April 5th, 2012

Scoop: Fielder hangs in at first base

The Tigers had plenty of plays that kept them in the game Thursday, from Justin Verlander’s strikeouts to Alex Avila’s double to Austin Jackson’s walkoff hit. Two plays that might have gotten overlooked were the scoops that Prince Fielder made at first on low throws from Jhonny Peralta.

Manager Jim Leyland wasn’t overlooking them.

“He picked them both clean and got outs on both of them. That was huge,” Leyland said. “That was absolutely huge for us. Raffy [Belliard] and him worked a lot in Spring Training on that and it paid off today. Those are huge plays.”

The first of them came in the second inning following David Ortiz’s leadoff double. Peralta went to the hole to pick up Kevin Youkilis’ grounder, looked to Ortiz at second and fired to first, but didn’t get enough on the ball, which skipped in the dirt in front of Fielder. He reached out and timed his swipe perfectly, getting the out and keeping Ortiz there.

The second play came leading off the sixth inning, very similar, to retire Mike Aviles. That became big in hindsight once Miguel Cabrera’s error and an Adrian Gonzalez walk put two runners on with two out for Ortiz, who struck out. If not for that out, Verlander could’ve had a bases-loaded, one-out jam for Ortiz and Youkilis.

“That’s to Prince’s credit and Raffy’s credit,” Leyland continued. “They worked on it, and it paid huge dividends today. Those were huge plays. … If either one of those get by, you’re in trouble. That was huge for us.”

Fielder said the work was the least he could do for Cabrera, who was willing to make the move from first to third to accommodate him.

“With Miguel doing all the hard work he was doing, I felt I owed it not only to the team but to him,” Fielder said, “because I couldn’t be here without him being willing to move to third base. I thought I owed it to him to work just as hard as he is at third, to work hard at first.”

Cabrera: “I was a little scared with my eyes”

Miguel Cabrera’s first play at third base this season was a little acrobatic, a foul pop-up that sent him into a somersault when he reached back for the ball and slipped on the dirt. That wasn’t a scare so much as it was a laugh.

“I don’t know if it was ovation or if everyone was laughing,” Cabrera said after the game, “but it was fun.”

That was a laugh, it turned out. It was the next ball that was a scare for him.

Dustin Pedroia’s sixth-inning ground ball was a hard-hit ball that got past Cabrera. Instead of staying down for the ball, he pulled up too early, earning him an error. That reaction, he said later, was related to the ball that hit him around his right eye a couple weeks ago in Spring Training against the Phillies.

“I was a little scared with my eyes,” he said. “I came up and should’ve gone down.”

Cabrera escaped that play with a non-displaced fracture of the orbital floor below his eye, only because he was wearing sunglasses at third base that day. He realized immediately he was lucky. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t think about it, even though he was wearing sunglasses in the field Thursday.

“I talked to my teammates after,” he said, “and I’m going to be OK and play my game.”

Manager Jim Leyland reiterated his support for Cabrera.

“He’s fine,” Leyland said. “He’s going to be there [Saturday]. He’s going to be there all the time.”

Opening Day: Tigers vs. Red Sox

The lineup is as expected for the Tigers. The atmosphere might be a little bigger than expected.

TIGERS

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

P: Justin Verlander

RED SOX

  1. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
  2. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
  3. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
  4. David Ortiz, DH
  5. Kevin Youkilis, 3B
  6. Ryan Sweeney, RF
  7. Cody Ross, LF
  8. Jarrod Saltamacchia, C
  9. Mike Aviles, SS

P: Jon Lester

Season predictions roundup: Tigers are good

I meant to do this earlier, but between roster moves, late spring injuries and travel, didn’t get the chance. The upshot of that is that is an even greater abundance of predictions to round up.

Mitch Williams has the Tigers going to the World Series, though he doesn’t predict what happens from there. His MLB Network colleague, Ken Rosenthal, predicts Detroit to win the whole thing, though he admits his record on predictions isn’t good at all. Peter Gammons predicts a division title for the Tigers but an Angels-Giants rematch in the World Series.

Over at ESPN.com, every one of their 49 experts picked the Tigers to win the AL Central, the only division everybody could agree upon. Jayson Stark, John Kruk, Peter Pascarelli, Jorge Arangure, Kevin Goldstein and A.J. Mass all picked the Tigers to win the World Series.

Likewise, all eight experts at SI.com picked the Tigers to win the Central, and a few of them picked Miguel Cabrera as their AL MVP. Unlike elsewhere, however, none of them picked the Tigers to get to the World Series, much less win it.

CBSSports.com’s Scott Miller picks the Tigers to win the World Series, and he’s one of the rare souls to predict a repeat for Justin Verlander as AL Cy Young winner. Miller’s colleagues, Jon Heyman and Danny Knobler, also pick the Tigers to win it all. Heyman put them atop what he pledges will be his only power rankings all year, and no other AL Central team is higher than 19th.

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