Game 18: What’s next for Tigers at third base
Jim Leyland’s answer to the question of how he’ll handle third base while Miguel Cabrera is out lasted five words.
“I’ve got plenty of coverage,” he said Tuesday morning.
That he does. Between Danny Worth, Don Kelly, Audy Ciriaco and yes, Brandon Inge, Leyland has no shortage of guys who can play over there this spring. Who he plays will likely say a lot about how long the Tigers expect Cabrera to be out.
Inge has had a ton of playing time at second base this season to try to get him acclimated, with surprisingly good results. The Tigers and Leyland have made it abundantly clear that Cabrera is the third baseman now, a message that has grown stronger as Spring Training has unfolded and Cabrera has more than held his own at the hot corner. It would seem unlikely the Tigers will move Inge back to third unless they have to — in other words, if they have a reason to believe that Cabrera would miss time at the start of the season.
If they had to make an adjustment on the fly, they could get Inge ready at third with very little lead-in time. As Leyland said early this spring, Inge could play third in his sleep. So the idea of Inge needing time as an insurance policy doesn’t really hold in this situation.
So while Cabrera is out, the biggest impact could be on Kelly, getting more time at third to fill Grapefruit League innings and more at-bats to get himself ready, as well as Worth, who has been trying to make his case as an extra infielder for some time now. It also could keep Ciriaco in camp a little longer, continuing what has been a decent spring for him.
What we learned: While Ryan Raburn and Delmon Young have been belting balls all spring, the common refrain has been that they’ve been feasting on early spring pitching, when hurlers are usually focusing on their fastballs and rarely mixing in their good secondary pitches. Raburn’s sixth home run of the spring came on a breaking ball from Jair Jurrjens, whose rough spring continued. Young’s ball came on a pitch with more velocity on it.
Either way, their hitting is starting to outgrow the early spring training phrase.
“I don’t know how to explain it. It just seems like Delmon and Raburn get a good pitch to hit, they hit it pretty hard and a lot of times pretty far,” Leyland said. “But I don’t really know how to explain it.”
Hey, it’s only spring training: Justin Verlander said Tuesday was his first real jam in which he had the situation to try to gear up his fastball. He got it up to 96 mph on the radar gun at Joker Marchant Stadium, maybe another tick on other scouting guns.
“The velocity was getting up there, and that’s the first time it’s done that,” Verlander said. “A little harder to control for me, but the more I do it, the better it’ll get.”
At some point, that fastball will gear up to the upper 90s. It’s not there yet, but that’s not something he’s trying to get there at this point in the spring.
The highlight play you saw: Not really a highlight, but you saw a lot of the Lakeland grounds crew working on the mound. Both Verlander and Jurrjens pointed around their landing spots on the front of the dirt.
“It caused a little bit of issues,” Verlander said. “I felt like that might have led to some of the walks. A couple walks, I was slipping a little bit. Obviously, it was a bit more of a problem for Jair than it was for myself.”
At one point between innings, they were both around the mound looking at the trouble spot.
“I was telling him he was doing it, and he was telling me I was doing it, creating that big old hole,” Verlander said. “But I don’t create much of a hole when I pitch, if any of a hole. That’s what I was telling him. … It was weird, because I think them fixing it might have caused more a problem for him, because then his original hole wasn’t there anymore. That’s when he started slipping, I think.”
Up next: With the Tigers scheduled for their lone off-day of the spring on Thursday, they juggled their rotation a bit for Wednesday. Andy Oliver moves up a day to make the start against the Twins at 1:05pm at Marchant Stadium, putting him in a pretty good test that also happens to be the first broadcast of the spring for Fox Sports Detroit. Rick Porcello will pitch in a minor-league game earlier.
To-do list for Wednesday: Stretch out Oliver and get a look at how Twins hitters react to him the second and, maybe in a couple cases, third time into the order. He probably won’t get deep into a third turn, not with a pitch limit around 75 or so, but guys will get a chance to adjust from their first at-bats.