April 17th, 2014

Justin Miller reportedly called up from Toledo

The first bullpen transaction of the Tigers’ 2014 season is apparently on the way. Justin Miller was informed after Thursday’s Mud Hens loss that he’s being called up to Detroit, according to John Wagner of the Toledo Blade.

The Tigers aren’t expected to confirm any roster move until Friday. It might not be until then that we learn the return move. Wagner is very good at chronicling the Toledo end of these moves.

It’s possible the Tigers are calling up a fresh arm for the bullpen after using five relievers Thursday afternoon and four Wednesday night (Al Alburquerque, Ian Krol and Joba Chamberlain pitched in both games), all ahead of Drew Smyly’s first start of the season Friday night. While neither manager Brad Ausmus nor pitching coach Jeff Jones had a pitch count set for Smyly when asked Thursday morning, both made it clear they’ll have to be cautious with him since he hasn’t been stretched out as a starter since the end of Spring Training nearly three weeks ago. He threw 51 pitches on April 4 and 49 pitches on April 9.

The Tigers could go a position player short in the bullpen for a day, taking somebody off their bench. If the Angels were starting a lefty Friday, it wouldn’t be hard to envision the Tigers starting Victor Martinez at DH, freeing up Alex Avila to serve as the backup for a night. But with a righty going, Martinez is likely to DH, which means the Tigers would have to bat the pitcher’s spot to move Martinez behind the plate in the middle of a game. They could go short an outfielder.

It’s also possible the Tigers simply decided to make a change in their bullpen mix after watching their relief corps for nearly three weeks. The bullpen struggles have been well chronicled, though Tigers relievers have generally had better fortunes the last couple games. Phil Coke’s struggles have been well-chronicled, but the Tigers have no shortage of lefty relievers at Toledo if they were to go that route.

Miller would be making his Tigers debut after signing a Major League deal with Detroit last fall following his release from the Rangers organization. The hard-throwing 25-year-old had a rough Spring Training, making him an early cut from camp, but has recovered nicely in Toledo. He has thrown 4 2/3 scoreless innings for the Hens on three hits with a walk and six strikeouts.

Thursday’s lineups: Tigers vs. Indians

CoPA 007

Tigers stick with the same lineup today against Danny Salazar, including Alex Avila catching the day game after a night game. For that matter, the Indians have the same starting nine, with only one change: Carlos Santana and Lonnie Chisenhall swap positions, getting Santana on the hot corner and Chisenhall a day at designated hitter.

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

TIGERS (numbers off Salazar)

  1. Ian Kinsler, 2B
  2. Torii Hunter, RF (1-for-7, 2 K’s)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B (1-for-4, HR, 3 K’s)
  4. Victor Martinez, DH (2-for-6)
  5. Austin Jackson, CF (1-for-4, HR, 2 K’s)
  6. Nick Castellanos, 3B
  7. Alex Avila, C (2-for-2)
  8. Alex Gonzalez, SS
  9. Rajai Davis, LF (0-for-1, walk)

P: Justin Verlander

INDIANS (career numbers off Verlander)

  1. Michael Bourn, CF (7-for-18, 2 walks, 7 K’s)
  2. Nick Swisher, 1B (13-for-71, 5 doubles, 3 HR, 10 walks, 25 K’s)
  3. Jason Kipnis, 2B (3-for-24, double, 5 walks, 11 K’s)
  4. Carlos Santana, 3B (6-for-32, double, 3 HR, 4 walks, 5 K’s)
  5. Michael Brantley, LF (15-for-38, double, triple, 3 walks, 5 K’s)
  6. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS (11-for-54, 5 doubles, 5 walks, 21 K’s)
  7. Yan Gomes, C (1-for-4)
  8. Lonnie Chisenhall, DH (3-for-13, double)

P: Danny Salazar

Game 11: Ausmus, Hunter talk about the bunt

One of the more quietly useful offensive stats to come about in recent years, in my opinion, is the Productive Out. As defined by Elias Sports Bureau, a Productive Out includes advancing a runner with the first out of an inning, scoring a runner with the second out, or when a pitcher lays down a sacrifice bunt to advance a runner with one out. Productive Outs aren’t a necessity for a winning a team, but they can provide a different look at the value of certain hitters.

