April 2013

Victor Martinez: “I have no excuses”

Spring Training wasn’t really that long ago, was it?

That’s when Victor Martinez seemed like he hadn’t missed a beat, let alone a season. His timing at the plate appeared fine back then, though he dipped into a slump in the final week of camp. Even when he wasn’t getting hits, he was making solid contact. He ended up batting .253 (19-for-75). The one thing missing was power (three doubles and one home run out of 19 hits), but that wasn’t a particular worry given the time he had missed.

After 66 at-bats over the first three weeks of the regular season, Martinez is batting .167 (11-for-66) .182 (12-for-66 after his hard-hit grounder that hit off M’s shortstop Brendan Ryan Wednesday was changed from an E6 to a single). His one extra-base hit was a double in his three-hit game at Seattle. After making consistent contact all month, he struck out five times in the three-game series against the Angels.

He does not, however, want to hear about a lost season and trying to get his timing back.

“I have no excuses,” Martinez said.

That said, Martinez feels like he has been swinging the bat better than the results would suggest.

“I can’t really control what happens after I hit the ball,” Martinez said. “I feel like I’ve been hitting the ball good.”

He definitely had some well-hit outs on the opening homestand, flying out to the warning track in the home opener and getting robbed of a hit on a line drive to Yankees center fielder Brett Gardner the next day. After going hitless the day after that, he cut open his thumb on the bat rack. He also flew out twice to the left-field warning track in Seattle on Wednesday.

His at-bat with the bases loaded in the ninth inning Sunday suggests he’s still putting good at-bats together. He fouled back three fastballs and worked into a 2-2 count after falling into an 0-2 hole. He couldn’t center one of them to send back up the middle, instead flying out to left.

It’s early, but so far, Martinez is seeing a higher percentage of fastballs than he has in the past, about nine percent over 2011 according to fangraphs. Some of that could simply be a product of the pitchers he’s facing or the early-season cold weather that prompts some pitchers to go to the fastball and try to jam hitters, but some could also be a part of the strategy against him early on.

Make no mistake, the Tigers are going to give Martinez every opportunity to get his timing back this season. Whether he hits for power is almost irrelevant; remember, he drove in 103 runs two years ago with just 12 home runs but 40 doubles. Remember, too, that it doesn’t take much run production to provide an upgrade over what Detroit received from the DH spot last season. Still, a productive Martinez is better than the vast majority of designated hitters in the league, which is all the more reason to give him time to get there.

Dotel still dealing with elbow inflammation

The Tigers did not have an effective Octavio Dotel the last time they had to stretch their bullpen into extra innings Wednesday at Seattle.

On Sunday, they didn’t have Dotel at all.

If they don’t have him available for their next game Tuesday against the Royals, there’s some serious question whether they can go short-handed in their bullpen again.

Going into Sunday’s series finale against the Angels, Dotel was supposedly available to pitch. The Tigers had some question about how effectively he has been pitching lately after missing games last weekend with elbow inflammation, but he has available to pitch.

After a 4-3 loss, however, in which right-handed slugger Mark Trumbo ended it with a walkoff homer off left-hander Phil Coke, manager Jim Leyland summed up Dotel’s status with two words: Not available.

He didn’t get more specific than that, and he didn’t answer questions about any possible roster move. Dotel admitted a few minutes later that the elbow was an issue again.

“The inflammation’s still there,” Dotel said. “It doesn’t go away. We’re just going to see how it will be on Tuesday.”

Dotel downplayed the injury a bit, saying it isn’t pain but swelling.

“I haven’t gotten the swelling to go away,” he said. “It’s still there. I’m just trying to get through that, but it’s still there and hopefully we just found out a way to get out.”

Dotel has pitched just 4 2/3 innings over six outings so far this year, so it’s a small sample size, but his average fastball velocity is down about three miles per hour from last year according to fangraphs.com. That said, the Tigers have been bringing him along slowly since spring because of his limited work in Spring Training and during the World Baseball Classic, and his next birthday will begin with the number 4. Still, he has never averaged less than 91 mph on his fastball during a season; he’s currently averaging 89.5.

Dotel last pitched Friday. His hope is that by Tuesday, three days of rest will have cleared up the swelling. If it hasn’t, the Tigers probably have a decision to make. Unlike last weekend, they can’t skip Rick Porcello for a start and put him in the bullpen for a few days. The best they could do is push his start back by a day.

Because Dotel pitched Friday, the Tigers could only backdate a move to the disabled list by a few days, meaning they’d still have to shelve him for close to two weeks. If Leyland feels they need a full bullpen against the Royals, they might have little choice.

