July 6th, 2013

Saturday’s lineups: Tigers at Indians

Progressive Field 003

Sorry I missed out on this yesterday, but between the drive from Buffalo to Cleveland and a big notes day, it was kind of crazy. Gonna be days like that every once in a while.

Torii Hunter returns to the Tigers lineup, which means Don Kelly is back on the bench after two good days at the plate. Omar Infante is still at least a couple days away from a return. His shin is no problem a problem, not even bandaged at this point, but his ankle is holding him back from hitting off a tee, let alone taking BP. So Ramon Santiago should get at least a couple more days at second, which isn’t as big of a concern the way he’s swinging.

Talking with Santiago about that today, he said the at-bats have helped him find the bat speed he was really lacking for most of the season.

“The more you play, the more you get better timing,” Santiago said. “This game is about timing.”

Santiago said he also made a minor adjustment at the plate, choking up on the bat on the advice of hitting coach Lloyd McClendon. He seems to be getting to more pitches that way, but also hitting with more authority the last couple days than we’ve seen for most of the year from him.

As mentioned in the preview today, Anibal Sanchez will be on a pitch count. I’m not sure about the specific number (Jim Leyland didn’t have one), it doesn’t sound like it’ll be particularly deep. If Leyland needs somebody to cover innings, it’ll be Luke Putkonen. Again, they want Drew Smyly to do more short work and pitch in more games rather than pitch 2-3 innings every 3-4 days.

After umpteen weeks in a row of Tigers and Indians games being part of the FOX network broadcast, their game against each other is not on. That’s the reason behind the 4:05 start. The good news for people who don’t live near either city is that it’s not in the FOX window, so they can pick up the broadcast on MLB.TV.

Gameday | TV: FS Detroit, MLB.TVRadio: 97.1 FM, AM 1270, Gameday Audio

TIGERS (career numbers off Carlos Carrasco)

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

P: Anibal Sanchez

INDIANS (career numbers off Sanchez)

  1. Michael Bourn, CF (6-for-18, walk, 5 K’s)
  2. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS (4-for-11, HR, walk, 3 K’s)
  3. Jason Kipnis, 2B (3-for-9, 3 K’s)
  4. Nick Swisher, 1B (2-for-5, walk, 3 K’s)
  5. Michael Brantley, LF (2-for-9, K)
  6. Carlos Santana, C (2-for-8, walk, K)
  7. Jason Giambi, DH (2-for-5, walk, K)
  8. Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B (1-for-3)
  9. Drew Stubbs, RF (1-for-3, 2 K’s)

P: Carlos Carrasco

Game 85: Rick Porcello, Max Scherzer and the curveball

Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello have been headed down different paths for a while. Scherzer has always been a power pitcher, Porcello has been a sinkerballer. Scherzer’s career has been on an upward trend for more than a year, while Porcello’s rise has stopped and stuttered ever since his tremendous rookie season in 2009.

Both, however, are benefitting greatly from adding a curveball to their vastly different arsenals.

“We are different styled pitchers,” Porcello said, “but we both were kind of battling the same thing. Our changeup, slider, fastball were all hard, and the speed difference was not enough to keep those lefties off-balance.”

That’s where the curveball came in. Scherzer began working with it last year, honed it to the point where he could throw it every now and then down the stretch, then took it a step further this spring. For Porcello, the curveball was something he always had, but rarely threw while he was throwing a slider as a breaking pitch of choice. The Tigers wanted him to throw one or the other.

He threw both with some success at times last summer. This year, he went all-in with the curveball.

“I think Max uses his curveball a little bit differently than I do,” Porcello said, “because his fastball and changeup are real, real putaway pitches. But for me, I’m trying to use it early and often throughout the count, maybe not necessarily trying to strike guys out, but get guys to roll over on it and get some big swings and set up my fastball.”

Left-handed hitters batted .292 with an .831 OPS against Scherzer last season. Two years ago, it was a .281 average and an .841 OPS. This year, they’re hitting him for a .204 average and an .599 OPS. His strikeout-to-walk ratio has nearly doubled.

It’s a little different with Porcello, but Friday was huge for him. After seven scoreless innings at Cleveland, he has dropped his average against left-handers under .300 for the first time since his rookie season. They’re now hitting .295 against him, eight points lower than last year and 30 points under his 2011 numbers.

A major part of that is the curveball. On Friday, he threw it time and again against an Indians lineup that has just two right-handed hitters. He used it for five outs against hitters from the left side of the plate over the first four innings, including a Michael Brantley strikeout and three groundouts.

“It was the game plan going in,” Porcello said, “and the ability to execute it tonight was the difference. The curveball was there. That’s what made it effective. We always try to mix up our pitches against lefties, but there’s certain games where I’m not feeling it as well as I was tonight and then you have to go a different way. But tonight I felt pretty good with my breaking ball and we went to it a lot.”

Alex Avila has seen the curveball progress as the season has gone along.

“To be honest with you, the curveball I saw in Spring Training was a great pitch,” Avila said. “I remember saying several times, ‘That’s an out pitch for him now.’ Over the course of the season, there’ll be times when you won’t have a feel for a certain pitch. But today, he definitely had a feel for it. He was sharp. He was throwing it for strikes. He was throwing it down in the zone to get some swings and misses and some ground balls too.

“I know it’s something that he’s worked hard on. I’m glad he has confidence in it each and every start — even on days when he may not feel as good with it, still have confidence to it. Sometimes you just have to do it that way.”

Porcello threw 27 curveballs Friday, according to brooksbaseball.net. That’s almost as many sinkers (28) as he threw. Add in 30 four-seam fastballs, and he had a balanced arsenal. He wasn’t simply a sinkerballer; he was a pure pitcher.

Alvarez optioned to make room for Sanchez

Much like Avisail Garcia’s option to Triple-A Toledo a night earlier, Jose Alvarez’s return to the Mud Hens wasn’t much of a surprise. The Tigers waited to make a move just in case Sanchez had a setback, but they made the move Friday night.

Sanchez will be officially activated on Saturday, the first day he’s eligible to return from the 15-day disabled list, and start in the 4:05 p.m. ET game against the Indians.

Alvarez tossed six innings of one-run ball against Cleveland in his Major League debut June 9 in a spot start for Sanchez, then returned for three more starts while Sanchez rehabbed his right shoulder strain. The 24-year-old left-hander lost his last two starts, allowing eight earned runs on 13 hits over 8 2/3 innings combined.

The move means Alvarez can’t rejoin the Tigers before the All-Star break unless he replaces a player who’s placed on the disabled list. Thus, if Rick Porcello loses his appeal early next week and has to begin his six-game suspension before his next scheduled start Wednesday, Alvarez can’t return to take his place.