Detroit Tigers' Lloyd McClendon takes blame for offense; players say that's not fair

Chris Nelsen
Special to the Detroit Free Press

Detroit Tigers hitting coach Lloyd McClendon, a veteran player, coach and manager at the major league level, knows this: Batters don’t make outs on purpose.

With the Tigers' offense struggling – ranking at or near the bottom of most offensive categories in baseball – McClendon said there are times when his frustrations boil over, too.  

“I catch myself, just like anybody else, saying, ‘What the heck?’” McClendon said before Wednesday’s game. “I’d rather (the fans) blame me and take pressure off the players. 

“It’s a difficult game and it’s really fast at this level. In all my history, all my time in this game, I’ve never seen a player go to the plate and purposely make an out. They’re all trying.”

Detroit Tigers center fielder JaCoby Jones singles against the Toronto Blue Jays during the first inning Friday, July 19, 2019 at Comerica Park.

Entering Wednesday, the Tigers were tied for the worst team batting average in baseball at .233 and scored the fewest runs in the majors at 352. Their on-base-plus-slugging percentage of .676 and 89 home runs were second-worst. 

Time for Tigers to even Comerica Park's playing field for hitters ]

In 2003, the Tigers finished with a .240 team batting average, worst in baseball that season. Their 591 total runs was second to last.

“It’s a tough game,” said McClendon, originally hired by the Tigers in 2006 as Jim Leyland’s bullpen coach, before becoming the hitting coach the following season. “The ones that can handle failure are the ones that are going to be successful. 

“We try to (work) with our players as much as possible. But the players play the game. We try to prepare them the best we can, give them as much knowledge and analytics as possible, but once the game starts, I’m a spectator just like everybody else.”

Though McClendon is willing to accept blame for the team’s lack of offense this season, some of the Tigers say otherwise. A former manager for the Pirates and Mariners, and now in his second stint with Detroit’s coaching staff, McClendon has a respected voice with his players.

“Yeah, it’s unfair,” center fielder JaCoby Jones said of fans’ criticism of McClendon. “We’re in the box doing it; he’s the hitting coach. Whether we struggle or do good, (the coaching) has helped us a lot. 

“I give a lot of credit to Lloyd for helping me and staying with me for the past couple years. I feel good in the box, I feel comfortable. I’m confident with my swing.”

Harold Castro, who has shown some promise while getting consistent at-bats since early June, vouched for how much McClendon has helped him.

“You have to know yourself, what you’re doing at the plate,” Castro said. “It’s not all on (McClendon). People maybe think it’s on him, but maybe not. Lloyd is always here for us, to help us get better. But as players, we have to work to get better.”

Jones, whose batting average was below .200 through the first 50 games of this season, entered Wednesday batting .308 with 12 doubles, two triples, six home runs and 17 RBIs in 37 games since May 24.

More:Here's JaCoby Jones' secret to recent hitting success

“We made some physical changes with JaCoby, which really helped him get to a consistent launch position where he can repeat the swing consistently,” McClendon said. “More than anything, JaCoby is learning to get out of the way of his talents. He can do so many special things on a baseball field.”

Tigers second baseman Harold Castro reacts after hitting a grounder for the final out of the 15th inning of the 3-2 loss to the Phillies on Tuesday, July 24, 2019, at Comerica Park.

Castro has been another bright spot on offense, entering Wednesday with a .295 average and 15 RBIs in 146 at-bats. But can his success last, especially now that opposing pitchers have a scouting report on him?

“I don’t think it’s a fad; he’s a solid, line-drive hitter with gap-to-gap power,” McClendon said. “He’s made a positive impact, as far as his future is concerned. I think he has a place with the Detroit Tigers.”

Even though the good old days are long gone in Detroit — McClendon helped coach former Tiger Magglio Ordoñez (.363 average) to the 2007 AL batting championship, as well as Miguel Cabrera to batting crowns in 2011, 2012 and 2013 — he still tries to keep a positive approach with his hitters. 

“My heart goes with every swing of every one of our hitters,” McClendon said. “Their failures are my failures. I know one thing, they give us everything they’ve got each and every day.”