If they did make a DL move, the question of who would replace Dotel could be interesting. Would they promote Bruce Rondon this early in the season for what would almost surely not be a closing role? Would they move their other relievers up and add Luis Marte or Luke Putkonen as a middle reliever? Don’t rule out the possibility of the Tigers signing Jose Valverde to a Major League contract and promoting him, either; if they’ve seen enough of his stuff to believe he can pitch and fill a void for them, it might not matter how much minor league time he has so far.

Sunday: Tigers at Angels

TIGERS
1. Austin Jackson, cf (3-for-16, 7 Ks off Wilson)
2. Torii Hunter, rf (7-for-29, 2 HR, 8 walks off Wilson)
3. Miguel Cabrera, 3b (4-for-13, 4 walks, 2 K’s off Wilson)
4. Prince Fielder, 1b (3-for-6, 2 walks, 3 K’s off Wilson)
5. Victor Martinez, dh (4-for-22, 4 walks, 5 Ks off Wilson)
6. Matt Tuiasosopo, lf (0-for-5, walk, K off Wilson)
7. Jhonny Peralta, ss (2-for-22, 3 walks, 10 K’s off Wilson)
8. Brayan Pena, c (3-for-9 off Wilson)
9. Omar Infante, 2b (3-for-8 off Wilson)
P: Doug Fister

ANGELS
1. Peter Bourjos, cf (3-for-6 against Fister)
2. Mike Trout, lf (0-for-3, 2 K’s against Fister)
3. Albert Pujols, dh (1-for-2, HR, walk, K against Fister)
4. Josh Hamilton, rf (3-for-16, walk, 5 K’s against Fister)
5. Mark Trumbo, 1b (1-for-7, walk against Fister)
6. Howie Kendrick, 2b (5-for-17, HR, 2 K’s against Fister)
7. Brendan Harris, ss
8. Hank Conger, c (2-for-5, walk against Fister)
9. Luis Jimenez, 3b
P: CJ Wilson

Game 17: Breaking down the drought

The last time the Tigers scored so few runs in a three-game stretch — or four games, for that matter — Alan Trammell was a lame duck manager, and the Tigers were already eyeing Leyland to replace him.

It was September 2005, when the Tigers went 8-24 to close out the season. They suffered back-to-back 2-0 shutouts, one to Jon Garland and the White Sox in Chicago, the next to Scott Elarton and the Indians in Detroit, then saw Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia hold them to a run in each of the next couple games. By the time they broke out of it, they scored two runs or less in eight consecutive games of a nine-game losing streak.

No one would have figured this year’s Tigers offense would be mentioned in the same conversation as that one. For a three- and four-game stretch, however, that’s the statistical comparison.

If not for Miguel Cabrera’s RBI single with two outs in the ninth inning Friday night, the Tigers would be heading into Sunday with three consecutive shutouts, a streak they haven’t had since 1995. Really, their offensive struggles have gone on all week, but since outlasting Felix Hernandez for a 14-inning win Wednesday night in Seattle, the Tigers have been shut down by Hisashi Iwakuma, Tommy Hanson and Garrett Richards.

Richards, in particular, was notable, inducing 12 ground-ball outs over seven innings.

They’re now 4-for-44 with runners in scoring position since Tuesday, and all four of those hits are from Miguel Cabrera. No one else has had a hit with runners in scoring position since Jhonny Peralta last Sunday in Oakland.

The feeling from the Tigers is that Hernandez pitched them well and they haven’t found their timing since.

“In Seattle, we faced a lot of good pitching,” Peralta said. “They made the offense a little bit down. And here, we come here, and it’s the same thing. They’ve made good pitches to us. We need to make adjustments and try to find out how we can make a run.”

That said, their ground-ball tendencies have been surprising. On Friday, the ground balls led to double plays and quieted several scoring opportunities. On Thursday and Saturday, they had few scoring chances at all. The hits they’ve gotten have generally been for single bases.

Play of the game: If the Tigers defense makes an early play behind Porcello, the opening inning never gets to the point where Mike Trout steps to the plate with the bases loaded. That said, Porcello had a two-strike count, tried to get him out with a curveball and hung it. It was his 47th and final pitch of the inning.

“To be honest with you, at that point in the inning I was pretty gassed,” Porcello said afterwards. “That at-bat I was fighting for my life to get out of there and just get that last out and regroup. I hung a breaking ball a little too up in the zone and he hit it well.”

