Detroit Tigers manager A.J. Hinch has used a pinch-hitter 59 times so far this season, more than any team in baseball.
It doesn’t always work. But when it does — like it did on Wednesday night in Kansas City — it’s a thing of beauty.
With two runners on base in the sixth inning of a tie game with the Royals, Hinch opted for right-handed hitter Zack Short instead of Akil Baddoo against Royals southpaw Josh Taylor. Short drove a first-pitch fastball 416 feet for a three-run homer.
It was Short’s first pinch-hit homer and the Tigers’ third this season.
Hinch said he doesn’t expect his players to be thrilled when they’re subbed for a pinch-hitter, but they understand the reasons behind it and support their teammates.
“One of the things our players know is that it might be taking an at-bat away from you today and giving it to someone different, but there’s a very good chance you’re going to get that guy’s at-bat, maybe tomorrow or the next day,” Hinch said.
“Last night if you check the video, you’ll see the first person out of the dugout when (Short) hit the homer was Akil.”
On any given night, right-handed hitters who aren’t in the starting lineup know to be prepared to hit against a left-handed reliever, while left-handed bats keep an eye on right-handed arms in the opposing pens.
“I think our players have developed a pretty good routine,” Hinch said. “I’ve seen everybody come to the ballpark and not really flinch whether they’re playing or not, because they know there’s a situation in which they could get into the game. That in itself is exceptional buy-in by the players to be prepared at a moment’s notice.”
Players in the starting lineup also know that there’s nothing personal when a switch is made.
“Early in the season I kind of warned them like, ‘Hey, heads up. This is going to happen a lot,’” Hinch said. “I think the biggest message and something that I think is really important is that’s about the strength of the player coming off the bench. It’s not an indictment of the player that’s currently playing.”
Tigers’ pinch-hitters are 12-for-52 (.231) with a double, three home runs, eight RBIs, five walks and 15 stolen bases in 2023. The OPS of .733 (119 OPS+) is hardly earth-shattering but is well above the team average.
“We’re not going to bat 1.000. Nobody does,” Hinch said. “But when we can grab the advantage and have a chance to change the scoreboard, it makes a ton of sense.
“Everybody kind of expects it now. They’re almost surprised if I don’t make a move.”