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Last year Jordan Lennerton had a year to remember with the Mud Hens.
The left-handed hitting first-baseman had a strong season at the plate that earned him a berth in the Future’s Game at Citi Field in New York, then the Triple-A All-Star Game in Reno two days later.
By season’s end he had earned a minor-league Gold Glove award, not to mention a spot on the Tigers’ 40-man roster.
And this year? The Hens’ first baseman went hitless in his first 15 at-bats and has been playing catch-up.
But the slow start to 2014 has not lessened his excitement Lennerton has for the game, nor has it dulled his desire to bounce back.
“Obviously the ideal plan is to start the season hot and carry it all the way through,” he said. “But some times it doesn’t go that way.
“But I try to see the best in every situation. My teammates never got down on me, and I kept working towards what I need to do: put the ball in play, hit it hard, and let the chips fall where they may.”
Last season was arguably his best as a pro. He hit .278 and finished with 17 home runs to go with 57 RBIs. His 84 walks helped him post a .382 on-base percentage and helped him to a 48-game on-base streak, the longest in minor-league baseball.
“Last year I went 100 percent with what felt comfortable,” he said. “In previous years I had coaches who were [focused on the] mechanical, and they wanted me to do certain things.
“Starting in spring training last year I just went with what was comfortable.”
The results were impressive. So impressive that by the time he earned the MVP award in the Puerto Rican Winter League, Tigers farm director Dave Owen called Lennerton in Puerto Rico.
The news was the best yet for the native of Langley, B.C.: Detroit was adding him to its 40-man roster.
“He told me how excited he was to make that call,” Lennerton said. “I realize I’m kind of a curious case, having made it after being a 33rd-round draft pick.
“But he said he was proud of the player and the person I had become, and that meant a lot to me.”
Lennerton said it is possible the pressure of being on the 40-man roster and spending spring training with Detroit led to his early-season struggles.
“Maybe deep down somewhere [there was pressure],” he admitted. “On the surface I keep myself on an even keel — I don’t get too hyped or too down about anything. I try to stay level and stay positive. ...
“That’s why we’re here: To be successful, to move up and to catch the eye of someone in the crowd.”
Lennerton hit .150 in April, and soon after that the Tigers removed him from the 40-man roster as his average stood at .189 when July began.
“I was being a little too aggressive,” Lennerton said. “I wasn’t hitting the pitches I wanted to hit. I was hitting the pitcher’s pitch.”
An eight-game hitting streak entering the All-Star Break has raised his batting average to .210 with five homers and 31 RBIs.
“The league seemed to adjust to him,” Mud Hens manager Larry Parrish said of Lennerton. “Now it’s up to him to adjust back.
“It has been a bit of struggle in the first half, but last year he was strong in the first half and struggled in the second. Maybe that means he’s going to put it together in the second half.”
One thing that Lennerton has maintained is his outstanding defense. He has yet to make an error on 764 chances, and his ability to grab errant throws helps the rest of the Toledo infielders.
“He’s got wonderful hands,” Parrish said. “He has such soft hands, and he is very good at picking up tough hops and throws.
“As an ex-infielder, I can tell you that having a guy at first who can ‘pick it’ makes you very confident.”
One thing Lennerton has maintained during his rough start to 2014 is the same positive attitude he had in 2013.
“I love this game — there’s nothing in the world I would rather be doing,” Lennerton said. “The worst day at the ballpark is better than anything else I could think of doing.”