October 9th, 2013

Tigers have seen Gray, now must adjust

The Tigers thought they had prepared themselves for A’s rookie Sonny Gray as well as they could before Game 2 of their American League Division Series. They weren’t ready for what they witnessed in person.

“It’s completely different,” utilityman Don Kelly said last week after Gray shut them down. “You can sit there and watch the video as much as you want and try to pick up what he’s trying to do to hitters and figure things out. But then you get in the box.”

Or as Austin Jackson put it, “You go over film as much as you can, but once you get out there, you’re pretty much just trying to see it and hit it.”

As they prepare for Gray in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series, they now have more than scouting reports and video. They now have their own experience, frustrations and all.

“I’m not really sure we liked what we saw,” manager Jim Leyland said Wednesday evening. “It was pretty good. But at least we have seen him now. It does make some difference.”

“With the stuff he was featuring, it certainly does not mean we’re going to be in a comfort zone, but it makes you a little more comfortable, now that you know the action on the ball, the great breaking ball that he has.”

How they work off of that could be the difference in whether the Tigers can pull out an ALDS Game 5 on the road for the third consecutive year. It’ll be a game of adjustments accelerated, and it’s something the Tigers have done in the past.

The way the Tigers’ regular season schedule played out, it wasn’t something they did a lot this year. Six different starting pitchers faced the Tigers twice in a span of two weeks or less this season. Three of them were White Sox thanks to so many second-half series between the two teams.

The Tigers roughed up Cleveland’s Corey Kluber for eight runs over 4 2/3 innings on May 10 at Comerica Park, but saw him deliver a quality start against them in Cleveland 11 days later. Kansas City’s Bruce Chen, by contrast, pitched seven innings of two-run ball at Kauffman Stadium on Sept. 8 before the Tigers plated six runs over 4 2/3 innings against him in his very next start.

The one example with someone they hadn’t seen before came in May. Astros young lefty Dallas Keuchel baffled Tigers hitters for four innings in relief May 2 before wearing down in a four-run rally. Two weeks later, Detroit ruined his start with a four-run second inning.

How the Tigers and Gray adjust, A’s manager Bob Melvin said, is to be determined.

“That’s what starting pitchers always have to do is make adjustments,” Melvin said. “They also saw him two and three times around the lineup during that game. So usually once you see a pitcher once or twice, you have an idea of what he’s going to do to you, but second time around a little more so. He’s able to make adjustments as well and he has very good stuff on top of it.”

In fact, Gray was tougher against the Tigers the longer he pitched. Detroit put three runners on base against him the first time through the order, then three runners the next two times through the lineup combined.

“At some point, yeah, I think we looked a little bit like we were guessing, because it was the first time we faced him,” Cabrera said. “The way he threw the ball, he wasn’t giving us a break to try to figure him out.”

One thing Kelly mentioned about Gray last week that caught him by surprise was the cutting motion on his fastball, making a 94 mph heater seem quicker. Another factor was the arm angle at which Gray delivers from his 5-foot-11 frame.

“He’s not real tall, and those guys when they throw real hard, sometimes it jumps on you,” Kelly said. “And then he’s got his curveball working too. That’s a pretty tough combination.”

The curveball, and Gray’s ability to throw it for strikes, was a big factor Jackson mentioned.

“It was falling off the table,” Jackson said. “He was able to throw it for strikes when he needed to and able to finish guys off with it as well.”

Now they’ve seen it. They’re going to get another look.

Game 5 set for 8:07pm ET start

I tweeted about this late last night, but I figured I’d better get this on the blog too: With Monday’s Red Sox win at Tampa Bay, the Tigers and A’s will now be the only playoff game on TV when they meet for Game 5 here in Oakland. Thus, the start time has been moved back to 8:07pm ET to better accommodate a prime time audience on both coasts. That’s good news for a lot of people in Detroit who spent last weekend staying up late to watch the first two games out here.

It’s probably not good news in the Bay Area, where the game will start right in the middle of rush hour, but it’s nothing new in these parts. The tricky part for fans coming to the Coliseum is that there’s a concert scheduled next door at Oracle Arena, and the two facilities share parking lots. The A’s are encouraging fans to take public transportation such as BART, or arrive early if they to drive. They’ll be taking cars on a first-come, first-served basis at most of the lots until they’re full.

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