Line of the day: Porcello gave up nine runs on nine hits over two-thirds of an inning. According to baseball-reference.com, he’s the second Tigers pitcher since 1916 to give up nine earned runs without getting out of the first inning. Hank Borowy allowed nine earned runs without retiring a batter against the St. Louis Browns on August 18, 1951. Nate Cornejo had a nine-run first in 2003, but he made it through the inning, and just three of the runs were earned thanks to a Dmitri Young error.

Stat of the day: 1 — Swing and miss against Porcello, a changeup to Josh Hamilton that put him in a 1-2 count. He fouled off a sinker and another changeup and took three pitches to draw a walk.

Print it: “I struggled a little bit with my command, but it wasn’t all that bad. I was keeping it down in the zone. I don’t really know what to tell you except it wasn’t in the cards for me today. I did the best I could to dig deep, especially when I started to feel some pressure. It just didn’t happen for me. I wish I had a breakdown for you. I was throwing good sinkers. It just didn’t turn for me.” — Porcello

Saturday: Tigers at Angels

huntingtonbeachNot a whole lot of at-bats for the Tigers off Garrett Richards. Much more history between Angels hitters and Porcello, much of it surprisingly favoring Porcello. It’ll be interesting to see if the warm weather lends itself to more of the curveball Porcello unleashed in Spring Training.

Remember, today’s game is on FOX, not FS Detroit. If you can’t get near a TV, you can follow along on MLB.com Gameday or listen on Gameday Audio.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF (0-for-5, K off Richards)
  2. Torii Hunter, RF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B (1-for-4 off Richards)
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B (1-for-3, walk off Richards)
  5. Victor Martinez, DH
  6. Andy Dirks, LF (1-for-1 off Richards)
  7. Jhonny Peralta, SS (2-for-6 off Richards)
  8. Alex Avila, C (0-for-2, walk off Richards)
  9. Omar Infante, 2B (0-for-2 off Richards)

P: Rick Porcello

ANGELS

  1. Peter Bourjos, CF (0-for-5, K off Porcello)
  2. Mike Trout, LF (1-for-5, walk, K off Porcello)
  3. Albert Pujols, DH (1-for-3 off Porcello)
  4. Josh Hamilton, RF (3-for-14, 2 HR, 2 walks, K off Porcello)
  5. Mark Trumbo, 1B (2-for-9, 2 K’s off Porcello)
  6. Howie Kendrick, 2B (3-for-18, 7 K’s off Porcello)
  7. Chris Iannetta, C (3-for-6 off Porcello)
  8. Brendan Harris, SS (0-for-3, K off Porcello)
  9. Luis Jimenez, 3B

P: Garrett Richards

UMPIRES

  • HP: Paul Emmel
  • 1B: Bruce Dreckman
  • 2B: Clint Fagan
  • 3B: Gary Darling

Friday: Tigers at Angels

Running late, so here are the lineups. Omar Infante, mired in an 0-for-19 slump and 1-for-9 off Tommy Hanson, gets the night off in favor of Ramon Santiago.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF (2-for-3, K off Hanson)
  2. Torii Hunter, RF (2-for-3, K off Hanson)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B (0-for-1, walk, K off Hanson)
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B (5-for-16, HR, 4 K’s off Hanson)
  5. Victor Martinez, DH
  6. Andy Dirks, LF
  7. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  8. Alex Avila, C
  9. Ramon Santiago, 2B (1-for-2, K off Hanson)

P: Anibal Sanchez

ANGELS

  1. Peter Bourjos, CF
  2. Mike Trout, LF (1-for-4, HR, 2 K’s off Sanchez)
  3. Albert Pujols, DH (3-for-15, 3 K’s off Sanchez)
  4. Josh Hamilton, RF (4-for-4, 2 walks off Sanchez)
  5. Mark Trumbo, 1B (2-for-6 off Sanchez)
  6. Howie Kendrick, 2B (2-for-6, 2 K’s off Sanchez)
  7. Chris Iannetta, C (0-for-9, 3 K’s off Sanchez)
  8. Brendan Harris, SS
  9. Luis Jimenez, 3B

P: Tommy Hanson

Thursday: Verlander might have summed it up well

Justin Verlander has been known to blurt out exclamations in frustration on the mound. He does it the first time he takes the mound during spring training workouts, so of course he’s going to do it during a game. His parents got him to cover his mouth with his glove when he can so that lip-readers can’t pick it up on TV.

On Thursday, it was hard to miss. It was a one-word exclamation after he missed with a 2-1 pitch to Endy Chavez, and it was loud enough to hear from the press box.

