February 2014

Game 3: The flip side of aggressiveness

Spring Training lasts around 30 games, all of them mathematically meaningless in the big picture of a baseball season, some of them meaningless towards the pure goal of season preparation. Many hitters, if healthy, don’t usually need that many games to get ready. The ones who truly take advantage of that full time are starting pitchers, who need to stretch out their arms to be ready to throw 100 pitches. What else goes on while pitchers stretch out is up to the manager to determine how to use.

In that light, Brad Ausmus has 30-plus games in which to try to establish an aggressive mentality on the basepaths. He also has that many games to figure out who can really take advantage of that and who doesn’t stand a good chance of taking that extra 90 feet.

If Wednesday’s win over the Braves was a good example of what an aggressive mentality can accomplish, Friday’s loss to the Yankees was the flip side, the reminder of the risk that goes with the reward. The Tigers made three outs on the bases in the first three innings, each by a different player at a different base, and five outs on the bases overall. They saw speedy Rajai Davis, who outran a pickoff play Wednesday, nabbed off second base Friday with Miguel Cabrera up to bat. Then they saw Cabrera try to catch the Yankees napping and go first-to-third following a Victor Martinez walk.

“We told them from day one that we wanted to force the defense to make the play,” Ausmus said. “Well, today they made the plays. But on two of those, three actually, they had to make perfect throws. They put the throws right there on the money and the guys were out, so that happens. …

“We knew going in that we were going to have this aggressive style, and not fault somebody for getting thrown out or taking a chance. That applies to [third base coach Dave Clark] too when he’s waving guys around third.”

The more chances they take, the more they learn their capabilities when they press the issue. That’s part of the goal

“We want them to take chances now,” Ausmus said. “You hope that creates kind of an overall mentality for baserunning as a team that we’re always trying to go the extra 90 or 180 feet. But it gets refined. As players realize what they can and can’t do, they start to understand, well, we can’t run hog wild. But the third day of Spring Training games, let’s go after it. Let’s force them to make the play. They made the plays today.”

That includes the play on Cabrera, who has always been an instinctive player with an awareness for what’s going on at most every spot between the foul lines. Ausmus has no problem with Cabrera testing the alertness level of Yankees starter Adam Warren and the left side of the infield.

“Miggy saw the third baseman was playing over towards the shortstop hole, and he thought he might be able to get there,” Ausmus said. “If he had kind of slowed down at second and acted like he was stopping, rather than just continuing, he might have got it. He also might have got it if he was 10 years younger.”

Iglesias out at least a week with shin splints

The shin splints that have bothered Jose Iglesias off and on throughout his baseball career have flared up again. The Tigers shortstop will be sidelined for a week while the team tries to reduce the inflammation and keep it from coming back.

Technically, it’s being called a stress reaction in both shins, but it’s more a difference of severity. It’s painful enough that it would be an issue even in the regular season. With four weeks to go before Opening Day, the Tigers medical staff wants to use the extra time to find a long-term solution.

“It’s a stress reaction of the shins, left and right, probably from moving on the different surfaces,” head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said Friday morning. “The guy works out all winter and then comes onto the softer ground. And we just want to nip it in the bud. We don’t want it to become an issue.

“Last year he had it when he came to us, and obviously in the middle of the season it’s a little more difficult [to treat]. So we’re taking the opportunity in Spring Training to try to find the program that works best for him.”

Manager Brad Ausmus estimated Iglesias won’t play for “in the neighborhood of a week.”

Iglesias started at shortstop Thursday and played well against the Braves, going 1-for-2 with a walk and an infield single he ran out to beat a throw. While his foot speed seemed fine, his shins were aching. At that point, Iglesias was trying to play through the issue.

The Tigers were aware of it. A bone scan taken Wednesday and an MRI conducted Thursday came back negative for any structural damage. The way Iglesias looked while moving, Thursday, was a concern.

Detroit officials were aware of Iglesias’ shin issues when he came over last July. He had them while he was with the Red Sox, and came down with similar issues last September. The fact that he’s having them again is not a shock to the medical staff, even though it’s early.

“He had some episodes late in the season with us. We treated him the rest of the year,” Rand said. “He also did some offseason rehab for this to try to put it behind him as well. But a lot of times, once you come back onto the baseball surface and you put the spikes back on, occasionally you have those issues. We just have to find a way to get him by that, get a program that he feels comfortable with.”

That includes preventative exercises, treatment, even orthotics and  footwear. Rand said they even looked at his gait in his run. Nothing might completely end the problem, but just lessening the frequency and the severity of the episodes could make a big difference over the course of his career.

