April 10th, 2012

One risky call, two insurance runs

Lost amid Rick Porcello’s strong outing, Austin Jackson’s game-tying homer and the back-to-back hits Cabrera and Fielder put together for the go-ahead run was the call from Jim Leyland to put runners in motion on a full-count pitch to Ryan Raburn.

With runners at first and second and nobody out, it could have literally killed the rally and left closer Jose Valverde to protect a one-run lead. Instead, with Clete Thomas beating Sean Rodriguez to second base and spoiling what would’ve otherwise been a double play, it extended the inning for two more runs.

Raburn went hitless on the day, but he put the ball in play four times. His last, a ground ball to Rays shortstop Reid Brignac, came with Prince Fielder on second and Clete Thomas pinch-running at first. Both took off on the 3-2 delivery from former Tigers prospect Burke Badenhop.

That was Leyland’s call, though he was trying not to take credit.

“You’re taking a chance,” Leyland said. “If he hits a line drive to somebody, it’s a triple play, and you look like a fool. If he strikes out and they throw Prince out at third, you look like a fool. I just took my chance that you’ve got a sinkerball pitcher and I thought Raburn could put it in play. I thought he might hit it on the ground, so I sent them. It worked out.”

If it’s a double play grounder, Jhonny Peralta’s fly ball is the third out instead of a sac fly. And Gerald Laird never gets to the plate for his flare hit for an RBI single.

Cabrera, Fielder beat Rays without homers

That home run display Tigers put on over the weekend was gone like the mild weather those fly balls flew. The big hits from Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder were still around. They were just a little smaller.

They’ve been billed, and rightly so, as the most formidable power-hitting duo in the league, but Jim Leyland made a point after the game that they don’t always fit the stereotype. This isn’t the next coming of Rob Deer and Mickey Tettleton. This duo can hit.

“Everybody talks about home runs, but those guys are good hitters,” Leyland said.

Their big hits came in the eighth inning, after Austin Jackson’s game-tying home run had knocked starter Matt Moore out of the game. Moore somehow held them hitless. Hard-throwing lefty Jake McGee wasn’t so fortunate.

With the score still tied, Cabrera led off the bottom of the eighth with the kind of hard-hit opposite-field drive that makes him so dangerous. It hit off the out-of-town scoreboard in right-center for a double. Fielder’s ground ball through the middle two pitches later allowed Cabrera to score easily.

“Cabrera’s a good hitter. He didn’t try to do too much,” Leyland continued. “He almost hit it out to the opposite field. Prince Fielder didn’t try to do too much against a tough lefty throwing 97 mph. Just put a nice stroke on the ball.

“That’s what I preach all the time: Base hits are golden. Obviously they’re known for their home runs, but they’re good hitters. They’re not just some big power hitters that can hit the ball over the fence a long way. They’re good hitters.”

Wilk to take Fister’s spot in rotation

And the winner of the latest rotation competition is Adam Wilk, whose five innings of one-hit ball with six strikeouts last Friday stands as the best pitching performance so far for Triple-A Toledo.

Wilk will take injured Doug Fister’s rotation spot and start Saturday at the White Sox. Max Scherzer, who had been scheduled to start Saturday, will move up to Friday, which is the White Sox home opener.

The news came out of a Tuesday morning meeting between manager Jim Leyland and team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski in Leyland’s office.

The Tigers spent the last couple days watching Andy Oliver and Casey Crosby start for the Mud Hens. Both struggled.

In other news, Brandon Inge is being out on a rehab assignment for Toledo beginning tonight. He’ll DH for the Hens tonight, then play second base the next couple days. He’s eligible to be activated from the 15-day DL on Saturday.

Tuesday: Tigers vs. Rays

Laird gets his first start behind the plate, as previously scheduled.

Ramon Santiago was scheduled to start at second, but he’s sick with whatever has been going around the clubhouse the last few days. Danny Worth gets the start in his place.

The Rays are playing the traditional move of loading up on left-handed hitters against Rick Porcello, who gave up a .321 average and .857 OPS to them last year. The one exception is that Luke Scott is not starting.

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. Gerald Laird, C
  9. Danny Worth, 2B

P: Rick Porcello

RAYS

  1. Desmond Jennings, CF
  2. Carlos Pena, 1B
  3. Evan Longoria, 3B
  4. Matt Joyce, LF
  5. Ben Zobrist, RF
  6. Jeff Keppinger, DH
  7. Sean Rodriguez, 2B
  8. Jose Molina, C
  9. Reid Brignac, SS

P: Matt Moore

Crosby struggles in Hens loss

Casey Crosby’s would-be audition for the Tigers rotation fill-in role apparently looked like a kid making his Triple-A debut, which he was. The big left-hander showed his potential, striking out four of his first six batters and fanning six over four innings against just two walks, the six runs and five hits he allowed in the process sent the Hens to defeat and likely sent Jim Leyland (who was in attendance) into serious thought on how he’ll fill Doug Fister’s rotation spot coming up later this week.

Crosby spent all of last season at Double-A Erie, his first full, healthy season since coming off a spat of injuries that slowed his career since he was a highly-regarded draft pick in 2007. He made an impression in Tigers camp this spring, and Leyland said over the weekend in response to questions about the rotation that he would be heading to Fifth Third Field to watch Crosby. Other Tigers officials had watch fellow Hens lefty Andy Oliver struggle with walks on Sunday night.

Crosby didn’t struggle with walks, but he gave up early damage — a leadoff triple and two-run double in the first inning, then a tape-measure home run to Denis Phipps following an Argenis Diaz error.

So at some point very shortly, Leyland and team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski have to decide how to approach this rotation spot for the next couple weeks. Duane Below would still seem to be an option despite pitching back-to-back days over the weekend (hey, he does lead the Majors in wins at the moment). Adam Wilk still stands as the most effective Mud Hens starter out of the gate with five scoreless innings on one hit to go with six strikeouts last Friday.

Cabrera named AL Player of the Week

After three days of pounding on Red Sox pitching, Miguel Cabrera collected some hardware on the Tigers’ off-day. The reigning American League MVP runner-up earned the first AL Player of the Week award of the season, beating out teammates Prince Fielder, Alex Avila and Justin Verlander among others for the honor.

The Tigers’ season-opening three-game series sweep of Boston earned them their best start to a season since 2006, and Cabrera was at the heart of it. After his two-homer game punctuated Detroit’s 10-0 win Saturday afternoon on national television, Cabrera hit a game-tying, three-run homer in the ninth inning to send Sunday’s series finale into extra innings. His leadoff single in the 11th started another three-run rally, capped by Avila’s two-run walkoff homer to win it.

Cabrera’s Sunday drive was the Tigers’ first game-tying three-run homer in the ninth inning since Ryan Raburn hit one off Bobby Jenks on Aug. 5, 2010. It capped a 3-for-5, five-RBI performance for Cabrera.

The series continued Cabrera’s trend of fast starts. Combine his last four season-opening series through three games, and he’s a combined 25-for-46 (.543) with nine home runs and 24 RBIs. His three homers and eight RBIs through the first three games, however, are career bests.

“So far, we’ve done our job,” Cabrera said Sunday. “So far, we’ve played good. That’s what we’ve got to focus on.”

For the week, Cabrera was tied for the Major League lead in total bases (14), tied for second in runs scored (five) and had the third-best slugging percentage (1.273).

Amazingly, Cabrera didn’t win Player of the Week honors at any point last season, when he captured his first batting title and led Detroit to its first division title since 1987. This is his first weekly honor since 2010, his fifth in as many seasons in Detroit, and his ninth in his Major League career.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 26,279 other followers