DETROIT – Torii Hunter was walking through the Detroit clubhouse last weekend, carrying a mesh bag with some contraptions that turned heads.
“This is how I stay on the field,” Hunter said to inquiring teammates.
The 37-year-old Hunter was toting a rolling pin with skateboard-like wheels and some small balls. Later, he put a brick-shaped block between one of the balls and his left calf.
“Two or three years ago, I got these from a chiropractor,” he recalled, sitting in front of his locker. “I started using these gadgets to hit my pressure points and loosen my muscles and to keep me stretched out. I use them every day to help me perform.”
So far, so good.
The four-time All-Star and six-time Gold Glove winner has played in each of the Tigers’ six games this season. He has been the dependable player they were hoping for at the plate and in the field when they signed him to a $26 million, two-year contract in November.
He is leading Detroit’s everyday players with a .393 batting average with more than one hit in five of six games. He hasn’t made an error in right field and has one assist, throwing out a runner at home to help the Tigers win a weekend series against the New York Yankees.
“He’s a great addition for the Tigers,” Yankees ace CC Sabathia said. “He’s going to help their lineup, especially in the No. 2 hole.”
Hunter has hit between third and sixth for much of his career, which began in 1998 with the Minnesota Twins, until primarily hitting second last season, his fifth and final year with the Angels. The second spot worked out well for him last year as he hit a career-best .313 with 16 home runs and 92 RBIs, his highest total since 2007.
“Hitting fourth, fifth and sixth for most of my career, I had to hit for power,” he said. “In the two hole, you have to change your game – kill self and worry about the team. For example, if Austin Jackson is on first, I might have to take a strike so he can steal or I might have to sacrifice to get him over for Miguel Cabrera or Prince Fielder to hit him in. Austin is the table-setter and those guys (Cabrera and Fielder) are going to eat.”
Hunter should get a chance to feast on some fastballs over the plate because pitchers are going to want to get him out, hoping he’s not on base for Cabrera and Fielder to bring home.
He is approaching 2,000 hits and 300 homers, and might hit another milestone – 200 stolen bases – before his two-year run in the Motor City ends.
“You gotta stay healthy to get 2,000 hits and come ready to play every day,” Hunter said.