March 7th, 2014

Ausmus: Walkoff balk was an accidental sign

On the first day of Tigers workouts, new manager Brad Ausmus had his pitchers working on pickoff throws, including the little-used pickoff to third base. Given Ausmus’ focus on preparation all spring, it was surely going to come into play in a game.

Ausmus just didn’t want it in <i>this</i> game. And as he walked out of the dugout Friday night, having seen reliever Luis Marte called for a balk that brought in the Yankees’ winning run in a 3-2 Tigers loss, Ausmus was struggling to figure out why Marte tried a pickoff throw in the first place.

Then it hit him.

“We have a play where you pick to third, and I unknowingly gave it,” Ausmus said. “Really, as I was walking up the runway, I realized that I had given it to him. Don’t blame the player for that one. Blame the manager.”

For all the praise heaped on Ausmus for his intellect and his focus on preparation, he was bound for a miscue. This was the first noticeable one, although he might have gotten away with it and left Marte with the blame had he not fessed up after the game.

“It was my fault,” Ausmus reiterated. “The player didn’t screw up. I actually ended up giving a sign by accident and realized after I walked off the field that I had given a sign. You can chalk that one up to me.”

Marte had runners at the corners and one out in the bottom of the ninth. Third baseman Francisco Martinez apparently did not pick off the accidental sign, because he wasn’t at the bag when the throw came in. That brought the balk call, which brought in the game-ending run.

Friday: Tigers at Yankees

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Between a Friday night game, a chillier forecast than usual for these parts and a stadium that feels more like American League than Grapefruit League (hopefully the photo above reflects that), this might be as close of a feel as we get to regular season baseball this spring. It also helps that the Tigers brought over a fair number of regulars for this one, including the projected Opening Day outfield and Alex Avila behind the plate and batting fifth. With Matt Thornton on the pitching list for tonight, it’ll be interesting to see if Joe Girardi waits until an inning when Avila is up to bring him in.

After an abundance of time at shortstop, Steve Lombardozzi shifts over to second base for the night, giving Ian Kinsler an easy day ahead of tomorrow’s game against the Mets back in Lakeland. Danny Worth starts at short tonight.

It’ll be interesting to hear the reception for Joba Chamberlain, who certainly has a lot of history here, when he takes the mound for his inning of work in relief.

One other thing: It might be nothing, but it’s worth noting that Jose Ortega and Luis Marte were added to the pitching list for tonight. Neither of them were on the pitching list for yesterday’s rained-out game, so it’s not simply a matter of being pushed back. If you were going to look at relief depth the Tigers could tap if they wanted to swing a trade for a left fielder, either one could make sense. Bruce Rondon was previously on the pitching list for tonight, but he’s now slated to pitch Saturday against the Mets.

TIGERS

  1. Rajai Davis, LF
  2. Torii Hunter, RF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
  4. Victor Martinez, DH
  5. Alex Avila, C
  6. Austin Jackson, CF
  7. Steve Lombardozzi, 2B
  8. Nick Castellanos, 3B
  9. Danny Worth, SS

P: Anibal Sanchez, Robbie Ray, Joe Nathan, Joba Chamberlain, Jose Ortega, Luis Marte, Jhan Marinez

YANKEES

  1. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
  2. Derek Jeter, SS
  3. Carlos Beltran, DH
  4. Brian McCann, C
  5. Alfonso Soriano, RF
  6. Brian Roberts, 2B
  7. Ichiro Suzuki, LF
  8. Eduardo Nunez, 3B
  9. Russ Canzler, 1B

P: Hiroki Kuroda, Michael Pineda, David Robertson, Matt Thornton, Shawn Kelly, Bryan Mitchell.

Verlander believes core injury led to mechanical issues

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All last summer, Justin Verlander said he had until the playoffs to get things right. When he shut down the Athletics in Game 5 of the AL Division Series, he sounded like he was right where he wanted.

“I’m pitching the way I’m supposed to,” he said after that game. “I worked my butt off all year to try to get consistent and get myself where I needed to be.”

Now he says he wasn’t where he wanted to be, not mechanically at least, even during the postseason. After throwing his 45-pitch session inside the batting cages at Joker Marchant Stadium Thursday afternoon, he said he’s trying to erase the muscle memory of 2013 and get back to his 2012 form.

“The adjustments I’m trying to make are the way I used to throw, before last year,” he said.

It also might have been before the core muscle injuries that led to January surgery.

It’s the plurality of the injuries that have him now suspecting he was pitching injured last season. When he had the surgery, he said a few weeks ago, it took care of injuries on both sides. The left side was injured in offseason workouts. The right side was injured at some other point, and was almost as bad, when Dr. William Meyers examined him.

“Everything I felt when I injured myself was on my left side,” Verlander said. “There was nothing [felt] on my right side. We went through all the physical exams, and when he told me I needed surgery on my right, that was kind of the indicator. And he said my right [side] was almost as bad as my left — the abdominal part, not the groin. That could very well, and most likely, gone back a little bit of ways.

“What we’re thinking is the adjustments I’m making, the way I was throwing last year, might have had something to do with an injury being there, without me knowing. And that might have been why I had to change my mechanics a little bit. And this is coming from Dr. Meyers. Even if I don’t feel it, my brain still knows it’s there. We think it was a very slow kind of injury. That’s why there was never a pop or anything, I never felt anything, because it was really slow over time. He said I was probably losing strength through my core, so that was probably, what I think — and what we think — my body trying to adjust to that and be able to pitch through it.”

Verlander explains the adjustment he’s trying to make as getting his shoulder back to a parallel level.

“Just overall last year, there was a tilt in my shoulders,” he said. “I look back at pitches I made in the past and right when I’m about to fire to throw home, everything’s parallel. My shoulders are almost parallel, my arm’s up behind my head, and everything’s firing on a parallel plane. Last year, if you were to take a snapshot, there’s a lot of pitches where my lead arm’s up here and I’m firing from down here, almost below my neck.”

Asked how he could pitch well in the postseason — remember, he not only had better results, but better velocity — Verlander shrugged.

“I don’t know. Just, will.”

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