August 2013

Where Justin Verlander goes from here

Justin Verlander has adjusted his foot placement to get his delivery more in line with the plate. He has adjusted his delivery to his arm more in front and at the angle he wants. On Tuesday, as he tried to rack up quick outs that would lengthen his outing after a career-high 44-pitch inning to start out, he found himself slowing down his delivery as he tried to pitch to contact. In the process, he felt like he found his mechanics where he wanted him.

Pitching at too quick of a pace, and getting out of sorts mechanically as a result, was a rookie problem for him. It’s not normally a 30-year-old pitcher’s problem.

“When I started slowing down a little bit and just trying to pitch to contact and lower my pitch count — and [pitching coach Jeff Jones] said he saw it and I felt it — there were times when it felt great,” Verlander said. “And I told him there’s a series of pitches where it’s like, ‘That’s it.’ And then there’d be one or two where I feel like my arm’s a little late or it’s dragging behind.”

That seems to be the end result with all of the adjustments. And now, here we are.

If you thought Justin Verlander was a saga when he was at the top of his game, the sequel is turning out to be a drama every five days. Where this season-long saga goes from here is anyone’s guess.

Jim Leyland has talked about the standards being placed too high on Verlander based on his past two seasons. On Monday, he talked about Verlander needing to get his swagger back and simplify things. After watching what happened Tuesday, he wasn’t offering up much of any dissecting.

“I just can’t sit here and come up with any philosophical reason for [why] Justin just wasn’t very good tonight,” Leyland said. “I don’t know what else to tell you. I wish I did. I wish I had some magical answer for you but I don’t.”

I wrote it in the game story last night, and the statistics bear out that this was a different kind of outings than Verlander’s other losses this year. Opponents are hitting just .202 against him in his victories this year, .310 in his defeats, and .273 in no-decisions. He gave up four hits over five innings Tuesday, and three of them drove in runs. Three of those runs reached base without a base hit — two on walks, and then the go-ahead tally in the fifth on Omar Infante’s error before Verlander lost a changeup over the plate and paid for it.

His velocity was still strong, averaging just under 95 mph. His command wasn’t good, but his ball-strike ratio didn’t show it. He hit the 70-percent strike rate with his fastball that has been a trait of his better outings, according to brooksbaseball.net, and he threw strikes with seven of his 11 curveballs (though he didn’t get to throwing his curve until after the opening inning). However, 20 of those strikes were foul balls, including 13 in that 44-pitch opening inning. He still induced 15 swings and misses, but just three strikeouts.

“You try to get him [to] get the ball down with his fastball and throw the ball over the plate,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “We were really patient and made him work. That kind of gets you on the run a little bit.”

His curveball, which had been a life preserver for him while he was working through his fastball issues the past few weeks, hasn’t been as sharp the last few outings.

In short, it wasn’t nearly as bad of an outing as several others he has had this year, but it wasn’t good, either.

Cabrera shows funny side on Intentional Talk

Lot of stuff going on today, but if you haven’t seen Miguel Cabrera’s appearance on MLB Network’s Intentional Talk yesterday, it’s worth checking out. It’s the funny side of Cabrera that teammates talk about a lot.

Tuesday’s lineups: Tigers vs. Athletics

The splits on A’s left-hander Tommy Milone aren’t very strong. In fact, they’re slightly reversed this year, with lefties batting .289 off of him compared to a .257 average from right-handed hitters. With that in mind, and with Justin Verlander on the mound, Alex Avila returns to the starting lineup. Omar Infante moves up to sixth in the lineup; Leyland calls it a matchup decision.

TIGERS (career numbers off Milone)

  1. Austin Jackson, CF (1-for-8, 2 K’s)
  2. Torii Hunter, RF (3-for-4, HR, walk)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B (4-for-8, walk, K)
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B (2-for-8, walk, 2 K’s)
  5. Victor Martinez, DH
  6. Omar Infante, 2B (2-for-7, walk, 2 K’s)
  7. Matt Tuiasosopo, LF
  8. Alex Avila, C
  9. Jose Iglesias, SS

P: Justin Verlander

ATHLETICS (career numbers off Verlander)

