How Candelario can produce 'special' season for Tigers

75756A5E-120A-4932-810C-2FD980DB785E

Jeimer Candelario snapped his fingers as he thought about how far he's come in the past 12 months -- and how much further he still wants to go.

"Things can change really quick. Last year I was battling for a job and then this year, it’s the same mentality. I don’t have nothing," Candelario said Monday. "I got a lot of things to prove to myself. Keep working really hard to make the team. That’s on my mind, because I don’t want to get comfortable."

Candelario was comfortably in the Tigers' future ahead of the 2019 season, then perilously close to playing his way out of it. He had to beat out Dawel Lugo for a spot on the big-league roster in 2020. Then he went hitless in his first 17 at-bats. Lugo's out of Major League Baseball now. Could have been Candelario.

Instead, Candelario hit .327 over the final two months of 2020 to re-establish himself in Detroit's long-term plans. That included one 40-game stretch where he notched 19 multi-hit games. He enters 2021 assured a spot in the Tigers' infield -- likely at third base -- and a key role in the lineup.

Candelario said he's fueled by "how I produced last year consistently."

"I want to do that even more this year, because in the big leagues you gotta produce to win ballgames," he said. "Keep working on my skills to produce every single day that I go to the field, 162 games in the regular season and then we go from there."

For Candelario, staying on the field is important. He ended last season the way he started it, mired in a slump prompted by back tightness that forced him to sit out the final three games of the year. So he said he "put a lot of effort" this offseason into improving the flexibility in his hips. He said his body "feels really good."

It was four years ago that Candelario arrived via a trade from the Cubs, a young hitter for a young rebuild. He's 27 now. The Tigers are growing up with him. It's a big year for the organization as it tries to turn the corner under A.J. Hinch. Another big year for Candelario would go a long way.

It's one thing to produce for two months. Quite another to produce for six.

"Things didn’t go well (to start last season), but I got my hits and went from there. And you can see, I produced really well. I know if I do that and I put pressure on the opponent from the first day and keep putting pressure for 162 games, it’s going to be special."