Game 14: Is Joba Chamberlain the new setup man?
It took Max Scherzer four starts to earn his first win of the year. It took Joba Chamberlain six outings to earn his first hold, but he now has two in three days.
The way he looks on the mound, the question now is whether he’s the man in line for more by handling the majority of eighth-inning leads.
Manager Brad Ausmus still isn’t inclined to name roles in his bullpen besides closer Joe Nathan. In his defense, there was a time fairly recently that Al Alburquerque looked like the man in line for setup duty, and was the most consistent reliever the Tigers had going.
The way Chamberlain has been pitching since last weekend, however, has Chamberlain looking like his younger form.
“The way he’s pitched recently, I’m certainly very comfortable bringing him in in the eighth inning,” Ausmus said. “I even brought him in today knowing he would face some left-handed hitters, and he showed that he was able to get through it today smoothly. I don’t know if I have to assign a role to him, but right now I’m very comfortable bringing him in the eighth inning with a save-caliber lead.”
Chamberlain had the eighth inning Saturday with a 4-2 lead. He threw eight pitches, all of them strikes, and threw his fastball consistently around the mid-90s. His first three pitches were all fastballs — 94 mph, then 95, then 96 — all spotted for strikes to retire Hank Conger. He then started off Brennan Boesch with a curveball to retire him on a groundout, then put J.B. Shuck in an 0-2 count before sending him down check-swinging at a slider in the dirt.
“Joba’s been good the last few outings, but that’s by far the best we’ve seen him,” Ausmus said.
That gives Chamberlain 11 strikeouts over 6 1/3 innings this season, including 10 of the last 19 batters he has faced since that disastrous outing against the Orioles two weeks ago.
He credits the difference to getting regular work after going stretches without being used the first week of the season.
“It’s just getting into a rhythm,” Chamberlain said. “Obviously being able to be in the games and be in situations where you know you’re able to pitch and execute pitches [helps]. I just feel comfortable with all my pitches right now, being able to locate with fastballs and throw my slider, my curveball whenever I want.
“It’s a game where you just have to adjust. That was the big thing for me to be able to come in and make some adjustments and obviously help this team win.”
The bigger difference is that he’s spotting what he’s throwing, especially his heavy, biting slider. It’s what he talked about as far back as TigerFest.
Now, if he can stay consistent with it, he’s in line for the kind of work he was seeking when he looked at Detroit as a landing spot last December.
“If he keeps throwing all strikes,” Ausmus said, “he’ll pitch a lot.”
Play of the game: It was an aggressive play by Miguel Cabrera to tag up from second base on Torii Hunter’s fly ball to center field, and it nearly backfired on him if not for replay overturning umpire Gerry Davis’ out call. But it was a third-inning play that set up an extra run on Austin Jackson’s sacrifice fly.
“I’ve said it since Spring Training: This guy’s baseball IQ is high,” Ausmus said. “He gave a false-looking break like he was just going to take a few steps and stop and go back to second, I guess you would call it a deke, and then he picked right back up and kept going. He understands the game more than just hit the ball, field the ball, throw the ball. He understands the intricacies of the game and what goes through a player’s mind.”
Out of the game: Max Scherzer seemingly had the third out of the fourth inning when Ian Stewart was caught stealing, but replay overturned that call. That didn’t just leave Scherzer needing to make extra pitches for another out. That left with a 3-1 count to Erick Aybar with two runners in scoring position, including the tying run at second.
“Typically, when it goes to replay, they’re typically going to overturn it,” Scherzer said. “For them to use it, you know they’re probably going to be right.
“For me, I had to take the mentality that it was going to be overturned and I had to get Aybar out. I was going through the whole scenario: What do I want to do? I was taking warm-up pitches to make sure my arm was at 100 percent. I think it was a 3-1 ballgame at that point. That was a very important at-bat and even though it was something new, I thought I took a good mentality of how to combat that.”
Scherzer spotted a second strike to run the count full, then after a foul ball, got a swing and a miss for the strikeout to end the threat.
“To me, he pitched well the whole game, but that was kind of the turning point in the game in terms of Max’s outing,” Ausmus said.
Line of the day: Mike Trout had plenty of three-strikeout games in his career. He had never struck out four times in a game — until Saturday. Max Scherzer became the second pitcher to strike out Trout three times in a game, joining Oakland lefty Tommy Milone. Joe Nathan got the last.
Stat of the day: 0 — Hits involved in Miguel Cabrera’s trip around the bases in the third inning. He reached on a Brennan Boesch error, advanced on a Victor Martinez walk, tagged up to third on Hunter’s fly ball and scored on Jackson’s sac fly.
Print it: “Everyone, even the greatest hitters, have those days. Yesterday Mike Trout got us, so I’m not going to throw a party just because he had an off day.” — Ausmus on Trout’s four-strikeout game