  1. Coco Crisp, CF (9-for-30, HR, 4 K’s)
  2. Josh Donaldson, 3B (3-for-13, 2 walks, 2 K’s)
  3. Jed Lowrie, SS (1-for-5, 2 walks, 2 K’s)
  4. Brandon Moss, RF (1-for-11, walk, 5 K’s)
  5. Yoenis Cespedes, LF (3-for-9, walk)
  6. Seth Smith, DH (2-for-14, HR, 5 walks, 4 K’s)
  7. Alberto Callaspo, 2B (4-for-17, 2 walks, 4 K’s)
  8. Daric Barton, 1B (2-for-12, 4 walks, 5 K’s)
  9. Stephen Vogt, C (0-for-3)

P: Tommy Milone

Tigers activate Avila from disabled list

Alex Avila is back after more than two weeks on the disabled list with concussion symptoms. The Tigers activated their catcher from the 15-day DL on Tuesday, returning him to big-league action for the first time since Aug. 10.

Avila was sidelined from work for a week and a half due to recurrent headaches following a foul tip off his mask in an Aug. 8 game at Cleveland. Initial tests did not show a concussion, and team doctors cleared him the next day to rejoin the team. He returned behind the plate Aug. 10 at Yankee Stadium, but his headaches returned with nausea the next day.

The team placed him on the seven-day concussion DL that afternoon and sent Avila home for rest. He was seen around the home clubhouse at Comerica Park for much of the next homestand, but was limited to off-field workouts for several days until being cleared for baseball activity last week.

Avila joined Triple-A Toledo on a rehab assignment last week. He caught just three innings last Thursday before reporting more headaches. After returning to the Mud Hens lineup for a game at designated hitter last Saturday, he spent the last two days catching seven innings apiece without any trouble.

By rule, players on the 7-day DL are limited to five days on a rehab assignment. Since Avila was sidelined for more than two weeks, however, he was automatically transferred to the 15-day DL, which carries different rules.

Avila has not talked about his situation since going on the DL. In silence, though, he has become one of the faces of a leaguewide concern regarding catchers and concussions. He was the seventh of eight Major League catchers to land on the concussion DL this season, a list that includes AL Central counterparts Salvador Perez of Kansas City and Minnesota’s Joe Mauer and Ryan Doumit.

Avila draws more concern than many catchers around the league because he seems to take so many foul tips off his body. He is expected to return with a different, heavier mask designed to reduce some of the impact from foul tips.

To make room for Avila, the Tigers optioned catcher Bryan Holaday to Toledo. He’ll rejoin the Tigers next Tuesday after the Mud Hens season ends.

Game 131: The A’s strike back

Maybe this has gotten lost in the Summer of Miggy, but Tigers pitching all around has been pretty good. It was not on Monday night, and not even Cabrera’s slugging could overcome that.

The numbers, looking back from Monday’s 8-6 loss to the A’s, are impressive:

  • Detroit hadn’t given up this many runs in a game since July 9, the week before the All-Star break.
  • The Tigers bullpen also hadn’t given up four runs in a game since that same contest.
  • Anibal Sanchez hadn’t allowed more than two runs in a game since July 11, also the week before the All-Star break. He gave up four Monday.
  • Sanchez hadn’t walked more than two batters in a game since July 19. He walked two batters in a row Monday.
  • The Tigers hadn’t walked eight batters in a nine-inning game since May 11, the only other time this season they’d done it. They walked eight Yankees on August 9 in the Bronx, but that game went into the 10th.

This was the kind of game the Tigers haven’t had lately, which would explain why Jim Leyland kept hammering home the point.

“You can sum this one up as we didn’t pitch very well and we didn’t hold it,” Leyland said. “Once we came back on a couple different occasions, we gave it right back. And that’s usually the kiss of death.”

That was one of eight times Leyland said his team either didn’t pitch “good” or “very well” within the first few minutes of his postgame session. They had a handful of chances to battle their way back, and they pulled it off a couple of those times, but it was the pitching that created the situations in the first place. More important, it was the A’s rallies off that pitching that put them back down immediately after the two times they tied it.

“They beat us,” Leyland continued. “They swung the bats good and we didn’t pitch good. They’re always an aggressive team with the Donaldson kid and Moss. I don’t think that’s anything out of the ordinary. They’re very aggressive. They normally are. They didn’t really do anything different. We just didn’t pitch good enough, period.”

They’re an aggressive team that came in with a relatively patient game plan against Sanchez, who had been thriving on swings and misses in August. After getting 42 swings and misses over five starts in July, he had 63 through four starts in August heading into Monday, according to baseball-reference.com. He still got 15 Monday night, including 13 on his changeup, but he didn’t do it with quite the same ball-strike ratio he had in his previous outings — 66 strikes out of 112 pitches over five innings, including 22 strikes out of 39 fastballs.

