May 2014

Saturday’s lineups: Tigers at Mariners

Seattle 014

Standard lineup again for the Tabbies against 6-foot-10 right-hander Chris Young. As you can see, not a whole lot of this lineup has faced Young, who broke into the big leagues in 2004 but hasn’t had a full season in the Majors since 2007. Surprisingly, Brad Ausmus never faced him.

The Mariners, not surprisingly, are going heavily right-handed against Drew Smyly, whose lefty-righty splits are more extreme now than they were in more limited time last year.

“He’s tough on left-handers. This year they’re hitting .122 off him. That’s hard to ignore,” M’s manager Lloyd McClendon, clearly familiar with Smyly, told reporters today. “I’m just trying to put as many right-handers in there as we can and hopefully we’re successful with it.”

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

TIGERS (career numbers off Chris Young)

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

P: Drew Smyly

MARINERS (career numbers against Smyly)

  1. Willie Bloomquist, 2B
  2. Endy Chavez, CF
  3. Mike Zunino, DH
  4. Justin Smoak, 1B (1-for-3)
  5. Kyle Seager, 3B (1-for-4, double, K)
  6. Stefen Romero, RF
  7. John Buck, C
  8. Cole Gillespie, LF
  9. Nick Franklin, SS (0-for-1, K)

P: Chris Young

How Verlander got his fastball back

The pitching Justin Verlander delivered Friday night against the Mariners suggested he got back to basics — no quirks, no new strategies, just pounding the zone. For Verlander, it was an inning-by-inning approach.

He felt good throwing between starts, but he was also wary of the big inning that had crippled him a few other times this month. Thus, he didn’t allow himself to let off.

“You just ride the flow of the game,” he said. “You just see how things are going. You never know when things can turn at this level. Things happen quickly. You can’t let your guard down for one second.”

The result was some of his best numbers this year, centered around a fastball that not only had velocity, but command. He threw fastballs with 55 of his 120 pitches at an average of just over 95 mph, according to data from brooksbaseball.net. Of those 55 fastballs, 34 went for strikes, and 26 of those were classified as strikes not put in play. That included six swings and misses.

“That was the point the whole game,” Verlander said of pounding the strike zone. “I’ve been walking too many guys. It’s not like I was intentionally walking guys. I was just inconsistent. Not saying by any means that this was perfect and we’re going to go forward from here — that’s not the way this works — but it shows me that the stuff I’ve been working on was definitely helping. I was able to pound the zone with good stuff.”

He started out throwing his fastball hard, hitting 95 mph in the opening inning, and kept it there, peaking at 98 late in the game. The rest of his pitches followed from there — 20 out of 26 changeups for strikes, 13 of 21 sliders, and 11 of 18 curveballs.

“I think my rhythm was much better, my consistency was much better and my stuff was a lot better,” Verlander said. “That’s a good sign in and of itself.”

He went to three-ball counts all three hitters in the middle of the Mariners order — Michael Saunders, Justin Smoak and Kyle Seager — his first time through the lineup, but had only one other three-ball count all night. That was the fourth-inning walk to Smoak, which he paid for two pitches later with a Kyle Seager home run. That, he said, was a fastball he wanted in on Seager’s hands but left down for him to extend his arms and pull the ball with power.

“Typical lefty pitch, down and in,” Verlander said. “He just dropped the hands on it.”

The way Verlander responded from there was impressive, putting Mike Zunino and Dustin Ackley in 0-2 counts from there. Zunino escaped with a hit-by-pitch, but Ackley took a called third strike.

“He attacked the hitters,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “He wasn’t tiptoeing around anyone. He went after them.”

Verlander retired 12 of 13 batters from there and had an 0-2 count on James Jones, a pitch away from finishing the eighth inning, when Jones singles through the left side on Verlander’s 120th and final pitch.

That was enough for Ausmus. With 7 2/3 innings of three-run ball, a walk and seven strikeouts, that was plenty — not just for Ausmus, but for the sometimes perfectionist Verlander.

