April 10th, 2011

Would Porcello bring back curveball?

Rick Porcello tinkered with a curveball along with his slider for a decent part of Spring Training. He shelved it near the end of camp in order to focus on commanding his slider. By throwing the curveball, he has having problems getting a consistent grip on his slider.

Two starts into his season, he’s struggling to get over a consistent pitch to get hitters off his sinker. So could he bring back the curveball? After all, if he can’t have one great secondary pitch, wouldn’t it be better to at least have multiple show-me pitches?

Sounds doubtful. But Porcello didn’t rule it out.

“I was having trouble with my slider, finding a consistent release point,” Porcello said after Sunday’s game. “I haven’t been throwing a curveball, just to make sure that I’ve been staying in the same arm slot with my slider. But it might be something that I’m going to bring back and start throwing, because it might be another effective pitch, another weapon, just something a little bit slower, just giving [hitters] something else to think about.”

Postgame notes: Jackson goes small ball

Austin Jackson isn’t really a big bunter for his speed. He had four bunt hits as a rookie last year, though his 29 infield hits tied him for eighth in the American League. The only AL players who had that many infield hits with so few bunt singles were Derek Jeter, Carl Crawford and Rajai Davis.

The way Jackson’s at-bats have been going lately, though, he isn’t picky about how he gets on, as his bunt single Sunday showed.

“I might have to start using my legs a little bit to find a way to get on track,” Jackson said.

It almost looked like a sacrifice situation, except that the Tigers were down too many runs to get away with moving runners over. Brandon Inge led off the eighth inning with a single, and Wilson Betemit dropped back at third when Jackson came up.

Jackson had flown out to center, shattered his bat on a groundout to second, and struck out swinging in the sixth. He didn’t need a hint.

“I was bunting on my own right there, seeing a good opportunity with no outs,” Jackson said. “Betemit was kind of playing me further back than he had been, so I just tried to take advantage of that.”

Manager Jim Leyland had no problem with that.

“It was a good play, obviously,” he said. “It kept a rally going.”

Manager Jim Leyland said Saturday night he was probably going to sit Jackson on Sunday, but he put him in the lineup after all. Jackson’s 4-for-10 history off Luke Hochevar and Magglio Ordonez’s day off with ankle soreness put him in a position to try to get a spark.

His first three at-bats showed some of the same problems Leyland has seen in recent days.

“Jackson right now is swinging at too many balls. That sums up the situation for me,” Leyland said. “Right now, he’s in one of those grooves where he’s probably anxious to get a hit, maybe a little overanxious to get a hit, and consequently he swung at some balls. But he’ll get out of that. He’s a grinder. He’ll figure that out.

“I don’t really think that’s a big issue. I think he’ll be absolutely fine. I think right now if you’re asking why he’s making outs, well he’s swinging at a lot of bad pitches.”

That said, Jackson went to full counts in each of his first two at-bats, so he’s still taking some pitches. He might have swung at a high fastball on a full count in his first at-bat, and he swung and missed at a 3-1 pitch off the plate in his second. He swung and missed at a potentially high fastball for a sixth-inning strikeout.

“Right now, I’m just doing my best to have quality at-bats,” Jackson said. “Obviously the results aren’t what I would like them to be. But at the same time, I’m going to go up there and keep battling, try to put good at-bats together.”

Asked why some of his good at-bats aren’t ending well, he said, “I wish I could answer that for you. It’s one of those things where, like you said, you get kind of anxious up there. You want to get base hits, and you might tend to swing at some bad pitches. You might put a pitcher in a better count because of that. I did that a few times today, put the pitcher back in a better count.”

He did not waste time on his bunt, laying down the first pitch and killing it along the third-base line, forcing catcher Matt Treanor to scramble. Jackson beat the throw to first.

“I just have to keep going up there and try to find a way to get on base,” Jackson said.

Bunting his way on is one of them.

Zumaya rehab on hold again

Joel Zumaya’s throwing program is on hold again. He experienced discomfort in his right elbow again after he played catch on Thursday, head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said this morning.

