August 22nd, 2011

Martinez scratched with lower back spasms

Victor Martinez had managed to stay in the Tigers lineup for two weeks after spraining his left knee in Kansas City. But on Monday, it was a bout of lower back spasms that knocked him out. He was a late scratch from Detroit’s batting order.

Martinez was slated to bat in his usual spot behind Miguel Cabrera. Without him, Alex Avila moved up to the fifth spot in the order for just the second time this season. Cabrera took the DH spot, while Don Kelly was inserted into the lineup at first base, batting eighth.

Martinez is batting .326 (15-for-46) with two home runs and six RBIs over the last two weeks. His absence tests the depth of a Tigers lineup that has spread out its damage in recent weeks up and down the order.

Monday: Tigers at Rays

Justin Verlander and Jeff Niemann went two picks apart in the 2004 draft. Now they get a matchup against each other.

Not many numbers for the Tigers against Rays starter Jeff Niemann, though Delmon Young is 4-for-10 off him. The bigger difference is the splits: Left-handed batters hit .257 with a .712 OPS off Niemann through his 16 starts so far this season, compared with .226  and .646 from the right side. Thus, you see Ramon Santiago and Wilson Betemit starting tonight.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Brennan Boesch, RF
  3. Delmon Young, LF
  4. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
  5. Victor Martinez, DH
  6. Alex Avila, C
  7. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  8. Wilson Betemit, 3B
  9. Ramon Santiago, 2B

P: Justin Verlander

The predicament with Porcello

Rick Porcello wasn’t exactly cruising through three innings Sunday, but he was showing signs of working past the mechanical problems that plagued him the past couple starts. His sinker, while not consistent, had some bite to it, and he had a feel of changing speeds and mixing in sliders.

Then came the long rest of a seven-run third inning for the Tigers. And out came a different looking pitcher.

“He just got away from what he was doing,” manager Jim Leyland said. “I’m not defending him, because he’s got to close that game down. I’m not making any excuses, but he did sit there for a seven-run inning. But he got away from what he was doing. He started getting hurt with his slider. He had sinkers on the ground for the most part of the day, and then he went away from that, left a couple sliders up and they got hit.”

Leyland has to have patience with Porcello, because for almost three seasons of experience, he’s still just 22. Still, a little bit of frustration was fair, because a seven-run lead is normally a situation to cruise. And Leyland could see the inning unraveling, which is why he made the move as quickly as he did to Duane Below.

“Let’s face it, if he’s throwing really good and it doesn’t look like he’s in trouble, you might say, ‘Ok, I’m going to let him go ahead.’ But I didn’t like the way things were going,” Leyland said. “I didn’t like it. I felt like we had a better chance to come out of the inning with nothing more with the left-hander facing Choo, Cabrera and Hafner, than we did the things were unraveling on Porcello. I didn’t think Rick Porcello had a chance of coming out of that inning without giving up more runs, and I still believe that. Doesn’t mean I don’t have confidence in Rick Porcello. It just means today, that’s what you go on.

“The starting pitcher didn’t get the job done. I can’t hide from that. I’m not mad. I’m not being critical. That’s the facts. He’s gotta shut that down for a couple more innings and give us a chance to add on runs. I mean, we were milking outs from the fourth inning on.”

Before the game, I had asked Leyland about all the side work Porcello had put in (3-4 sessions worth) before this start. The real test, he pointed out, would be the game. He didn’t mean that critically, but that side sessions aren’t always an accurate gauge.

Now, Porcello and pitching coach Jeff Jones have four days to get him ready for Friday night’s series opener at Minnesota, and somehow figure out how to make the mechanics stick.

It’s a situation watch for the Tigers, who benefitted greatly from his five wins last month. Flat out, they need him effective if they’re going to go anywhere in October. They’ve obviously seen his best very recently. Even if it might feel like he’s spinning his wheels in recent days, he pretty much has to work through it here.

On the arm of Austin Jackson

Austin Jackson began Sunday’s game by ending his streak of games without a strikeout. He ended it on a strike to the plate.

For someone who has never been known for his throws home, his throw to beat Kosuke Fukudome home was a thing of beauty. Usually, his assists home have been one-hoppers, a few times off the mound. Sunday’s throw was one of his rare throw from him that had air under it.

“I’ve had that play a couple times this year and I didn’t get it all the way in the air,” Jackson said. “On that one I was able to get a lot of air on it.”

According to ESPN, Jackson is the first center fielder to assist on a double play to close out a one-run victory since Pittsburgh Pirates great and former Tigers coach Andy Van Slyke on Sept. 27, 1988. That Pirates team, of course, was managed by Jim Leyland.

It was one play where comparing Jackson to his predecessor, Curtis Granderson, doesn’t open a pandoras box. Granderson wasn’t known for his arm when he roamed center field at Comerica Park, but when he needed to be could put everything into a ball. This was the first time I can remember seeing that from Jackson.

As it is, that’s three times in a span of about two weeks that Jackson has made a defensive play that helped alter the course of a game. Whatever your opinion of his offensive season or his role in the lineup, he’s showing why he deserves to be out there.

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