“We’re looking to find the right combination from a treatment perspective, from an exercise perspective, to kind of put this behind him. And we have that opportunity,” Rand said. “This is the time to do that, in Spring Training. We have plenty of time to get him ready, so that’s what we’re looking to do.”

Tigers TV schedule is out, 150 games on FSD

FOX released its Tigers television schedule across its various networks today, and there’s good and bad news.

The good news: Every game will be shown on TV in one form or another. Fox Sports Detroit is currently scheduled for 150 of them, with five others on Fox Sports 1 (you really should have found this station on your system for Xavier basketball by now) as part of its new Saturday afternoon package, three on FOX as part of its Saturday Game of the Week package, and potentially four more on ESPN Sunday nights.

The bad news: The FOX Saturday blackout is still rearing its ugly head. While the Tigers game in Kansas City on July 12 is scheduled for Fox Sports Detroit, it’ll be on tape delay starting at 10pm ET. The actual game starts at 7:10pm, smack in the middle of the FOX window.

Odd that FOX wouldn’t show a clash between two teams who would well be in the midst of a division race at that point? You bet. The FOX package that night consists of Pirates-Reds, Nationals-Phillies and Angels-Rangers. And having a Saturday afternoon game in KC in mid-July isn’t going to happen if they can at all help it.

Now, MLB.TV has a new workaround to the FOX blackout, but it only involves the FOX regional broadcasts in that window. For instance, while the June 21 Tigers game at Cleveland is scheduled to air on FOX at 7, some in the Midwest might get the Cubs game against the Pirates at the game. Fans stuck with Cubs-Pirates can log on to MLB.TV to watch Tigers-Indians. But since Tigers-Royals on July 12 isn’t scheduled for FOX, fans can’t get around the blackout.

As for the ESPN games, only the May 18 game at Boston is set on the Sunday Night package. The other three games (June 8 vs. Boston, June 22 at Cleveland and July 6 vs. Tampa Bay) are on ESPN’s list of potential games for that week. The actual game chosen will be announced a few weeks ahead of time.

Game 2: Tigers vs. Braves

Spring Training 001

It’s a very light rain at Joker Marchant Stadium this morning, with a chance of showers during the afternoon. At this point, though, the game against the Braves is still on.

Any regular who didn’t start yesterday is starting today, and any starters from yesterday are pretty much off today. Interestingly, though, it’s Jose Iglesias leading off rather than Austin Jackson, who’s batting sixth. Again, Brad Ausmus doesn’t want anybody reading into his batting orders this early, in part because how long his starters play is going to be determined by at-bats rather than innings. Still, it’s worth noting.

No TV or radio for this game in Detroit. The Braves radio broadcast, however, will be available online at MLB Gameday Audio.

TIGERS

  1. Jose Iglesias, SS
  2. Andy Dirks, LF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
  4. Torii Hunter, RF
  5. Alex Avila, C
  6. Austin Jackson, CF
  7. Francisco Martinez, DH
  8. Danny Worth, 3B
  9. Hernan Perez, 2B

P: Rick Porcello, Duane Below, Ian Krol, Joba Chamberlain, Joe Nathan, Luke Putkonen, Bruce Rondon

BRAVES

  1. Jason Heyward, DH
  2. Ramiro Pena, SS
  3. B.J. Upton, CF
  4. Ryan Doumit, RF
  5. Gerald Laird, C
  6. Mark Hamilton, 1B
  7. Edward Salcedo, 3B
  8. Jordan Schafer, LF
  9. Philip Gosselin, 2B

P: Kris Medlen

Game 1: All of the green lights

Before Brad Ausmus embarked upon his Grapefruit League debut as Tigers manager, he was asked how he wanted people to view his team.

“If someone came up to me and said, ‘We like the way the Tigers play baseball. They play baseball the right way,’ that would be good,” Ausmus said. “It’s battling for your life with two strikes. It’s finding a way on the mound without your best stuff to get guys out. You can see those things. It’s not giving up on a fly ball in the gap, running it down, or keeping the runner from going an extra base.”

It’s also aggressiveness. And after one Spring Training game (not including the Florida Southern exhibition), that’s what people are talking about with the Tigers.

The Tigers stole 35 bases for the entire 2013 regular season. They stole 17 bases last Spring Training. They stole four bases on Wednesday, including a double steal, setting up three of their six runs. Their game-winning rally in the ninth consisted of a leadoff walk, back-to-back bunts (one for a base hit, the other for a sacrifice) and a flare single into short right field from Hernan Perez that scored two runs.