“With the way that he’s been pitching lately, I think it was big for us to be selective and lay off his changeup out of the zone,” Daric Barton said. “That’s one of this go-to pitches, his changeup.”

Said Sanchez: “Today was one of the tough days. The command was not there. The location was not there. I think I was fighting a lot with my mechanics. The location was really wild today. That’s just what happened today.”

Play of the game: Miguel Cabrera’s 43rd home run of the year will be the headline of the game, but the highlight was Coco Crisp’s diving catch to rob Matt Tuiasosopo of a hit on his line drive to right-center field. It came right after Victor Martinez’s leadoff homer in the eighth inning made it an 8-5 game, and it loomed larger after back-to-back singles and a walk loaded the bases with two outs. That could’ve been an extra run, and it also could’ve meant Cabrera coming to bat in that inning with a chance to tie it or pull them ahead.

Out of the game: The Tigers had bases-loaded chances to tie or pull ahead in the seventh and eighth innings and got outs in both. The seventh inning was a winning strategy by the A’s to walk Cabrera, bring in the lefty against Prince Fielder and get out of it. The strategy in the eighth inning was a mound visit and an aggressive approach to Torii Hunter with Cabrera on deck. Ryan Cook fanned Hunter on three pitches, including back-to-back sliders.

Strategy session: A’s manager Bob Melvin was fully aware of Fielder’s numbers after a Cabrera walk. He was no doubt also aware of Fielder’s numbers off lefties this year. He put Cabrera on anyway and brought in Sean Doolittle against Fielder, a .286 hitter off lefties going into the night.

“Based on what happened the previous at-bat, too [with the home run], you have to take your chances with the other guy at times,” Melvin said. “Not that it’s an easy thing to do. He thrives in those situations. I’m sure he gives them a little extra motivation, but you have to do what you think is practical too.”

Line of the night: Victor Martinez went 4-for-5 to raise his batting average to a season high .289. He had a .264 average on July 26, and a .227 average on June 26.

Stat of the night: Omar Infante has five hits on 0-2 counts this year. Two of them are home runs, giving him four for his career.

Quotable: “Well, you have to remember we’re facing a big league team. They did it. We couldn’t answer back. That’s the way it is. That’s baseball. Our pitching went out there trying, giving their best. Nobody wants to go out there giving out runs. Nobody wants to go out there and strike out with men in scoring position. That’s baseball.” — Victor Martinez

Monday’s lineups: Tigers vs. Athletics

Jose Iglesias is back for the Tigers at shortstop after missing the last couple days. On the A’s side, you had to figure they’d find room for Seth Smith in the lineup given his numbers off Sanchez. With Josh Reddick out placed on the disabled list, Daric Barton returns to the A’s and starts at first base.

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

TIGERS (career numbers off A.J. Griffin, including postseason)

  1. Austin Jackson, CF (2-for-6)
  2. Torii Hunter, RF (0-for-4, 2 K’s)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B (3-for-5, HR)
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B (2-for-5, 2 HR)
  5. Victor Martinez, DH
  6. Andy Dirks, LF (2-for-4, K)
  7. Omar Infante, 2B (0-for-2, walk, K)
  8. Brayan Pena, C
  9. Jose Iglesias, SS (0-for-3)

P: Anibal Sanchez

ATHLETICS (career numbers off Sanchez)

  1. Coco Crisp, CF (1-for-6)
  2. Jed Lowrie, SS (1-for-8, walk, K)
  3. Josh Donaldson, 3B (4-for-8, walk, K)
  4. Brandon Moss, RF (1-for-11, walk, 4 K’s)
  5. Yoenis Cespedes, LF (2-for-6, K)
  6. Seth Smith, DH (7-for-18, 3 HR, walk, 4 K’s)
  7. Alberto Callaspo, 2B (1-for-3, HR)
  8. Daric Barton, 1B
  9. Stephen Vogt, C

P: A.J. Griffin

Sunday’s lineups: Tigers at Mets

Victor Martinez is back behind the plate for the Detroiters, catching Rick Porcello. However, Jose Iglesias is still out.

Strong splits for Dillon Gee, who’s giving up much more damage to left-handed hitters (.293 average, .834 OPS) than right-handed ones (.242, .642).

