September 2012

A whole different Anibal

Gerald Laird said he saw this coming from Anibal Sanchez.

“You could see it coming the last couple outings,” Laird said after Sanchez’s complete-game three-hitter in a 2-0 win over the Royals Tuesday night. “His stuff’s gotten a lot better. He’s starting to feel comfotrtable, kind of finding himself on this team. Tonight, I knew after the second inning, he’s got good stuff tonight. It’s going to be fun.”

Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones was optimistic.

“I think every time he goes out there, he gets a little more comfortable,” Jones said. “The quality of his stuff has been really good his last few times out.”

Two starts before his Tuesday night gem, Sanchez took a no-hitter into the seventh inning in Cleveland before three consecutive hits knocked him out of the game. He had the shadows of a late afternoon start at Progressive Field working in his favor, but he also had tremendous command of the strike zone. For whatever reason — comfort zone, knowing AL hitters, whatever — he didn’t seem to have that before.

Then last week, he came back and had five solid innings against Oakland before giving up a four-run sixth.

This time, he sustained it.

“I felt more strong on every pitch,” Sanchez said. “I tried to be aggressive all the time. I don’t want to miss, I don’t want to leave any pitch for the hitters. I don’t want to give any chances, especially today. I know the game’s important and we are in the end of the season, we’re really close in the race in the AL Central.”

The result was not only sustained velocity, but sustained command. According to data from brooksbaseball and MLB.com Gameday, he has gained a full mph on his fastball from August to September, now just under 94 mph, and he’s mixing his pitches more.

On Tuesday, he was able to throw fastballs with movement at 94-95 mph, while throwing 12 of his 16 curveballs for strikes. He got 17 swings and misses from Royals hitters, seven of them from sliders, on his way to 10 strikeouts. He also got 14 ground balls compared with six in the air.

“It was fun for me,” Laird said. “I just continued to put fingers down, and he continued to make pitches. The main thing I kept stressing was strike one. Let’s keep getting ahead of them and expanding. He did exadtly that. He’d get strike one and then throw one just off the plate, get them to reach, and then roll one over.

“He was getting a lot of quick outs. When you have command of four pitches in one night, it makes it tough for any lineup.”

The comfort level, Laird believes, is a big part of it, not only in Sanchez learning hitters but with his catchers learning him.

“We knew what we were getting when we got him over here,” Laird said. “This is the guy we thought we were getting. I’m just glad he’s hitting his stride right now.”

If Sanchez can sustain that — not so much the complete games as the consistent command into the middle and late innings — then the Tigers rotation looks that much more formidable. He’ll have to adjust a little bit when he faces Kansas City again on Monday, this time on the road. Beyond that, though, a potential date in the postseason would likely line him in the middle of a Division Series. In this year’s format, that means pitching on the road.

That type of stuff can play in a lot more places than Comerica Park.

“That’s him right here,” said Cabrera, his old Marlins teammate. “He’s not going to pitch nine innings every game, but I see the confidence and I see the control. I see everything. When you see a pitcher like that, he’s a tough night for hitters.”

Cabrera’s Triple Crown chase at a glance – Sept. 25

Miguel Cabrera was one of the rare Tigers with tremendous numbers off Bruce Chen heading into Wednesday, but he ended up hitless Tuesday, going 0-for-3 to end his 14-game hitting streak. Instead, he won a critical game for the Tigers with his glove, reaching high to rob Salvador Perez of at least an RBI single and maybe more.

Here’s the latest look at where  Cabrera stands in his quest for the first batting Triple Crown in 45 years:

Batting average: .329 (1st)

What was an eight-point lead for Cabrera over Mike Trout coming into Tuesday is down to three points over Joe Mauer (.326), whose 3-for-4 performance against the Yankees raised his average four points. He’s batting close to .400 for the month, well better than Trout, and looks more and more like Cabrera’s next great threat if Cabrera retakes the home-run lead.