“This is my ninth year in baseball. There’s going to be bumps in the road. It’s never going to be just excellence,” Verlander said. “That’s one of the great things about being able to look to the next one, not dwelling on the last one, or past two, or past three or past 10. Whatever you have to work on to get ready for your next one and hopefully give your team a chance to win is what you need to focus on.”

Friday’s lineups (updated with M’s change): Tigers at Mariners

IMG_2699

It’s a gorgeous afternoon in Seattle. It doesn’t matter as far as getting the game played, since there’s a roof, but it’s warm enough that the temperature won’t be a concern, unlike many games along the April trips the Tigers have had here the last few years.

It’s a better afternoon for Rajai Davis, who’s rejoining the Tigers lineup after leaving Wednesday’s game early and missing Thursday’s game with a bruised shoulder. With Davis back, it’s a pretty standard lineup for Detroit against Hisashi Iwakuma.

The Mariners had a late lineup change with the call-up of outfielder Endy Chavez from Triple-A Tacoma. He was put into the batting order, while Stefen Romero, who was scheduled to DH, takes a seat.

TIGERS (career numbers against Iwakuma)

  1. Ian Kinsler, 2B (8-for-20, double, 3 HR, 2 walks, 3 K’s)
  2. Torii Hunter, RF (2-for-10, 2 K’s)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B (1-for-7, 2 K’s)
  4. Victor Martinez, DH (1-for-3, 2 walks)
  5. Austin Jackson, CF (1-for-8, 2 K’s)
  6. Alex Avila, C (0-for-7, 2 K’s)
  7. Nick Castellanos, 3B
  8. Andrew Romine, SS (2-for-4, K)
  9. Rajai Davis, LF (1-for-9, HR, walk, 6 K’s)

P: Justin Verlander

MARINERS (career numbers against Verlander)

  1. Endy Chavez, LF
  2. James Jones, CF
  3. Michael Saunders, RF (3-for-17, double, 4 K’s)
  4. Justin Smoak, 1B (4-for-10, 2 HR, 2 walks, 6 K’s)
  5. Kyle Seager, 3B (3-for-6, 2 doubles, walk)
  6. Mike Zunino, C
  7. Dustin Ackley, DH (2-for-8, walk, 2 K’s)
  8. Nick Franklin, 2B (1-for-3, 2 K’s)
  9. Brad Miller, SS

P: Hisashi Iwakuma

Thursday’s lineups: Tigers at Athletics

No surprise that Rajai Davis is out of the lineup after leaving last night’s game with a bruised left shoulder. Torii Hunter also gets a day out of the lineup after producing Detroit’s only offense Wednesday. Hunter started the last seven games.

TIGERS (career numbers vs. Jesse Chavez)

  1. Ian Kinsler, 2B (0-for-8, 2 K’s)
  2. Don Kelly, RF (0-for-2)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B (3-for-5, double, HR, walk)
  4. Victor Martinez, DH
  5. J.D. Martinez, LF (0-for-1)
  6. Austin Jackson, CF (1-for-2, walk, K)
  7. Alex Avila, C (2-for-2, HR)
  8. Nick Castellanos, 3B
  9. Andrew Romine, SS (0-for-2, 2 K’s)

P: Rick Porcello

ATHLETICS (career numbers against Porcello)

  1. Coco Crisp, CF (5-for-13, double, K)
  2. John Jaso, C
  3. Josh Donaldson, 3B (0-for-1)
  4. Brandon Moss, LF (0-for-3, K)
  5. Yoenis Cespedes, DH (0-for-1)
  6. Alberto Callaspo, 1B (3-for-18, HR, 2 walks, K)
  7. Josh Reddick, RF (2-for-4, HR, 2 walks)
  8. Nick Punto, SS (2-for-14, 2 walks, 2 K’s)
  9. Eric Sogard, 2B (0-for-1)

P: Jesse Chavez

Wednesday’s lineups: Tigers at Athletics

The Tigers face left-hander Scott Kazmir, but they won’t have Austin Jackson in their lineup. He’s 3-for-14 with eight strikeouts off Kazmir, part of his nontraditional struggles agianst southpaws. Coincidentally, he gets the night off, leaving Rajai Davis in center field at the O.co Coliseum. J.D. Martinez starts in left, while Danny Worth spells Andrew Romine at short.

