Tigers just want a consistent approach from their budding star.

"He's trying to produce to win," Hinch said. "He's not trying to produce to impress anybody or to make a team or to stay on a team. He's trying to help his team, and that's a big maturity step in his first year."

How is Eric Haase?

In six games since returning from the injured list, rookie catcher Eric Haase is 4-for-20 (.200) with one RBI and four strikeouts. He is still waiting for his first home run since Aug. 13, just one game before he started dealing with a right abdominal strain. The slugger hasn't drawn a walk in 29 plate appearances. (For the season, he's hitting .235 with 19 home runs, 50 RBIs, 18 walks and 91 strikeouts over 76 games.)

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"I don't think he's going through anything," Hinch said. "I think he's just trying to continue to find his way back after the injury. We're throwing a lot at him. He's catching as much as he's ever caught before, and he's in a rut now with his swing where he's missing some pitches that he normally hits. As I've always said with him, he's one swing away from changing course. He takes really aggressive swings, and when he connects, it's game-changing. When he doesn't, there can be some at-bats that he'd like to do over.

"But you keep going to the well to see. If it's that one swing that sets him off, he can really carry a team for a period of time. ... I think he's doing fine physically."

AJ Hinch evaluates Matt Manning

Rookie right-hander Matt Manning is looking to build on his strong Aug. 27 start in Thursday's game vs. the Athletics. He kept the Toronto Blue Jays in check Friday, allowing one run on six hits and one walk over six innings. In that outing, Manning struck out a career-high five batters and threw 83 pitches. The 23-year-old averaged 94 mph with his two-seam and four-seam fastballs, maxing out at 98 mph. He mixed in 47 fastballs, 20 sliders, 12 changeups and four curveballs.

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Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Matt Manning (25) pitches the ball during the first inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Comerica Park on August 27, 2021.
Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Matt Manning (25) pitches the ball during the first inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Comerica Park on August 27, 2021.

Although Manning has a 5.46 ERA over 12 starts, Hinch believes he is trending in the right direction.

"In some ways, I'd like him to just get out on the mound and get after it," Hinch said. "Let the work in the bullpen carry over into the game. I think he can get a little mechanical. He wants to do the right thing. He wants to repeat his delivery. He wants to hit his checkpoints. That can sometimes take his foot off the gas pedal.

"What I've noticed in the last couple starts is that he has been able to do that at maximum speed. His delivery has ticked up timing-wise, and it's a little bit more aggressive. The ball coming out in the first inning is 94-96 (mph) as opposed to 90-92. The velocity is a byproduct of his energy throughout his delivery and not being so mechanical.

"When he syncs that up, he's really good. He did that in the minor leagues when he developed more confidence. Now that he's developed more confidence at this level, he knows he's got it in the tank to be pretty good."

Prospect activated from IL

Catcher Dillon Dingler has returned to Double-A Erie after completing a rehab assignment for Low-A Lakeland. The 22-year-old went to the injured list Aug. 6 with a fractured finger on his left hand. For the Flying Tigers, Dingler went 4-for-12 (.333) with one double and two RBIs. He is the Tigers' No. 4 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline.

Hinch previously said Dingler will be a candidate to play in the Arizona Fall League after the regular season.

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Tigers OF Akil Baddoo answers AJ Hinch's call