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Torii Hunter, RF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B (0-for-1, 2 walks off Dillon Gee)
  5. Victor Martinez, C
  6. Andy Dirks, LF
  7. Omar Infante, 2B (2-for-8, walk off Gee)
  8. Ramon Santiago, SS
  9. Rick Porcello, P

METS

  1. Eric Young, LF
  2. Daniel Murphy, 2B (2-for-3 off Porcello)
  3. Marlon Byrd, RF
  4. Ike Davis, 1B
  5. Justin Turner, 3B (0-for-2 off Porcello)
  6. Juan Lagares, CF
  7. Travis d’Arnaud, C
  8. Omar Quintanilla, SS
  9. Dillon Gee, P

Saturday’s lineups: Tigers at Mets

As expected, Victor Martinez gets the day off, bringing back Brayan Pena behind the plate to catch Max Scherzer. Meanwhile Jose Iglesias, who had started at shortstop every game since the other series in New York (the one against the Yankees two weeks ago), gets the day off in favor of Ramon Santiago. (UPDATE: Jim Leyland apparently told reporters that Iglesias is unavailable after taking that hit-by-pitch around his elbow late in last night’s win.)

Torii Hunter also gets a day off in favor of Matt Tuiasosopo, who will play left field while Andy Dirks shifts over to right field. Add in Omar Infante batting second, and it’s an interesting lineup against Matt Marvey.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Omar Infante, 2B
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B
  5. Matt Tuiasosopo, LF
  6. Andy Dirks, RF
  7. Brayan Pena, C
  8. Ramon Santiago, SS
  9. Max Scherzer, P

METS (career numbers off Scherzer)

  1. Eric Young, LF (1-for-4, K)
  2. Daniel Murphy, 2B (1-for-5, K)
  3. Marlon Byrd, RF (1-for-2, K)
  4. Ike Davis, 1B
  5. Wilmer Flores, 3B
  6. Juan Lagares, CF
  7. John Buck, C (0-for-3, K)
  8. Omar Quintanilla, SS
  9. Matt Harvey, P

Friday’s lineups: V-Mart catching against Mets

Yup, it’s on. Victor Martinez will be behind the plate in a game for the first time since Aug. 4, 2011, a few days before he messed up his knee sliding into home plate at Kansas City. Martinez is 1-for-6 for his career against Daisuke Matsuzaka, but neither Brayan Pena nor Bryan Holaday have faced him. Moreover, Pena is still working through his right big toe injury. He said yesterday he’d be available to catch if needed, but I imagine the Tigers would rather have him ready to catch Max Scherzer tomorrow. (I’m not in NY for this series)

TIGERS (career numbers off Matsuzaka)

  1. Austin Jackson, CF (1-for-4, 2 K’s)
  2. Torii Hunter, RF (5-for-18, HR, walk, 2 K’s)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B (4-for-9, HR, 2 walks)
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B (2-for-3, K)
  5. Victor Martinez, C (1-for-6, 2 walks, 2 K’s)
  6. Don Kelly, LF (0-for-3)
  7. Omar Infante, 2B (1-for-4)
  8. Jose Iglesias, SS
  9. Doug Fister, P

METS (career numbers against Fister)

  1. Eric Young, LF
  2. Daniel Murphy, 2B
  3. Marlon Byrd, RF (0-for-3)
  4. Ike Davis, 1B
  5. Wilmer Flores, 3B
  6. Juan Lagares, CF
  7. Travis d’Arnaud, C
  8. Omar Quintanilla, SS (0-for-2, K)
  9. Daisuke Matsuzaka, P

 

About that bloody knee for Cabrera

Unless you’ve been overseas or asleep for two months, you know that Miguel Cabrera has been hitting through bumps and bruises this summer. Thursday was the first time this year that he has been bloodied.

He was wearing it on his right knee, and as he stepped to the plate in the sixth inning, the red stain on his pant leg was impossible to miss, especially after the Tigers broadcast ran a close-up of it. Somebody in the Tigers dugout noticed it soon after that, and head athletic trainer Kevin Rand was spotted talking with Cabrera in the seventh inning. Cabrera came back out to third base in the eighth wearing a clean set of pants.

After the game, Cabrera was at his locker in the clubhouse putting a bandage on his knee. He said he had a scab on his knee that opened up when he dove earlier in the game, possibly on Doug Bernier’s sixth-inning single that reflected off his glove and then past Jose Iglesias at short.

Cabrera also agreed that it was gross.

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