The next step, Rand said, is to let him rest the arm for a couple days and see if it improves. However, Rand said team doctors and Dr. James Andrews, who has been consulting on Zumaya’s situation for the last couple years, have a conference call scheduled for Monday to discuss what’s going on. As of now, there’s no answer whether Zumaya will be re-examined.

Sunday: Jackson starts after all

Jim Leyland said Saturday night he was probably going to give Austin Jackson off Sunday and get his mind clear. However, Jackson is in the lineup after all. It came out after Leyland talked this morning, so there’s no reason given. It’s worth noting, though, that Jackson went 4-for-10 off Luke Hochevar last year.

Magglio Ordonez is off. He’s being rested for the ankle. Boesch and Raburn are in the corners.

1. Austin Jackson, CF
2. Will Rhymes, 2B
3. Brennan Boesch, RF
4. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
5. Victor Martinez, DH
6. Ryan Raburn, LF
7. Jhonny Peralta, SS
8. Alex Avila, C
9. Brandon Inge, 3B

Slumping Jackson to sit Sunday

The question came up to manager Jim Leyland after Saturday’s loss: Is Austin Jackson, who went 0-for-4, pressing?

Leyland did not have to pause to think about the answer.

“I would say so,” Leyland said.

Thus, Jackson is going to get Sunday off, his first game out of the starting lineup since the season began a week and a half ago. Don Kelly will most likely get the start in his place.

Victor Martinez is the only other Tiger to have started every game so far this season, and all but two of those have been at designated hitter.

Jackson, of course, plays a more demanding position in center field. With a mix of Magglio Ordonez, Brennan Boesch and Ryan Raburn rotating in the corner spots most games, Jackson has had a good amount of territory to cover.

Jackson, also, of course, bats leadoff, which has demands of its own. Setting the table for a lineup that needs to score runs more consistently, it’s moreso.

Before the game, Leyland lectured that seven games is a short amount of time to make judgments.

“I think everybody has a tendency to put way too much emphasis, good or bad, [on results] early in the season, after 6-7 games,” Leyland said. “If a guy’s 0-for-6, people are panicking. If a guy’s 1-for-9, people are panicking. It’s nine at-bats. If a guy’s 5-for-9, people go, ‘Oh, man.’ We’ve played seven games. It is what it is.”

That was before Saturday’s game. After the game, Leyland was cautious about not reading too much into his decision, but also indicated these are real struggles for Jackson.

“He never gets too high or too low. But, at the major league level, he hasn’t really gone through this just yet, either. You have to watch it. I’m probably going to get him out of there tomorrow.”

Leyland was asked if he thinks it’s mechanical.

“I think people have a tendency to think that every time you’re not hitting, you’re doing something mechanically wrong. That’s not always necessarily true,” Leyland said. “Sometimes, you’re just not staying on the ball. He’s gone through a little bit of a streak where he’s swinging at balls and taking strikes. So I think he’s been caught in between just a little bit. And that’s usually a telltale sign of a little slump.

“But he’ll come out of it. He’s just not in a real good groove right now, where he’s feeling really good, getting the foot down, boom, then the timing. But he’ll get that. He’ll be fine.”

Jackson has not had a ton of ugly at-bats. When he entered Tuesday’s off-day batting .200, he led all major league hitters in pitches seen. He had a lot of deep at-bats, but not the results he wanted. He led the American League in strikeouts, and a lot of them came on 2-2 and 3-2 pitches. Hitting coach Lloyd McClendon liked the at-bats part, and both he and Jackson felt he was seeing the ball well.

He has had some quicker outs the last few days. He ran the count full before taking a called third strike in the first inning Saturday, but then struck out quickly in the eighth inning with runners on first and second. He also hit into a double play on a 1-0 pitch Friday.

Jackson ended Saturday batting 6-for-34 with 13 strikeouts, having struck out at least once in every game so far this season. When he gets on base, though, he tends to get around and get home. He has reached base safely nine times and scored five runs. But four of those runs came in the season-opening weekend at Yankee Stadium.