Torii Hunter led the American League last year in productive outs, according to the Bill James Handbook. Only Dodgers slugger Adrian Gonzalez had more among Major League hitters. When Hunter came to the plate last year with a runner on second and nobody out, he advanced the runner 16 out of 27 times, according to baseball-reference.com. Part of the reason Hunter works batting second in a lineup is his ability to advance a leadoff man with a ground ball to the right side.

Hunter put up all these productive outs without an abundance of sacrifice bunts. He set a career high with three, but they came nine attempts according to STATS. He had three sac bunts in his previous 15 Major League seasons combined. When he did sacrifice, then-manager Jim Leyland took some occasional heat for it.

With runners at first and second and nobody out in the eighth inning Wednesday night, new Tigers manager Brad Ausmus called on Hunter to bunt. Hunter couldn’t get the bunt down, then grounded into a double play. Thus, instead of getting two runners in scoring position for Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers had a runner on third with two outs for the reigning MVP. He singled in the runner, but didn’t have the tying run to drive in.

Asked about the decision, Ausmus said he discussed it with Hunter.

“I talked to him about it before he went up,” Ausmus said after the game. “He was on board. He’s bunted before. It just didn’t work out that one time. You’re not always going to be successful in your sacrifice bunting. Everyone thinks it’s easy, but when a guy’s throwing 95 miles an hour, it’s not easy.”

Hunter confirmed they talked it over. He didn’t remember the numbers on how rarely he had bunted.

“I might have had one last year, maybe one every 10 years,” he said. “It’s been a long time, but I come to win. If my manager tells me to do something, I should be able to execute it and I didn’t today and that’s probably why we lost.”

Asked if he’d feel better swinging away in such a situation, Hunter said, “Oh yeah, no doubt. I’ve driven in some runs in my career. I always want to be the one at the plate in a clutch situation like that to try and get something done. But it doesn’t matter. I have to do what I have to do to help this ballclub. If I get those guys over and Miguel gets up, I don’t know if they walk him or whatever, but I give him a chance to get two RBIs instead of one.”

Asked if he’d say something like that to his manager, Hunter said no.

“I’m not going to say I want to swing,” he said. “If he wants me to bunt, I’m going to do that. That’s my job. I’m the employee. If he tells me to do something, I’m going to do it. I’m the soldier.”

As far as the strategy behind it, Ausmus acknowledged the possibility that the Indians would have walked Cabrera, loading the bases and taking their chances with Victor Martinez and Austin Jackson. Doing so, however, would have put the go-ahead run on base.

Essentially, Ausmus played to force the decision and set up a potential go-ahead rally instead of a game-tying one.

“I don’t know if [Terry Francona] would have walked Cabrera or not,” Ausmus said. “It would have been the winning run at that point. But if he does walk him, I like the way the two guys behind him are swinging the bat, Victor and Jackson.

“Generally speaking, I don’t know that I would necessarily want to bunt and make a base open for Miggy, especially if he’s swinging the bat and he’s hitting the ball well like he normally does. But in this situation, I felt pretty good with the two guys behind him, and if they decided to walk Cabrera, I felt good about Martinez and Jackson now with the winning run on base.”

Play of the game: Yan Gomes’ go-ahead two-run triple in the second inning looked bigger and bigger as the game went on and Anibal Sanchez. It was the only hit the Indians managed in 13 at-bats with runners in scoring position, but it drove in two runs instead of one. In the end, was the difference.

Out of the game: The Indians had a few of them, including strikeouts of Alex Avila and Austin Jackson to end threats with runners in scoring position. But John Axford’s strikeout of Don Kelly on a breaking ball with the tying run on third base and one out was huge, essentially deciding the game. Axford got a player who normally doesn’t chase pitches outside the zone to chase a very good breaking ball that dove out of it. He also retired a guy who came up 14 times last year with a runner on third and less than two outs, and plated the runner eight out of 14 times.

Line of the night: It wasn’t like Max Scherzer’s line from the other night, but it wasn’t far off, Anibal Sanchez striking out eight batters over five innings yet giving up three runs, two earned, on just two hits.

Stat of the night: The Indians and Tigers combined to go 2-for-22 with runners in scoring position, one hit apiece. The Indians’ hit drove in two runs. The Tigers’ hit plated only one.

Print it: “I think after the season, I’ll be able to go to the beach with no t-shirt.” — Miguel Cabrera on the exercises he has to do during the season to keep his core strong following surgery last fall.