The Tigers scored a half-dozen runs without an extra-base hit. They’ve only done that once since 2000, a 13-hit barrage against the White Sox in a meaningless late-season game on Sept. 9, 2010.

Yes, it’s Spring Training. But it’s also a topic Ausmus has been harping on for most of this camp.

“We hope we can use some of our leg assets in terms of running the bases and maybe defensively,” Ausmus said afterwards. “But I think it’s the frame of mind that we have to change before it becomes a real factor, the frame of mind of wanting to go the extra 90, the extra 180 feet, forcing the defense to make the play on you.”

Yes, Ausmus used the term “leg assets.” And yes, they definitely wanted to go extra feet.

In fairness, Rajai Davis — the fastest guy in the park — was the sparkplug, stealing two bases in what unofficially marked his first game in a Tigers uniform. Braves lefty Ryan Buchter seemingly had him picked off on the first try, but Davis outran the throw, putting him in position to score easily on Victor Martinez’s single to right.

After back-to-back singles in the sixth allowed the two to move Ian Kinsler around to score following a leadoff walk, the duo pulled off a double steal. A batter later, Davis needed only a Don Kelly popout to Tyler Greene in foul territory behind third base to score. That would be a rare SF5 if you’re keeping score at home.

Then Daniel Fields got into the act. By trying to steal on a two-strike pitch to John Murrian, Fields not only got to second base, he forced a wayward throw and a misplay by Tommy La Stella, allowing him to move to third base and score on a more traditional sac fly deep to the left-field corner.

 

Game 1: Tigers at Braves

Disney 001

It’s a short trip for the Tigers today for their Grapefruit League opener, but not a lot of regulars on the trip. Most of them are staying back today and starting the home opener tomorrow.

One player worth watching today will be Steve Lombardozzi, who gets the start at shortstop. He has played very few games at short over his career, but manager Brad Ausmus is trying to work him in as the short-term backup to Jose Iglesias. In other words, if Iglesias had a minor injury that cost him a few games but didn’t require a DL stint, Lombardozzi would fill in. If Iglesias had something more serious that cost him more time, he’d obviously go on the DL, and the Tigers would call up Hernan Perez as a replacement from Triple-A Toledo.

No TV for this game, but you can listen on the radio on AM 1270 and online via MLB Gameday Audio or through the At-Bat app.

TIGERS

  1. Ian Kinsler, 2B
  2. Rajai Davis, LF
  3. Victor Martinez, DH
  4. Jordan Lennerton, 1B
  5. Don Kelly, LF
  6. Nick Castellanos, 3B
  7. Daniel Fields, CF
  8. Bryan Holaday, C
  9. Steve Lombardozzi, SS

P: Drew Smyly, Justin Miller, Phil Coke, Al Alburquerque, Evan Reed, Eduardo Sanchez, Blaine Hardy

BRAVES

  1. Jason Heyward, RF
  2. B.J. Upton, CF
  3. Freddie Freeman, 1B
  4. Evan Gattis, C
  5. Justin Upton, LF Ryan Doumit, DH
  6. Chris Johnson, 3B
  7. Dan Uggla, 2B
  8. Andrelton Simmons, SS
  9. Jordan Schaefer, LF

P: Freddy Garcia

Play ball: Tigers vs. Florida Southern

Spring Training 019

Good morning from Joker Marchant Stadium, where after a week and a half of workouts and 48 pitches of live batting practice with Justin Verlander, there’s some baseball to be played. For at least one at-bat, it’ll involve most of the Tigers regulars.

Most of this info trickled out over the last couple days. Brad Ausmus warned not to make too much out of Ian Kinsler batting leadoff, but considering Kinsler isn’t dealing with an injury, there isn’t an overwhelming reason to get his at-bat out of the way early, either. We’ll get a better idea of the batting order plans when Grapefruit League play starts tomorrow, though it’s not certain yet how many regulars will be making the trip to Disney World to face the Braves.

The one guy in the lineup who might get multiple at-bats is James McCann, who gets the start behind the plate in place of Alex Avila. For what it’s worth, Avila says he’s feeling good, but they’re not going to risk aggravating the back spasms that sidelined him the last couple days.