TIGERS (career numbers off Kazmir)

  1. Rajai Davis, CF (7-for-15, 2 doubles, triple, HR, 5 K’s)
  2. Ian Kinsler, 2B (4-for-29, 2 doubles, HR, 4 walks, 2 K’s)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B (5-for-19, double, triple, HR, 4 walks, 5 K’s)
  4. Victor Martinez, DH (11-for-23, 3 doubles, HR, 2 walks, 2 K’s)
  5. Torii Hunter, RF (5-for-21, 2 doubles, 3 K’s)
  6. J.D. Martinez, LF (0-for-3, K)
  7. Alex Avila, C
  8. Nick Castellanos, 3B
  9. Danny Worth, SS

P: Anibal Sanchez

ATHLETICS (career numbers vs. Sanchez)

  1. Coco Crisp, CF (5-for-11, 2 doubles, HR, K)
  2. John Jaso, DH (1-for-7, 4 walks, K)
  3. Josh Donaldson, 3B (5-for-13, 2 walks, 2 K’s)
  4. Brandon Moss, 1B (3-for-16, HR, 2 walks, 6 K’s)
  5. Yoenis Cespedes, LF (3-for-12, 3 K’s)
  6. Jed Lowrie, SS (1-for-13, 2 walks, 3 K’s)
  7. Derek Norris, C (1-for-4, double, K)
  8. Josh Reddick, RF (1-for-11, HR, 2 K’s)
  9. Eric Sogard, 2B (1-for-5, K)

P: Scott Kazmir

Suarez puts on a show for Dombrowski, Leyland

Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski had seen the reports on Eugenio Suarez’s play, but he hadn’t seen him in person since Spring Training. Jim Leyland had, but discounted what he had seen over a cold April weekend at Double-A Erie.

Both spent Wednesday night at Fifth Third Field in Toledo, where Suarez was batting third in his sixth game at Triple-A. Together, they had seats behind home plate to watch Suarez put on a show, possibly his best in the week or so since he was promoted.

“The kid, he’s been highly thought of,” Mud Hens manager Larry Parrish said. “A game like tonight shows you why.”

Suarez fell a triple shy of the cycle in a 3-for-4, three-run, two-RBI performance, but that was just the start of it. His home run off a 94 mph fastball from hard-throwing lefty Enny Romero was a no-doubt drive that ended up on Monroe Street, well beyond the left-field fence. His double off veteran righty Doug Mathis and a single off another lefty went down opposing lines.

His biggest highlight of the night, however, came in the field, where he went deep into the hole did his best Derek Jeter impression on a jumping throw — his momentum carrying him into short left field — to rob Wilson Betemit of a single.

“That,” Parrish said, “was a highlight play.”

Just as important, certainly to Parrish and probably to Tigers brass, was that he made the rest of the plays hit his way, cleanly turning a pair of double plays.

“Not losing the concentration,” he said.

That was the scouting report on Suarez in the past. It’s something Suarez is aware of, which is why he has been doing extra infield work daily and taking the advice of the great Omar Vizquel, his favorite player growing up.

“He had me working hard every day on my defense,” Suarez said before the game. “He already told me keep playing hard, just complete the routine plays, take the outs. That’s what he told me. You have good defense, good hands, so keep working hard every day. He told me that.”

He also understands the importance of the concentration angle.

“We have the conditioning to play every day. We need the mental conditioning,” Suarez said. “So it’s maybe 60 percent mental, the rest physical.”

Much like Nick Castellanos last year, he’s putting his extra work into his defense, and letting his hitting take care of itself. Right now, it’s taking care of him.

After Tuesday’s effort, he’s 10-for-24 (.417) in Triple-A with four doubles, two home runs, five RBIs and five runs scored. Add in his Double-A numbers, and he’s hitting .301 (54-for-179) with 18 doubles, eight homers, 31 runs and 34 RBIs.