“It was 2-1,” Verlander said. “I knew I didn’t throw a strike. I threw a ball.”

It was frustration over one pitch, but by the end of Thursday’s 2-0 shutout to the Mariners that thwarted their attempt at their first sweep at Safeco Field since 2006, it might as well have summed up the day.

Alex Avila hinted at the frustration afterwards.

“When you’re able to get the first two, you always try to get the sweep,” he said. “But I think as disappointing sometimes as losing a game that you feel like you should’ve won, a series win is always good.”

You get the sense they felt like this was their game to take. The aggressive sense is there, but the results clearly were not.

When Jim Leyland talks about not believing in momentum in baseball, this is what he means. The Tigers had their ace going and their confidence in kind, taking on a Mariners squad that was reeling from a 14-inning loss and a quick turnaround for a day game, and Hisashi Iwakuma took any semblance of momentum away. The only carryover was the sense of a tightly pitched duel, and the offensive struggles that boggled Detroit even in the two games they won.

Take away Miguel Cabrera’s two-run homer and four-RBI performance in the opener, and the M’s kept the Tigers offense contained pretty well. Their two other runs Tuesday came on back-to-back walks with the bases loaded. Their two runs Wednesday scored on groundouts, the first of them fueled in large part by an Andy Dirks hit-and-run double. But Felix Hernandez does that to a lot of teams.

Iwakuma to starting to pile up teams he has quieted, too, for that matter. Still, with just two strikeouts over six innings, this wasn’t the same performance he had put on the A’s, White Sox and Rangers. The numbers for several Tigers hitters took a beating for the series, cooling off some previously hot bats.

Bigger picture, it shouldn’t linger. A single win against the Angels this weekend would give the Tigers a winning record on their only trip to the West Coast this season, and that’s a feat. Taking two out of three would give Detroit a 6-3 record on the trek. The last time they went to all three AL West Coast cities in 2008, they went 3-6. When they made the same trip in April 2006, they went 6-3, and the momentum carried over to a 6-1 homestand.

Play of the game: Kyle Seager stepped off the Mariners bench, pinch-hit in the seventh inning, jumped a first-pitch fastball from Verlander and lined it into the left-field corner. Verlander was kicking himself over it after the game, but it was still a quick bat from Seager.

Biggest out: Endy Chavez’s diving catch in the ninth inning was a highlight play, but the double play Iwakuma got on Prince Fielder iwth oneout in the fourth following a Miguel Cabrera arguably had a bigger impact.

Line of the day: Fielder broke out of his series slump with a single and a double, but the double play and the Chavez kept him from a potential slump-busting game. He went 2-for-4.

Thursday: Tigers at Mariners

bikesignThe only starter with a day off after Wednesday’s marathon is 37-year-old Torii Hunter. Don Kelly starts in right field in his place. Hunter is the only Tiger with more than a couple at-bats against M’s starter Hisashi Iwakuma, but he’s just 2-for-10 with two strikeouts off him.

Leyland debated whether to rest one of his middle infielders, but stuck with them.

“I wanted to post my lineup with [Brayan] Pena catching, but I didn’t have the heart,” Leyland joked.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF (0-for-1 off Iwakuma)
  2. Andy Dirks, LF (0-for-1 off Iwakuma)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B (0-for-1 off Iwakuma)
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B (1-for-2 off Iwakuma)
  5. Victor Martinez, DH
  6. Jhonny Peralta, SS (1-for-1 off Iwakuma)
  7. Alex Avila, C (0-for-2, K off Iwakuma)
  8. Omar Infante, 2B
  9. Don Kelly, RF

P: Justin Verlander

MARINERS

  1. Endy Chavez, CF (0-for-3, walk, K off Verlander)
  2. Jason Bay, RF (3-for-7, 2 walks, 3 K’s off Verlander)
  3. Kendrys Morales, DH (7-for-18, HR, 5 K’s off Verlander)
  4. Michael Morse, LF (2-for-3 off Verlander)
  5. Justin Smoak, 1B (2-for-5, HR, 3 K’s off Verlander)
  6. Kelly Shoppach, C (4-for-19, HR, 2 walks, 7 K’s off Verlander)
  7. Dustin Ackley, 2B (1-for-3 off Verlander)
  8. Robert Andino, 3B (2-for-8, 2 K’s off Verlander)
  9. Brendan Ryan, SS (3-for-10, walk, 4 K’s off Verlander)

P: Hisashi Iwakuma

Adding up the records from Wednesday’s win

Just in case you dozed off during one of the extra innings, the Tigers pulled out a 2-1 win in the 14th inning on a Brayan Pena RBI groundout and a play at the plate to throw out Justin Smoak trying to score on Dustin Ackley’s two-out double off Joaquin Benoit. The result, however, was just part of the story.

