May 26th, 2013

Game 48: Could Max Scherzer be an All-Star?

Max Scherzer, All-Star? (AP)

Max Scherzer, All-Star? (AP)

The question came up after Max Scherzer’s latest victory moved his record to 7-0. Jim Leyland wasn’t having anything to do it. He’s the manager for the American League All-Stars this year by virtue of the Tigers’ AL pennant last fall, but the decisions on the pitching staff come down to player voting.

“I can’t control that stuff,” Leyland said. “I’m the manager, but I don’t have much control.”

Usually players don’t vote until late June or early July, so there’s still a long way to go and several starts for Scherzer to make before the All-Star pitching staff gets filled.

Considering how many other pitchers are off to excellent starts, it’s a good thing players don’t have to decide yet.

Scherzer got off to a 6-0 start two years ago, yet was never much of a consideration for the Midsummer Classic. He had a 9-3 record at the end of June, but a 4.47 ERA and more hits allowed than innings pitched. Jeremy Bonderman won his first eight decisions in 2007 and sported an 8-1 record at the end of June, but his 3.90 ERA left him out of much consideration. He was one of the final candidates for the AL Final Vote, but Hideki Okajima won that going away.

Scherzer is one of four AL starters tied with seven wins entering Memorial Day. Only Tampa Bay’s Matt Moore has more. Of those five, however, Scherzer has the highest ERA (3.42). For that matter, four of the five AL pitchers with six wins have better ERAs. Anibal Sanchez has a 5-4 record, but an ERA better than a run lower.

Yet the strength for Scherzer so far is in his secondary numbers: 47 hits allowed over 68 1/3 innings, and a 16:81 walk-to-strikeout ratio. His .195 average allowed ranks sixth among AL starters, while his 0.92 WHIP (Walks plus Hits per Inning Pitched) ranks third. His 10.67 strikeouts per nine innings comprise a ratio good for fourth in the league, while he ranks fifth with 6.19 hits per nine innings.

The secondary numbers have a lot of similar names. Yu Darvish is in the group. So is White Sox lefty Chris Sale. So are Moore and Hisashi Iwakuma.

That’s one way of thinking. Here’s another: As good as the Tigers rotation has been this season, one of them should be expected to make the All-Star team. The question is which Tigers starter.

Despite four consecutive selections to the Midsummer Classic, it’s no longer an automatic that Justin Verlander is an All-Star — not based on his statistics so far this year, maybe not given what happened with Verlander’s start in last year’s All-Star Game, and especially not given the depth now in the Tigers rotation. Sanchez is making a very good case alongside Scherzer.

The Tigers had two starters on the 2009 All-Star team. haven’t had more than one starting pitcher on the All-Star team during this run of excellence, not even with Verlander and Kenny Rogers were doing so well in 2006 (Rogers made the team and got the start). Other teams have put two starters on, including the Angels (Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson), White Sox (Sale, Jake Peavy) and Rangers (Darvish, Matt Harrison) last year.

To answer the question, yes, Max Scherzer could be an All-Star, and Sunday’s performance certainly helps. Still, he has a long way to go, and not the easiest route for it.

Play of the game: The beauty in Avisail Garcia’s bases-clearing, pinch-hit triple was two-fold. First, he batted lefty Caleb Thielbar for seven pitches. Second, he reached down and got a 72 mph breaking ball for the pitch he could hit into the gap. Essentially, that ended the game right there, and everyone knew it. Leyland was going to send Scherzer back out to begin the seventh until that change and that hit, then he went to his bullpen instead.

Out of the game: Scherzer had a run in, runners at the corners and two out in the fifth inning against Justin Morneau, 5-for-13 with three home runs off Scherzer entering the game. Scherzer, however, had a curveball.

“I thought today was another test with it,” Scherzer said. “I’d faced Minnesota a few starts ago and really pitched with it well then, so obviously they knew about it coming into today’s start. And to still have success with that pitch against that lineup, it shows that pitch is very good, that it really is what I think it is. It’s a change of pace pitch and just gives me another pitch to throw against lefties. And that makes me a better pitcher.”

Scherzer mixed fastballs with a changeup, then threw Morneau a 2-2 curve. Morneau hit it to Torii Hunter for the out.

Strategy: Casey Fien’s walk to Omar Infante to load the bases in the sixth inning left Ron Gardenhire with a decision whether to have Fien face Don Kelly or bring in lefty Caleb Thielbar to face Avisail Garcia. He chose the latter, opting to put pressure on the rookie rather than play the numbers with the veteran. Leyland said he was not surprised by the move.

