Detroit Tigers seeing defensive improvements; Jeimer Candelario 'settling back in'

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In the past five games, the Detroit Tigers have scored 31 runs.

And their opponents?

Five.

"We haven't played perfect, but we've played clean," manager AJ Hinch said before Wednesday's game against the Texas Rangers. "That's part of winning."

In building that 31-5 margin, the Tigers (45-51) have produced three shutouts: 1-0 over the Minnesota Twins in Game 1 of Saturday's doubleheader, 7-0 against the Twins on Sunday and 14-0 in Monday's series opener with the Rangers.

"Obviously the guy on the mound has the first line of defense," Hinch said. "The second line of defense is, if he puts it in play, we've got to make plays. I still want to harp on the value of turning double plays when we can. ... We've gotten a little better up the middle and our outfield is pretty lock down when we've got the guys out there that we have now. It's a combo."

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Detroit Tigers shortstop Zack Short throws to first during the fourth inning of the first baseball game of a doubleheader against the Minnesota Twins, Saturday, July 17, 2021, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Detroit Tigers shortstop Zack Short throws to first during the fourth inning of the first baseball game of a doubleheader against the Minnesota Twins, Saturday, July 17, 2021, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

But how does Hinch know the defense has actually improved?

"Defensive metrics, to me, are all over the map," Hinch said. "This is not to try to be coy, but just judge it by wins. If we win the games by playing clean baseball, then we're in the right position. If we don't, then we start looking at everything from pitch selection to location to defensive positioning to situational hitting.

"We find a lot of reasons why we lose. Maybe defensive alignment and defensive efficiency is something we should look at as producing some wins."

The Tigers are 5-0 since the All-Star break.

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Before the first game back, second baseman Willi Castro — with nine errors while playing second base and shortstop — was sent to Triple-A Toledo and replaced by Isaac Paredes. And Nomar Mazara was designated for assignment; speedy center fielder Derek Hill took his spot.

Both moves upgraded the defense, as did the Tigers' decision to keep Zack Short at shortstop. He came up June 26 for his first long-term stay. Over 20 starts at shortstop, he has made one error. (Niko Goodrum, on the injured list, made seven errors in 39 starts at shortstop.)

"Pitching and defense is one," reliever Kyle Funkhouser said Wednesday. "You can throw the ball really well, but if you're having trouble fielding it, or vice versa, if you've got a good defensive team but you're giving free passes all the time, that makes it a lot harder. I mean, 27 outs is a lot of outs. When you give a team 28, 29, 30 outs, it's extra outs and big innings.

"Guys are just playing free and trusting themselves with a lot of confidence. Short at short and a couple adjustments defensively, and everyone's playing hard, playing aggressive and playing free."

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Tigers third baseman Jeimer Candelario fields a groundout by Rangers shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa in the seventh inning of the Tigers' 7-3 win on July 5, 2021 in Arlington, Texas.
Tigers third baseman Jeimer Candelario fields a groundout by Rangers shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa in the seventh inning of the Tigers' 7-3 win on July 5, 2021 in Arlington, Texas.

The Tigers are also getting solid defensive production from third baseman Jeimer Candelario. He logged a career-high eight defensive assists in Sunday's win.

"Candy has taken some bullets to the chest, and one-hoppers," Hinch said. "He has made all the plays."

In addition to his defense, the 27-year-old is displaying offensive strengths comparable to the early parts of the season. In the 13 games since July 4, Candelario is hitting .326 with six doubles, two home runs, six RBIs, six walks and 10 strikeouts.

Before his July 7 homer, Candelario hadn't cleared the outfield wall since May 18.

"These last five games, we've seen a refreshed Candelario," Hinch said. "I think he's in his legs a little better with the bat in his hands. He probably needed the break as much as any player that we have, just getting away from baseball for a few days. I see him settling back in into how he was at the beginning of the season, where he was pretty sharp on both sides of the ball."

Rehab assignments soon

Two players on the mend are ready to infiltrate Triple-A Toledo, starting with right-handed reliever Michael Fulmer. He is scheduled to start his rehab assignment Thursday, meaning he isn't far from returning to the big leagues.

Fulmer, 28, has been on the injured list since June 27 with a right cervical spine strain. Goodrum, a utility player, is also gearing up for a trip to Toledo. He went down July 17 with a left calf contusion and should play for the Mud Hens within the next week.

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As for outfielder Daz Cameron, the Tigers are still waiting for him to recover. He is dealing with a right toe sprain, which has kept him sidelined since July 7. The 24-year-old rookie is hitting .207 with three home runs and nine RBIs, adding four stolen bases, in 18 games.

"Hopefully he's getting a little bit better and better," Hinch said. "He's going to go with us on this road trip, so he's not leaving us just quite yet. ... Daz is a tick behind those guys (Fulmer and Goodrum)."

Paredes scratched

Before Wednesday's game, second baseman Isaac Paredes was scratched from the starting lineup. He was removed from Monday's series opener with hip soreness and is still considered day-to-day. In pregame warmups, Paredes ran for athletic trainer Doug Teter.

"I don't think he's quite 100%," Hinch said, before scratching Paredes. "I just passed him in the hallway when I was coming down here, and he was a little hesitant in the beginning. I'm going to meet with him and Doug when we're done and decide if there's a lineup change."

The Tigers replaced Paredes with Harold Castro.

Mazara released

Mazara — who signed a one-year, $1.75 million contract this offseason — was released Wednesday. He had been designated for assignment July 16.

The 26-year-old hit .212 with three home runs, 19 RBIs, 15 walks and 45 strikeouts in 50 games.

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 seeing defensive improvements during winning streak