Home runs: 42 (2nd) – Hamilton leads with 43

The good news for Cabrera is that neither Adam Dunn nor Edwin Encarnacion homered on Tuesday, so Cabrera is still on his own in second, one behind Josh Hamilton. The bad news is that he has gone four games homerless, his longest drought since Sept. 7-10 in Anaheim and Chicago. Cabrera hit a line drive to the left-field warning track, but into the glove of left fielder Alex Gordon.

Runs batted in: 133 (1st)

Again, nothing from Cabrera, but nothing either from Josh Hamilton, who remains nine back.

Up next: Cabrera is 7-for-19 with two home runs lifetime off Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie, his opponent for Wednesday.

Tuesday’s lineups: Tigers vs. Royals

Pretty much the same lineup you’ve seen the Tigers send against a left-handed start for other games this homestand. Interesting to note, though, that Andy Dirks will bat sixth ahead of slumping Jhonny Peralta.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Omar Infante, 2B (1-for-9, 5 K’s off Chen)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B (11-for-26, 3 HRs off Chen)
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B
  5. Delmon Young, DH (8-for-18, 3 2Bs, HR off Chen)_
  6. Andy Dirks, LF
  7. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  8. Avisail Garcia, RF
  9. Gerald Laird, C

P: Anibal Sanchez

ROYALS

  1. Jarrod Dyson, CF
  2. Alcides Escobar, SS
  3. Alex Gordon, LF
  4. Billy Butler, DH
  5. Salvador Perez, C
  6. Mike Moustakas, 3B
  7. Jeff Francoeur, RF
  8. Eric Hosmer, 1B
  9. Johnny Giavotella, 2B

P: Bruce Chen

Greg Ross acquired from Braves as PTBNL in Baker trade … no, the second Baker trade

The Player to Be Named has been named in the Jeff Baker trade — not the deal that sent him from the Cubs to the Tigers in early August, but the deal that sent him from Detroit to Atlanta a few weeks later. It’s Class A right-hander Greg Ross, who went 7-9 with a 4.60 ERA this year in the South Atlantic League.

Ross made 25 appearances for Rome in the Sally League, 21 of them starts. He allowed 146 hits over 131 innings while striking out 106.

Ross was an 18th-round draft pick in 2011 from Frostburg State University in Maryland. He has been assigned to high Class A Lakeland.

Still to be announced are the two Players to Be Named Later that the Tigers are set to send to the Cubs for the first Baker trade.

Monday’s lineup: Tigers vs. Royals

I think it’s now safe to say that Quintin Berry is an everyday starter against right-handed pitchers. The feel-good story of the Tigers summer has a second chapter. If he can ignite this Tigers offense this week, you have to think he’d start in a postseason series.

TIGERS

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

P: Justin Verlander

ROYALS

  1. Jarrod Dyson, CF
  2. Alcides Escobar, SS
  3. Alex Gordon, LF
  4. Billy Butler, DH
  5. Salvador Perez, C
  6. Mike Moustakas, 3B
  7. Jeff Francoeur, RF
  8. Eric Hosmer, 1B
  9. Johnny Giavotella, 2B

P: Luke Hochevar

Sunday (Game 2): Tigers vs. Twins

Ramon Santiago gets the start for Omar Infante at second base. It’ll be Santiago’s first start since September 7.

Jim Leyland didn’t talk about a specific pitch count on Drew Smyly, but was clearly concerned about how far he could pitch into this game before tiring, considering he hasn’t been stretched out much. Luis Marte would be the likely long reliever if Smyly has to leave early.

TIGERS

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

P: Drew Smyly

TWINS

  1. Ben Revere, CF
  2. Jamey Carroll, 2B
  3. Joe Mauer, C
  4. Josh Willingham, LF
  5. Justin Morneau, 1B
  6. Ryan Doumit, DH
  7. Trevor Plouffe, 3B
  8. Matt Carson, RF
  9. Pedro Florimon, SS

P: P.J. Walters

Sunday (Game 1): Tigers vs. Twins

Aside from the usual lefty-righty swaps with Scott Diamond starting for Minnesota in the day game and P.J. Walters at night, don’t expect a whole lot of changes between games. It’s possible Omar Infante could get the night game off, but not guaranteed. Alex Avila will catch the night game, of course, and Quintin Berry will replace Avisail Garcia. Andy Dirks appears likely to play both games.

