Thames looks to stay aggressive
Tigers DH refocuses on getting more out of at-bats
BOSTON -- Marcus Thames' seventh-inning drive Monday initially looked like it had a chance to hit on top of the Green Monster. But most of the Tigers knew it wasn't going out. Thames, for his part, was certain.
"I know when I get them," Thames said. "I peek at them a little bit longer."
He isn't getting caught guessing on his swings much anymore, either.
After spending a few weeks getting caught in between on several half-swings, seemingly debating himself whether to swing or take a borderline pitch, Thames is looking more decisive in his at-bats lately. The results haven't done much in terms of strikeouts, but he's more accepting of that. Getting more hits out of his at-bats and more hits in clutch situations is the important thing.
That's exactly what happened Monday. He essentially reached for the breaking ball outside and got enough on the loft to send it to the wall. It wasn't the homer many might've hoped for, but it was a clutch double nonetheless with a runner in scoring position.
That's the kind of hit he hadn't been getting often, and it was getting to him.
"In my head, I knew as a team we had been scuffling a bit," Thames said. "I was beating myself up instead of just having fun and playing the game like I usually play it."
How bad did it get? After homering Sunday against the Twins, Thames not only took a called third strike from right-hander Scott Baker with a runner on first the next inning, he took all four pitches in the at-bat.
"And I don't ever take," Thames said. "I was trying to be an umpire instead of being aggressive."
He was being picky, looking for his pitch to hit. The numbers back him up.
According to research on baseball-reference.com, Thames is swinging at less than half of his total pitches this year for the first time since 2004, his first year in Detroit. His percentages have dropped from 54 in 2007 and 2008 to 49 now. He's swinging at the first pitch just over a third of the time, 34 percent, compared to 41 percent last year. Called third strikes account for 26 percent of his strikeouts this year, compared with 18 percent last season.
Yet while his called strikes are up from 17 to 20 percent of his total strikes, there's no corresponding drop in his swinging strikes. That's steady at 22 percent. He's simply fouling off fewer pitches.
Much as he might like to be selective and address the long-running critiques about his game, he can't do it at the expense of his strengths.
Part of that was a reaction to the Tigers' struggles with runners in scoring position lately. The more they struggled, the more he pressed.
"I know I've been scuffling with guys in scoring position," Thames said. "I just told myself the other day to forget it and just swing. If you swing and miss, you swing and miss. I'm going to swing and not try to guide off the bat and try to place the bat. Just swing and try to make something happen."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.