Shelton making most of Minors stint

Shelton making most of Minors stint

TOLEDO, Ohio -- Chris Shelton says he will remain Chris Shelton, regardless of where he is playing.

Shelton's story is well known by now. He got off to an unprecedented start last year with the Tigers, hitting an American League record nine home runs in the first 13 games of the season before fizzling the rest of the season and a subsequent demotion to Triple-A Toledo after Detroit signed Sean Casey on July 31 at the trade deadline.

Casey signed a one-year deal with the Tigers during the offseason, which meant Shelton would likely get left off the team's Opening Day roster.

He didn't make the team, so there was Shelton, batting second for the Toledo Mud Hens in their home opener on Thursday at Fifth Third Field, still saying he has taken his demotion in stride and glad to be playing in front of an announced crowd of 12,600 fans in the Glass City, while the rest of the Tigers are playing Toronto at the Rogers Centre.

"It's the way the game goes," Shelton said. "They didn't have room for me up there, so I had no choice but to come here. I'm here, so all I can do is play well and play hard while I'm here."

So guess who was leading the Mud Hens with a .375 average through the first seven games, batting primarily second in the order? Yup, Shelton's off to another good start, even if the surroundings have changed.

The power numbers may not be on par with last year's start (one homer through his first 27 at-bats), but Shelton says his approach hasn't changed, even if he is in a spot in the batting order generally reserved for Placido Polanco-type players who can control the bat and move runners over on the basepaths.

Mud Hens hitting coach Leon Durham said Shelton is in the two-spot to put him in good hitting situations and make sure he's not pressing.

"My job is to go up there and try to hit the ball hard," Shelton said. "Obviously if there's a situation when I go up there and it's needed, I feel like I can accomplish the goal and do whatever is needed in the situation."

That eagerness for power was evident in Shelton's first at-bat during the Mud Hens' 5-4 win on Thursday over the Durham Bulls.

Kevin Hooper led off the game with a single and Shelton wasted no time swinging out of his shoes. He swung and missed at the first two pitches -- both changeups -- before eventually swinging and missing at the third strike.

"It's the way the game goes. They didn't have room for me up there, so I had no choice but to come here. I'm here, so all I can do is play well and play hard while I'm here."
-- Chris Shelton

"His first two at-bats he was trying to do it with his body," Durham said. "And that's not being Chris Shelton, trying to work the ball middle-away, letting your hands work out front instead of letting your body get all twisted."

Shelton went hitless for the first time in 2007 on Friday, though he did make two nice defensive plays. He made a back-handed stop to start a double play and dug out a throw in the dirt from third baseman Mike Hessman.

"He's gotten better at first base, we just want him to continue the things that he is doing for us right now," Durham said. "He could play in the big leagues with anyone right now as a first baseman and as a hitter."

Strikeouts continue to be a problem for Shelton, with nine Ks through eight games, though he also has six walks over that same span. He had 107 strikeouts in 115 games with the Tigers last year. If Shelton stays with the right approach, Durham said, the strikeouts will decline.

"Strikeouts are going to happen. That doesn't bother me too much," Durham said. "We're trying to stop him from doing too much. When he's trying to do too much and hit the ball out of the park, he's going away from his approach, which is middle-away."

It may be hard to believe because Shelton has already spent parts of three years with the Tigers, but at 26 years old, Shelton is younger than 17 of his Mud Hens teammates and would be the seventh-youngest player on Detroit's roster. Just two position players -- Omar Infante and Curtis Granderson -- are younger than Shelton on Detroit's roster.

Now Shelton is out to prove he can be a long-term solution for Detroit and be remembered as a more consistent player, rather than a flash-in-the-pan that had one magical April before fading away.

"I go out there and play. It really doesn't matter when I start," Shelton said. "I always want to go out and play well, it really doesn't matter what time of year it is."

Durham, who describes Shelton's attitude as "great" ever since reporting to Minor League camp following the final cuts, has a simple goal for him.

"Be Chris Shelton," Durham said. "Don't do anything more than that. Get better at the little things about the game and get to know yourself better. He's going to be fine, he's going to get an opportunity to be with somebody."

Tim Kirby is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.