TIGERS

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

P: Max Scherzer

TWINS

  1. Denard Span, CF
  2. Ben Revere, RF
  3. Joe Mauer, DH
  4. Josh Willingham, LF
  5. Justin Morneau, 1B
  6. Ryan Doumit, C
  7. Trevor Plouffe, 3B
  8. Eduardo Escobar, 2B
  9. Pedro Florimon, SS

P: Scott Diamond

Scherzer will start day game Sunday, Smyly in nightcap

Max Scherzer is back in line in the Tigers rotation. He threw for about 10 minutes Saturday afternoon and felt fine with all his pitches, so he’ll start Sunday’s afternoon game against the Twins.

“Everything felt good,” Scherzer said. “My arm warmed up quick. My arm felt 100 percent. I was able to throw every pitch.”

Drew Smyly will start Sunday night. Rick Porcello, who went from starting on Friday to being on standby in case Scherzer wasn’t ready, will now essentially have his spot skipped this turn. He’ll start Wednesday against the Royals.

By skipping Porcello instead of simply moving everybody back, manager Jim Leyland keeps his rotation in order for the stretch run. As long as Scherzer’s healthy, he stays in line to make two more starts after Sunday, including the regular-season finale Oct. 3 in Kansas City.

Saturday’s lineups: Tigers vs. Twins

TIGERS
1. Austin Jackson, cf
2. Quintin Berry, lf
3. Miguel Cabrera, 3b
4. Prince Fielder, 1b
5. Delmon Young, dh
6. Andy Dirks, rf
7. Jhonny Peralta, ss
8. Alex Avila, c
9. Omar Infante, 2b
P: Doug Fister

TWINS
1. Denard Span, cf
2. Ben Revere, rf
3. Joe Mauer, c
4. Josh Willingham, lf
5. Justin Morneau, 1b
6. Ryan Doumit, dh
7. Trevor Plouffe, 3b
8. Alexi Casilla, 2b
9. Pedro Florimon, ss
P: Sam Deduno

Tigers, Twins rained out; doubleheader Sunday

Here’s what we know as of Friday night:

  • Doug Fister will start Saturday afternoon as scheduled. He’ll oppose Sam Deduno, who was scheduled to start for the Twins Friday night.
  • Sunday’s previously scheduled game is still on at 1:05pm. The makeup game is at 7:05. Tickets for Friday’s game are good for Sunday night’s game without exchange necessary. If you have a Friday ticket and can’t make it Sunday night, you can exchange your ticket for a ticket to any non-premium Tigers home game between now and next Sept. 21.
  • Scott Diamond will pitch Sunday’s early game for the Twins. P.J. Walters, who was originally scheduled to pitch Sunday afternoon, will pitch Sunday night instead.
  • Drew Smyly will start one of the games Sunday for Detroit. We don’t know yet which one. The other starter is listed as TBA, which presumably depends on whether Max Scherzer is cleared to pitch after dealing with a shoulder injury that knocked him out of his previous start. Scherzer is scheduled to throw one more time Saturday to make sure he can throw all his pitches without issue.
  • Rick Porcello, Friday’s scheduled starter for the Tigers, has been pushed back, though he didn’t do any warmups on the field prior to game time. With six games over the next five days, he’s expected to start one of them. It could be Sunday if Scherzer doesn’t go. It could be during next week’s series against the Royals, against whom he has fared much better this year (1-1, 3.46 in two starts) than he has against the Twins (0-0, 5.27 in three starts, 27 hits in 13 2/3 innings).
  • It’s going to take some work for manager Jim Leyland to preserve his pitching order for season’s end. The way he had plotted it out, Scherzer was on track to pitch the regular-season finale, followed by Justin Verlander to either start the postseason or pitch a tiebreaker. With that in mind, I would be absolutely shocked if Verlander pitches on short rest in the coming days.
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