March 4th, 2012

Game 2: Tigers show off lineup in Lakeland

Jim Leyland called Sunday a “silly game,” the kind of contest where something conspires to produce a lopsided score. A strong, strong wind going left to right, then out to right a bit, was one factor. A struggling debut for Braves top prospect Julio Teheran was another.

Yet another is the fact that the Tigers can smack the ball around.

“None of them are wind-aided,” Prince Fielder contended with a smile. “It’s not our fault. I didn’t tell the wind to do that.”

Or as Miguel Cabrera, who went homerless, put it, “You have to hit them.”

There were certainly a handful helped by the wind, and the Tigers weren’t ashamed to admit it. Ryan Raburn had two well-struck shots, but one arguably had a little boost to help get it over rather than banging off the fence or something. Brennan Boesch, who gets as much altitude on his home runs as anybody, didn’t have to do anything special to get some atmospheric assistance.

After Jhonny Peralta homered to right, Alex Avila greeted him at the plate.

“After I gave him a high-five when he crossed the plate,” Avila said, “he just [shrugged], ‘Hey, that’s the way it is.’ Can’t control it.”

More than half of the home runs went out to right, though not all of them were wind-aided. The only difference the wind seemed to make on Fielder’s blast was to push it to the right of the scoreboard rather than take it down. Avila’s drive to the right of the batting eye went more than 400 feet.

Austin Jackson just missed one home run to left, thanks in part to a Martin Prado play at the fence, then hit his next one deeper to clear the fence. Delmon Young did the same.

“The balls that Austin and Delmon hit, those were smashed. Just smashed,” Avila said. “In BP today, every ball that was hit that way died at the warning track. They got all of those, that’s for sure. They both hit them well and they barely got out.”

The Tigers have had conditions like this in recent years and haven’t always taken advantage. The way their lineup sets up, this is their game.

“We are built to score a lot of runs,” Avila said. “That’s a tough lineup to go.”

What we learned: The Tigers can really, really punish a pitcher when he’s not on his game — even a really good one.

What to remember from Game 1: Much like some people still remember Miguel Cabrera’s homer off the top of the batters eye in straightaway center field in his first spring training game as a Tiger in 2008, Fielder’s shot off the light tower in right field will probably become part of modern Tigers lore. It was a no-doubter whether the wind was blowing in or out, and the only way it could’ve made more of a splash is if it had kept carrying and hit the indoor batting cage building out beyond right field.

Hey, it’s only Spring Training: The good news if you’re looking at Miguel Cabrera’s first miscue at third base is that he ranged to his left quickly enough to get in front of Brandon Hicks’ grounder headed for the hole and cut it off, rather than let him outrun a play from the shortstop. The mistake was in misjudging how much time he had, rushing a play when he could’ve taken his time. It was an instance where he actually got to a ball one wouldn’t have expected, but didn’t make the play on a ball he got to.

The highlight play you missed: As good as the home runs were, they’ve been written already. Matt Hoffman’s ability to shrug off a line drive off his knee, run down the ball along the first-base line and throw down the line to Don Kelly for the out, by comparison, has not. Nor has his amazing stop for the final out.

Non-game note of the day: Victor Martinez’s return to camp, even just for a day, was a big symbol for this team. He has hung out with some players already, having taken some of the catchers out for dinner, but bringing him back to the clubhouse meant a lot for some guys.

Looking ahead: Justin Verlander will get back on the mound against opposing hitters Monday for the first time in 2012. Perhaps fittingly, he’ll be facing the same Blue Jays team that he no-hit last May, a game that started his run of dominant starts that he took into the summer. No word on a lineup for Monday, though Cabrera is expected to be back out there at third. Joaquin Benoit is expected to get his first game action of the spring.

To-do list for Monday: If last summer showed anything for the Tigers, it’s that Verlander pitching is an event, whether it’s a big game or not. He’s just that good.

Quote of the day:

V-Mart visits team: “It’s really tough”

The Tigers welcomed a much-awaited visitor in Victor Martinez, who stopped by for the first time since camp opened. After saying hello to his teammates, he sat down and talked with the media in what he admitted was a day of mixed emotions.

“It’s tough just to come here,” he said. “I definitely want to see everybody, but it takes it tough when you see your teammates on the field and, believe me, you want to be there. You want to take these crutches off and start running.”

Martinez recounted what happened in the injury, saying he was doing side-to-side agility drills when his right foot slipped, putting everything on his left leg and causing it to buckle. A day later, he said, the swelling had ballooned, and he knew it was serious.

“I heard all that sound, cracking,” Martinez said. “I just fell down. So it was very bad.”

When he heard he required two surgeries, Martinez said, “It was bad. I never thought – I mean never – never thought that I was going to need two surgeries. That really got me down. I was hoping if it was the ACL and only that, I was hoping at that time that I was going to be able to come back at the end of the year. When they told me two surgeries, it crushed me. I don’t really have any words to describe how bad it felt.”

Martinez, who had microfracture surgery about a month ago, will have his ACL surgery on or around April 4, so he won’t be able to make it to Opening Day. For now, he’s spending his days in therapy for the knee and moving around on crutches.

Sunday: Tigers vs. Braves

The Tigers usually like to trot out as many regulars as possible for the Grapefruit League home opener. Today, they have something that looks close to an Opening Day lineup:

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Brennan Boesch, RF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B
  5. Delmon Young, LF
  6. Alex Avila, C
  7. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  8. Andy Dirks, DH
  9. Ryan Raburn, 2B

Pitchers: Max Scherzer, Duane Below, Jose Valverde, Octavio Dotel, Darin Downs, Matt Hoffman.

BRAVES

  1. Tyler Pastornicky, SS
  2. Martin Prado, LF
  3. Matt Diaz, RF
  4. Stefan Gartrell, DH
  5. Ernesto Mejia, 1B
  6. David Ross, C
  7. Brandon Hicks, 3B
  8. Drew Sutton, 2B
  9. Luis Durango, CF

P: Randall Delgado, Julio Teheran, Jairo Asencio, Jaye Chapman, J.J. Hoover.

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