One thing to keep in mind about a decision like that is that it’s not just about the hitter, but the pitcher. Fien just entered the game and walked Infante on five pitches, and kept missing the outside corner. If Gardenhire couldn’t trust his reliever to throw strikes with the bases loaded, then Garcia wasn’t his biggest problem.

Line of the night: Prince Fielder is now 6-for-6 with eight RBIs over the last six games when he comes to bat following a walk to Miguel Cabrera, intentional or otherwise.

Stat of the night: Alex Avila’s blooper to left was not only his first run-scoring hit since May 10, but just his second hit of any kind in that span.

Print it: “Joe West was joking with me asking me if I wanted to get the ball, keep it as a souvenir.” — Alex Avila on his sixth-inning RBI single, a blooper into short left field.

Sunday’s lineups: Tigers vs. Twins

Ramon Santiago gets a start at short, with Jhonny Peralta getting the day off.

On the Twins side, Joe Mauer gets a day at DH, with Ryan Doumit behind the plate. Opponents are 8-for-11 stealing bases in his 15 starts at catcher. With this lineup, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Tigers used, say, Omar Infante or Don Kelly to try to create some offense on him.

Omar Infante’s numbers off of Mike Pelfrey, mostly from their days in the National League, make him a pretty easy pick for Beat the Streak.

You can follow the game online via Gameday, watch online through MLB.TV or listen on MLB.com Gameday Audio. Locally, you can watch on Fox Sports Detroit and listen on 97.1 FM AM 1270.

TIGERS

  1. Andy Dirks, cf (4-for-6, 2 HR off Mike Pelfrey)
  2. Torii Hunter, rf (2-for-9)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3b (3-for-12, 6 walks)
  4. Prince Fielder, 1b dh (6-for-17, 2 HR, 2 walks, K)
  5. Victor Martinez, dh 1b (3-for-8, walk, K)
  6. Alex Avila, c (2-for-5, walk, K)
  7. Omar Infante, 2b (15-for-32, 2 walks, K)
  8. Don Kelly, cf (2-for-6, walk)
  9. Ramon Santiago, ss (1-for-2, K)

P: Max Scherzer

TWINS

  1. Jamey Carroll, 2B (0-for-5, 4 K’s against Scherzer)
  2. Joe Mauer, DH (8-for-23, HR, walk, K)
  3. Josh Willingham, LF (5-for-18, 2 HR, 2 walks, 8 K’s)
  4. Justin Morneau, 1B (5-for-13, 3 HR, 4 walks)
  5. Ryan Doumit, C (3-for-13, walk, K)
  6. Chris Parmelee, RF (2-for-5, walk, K)
  7. Eduardo Escobar, 3B (1-for-2)
  8. Aaron Hicks, CF (0-for-3, 2 K’s)
  9. Pedro Florimon, SS (1-for-5, 2 K’s)

P: Mike Pelfrey

Game 47: The catching mix

The Tigers signed Brayan Pena to ease some of the wear and tear on Alex Avila and give Detroit a viable right-handed hitter against left-handed pitchers.

On Saturday, the switch-hitting Pena started against a right-handed starter for the second time in four days. Add in his start against Minnesota lefty Scott Diamond on Thursday, and Pena has started three of Detroit’s last four games.

Against the two right-handers, he had two three-hit games.

It’s at the point where, for now, the mix of starts Jim Leyland talked about doing with Pena and slumping Alex Avila seems to be reality.

“I’ll catch Alex tomorrow,” Leyland said. “I’m trying to have a little bit of one [day] on, one [day] off just to see if we can get him going a little bit.”

The Tigers face right-hander Mike Pelfrey on Sunday. Avila is 2-for-5 against him. By comparison, he’s 0-for-8 with two walks and a strikeout against P.J. Walters, who started and won for Minnesota on Saturday.

Pena, Leyland said, “has done a very good job settling in the backup role.”

In other words, don’t expect a switch from Pena to starter and Avila to backup. Any change would more likely be in a timeshare like the Tigers have going right now. The goal of the timeshare so far, though, has been to try to get Avila out of his nearly season-long slump by reducing the wear and tear.

Will it work? Leyland tried it in 2008 when Ivan Rodriguez was slumping. When it began, Pudge was batting .245 in early June. By mid-July, Rodriguez had raised his average to .295. Of course, the Tigers traded him at the deadline later that month, when it was clear he was unhappy with playing time.

It would not be a surprise at all if the timeshare continued for a while. Remember, Leyland mixed Avila and Gerald Laird behind the plate for a good chunk of the summer. If Avila gets going and Pena is still hitting, it’s easier to do.

The thing to keep in mind isn’t just Avila, but Pena and his workload. The years when Pena has had the most playing time are the years when he has had lesser production. The years when Pena caught 60-65 games were his best seasons.

 

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