DETROIT — AJ Hinch has been thinking about moving Akil Baddoo into the leadoff spot for a while now. But he wanted him to earn the privilege, which he certainly did hitting .300 with a .400 on-base average the last two weeks.
Baddoo then validated the strategy Thursday afternoon, triggering a four-run fifth inning that helped the Tigers equal a season-long six-game winning streak and sweep the Royals, 10-3 at Comerica Park.
The left-handed hitting Baddoo has been batting in the No. 9 hole since he’s come back from Triple-A and often by the time his turn comes around a third time, the opposing team has gone to the bullpen for a left-handed pitcher.
Which Hinch typically counters by removing Baddoo for a right-handed pinch-hitter. By stacking Baddoo and left-handed hitting Riley Greene, who has been hitting in the leadoff spot, in front of Javier Báez, Hinch has a chance to control the matchups later in the game.
“It’s trying to get guys as many at-bats against the right-handed pitcher as we can,” Hinch said. “Maybe we can get a third at-bat for Akil. We wanted Akil to start having better at-bats and earn that. Then slotting Riley right behind him, it gives me a lot of options and a lot of speed, which we missed.
“It just sets up our lineup to get the most platoon advantages that we can.”
Case in point, the fifth inning Thursday: The Tigers were up 1-0 and Baddoo and Greene were coming up for the third time against right-hander Jonathan Heasley.
Kansas City manager Mike Matheny might’ve been reluctant to go to one of his lefties in the bullpen — one, because Heasley was pitching well, allowing only a solo homer by Willi Castro; and two, he knew that lefty would have to face the right-handed hitting Báez, who is slugging .519 with an .850 OPS against lefties.
So, with one on and one out, Baddoo hit a rocket (98 mph) off Heasley through first baseman Vinnie Pasquantino, scoring Tucker Barnhart from second base. Greene followed with a double to right-center, scoring Baddoo, who was running on the pitch from first base.
At that point, Matheny let Heasley face Báez, right-on-right, and Báez shellacked a hanging breaking ball, knocking it into the Tigers’ bullpen for his 16th home run.