Here’s the rundown of the records (mostly for strikeouts) set, matched or neared:

  • The Tigers struck out 21 times, tying their franchise record set on Sept. 18, 1966, when Cleveland’s Sam McDowell struck out 14 batters over six innings. That record was matched 25 years later on May 8, 1991, when Blue Jays knuckleballer Tom Candiotti struck out 12 Tigers over seven shutout innings in a game that remained scoreless until the 14th inning.
  • Detroit, which also struck out 16 times in victory Tuesday night, became the first team in modern Major League history to win back-to-back games while striking out 16 times or more. Just three other teams in modern big league history — the 2002 Brewers, the 1986 Mariners and the 1966 Red Sox — struck out that many times in consecutive games. All of those teams lost both games.
  • The Tigers became the first American League team to strike out that many times and win without hitting a home run since Cleveland did it against the Mariners on Sept. 28, 1986.
  • The 40 combined strikeouts between the two teams fell three shy of the Major League record, set on July 9, 1971 in a 20-inning game between the A’s and Angels.
  • The Tigers and Mariners both struck out at least 19 times, just the second such game in the live-ball era according to ESPN Stats and Info. The Padres and Giants were the other teams to do it in a game in 2001.
  • Not since Mark Prior and Javier Vazquez on April 9, 2003 had two Major League pitchers both racked up 12 strikeouts in the same game, according to ESPN Stats and Info.
  • Not since the great Randy Johnson dueled Mark Langston on Sept. 16, 1992 had two opposing starters put up 12 or more strikeouts with an earned run or less, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

Wednesday: Tigers vs. Mariners (and King Felix)

Firefighters memorial, Pioneer Square, Seattle

Firefighters Memorial, Pioneer Square, Seattle

The Tigers beat Felix Hernandez in his Major League debut at Comerica Park on August 4, 2005. They outdueled him again the following April at Safeco Field. Since then, King Felix is 9-0 in 10 starts against the Tigers with a 2.86 ERA, including eight consecutive quality starts and four outings with seven innings and a run or no runs allowed. That’s the challenge the Tigers face tonight, as well as a Seattle crowd that treats Hernandez’s starts as an event in some similar ways to Justin Verlander’s starts in Detroit.

The best glimmer of hope for the Tigers is that Torii Hunter and Miguel Cabrera have hit him a little over their careers, though Hunter’s hits have come amidst a lot of strikeouts. Alex Avila is 3-for-11 with four strikeouts off King Felix, but he gets the night off in favor of Brayan Pena, who has never faced him.

With runs likely at a premium, it’ll be interesting to see if the Tigers get aggressive against Jesus Montero, who has allowed 60 stolen bases in 71 attempts in 65 games behind the plate as a Mariner.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF (3-for-12, double off Hernandez)
  2. Torii Hunter, RF (22-for-68, 2 doubles, 19 K’s off Hernandez)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B (9-for-21, 2 doubles, 3 walks, 3 K’s off Hernandez)
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B (0-for-2, walk off Hernandez)
  5. Victor Martinez, DH (5-for-18, HR, 4 RBIs off Hernandez)
  6. Andy Dirks, LF (1-for-4 off Hernandez)
  7. Jhonny Peralta, SS (7-for-29, double, HR off Hernandez)
  8. Brayan Pena, C
  9. Omar Infante, 2B (0-for-8 off Hernandez)

P: Max Scherzer

MARINERS

  1. Franklin Gutierrez, CF (2-for-6, HR, K off Scherzer)
  2. Kyle Seager, 3B (2-for-3 off Scherzer)
  3. Kendrys Morales, DH (3-for-9, 2 walks, 3 K’s off Scherzer)
  4. Michael Morse, RF (1-for-3, HR off Scherzer)
  5. Raul Ibanez, LF (0-for-4, walk, 2 K’s off Scherzer)
  6. Justin Smoak, 1B (1-for-8, walk, 2 K’s off Scherzer)
  7. Jesus Montero, C (1-for-3 off Scherzer)
  8. Dustin Ackley, 2B (1-for-2, walk off Scherzer)
  9. Brendan Ryan, SS (1-for-4 off Scherzer)

P: Felix Hernandez

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