August 10th, 2012

Leyland: I should have never thought about bunting

For all practical purposes, Jim Leyland’s question over whether to bunt the potential winning run over to second base in the ninth inning Thursday was academic, since the signal never got to Ramon Santiago at the plate and Santiago swung away. Still, Leyland said, the question over whether to go for the win or tie the game stuck with him all night.

He had a different conclusion today than he did yesterday.

“I thought about it all night, and I came to the conclusion I [messed] up one thing: I should have never even thought about bunting Santiago,” Leyland said.

He didn’t change his thoughts on how the inning played out from there. With no outs, he was not going to call for a squeeze bunt, nor was he going to have Omar Infante try to steal second and risk a line drive double play.

“Not with nobody out,” Leyland said. “If he hits a line drive, it’s a double play. In fact, if I had sent him with Santiago, it would’ve been a double play. First and third, nobody out, for the most part, no matter who’s hitting, you’ll very rarely see me send a guy, because a ground ball, you get the run.”

Nor was he going to use either of the two hitters on the bench, Delmon Young, or Jeff Baker to pinch-hit in that situation.

“All we needed was contact, anywhere on the ground. Contact, or fly ball, contact anywhere, and we get the tying run in,” Leyland said. “And I was worried about the strikeout, because that guy’s real nasty. …

“The funny part about it was I had Delmon Young ready to pinch-hit, but as the inning played [out], it played totally different than what I needed him to pinch-hit for. I was only going to pinch-hit for him if there was like two outs and nobody on, because it was Avila, Infante and Santiago. With two out, nobody on, I was going to let him take a shot at maybe hitting a homer. But [not] after all we needed was a ground ball or a fly ball.”

The big regret, he said, was thinking about having Santiago bunt, and planting the idea in Santiago’s head beforehand that they might call for the bunt.

“When he went up there, I said look for this first pitch to hit, just like he did to Infante. We didn’t bunt, but I knew he’d lay something in there thinking we were bunting. And I told Santi the same thing. Well, he took the first pitch, and I was actually trying to get the bunt on, which we didn’t. But I should’ve just let him [hit], because I told him afterwards that he might bunt.

“We had the tying run. If he just hits a ground ball or a fly ball or anything, we’ve got the tying run. I should’ve just let him think about hitting all the way, not even mention bunt. Because if he gets the run in with a fly ball, you’ve still got a guy on first. You’ve got Berry hitting. You’ve got Dirks coming up. You might hit and run, you might do something. I mean, we had the tie right there. If he hits a ground ball to second [for a] double play, we’ve got the game tied. I shouldn’t have even been thinking bunt. That’s where I messed up.”

Friday’s lineups: Tigers at Rangers

Andy Dirks in left field. Quintin Berry returns to the bench after his start Thursday.

TIGERS

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

P: Max Scherzer

RANGERS

  1. Ian Kinsler, 2B
  2. Elvis Andrus, SS
  3. Josh Hamilton, CF
  4. Adrian Beltre, 3B
  5. Nelson Cruz, RF
  6. Michael Young, DH
  7. David Murphy, LF
  8. Mike Napoli, C
  9. Mitch Moreland, 1B

P: Scott Feldman

Joaquin Benoit and his rash of round-trippers

Relievers ride good stretches and bad struggles over the course of the year. The short nature of their outings normally leads to pass-fail grades rather than anything in the middle like a quality start. So the Tigers aren’t panicking over what they’ve seen from Phil Coke and Joaquin Benoit over the past week or so.

Still, Jim Leyland isn’t downplaying how badly they need those two to pitch well.

“Obviously, Cokey and Benoit have been struggling a little bit,” Leyland said Thursday, “but they’ll straightened out.”

There’s a difference between the two situations. Unlike Coke, Benoit had borderline All-Star numbers going into the All-Star break. He was back in the conversation among the best setup men in baseball. Moreover, he has had stretches like this before.

The quirky part, though, is that Benoit isn’t getting roughed around. In fact, he’s still averaging less than a hit an inning since the All-Star break, nine hits over 10 innings for a .243 average. The problem is that seven of those nine hits are home runs. When his pitches are getting hit, they’re hit hard.

By comparison, Benoit gave up one home run over his first 36 innings, with 48 strikeouts over 36 innings.

It’s not one pitch either. Even when he gave up home runs on consecutive pitches Thursday, the first was off a 96 mph fastball to Mark Teixeira on a 2-0 pitch, and the second on a first-pitch changeup up and out.

You wonder, though, if Eric Chavez might have been onto something when he talked about the home run he hit off the changeup, a normally deceptive pitch Benoit uses to get swings and misses.

“My numbers aren’t very good against him,” Chavez said. “In fact, they’re pretty terrible (3-for-16 before that home run). I was looking for a heater, and I believe he left a changeup kind of up and away and I just saw it out of his hand.”

The key to the changeup, of course, is that it’s got to look like the fastball coming out of a pitcher’s hand. The delivery and everything has to be similar, only the velocity has to be different. If Chavez is able to pick it up out of the hand, it’s interesting.

Nobody else has said anything about picking up Benoit’s pitches like that. In fact, both of the home runs off Benoit last Sunday came off 95 mph fastballs in hitters’ counts after swinging and missing at changeups to start off the at-bats. So was Taylor Teagarden’s walkoff home run off Benoit July 14 in Baltimore (after seeing four consecutive fastballs).

The good news about something like that is that it’s easier to correct than, say, an arm injury. Benoit’s velocity suggests no arm injury.

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