“He’s done very well this year,” Dombrowski said before the game. “Everybody has talked well of him. He’s done good since he’s been here, but he’s only been here a short while. He’s done a nice job.”

He has played his way to the verge of the big leagues. It’ll be up to Dombrowski and the rest of the Tigers front office to decide whether and when the 22-year-old gets his shot.

If he has more games like this, he might make his case regardless of what’s going on at the shortstop position in Detroit.

Tuesday’s lineups: Tigers at Athletics

With Sonny Gray on the mound, Rajai Davis takes a seat for J.D. Martinez, while Don Kelly gets the start at third base over Nick Castellanos.

TIGERS (career numbers off Gray)

  1. Ian Kinsler, 2B
  2. Torii Hunter, RF (1-for-7, 2 K’s)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B (2-for-5, HR, walk, K)
  4. Victor Martinez, DH (2-for-6)
  5. J.D. Martinez, LF
  6. Don Kelly, 3B (2-for-4, walk)
  7. Austin Jackson, CF (0-for-7, 6 K’s)
  8. Alex Avila, C (0-for-3, 2 walks, K)
  9. Andrew Romine, SS (1-for-2)

P: Max Scherzer

ATHLETICS (career numbers vs. Scherzer)

  1. Coco Crisp, CF (5-for-16, double, 2 walks, 5 K’s)
  2. John Jaso, C (1-for-8, walk, 3 K’s)
  3. Josh Donaldson, 3B (1-for-12, triple, 5 K’s)
  4. Brandon Moss, 1B (4-for-16, HR, 3 walks, 7 K’s)
  5. Yoenis Cespedes, LF (4-for-8, double, triple, HR, 2 walks, 2 K’s)
  6. Jed Lowrie, SS (2-for-10, double, HR, K)
  7. Josh Reddick, RF (4-for-14, triple, 8 K’s)
  8. Alberto Callaspo, DH (3-for-16, 2 doubles, 3 walks, 3 K’s)
  9. Eric Sogard, 2B (3-for-7, 2 doubles)

P: Sonny Gray

Memorial Day lineups: Tigers at Athletics

Happy Memorial Day to all of you. If you were hoping to watch Miguel Cabrera take his swings at the A’s today, it’s a little better holiday for you, because he’s in the lineup. Not only that, he’s playing first base, so apparently that cramp in his hamstring was just that.

One guy who is getting a day off, however, is Ian Kinsler, who gets his first day out of the starting lineup this season. Danny Worth, better known for pitching twice in three days, gets a chance at his regular job, starting at second. Interestingly, Austin Jackson moves up to the second spot in the order in Kinsler’s place, while Torii Hunter hits fifth.

Also getting a day off is Alex Avila, who did a lot of squatting behind the plate for long innings over the weekend. Bryan Holaday gets the start against lefty Tommy Milone.

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

TIGERS (career numbers off Milone)

  1. Rajai Davis, LF (3-for-8, double, 2 K’s)
  2. Austin Jackson, CF (1-for-10, double, walk, 2 K’s)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B (4-for-10, 2 doubles, 2 walks, K)
  4. Victor Martinez, DH (1-for-2)
  5. Torii Hunter, RF (4-for-7, HR, walk)
  6. Nick Castellanos, 3B
  7. Bryan Holaday, C
  8. Danny Worth, 2B (1-for-3, K)
  9. Andrew Romine, SS (0-for-2, K)

P: Drew Smyly

ATHLETICS (career numbers off Smyly)

  1. Coco Crisp, CF (1-for-2, walk)
  2. Derek Norris, C
  3. Josh Donaldson, 3B (1-for-1, double)
  4. Yoenis Cespedes, LF (0-for-0, walk)
  5. Jed Lowrie, SS (1-for-3, double, walk, K)
  6. Brandon Moss, DH (1-for-2, HR, K)
  7. Alberto Callaspo, 2B (2-for-5, double, walk, K)
  8. Kyle Blanks, 1B
  9. Craig Gentry, RF (0-for-3)

P: Tommy Milone

Game 46: On Justin Verlander and tweaking

Jim Leyland knew Justin Verlander’s perfectionist tendency to always try to get better. Brad Ausmus is learning that.

