Game 2: The day closer by committee got tested
Second-guesser’s delight, Jim Leyland predicted.
That was in spring training, when Leyland was asked about the possibility of not having a set closer. Even if Bruce Rondon made the Opening Day roster, it looked increasingly like the way to go.
Two games in, this was what he meant, though he didn’t say that after the 3-2 loss to the Twins. What he said was that they had a favorable situation once Phil Coke entered to retire Chris Parmelee on his first pitch for the first out of the ninth inning with the tying run on base.
“Once we got Parmelee out, we put ourselves in a pretty good situation,” Leyland said. “The next two hitters, Cokey got fastballs up and out over the plate both of them.”
Yes, they were right-handed hitters facing a left-handed pitcher who gave up a .396 (40-for-101) average to right-handed hitters last year, and .314 the year before. But this was the bottom of the Twins lineup, and this was a reliever who retired switch-hitting Ryan Doumit for the final out on Opening Day.
This was also the start of five games in five days, though they had just had a day off. And they have one more game against a Twins batting order that has enough righties, lefties and switch-hitters that it doesn’t lend itself well to playing pure batter-by-batter matchups.
Agree with the strategy or not, but Leyland was set. Once Coke entered the game, he was going to finish the inning, because nobody was warming up.
The Tigers had plenty of situations to lament, from not adding on runs in the innings when they scored — Kevin Correia stranded two on by retiring Price Fielder before Torii Hunter was later thrown out going first to third — to Darin Downs’ walk in the seventh to Joaquin Benoit’s leadoff walk in the ninth to neither Austin Jackson nor Andy Dirks making the play on the final ball.
“It’s hard to really call it when it’s hit in between you like that,” Jackson said. “You’re both going after it hard. I think once you start to get closer, you see each other out of the corner of your eye. A lot of people yelling, it’s tough for him to hear me or me to hear him. It’s just a tough play right there.”
The 100-pitch count on the starters also is having a major impact so far, forcing the bullpen to cover 12 outs instead of nine in a lament out of the 2008 or 2009 Tigers.
Take all those situations into account and then toss them. In most cases this year, it’s the bullpen usage that will get the scrutiny, rightly or wrongly (mostly wrongly).
Tigers starters have 10 scoreless innings on five hits with 12 strikeouts. Detroit’s bullpen has given up five runs on five hits and seven walks in 7 1/3 innings so far this year. Two walks and two hits came out of the ninth inning Wednesday on what was admittedly an off-night for the lefty Coke.
He left two fastballs up and over the plate, and that’s going to be a problem whether he’s facing a right- or left-handed hitter. He wasn’t trying to get cute against the eighth and ninth hitters in the Twins lineup.
“I can’t control the results. I mean, if a guy still takes a good swing on a fastball and does the same thing and I finish my pitch, then he just beats me,” Coke said. “I’m irritated with the result, but I didn’t locate. That’s on me. I lost the game for us today, and I’m not happy about it.”
That’s one game. That doesn’t mean he’s sunk, nor the closer by committee at this point. Not yet, anyway. It is, however, an early test, and an example of how one bad at-bat (Benoit’s walk, arguably) can throw a closer by committee off its matchups.
Play of the game: Eduardo Escobar is searching for his first Major League home run after 155 plate appearances, and his minor-league track record over more than 600 games doesn’t suggest it’s coming soon. His focus was on trying to get a sacrifice fly to tie the game, so he was as surprised as anyone for him to hit a game-winner.
“It was a fastball right over the middle,” the switch-hitting Escobar told reporters. “It was just my first swing and I got it right down the middle on the first pitch. I thought I did my job because I hit it in the air and hit it far enough but I didn’t even think it was going to go that far and bring the other run in.”
Biggest out: On the Tigers’ side, it was Brayan Villarreal’s strikeout of Aaron Hicks to send the Tigers into the eighth inning holding onto their 2-1 lead. For the Twins, it was arguably Chris Parmelee throwing out Hunter going first to third on Miguel Cabrera’s second RBI single. It kept Kevin Correia from having to face Prince Fielder with two runners on, though Correia’s success against Fielder seemed to hold.
Strategy: Leyland did not go with a right-hander against the switch-hitting Eduardo Escobar, who in his limited big league at-bats has had more success hitting lefties than righties. Octavio Dotel had shown no signs he was unavailable, but did not warm up, nor did Alberto Alburquerque. On the other hand, Leyland stuck with lefty Darin Downs in the sixth against righty Josh Willingham, lefty Justin Morneau and the switch-hitting Doumit, and it worked flawlessly, allowing Leyland to play matchups for the seventh.
What worked for Sanchez: Both Sanchez and Leyland said he looked over video with pitching coach Jeff Jones after his last start and noticed something. Sanchez said it was an adjustment with his legs. It wasn’t always smooth, but it was effectively.
Line of the day: Sanchez pitched five innings of two-hit ball with three walks and five strikeouts, yet used enough pitches getting there that he couldn’t go back out for the sixth, which set the bullpen in motion. His pitch count was a palindrome: 95 pitches, 59 strikes.
Stat of the day: 2 — Tigers regulars still looking for their first hit of the season. Victor Martinez is one, Andy Dirks the other.
Print it: “I didn’t think it was going out. I kept running, and it seemed like it just kept carrying.” — Jackson on Escobar’s double