Berry cashing in on Major opportunity

Berry cashing in on Major opportunity

Berry cashing in on Major opportunity
DETROIT -- Quintin Berry made a statement Sunday. He finally changed his batting gloves.

The reason that's a big deal explains why Berry is here now, crashing a Major League roster at age 27 after not making it to Triple-A until last fall and bouncing around four organizations the previous two years.

Spend nearly 700 games in the Minors, and equipment is a big deal, even batting gloves. It's not like he's awash in endorsement deals. When he finds a pair he likes, he tries to get them to last.

The way he steals bases, that's not easy. So every time he gets on base, he's changing gloves. Off went the black and bright orange ones, on went the white ones.

"I don't use the same ones, because I rip them up," he said Sunday. "I've been in the Minor Leagues for six years. You've got to conserve as much as you can. If they're working, you don't stop using them. That's the way we do things in baseball, keep them rolling."

Once he started hitting, he had a whole other reason to save those orange gloves. He wasn't going to mess with success.

"Like that bat? That bat's going for a while," said Berry, shooting a glance at the bat in his locker. "Even when it breaks, we might have to try to staple something in there and keep it rolling."

After 23 games in the big leagues, he finally had to retire his ripped-up gloves. He lasted long enough to change them, even after his Minor League numbers suggested success would be short-lived.

"It seems like it's been a while," he agreed. "I feel like I've been up here for a while with everything that's going on and travels and stuff. But that's a good thing."

Nearly a month has passed since Berry made the drive from Toledo to Cleveland to fill in for an injured Austin Jackson atop an equally ailing Tigers offense. Even with Jackson back and rolling again, Berry isn't making the drive back anytime soon.

Eight days after Jackson's return put Berry's roster spot in serious question, Berry's 5-for-5 performance against the Rockies provided a pretty good answer. Starting alongside Jackson in left field and batting behind him, Berry became the bridge between Jackson's All-Star caliber leadoff hitting and Detroit's MVP-caliber run producers, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder.

It was a new role for Berry, whose speed put him in the leadoff spot of almost every lineup he played in. But if he's going to find a role in this Tigers offense, even on a platoon basis, it's his best chance. Jackson is back, but Andy Dirks isn't, and he probably won't be anytime soon with an Achilles strain. That leaves left field open when Delmon Young is the designated hitter.

The Tigers will face three right-handed starting pitchers when the Cardinals come to town this week, which means potentially three starts. Manager Jim Leyland isn't promising anything, but he laid out the scenario.

"Dirks is going to be a while, and that gives us some flexibility," Leyland said. "We can play Quintin in left and DH Delmon, play [Ryan] Raburn against some left-handers. It gives us a little different dimension, but trust me when I tell you, we'll have the best team on the field."

You can make the case Berry is part of that. He doesn't have to do anything different, and the Tigers don't want him to. For all the talented hitters they've assembled, they don't have a lot of what Berry does well.

"Just trying to make contact, put balls in play, bunt, stealing when I can," Berry said. "All those little things that I do, that's part of my game, not trying to do too much. I'm not out here trying to hit home runs, drive in big runs or stuff like that. They didn't bring me here to hit home runs. They brought me here to get on base and run around."

It's why the Tigers signed him last winter as a Minor League free agent. They needed to protect themselves in case Jackson got hurt at any point. It wasn't an enticing chance, but with just four games above Double-A ball before this year, Triple-A was a promotion.

Berry had 242 career steals before this year and a .358 career on-base percentage, but a .267 career average. He hit .270 with 19 steals and a .368 OBP at Triple-A Toledo, but struck out 46 times in 39 games.

Asked what has clicked in Detroit, where he's hitting .333 (26-for-78) at the plate and 9-for-9 on the basepaths, he shrugs.

"Nothing's changed," Berry said. "That's just the way baseball is. You do well in some places sometimes. I've had bad years where I've been putting good swings and squaring balls up, and I've had good years where I didn't hit a ball solid all day and I got four knocks or something like that."

That said, he continued, "I think I'm starting to understand myself as a baseball player, what I'm capable of and not trying to go outside the box. When you're younger, you try to do more than what you can. I just kind of had to [figure out], 'This is who I am. Let's not try to just leave the park, just work the ball around and get on base and run around for a little bit.'"

The Tigers can use that. They have power. They don't have hitters, aside from Jackson and Dirks, who can manufacture offense, especially against tough pitchers.

As for speed, the Tigers haven't had two burners since Curtis Granderson and Cameron Maybin both started briefly in 2007, or Granderson and Nook Logan in 2005.

There's a good chance this ends up as just a stretch like that, either because pitchers adjust to Berry or because Dirks returns. The Tigers could trade for another outfielder at next month's non-waiver Trade Deadline if they need a right-handed bat badly enough.

But nobody is looking long term yet. For now, Berry has an opportunity, and the Tigers have a hot hitter. He's still going to conserve batting gloves, but he's going to put them to good use, too.

"Whatever this team needs, it doesn't matter to me," he said. "I'm not trying to do anything I can't control. So whatever they want me to do, I'm happy with, as long as I can just stay here. That's all I want to do. I'll do anything just so I can stay here, whatever it is."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.