May 9th, 2013

Phil Coke throws another inning in Toledo

It wasn’t nearly as long as his outing earlier in the week, with an eight-pitch eighth inning, Phil Coke made his second and possibly final rehab appearance for Triple-A Toledo Thursday night.

Coke actually faced four batters within his eight pitches, inducing back-to-back groundouts before Chris Herrmann sent a sharp ground ball through the middle and off second baseman Brandon Douglas’ glove for a two-out single. Coke followed with a quick third out from Chris Colabello.

Coke, who went on the 15-day disabled list last week with a left groin strain, is eligible to be activated on Saturday. If he feels OK on Friday, that could be the final clearance for his return.

Leyland on Raburn: “I probably screwed him up”

One year ago around this time, Ryan Raburn was on his way to getting booed out of Detroit. His experiment as the Tigers’ regular second baseman was going horribly, offensively and defensively, and the fan response was growing.

Manager Jim Leyland waited it out, hoping Raburn would get that one hit to spark him on the kind of roll that he gets on — the kind of roll he’s on right now. It never happened, and it was probably the decision fans critiqued the most during Leyland’s oft-questioned contract year.

Now, as Raburn returns to Detroit in a Cleveland Indians uniform coming off AL Player of the Week honors for going 11-for-12 with four home runs in a four-game stretch, Leyland is trying to put the blame on himself for Raburn not working out as an everyday player.

“Everybody knows what I think of Ryan Raburn,” Leyland said. “I always have, and I always will. And I know he’s a talented player, and if he gets comfortable again he’s going to do well. I think I probably screwed him up last year making him a second baseman. If I had played him part-time in the outfield and moved him around and not just had high expectations, he’d have probably been fine. So I’ll take the responsibility for that. He’s a talented guy.

“It was probably my fault. I just thought maybe we could get 15 home runs out of him playing second base. It didn’t work, so it’s my mistake.”

(A reminder worth noting: At this point last year, second base had been a black hole in Detroit for some time. Omar Infante’s play last fall and this season has made that easy to forget.)

That said, it won’t be Leyland getting booed when Raburn is introduced. Leyland is hoping it isn’t Raburn getting booed.

“First of all, from a normal situation, I don’t like to get any player on any team get booed unless he’s not giving an effort,” Leyland said. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s my team or anybody else’s team. I don’t like to see anybody get booed. If a guy’s not giving an effort, whether it be a manager, a coaching staff, pitching coach, whoever it may be, then you deserve what you get. But if a guy’s giving an honest effort every day and putting out and busting his tail, I don’t like to see anybody get booed.

“I don’t get any satisfaction seeing any player booed from any team. I mean, this is a hard game to play. It’s a funny game. You just don’t know.”

Thursday’s lineups: Tigers at Nationals

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Tigers stick with their regular lineup against right-hander Dan Haren. Victor Martinez is 9-for-25 with two doubles, a home run and four RBIs against Haren, but no DH spot obviously limits their options. The one other Tiger with extensive success against him is Omar Infante.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF (1-for-7, triple, K off Haren)
  2. Torii Hunter, RF (3-for-10, double, HR, walk, 3 K’s off Haren)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B (3-for-16, HR, 3 K’s off Haren)
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B (3-for-5, double, walk off Haren)
  5. Andy Dirks, LF (2-for-9, double, 2 K’s off Haren)
  6. Jhonny Peralta, SS (6-for-25, walk, 6 K’s off Haren)
  7. Alex Avila, C (0-for-8, 4 K’s off Haren)
  8. Omar Infante, 2B (7-for-15, double, 4 K’s off Haren)
  9. Doug Fister, P (2-for-10, double, 4 K’s career hitting)

NATIONALS

  1. Denard Span, CF (7-for-20, double, triple, walk, 3 K’s against Fister)
  2. Roger Bernadina, LF (1-for-3, K against Fister)
  3. Bryce Harper, RF
  4. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B (1-for-3 against Fister)
  5. Adam LaRoche, 1B
  6. Ian Desmond, SS (0-for-2 against Fister)
  7. Danny Espinosa, 2B (0-for-3, K against Fister)
  8. Wilson Ramos, C (0-for-3 against Fister)
  9. Dan Haren, P (.221 career hitter, 2 HR, 28 RBIs)

Game 31: Resetting the lineup

Bryce Harper’s home run will be the highlight play of the Nationals’ win on Wednesday. It will not be the reason why the Tigers lost.

