After the Detroit Tigers signed the Pittsburgh Pirates double-play combination of Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison to stabilize the middle of their infield, many thought the pair could be consistently relied upon to be both stable and productive.
Whoever thought that, not so fast. Multiple trips to the injured list and painfully slow starts have quickly halted any hopes of the middle infield duo providing any value to the struggling Detroit Tigers in 2019. While Mercer hasn’t performed up to par with his .203 batting average, the real story is the slumping Harrison.
Detroit Tigers- Signing Harrison
Harrison was signed to a one-year, $2 million contract by the Tigers on Feb. 23, just as spring training was kicking off. It was considered a fair deal for a guy who could immediately step into an everyday role and be flipped at the trade deadline for a prospect after a productive first half.
He also filled multiple needs upon signing, boasting the ability to hit in the leadoff spot in the order and play primarily second base, two areas where the Tigers lacked a reliable option headed into scamp.
The 31-year-old Harrison brought along not just veteran leadership and clubhouse intangibles from the Steel City, but also an above-average bat. In eight seasons with the Pirates, he hit a respectable .277 with 52 home runs and 269 RBI in addition.
Detroit Tigers- Harrison’s Slump
Even though it’s only May and the season is still young, Harrison appears to be nowhere near the level he was at the dish in Pittsburgh. Through 105 at-bats this season, “J-Hay” has only managed 18 hits (.171 batting average), a single home run and seven RBI.
He immediately assumed the leadoff spot in the batting order after signing this winter but has slowly slid down the order with his drop in production, now usually seeing action in the seventh spot.
The Tigers desperately needed a spark at the top of the order, but Harrison’s .135 batting average in that role didn’t make the cut. Since his demotion in the lineup, others such as utilityman Niko Goodrum and the recently optioned Jeimer Candelario have failed to provide a spark in their attempts hitting leadoff.
What’s really garnered concern with Harrison is how significantly the veteran has been slumping this season. The month of April was the worst in the nine-year career of Harrison, as he hit a disappointing .165 (13-for-79) with16 strikeouts compared to just three walks.
The disastrous stretch was capped off with a trip to the injured list on Apr. 30 thanks to a left shoulder contusion. He has shown signs of improvement since returning on May. 13, going 4-for-15 (.267 batting average) in four games.
Nevertheless, Harrison’s struggles are quite alarming to the Tigers organization after he was expected to be a reliable part of the 2019 roster.
Detroit Tigers- The Reason Behind The Struggles
What can be attributed to these prolonged struggles?
After spending the first eight seasons of his career in the pitcher-friendly National League, the transition to the American League can be partially to blame for his severe shortcomings at the plate.
Perhaps the uncertainty he endured late in the offseason after being forced to wait through a deadly free agent market until just into spring training to sign is still having an effect on his psyche. After all, Harrison had the worst season of his Pittsburgh Pirates career last year, and that seems to only be translating to Detroit this season.
Going along with the timing of his signing, his need to speed up preparations for this season failed to provide ample time for him to study and prepare for his tough transition to the American League.
One thing’s for sure, if the Tigers plan on competing with the best of the best when the summer heats up, they will need the charismatic Harrison to regain the form he had in his Pittsburgh Pirates days.