“Nobody has asked Prince to hit home runs. I’ve always said as long as he produces runs — which he’s done ever since he’s been here — I don’t care how they come by. But the other average person thinks of him as a home run guy, so when you don’t have a home run, in this particular case they start to focus more on that because that’s how you think of him.”
It is a fair way to think of him, because his 255 homers since 2007 are also the second-most in baseball, trailing only Cabrera, and they are the reason he signed a nine-year, $214 million contract prior to the 2012 season — spurning, among others, the Washington Nationals. His performance, too, is a good predictor of how the Tigers are playing. In Detroit’s wins in 2013, Fielder hit .314 with a .400 on-base percentage and a .525 slugging percentage. In losses, those numbers drop precipitously: .229/.307/.360.
The quality of his at-bats, too, has been mostly poor. In the eighth inning of a 1-0 loss in Game 3, he struck out against Boston closer Koji Uehara on three pitches, the last a splitter in the dirt. After Cabrera singled in a run with two outs in the fifth inning of Game 5, putting pressure on Boston starter Jon Lester, Fielder swung at the first pitch he saw and bounced out to second, drawing those boos. Indeed, in his eight at-bats over the past two games, he has made outs on the first pitch five times, and he is simply not driving the ball. Fielder has made 15 outs in this series. One was a flyball to the outfield, another a line drive, another a popup. The others: eight groundouts and four strikeouts.
“We’ve been fortunate enough, for the most part, to keep the ball on the ground with him,” Boston Manager John Farrell said Friday.
Leyland understands the importance of getting Fielder going. He said Friday that he would not move his first baseman down in the lineup. He will run him out there one more time, with the season in the balance. But with that mob of reporters around him as Thursday night became Friday morning, with the boos still fresh, it was clear that he isn’t a kid, and this isn’t the time of year to be carefree.