TIGERS

  1. Ian Kinsler, 2B
  2. Torii Hunter, RF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
  4. Victor Martinez, DH
  5. Austin Jackson, CF
  6. Andy Dirks, LF
  7. James McCann, C
  8. Nick Castellanos, 3B
  9. Jose Iglesias, SS

P: Drew VerHagen, Robbie Ray, Kyle Lobstein, Jose Ortega, Melvin Mercedes, Jose Valdez, Jhan Marinez

FLORIDA SOUTHERN

  1. Conor Szczerba, 2B
  2. J.J. Downum, LF
  3. Keith Curcio, CF
  4. Trey Vavra, 1B
  5. Chris Dennis, 3B
  6. Jimmy Correnti, SS
  7. Dominic Brugnoni, RF
  8. Joey Miller, C
  9. Casey Eddinger, DH

P: Clay Chapman, Nick Krolczyk, Nate Carter, Steven Burnham, Austin Barnett Jr., Stephen Brooks, Casey Eskew

MLB negotiates experimental rule on plate collision

Brad Ausmus was afraid Major League Baseball was going to ban collisions at home plate with its new rule, turning it into just another base. He was also worried he’d have to adjust his first Spring Training camp to allot time to teach a new approach to his catchers. Neither of those fears were realized.

Alex Avila wasn’t too thrilled about the possibility of no contact at the plate, either. He’s likely going to be satisfied with the new rule in place on an experimental basis.

Monday’s announcement from Major League Baseball puts restrictions on what baserunners and catchers can do on plays at the plate, but doesn’t ban the collision. To put it in basketball terms, the rule for 2014 is aimed more towards the flagrant foul than the block/charge call.

  1. If a runner strays from a direct path towards home plate to instead initiate contact with the defender covering home (whether it’s the catcher or somebody else), the umpire can call him out. If the runner strays from the direct path but then tries to slide into the plate, hitting the ground with his body before hitting the catcher, he’s fine.
  2. If the catcher doesn’t have the ball, he can’t block the plate. But if the catcher blocks the runner’s path because it was the only way he could catch the throw home, then he’s fine.

Simple enough, and not nearly as sea-changing as some might have predicted. The teeth of the rule change arguably is educational, because clubs will now be required to teach runners to slide at home and catchers to allow the runner a path to the plate — at every level of their organization.

That seemingly sets up another rule adjustment down the road, which could bring up this debate again. For now, though, the impact is more subtle.

Verlander throws 48 pitches in live BP session (updated)

Spring Training 014

Eight pitches into his first meeting with hitters this spring, Justin Verlander was questioning whether a pitch was a ball or a strike. Twelve pitches in, he was cursing at himself for a pitch he didn’t execute to his liking. This can only mean one thing: Tigers baseball is back.

Verlander had a pitch count of 45-50, according to Brad Ausmus. By my count, he threw 49. Unlike every other live BP session this week, he was on the mound at Joker Marchant Stadium, since he was the only pitcher throwing today. He had a small crowd watching in the stands as he faced Daniel Fields and Craig Albernaz, and he seemed to have a little adrenaline building as he went along.

“It went pretty good,” Verlander said. “A lot of rust to knock off, but that’s normal.”

Verlander said the core muscle injury that required surgery to repair was not a concern. His footing slipped on him while throwing a curveball, he said, and he still didn’t feel anyhting.”

Verlander will throw another live BP session on Thursday. If that goes well, he’ll slot into the rotation from there, though manager Brad Ausmus and pitching coach Jeff Jones said no date has been decided on a first start.

Kinsler to lead off, Jackson to bat 5th vs. Florida Southern

Brad Ausmus hasn’t yet announced his batting order for the start of the season, and he probably won’t do that for a while. He might well have laid a hint with his lineup for Tuesday’s unofficial Spring Training opener against Florida Southern.

Ausmus didn’t announce the full lineup, but he revealed the top half when asked how many regulars will play in the exhibition game. New Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler will bat leadoff, followed by Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. Austin Jackson, Detroit’s leadoff man for the better part of four years, will bat fifth.

Ausmus didn’t reveal the rest of the lineup because some players involved hadn’t been informed of his plans. Ausmus has made communication a point of emphasis as manager, and he said early in camp that he doesn’t want players reading about their roles before they’re told anything.

Ever since Kinsler’s arrival in the Prince Fielder trade, Detroit’s leadoff spot has been a mystery. He sat atop of the batting order in Texas for five of the past six seasons, reaching base safely from that spot at a .346 percentage for his career and a .355 rate last season. Austin Jackson has a .344 career OBP, though just .337 last year.

There’s no guarantee that the batting order for a spring-opening exhibition equates to the batting order for Opening Day, even if the regulars are playing. Like his predecessor, Jim Leyland, Ausmus said he plans to play most of his regulars long enough to get one at-bat before substituting for them. In some years, Leyland would put a player near the top of the order to get them that at-bat earlier without having to play in the field for a few innings.

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