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A sometimes-irreverent look at Detroit's Boys of Summer, the Tigers, as they try to return to the top of the American League Central.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Baker finds a home in the lineup against LHP

For once in his life, Jeff Baker appears to have found himself a home: In the starting lineup for the next few games, at least.

The army brat, who bounced around homes (and even continents) as a youngster, and has bounced around from position to position as a professional utility player in the Major League Baseball, may start every game in the upcoming series against the Toronto Blue Jays.

In each of the three games, Toronto is slated to send a left-handed pitcher to the mound, finishing off a streak of five straight games against lefty starters.

“Baker’s probably happy,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said this weekend, tongue-in-cheek. “He’ll get a chance to get some consecutive at-bats for a while, with all the lefties we’re seeing now, obviously. That’ll be good for him. I’m sure he’ll be tickled.”

Those left-handed pitchers, who now own an 18-18 record against the Tigers after Sunday’s loss, are exactly who Baker was expected to face when he was acquired in trade from the Chicago Cubs two weeks ago.

More than likely, he’ll be in right field for those games, too, although he can play both of the corner outfield positions, both of the corner infield positions, and second base.

It doesn’t really matter to him where, although he realizes that the chances of him playing first or third anytime soon are next to none.

“I don’t think I have those tools that Prince (Fielder) and Miguel (Cabrera) have, but it’s definitely fun to be able to try and contribute in a lineup that’s got as much firepower as they do and two of the best hitters in the American League — if not all of baseball,” Baker said.

“I knew what the thing was, utility infielder, and corner outfield was what I was told. Like I said, I don’t really care where I play. It’s about trying to give the guys a lift that day, and when you’re in there for a starter that’s getting a day off, or in this case, if you’re out there platooning in the outfield, you’re just ready to go. I don’t really care to be honest with you.”

It won’t be the first time he’s bounced around.

Born in Bad Kissingen, West Germany, into a military family, Baker found out early what it meant to move around, as his father, now-retired U.S. Army Lt. Colonel Larry Baker, was sent from posting to posting until finally settling down for an assignment at the Pentagon when Baker was high school aged.

And he’s bounced around from position to position in the pros, too, originally drafted out of Clemson as a third baseman, but has made all but 57 of his 300-plus career starts at other spots on the diamond. Almost half have been at second base, a position the Tigers now have held down full-time by Omar Infante.

That leaves the corner outfield spots as the most likely openings, and the vast majority of his action has been in right field.

“The thing about the utility position is you kind of get comfortable with whatever you’re playing most, and for me, gosh, I came up a third baseman, and I think third is probably the position I’ve played the least in the big leagues,” he said. “I don’t really have like one spot that you’re most comfortable with, but for me, I’ve been on the right side of the diamond, so you get kind of used to seeing the ball come off the bat. But wherever you’re at, as long as you’re out there, it’s about competing. You just go from there.”

And he’s happy to get a chance with a contender, even if it means stretches like this, where he’s in the lineup regularly, are few and far between.

“I’m not one of those guys — I’m not real big on personal statistics and the whole nine yards,” he said. “I’ve always just wanted to play on a winner, and I’m getting an opportunity to do that here. I don’t care what my role is. As long as you’re on the team, and contributing.”

Baker has had three hits, including a pair of doubles, and three RBI in his 16 at-bats since joining the Tigers. He had an RBI double in the first inning of Sunday's game, making it 5-0 at the time.


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