Upton's April struggles continue

Upton's April struggles continue

DETROIT -- Justin Upton came to Detroit with the reputation of being a streaky hitter. The Tigers signed him knowing they'd have to ride out cold snaps to get to the hitting tears. As the weather in the Midwest warms up, Upton is still trying to do the same.

"He's struggling mightily, right now," manager Brad Ausmus said on Saturday, after Upton struck out three times against Corey Kluber in Detroit's 10-1 loss to take the Major League lead with 30 for the season. "But you just have to go back to [his] track record."

The track record says Upton has the highs powerful enough to carry a lineup for stretches -- sometimes weeks -- and lows that will make him look like he's searching at the plate. Put them together, and the full-season marks earned him a reputation as one of the top young hitters in the game.

Upton has put two balls in play through two games against the Indians. One of them was a first-pitch double that produced Detroit's only run and lone extra-base hit off Josh Tomlin in Friday's 2-1 loss. He struck out his last four at-bats after that.

Upton's RBI double

In the process, Upton became the seventh Tiger in the last 20 years to strike out 30 times by the end of April, according to baseball-reference.com. Austin Jackson and Ryan Raburn were the last to do it, both in 2011. Jackson's 36 strikeouts that season are the most by a Tiger through the end of April. With seven more games on the schedule this month, Upton could average a strikeout a game and surpass it.

Upton has struck out at least once in each of Detroit's first 16 games. Only Jackson owns a longer streak by a Tiger to begin a season since 1913, having fanned in each of his first 19 games in 2010, also according to baseball-reference.

He has a strikeout rate over 40 percent, way more than his 24-percent career mark. But he also has a .368 batting average on balls in play that sits 40 points above his career mark.

"He's grinding," Ausmus said on Saturday morning. "He's doing a pretty good job of being able to grind. We were just talking about [how] a veteran player that's been through [a slump] has gone through it before. And it's frustrating when he goes through it, and I'm sure it's frustrating to him, because he's with a new team and I'm sure he wants to do well in the new uniform -- for his new players, for the city, for the fans, for Tiger fans. So I'm sure that's a little frustrating, but he is still a guy that's done this for a long time."

While the track record is up and down, the lineup spot so far hasn't been. Ausmus said earlier this week he does not plan on moving Upton out of the second slot in front of Miguel Cabrera, who's going through his own April struggles. After Saturday's loss, Ausmus was noncommittal.

"We've talked about a lot of different things," Ausmus said, "but we'll let you know when we've made a decision."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.