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.

12 Comments

Kelly was the right call. They were 2 down, so they needed runners on. You dont really want VMart on, you will need then a PR. Kelly being LH was the only option available and a bad one for sure with an OBP of 279, better than the rest of the bench but way too low.
But there was no reason to have Avila there with the wining run on.VMart , a switch hitter, had a better chance of “runs into one”.

Avila had a great clutch hit the other night in Houston, but those outcomes are few and far between.

Alex is a young hitter who is struggling mightily with runners in scoring position, currently 1 for 26. Worse yet 0 for 9 with that situation and two out. It was the perfect situation for our seasoned veteran to pick up our youngster. Victor has twelve rbis with runners in scoring position this season. Furthermore, the pitcher was throwing his 30th pitch of the inning, he was almost toast. Very vulnerable. Omar was the guy who probably had faced Clippard. We needed to give him a chance in the eighth. This was totally done with the heart.

Re Avila, different pitching staff than Houston’s, so that’s not a good reason. The Astros have no one close to Tyler Clippard. Yep, decision with the heart.

Kelly seems like a good guy and an adequate 25th man . He is neither suitable as a starter nor as a pinch hitter given his offensive ineptitude. Kelly is .184 with 1 RBI (which was a grounder that luckily got a run in against the Astros), coming off a horrid 2012 season. The Tigers are in trouble when facing NL teams, whether during the season or in the World Series.

He did have Tuiasosopo.

Like I said, the Tigers are in trouble when facing NL teams.

I just meant that Tuiasosopo was a better choice than Kelly.

Dan, I sure you like the comment from our buddy, the SOC, “hope he runs into one”.

Nice to see Angel Hernandez is horrible even when he isn’t umpiring against the Tigers. How is this guy still employed?

Funny you should say that as I was just thinking of posting that Alex Avila is JL’s this year version of “hoping to run into one”.
Not a particularly good situation to have as a regular in your lineup when you have a guy that you have to “hope” runs into one.

running into one? HAH – our offense was finally getting contributions from all parts and we “ran into” some good pitching. The sign of a good offense: rebounding. Today we gotta score some runs, get some hits, take some bases. As Jim Price says: The bat has to hit the ball, not the other way around.
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Happy birthday Prince!

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