Jordan Zimmermann had a lot to do with that. So did the bottom of the Nationals lineup.

The latter is a different factor in the National League than most AL teams are used to. With a pitcher to bat instead of a DH, the bottom of the order is huge. It arguably saved Anibal Sanchez from potential disaster when the Nationals loaded the bases in the second inning, allowing Sanchez to escape with a strikeout of Zimmermann.

Yet while eighth hitter Kurt Suzuki’s two-out infield single didn’t lead to runs in the second inning, it set up the Nationals to score in the third. Without Suzuki’s dribbler to short, Zimmermann would have led off the third inning. Instead, though Zimmermann’s strikeout ended the second, it meant the lineup reset for the third, starting with leadoff man Denard Span.

Had Span hit a one-out triple, Bryce Harper’s fly ball to left would have been the third out. With a leadoff triple, Harper came up with one out needing to just loft a ball deep enough into the outfield to score Span and tie the game.

“It definitely changes the inning, that’s for sure,” catcher Alex Avila said. “But what are you going to do? We’ve had a few of those this year. It was a good pitch [to Suzuki] and he hit it in a perfect spot.”

An inning later, Zimmermann was on deck when Torii Hunter tried to make a play and end the fourth inning without him coming up. Hunter saw a chance to throw out Adam LaRoche trying to tag up from second to third on Suzuki’s fly ball to right. When the throw glanced off LaRoche’s hand, got past Sanchez and hit off the Tigers dugout, the Nationals got their go-ahead run without needing anything from Zimmermann at the plate.

Jim Leyland managed for years in the National League, and said there has long been a debate over whether it’s more useful to pitch around an eighth hitter and get the likely out from the pitcher batting, or whether it’s worth the risk to attack the eighth hitter in hopes of saving the pitcher for the leadoff role in the next inning. In this case, there was no decision to make, but it was definitely a game-changing factor.

Play of the game: Roger Bernadina showed why he’s a late-inning defensive insert in left field, making a sliding catch to rob Omar Infante of a potential leadoff single in the ninth against Rafael Soriano. Had the ball fallen in, Victor Martinez would have come up to pinch-hit as the potential tying run. Instead, Martinez was trying to get on for the top of the Tigers order, and Soriano retired him too on his way to a perfect ninth and the save.

Out of the game: The Tigers had their shot once Zimmermann was out of the game, thanks to back-to-back two-out walks from Tyler Clippard. Up came Avila, who took his hack at the first pitch but couldn’t get enough of it. He alternated fouling off fastballs and shrugging at changeups until Clippard got him to chase a fastball up and out of the strike zone.

Strategy: With no DH, Leyland had Victor Martinez on the bench as a pinch-hitting option, knowing he could handle stepping off the bench in an RBI situation. He ended up batting in the ninth inning for the pitcher’s spot. He was available to hit when Avila came up with two on in the eighth, but Leyland let him hit, hoping he could repeat the clutch hitting he showed last Friday with his go-ahead home run in Houston.

“I was hoping history would repeat itself,” Leyland said. “He’s the same guy who hit the two-run homer in Houston the other night to win the game. If it had been a left-handed pitcher, I’m sure I would have hit Victor, but in that situation, I’m hoping Alex runs into one like he did the other night to put us ahead and end up winning the game. He had a couple pretty good swings, too.”

Line of the night: Sanchez delivered his sixth consecutive quality start, allowing two earned runs on eight hits over six innings with no walks and eight strikeouts. He took the loss for the third time in his last four starts.

Stat of the game: 4 — Total runs scored by the Tigers in his three losses.

Cabrera dealing with sore back

The sight of Miguel Cabrera hobbling at all sounds an alarm across Tigers viewership on television. The shot of Cabrera favoring one side after a sixth-inning groundout Wednesday in Washington had many wondering if something was up with his hip.

For his part, Cabrera said the issue was with a sore lower back, and that it wasn’t a serious concern.

“My back was tight, a little sore,” Cabrera said. “My lower back. It’s no big deal. I was able to play nine innings with that. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll work out, able to stretch and ready to play.”

Cabrera did not show any sign of being limited in the eighth inning, when he flew out to center, or at third base.

The sore back is presumably not from carrying the Tigers offense, given the balance shown in Houston last weekend. That said, Cabrera is batting 11-for-16 with runners in scoring position over his last 11 games, including an RBI single Wednesday for Detroit’s lone run in a 3-1 loss.

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