“This is part of what makes [Verlander] great is he’s ultra-competitive and he’s willing to try things to get a little bit of an edge,” Ausmus said after Verlander gave up nine runs Sunday. “Obviously, his stuff is great, but his makeup is unbelievable.”

That said, Ausmus said before the game, “Sometimes we have to talk him off the ledge and remind him that he’s a pretty darn good pitcher. But pitchers like that, the competitiveness in them won’t allow them to rest unless they’re absolutely perfect.”

The way Verlander’s week has gone, one wonders if Verlander is at that stage.

His overhead delivery Sunday seemingly came out of nowhere. He said he picked it up talking with pitching coach Jeff Jones as a way to keep him back in his delivery.

“He said he’s done it with some guys in the past and it allowed them to stay back a little bit longer,” Verlander said, “which is something that I’ve kind of been thinking about, or working on. It felt pretty good in the bullpen. It just didn’t quite translate into the game.”

This was not the adjustment he had made between Baltimore and Cleveland, when he was trying to hide the ball better.

“It’s a delivery adjustment,” he said after his Cleveland start. “It’s something I think I need to get right. I need to hide the ball a little better. I think I’ve been flying pretty bad the first bit of the season, and that leads to a lot of things — balls a little flat, everything’s a little up, hitters see the ball earlier. It’s something that I need to do to be where I want to be. It kind of came and went but started to feel pretty good there towards the end.”

He was 4-2 with a 2.67 ERA in eight starts before Baltimore, a solid opening stretch, but maybe not a Verlander opening stretch. He wasn’t unhittable. Still, he had gone seven or more innings with three runs or less in six of seven starts at that point.

He had a shutout going in Baltimore before giving up five runs in the fifth, three of them from a Nelson Cruz home run on a breaking ball that was headed for the dirt. He has seemingly struggled ever since.

His ERA three starts ago was 2.67. After Sunday, it’s now 4.04. To ask what’s wrong with Justin Verlander this season might be the wrong question. The right one might be: What’s going on with Verlander lately?

It’s arguably more about fastball command than fastball velocity. His average fastball is 92.1 mph this season, according to Fangraphs, 93.2 according to Pitch f/x, but both were low at this point last year. He’s throwing it in the strike zone less often, though, from 55 percent last year to 51.6 so far this season, and is getting about four percent fewer strikes. Hitters are chasing it less often, and when they swing at it, they’re missing less often. Even so, the batting average and slugging percentage off the fastball is lower, according to STATS.

“I just need to get back to executing my pitches, and that’s what I’m really working on right now,” Verlander said. “I know I’m not executing the way I would like. I’m getting a lot of times when I don’t execute. Just trying to be able to repeat my delivery and get back to that.”

It’s not for lack of trying. Nobody knows his mechanics like Verlander and Jones, so it’s obviously an earnest effort to try to get him back to his old form. Whether there’s some degree of the perfect being the enemy of the good is a matter of debate. If it is, logic suggests he’ll figure it out.

Eventually, Verlander should settle in. What he settles into, and whether it’s what he expects out of himself, remains to be seen.

Sunday’s lineups: Tigers vs. Rangers

Memorial Day 002

Rajai Davis, 6-for-16 lifetime off former Tiger Colby Lewis, gets a day at the leadoff spot, though the lineup is virtually the same as it was yesterday. Miguel Cabrera gets to DH today, with Victor Martinez getting to show off his glove at first base.

On the Rangers side, Shin-Soo Choo is back in the lineup after leaving Saturday’s game with a bad left ankle. Choo is the DH, with Michael Choice getting the start in left field.

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

TIGERS (career numbers off Colby Lewis)

  1. Rajai Davis, LF (6-for-16, double, 4 K’s)
  2. Ian Kinsler, 2B (0-for-3)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, DH (7-for-18, 3 doubles, 2 walks, K)
  4. Victor Martinez, 1B (6-for-12, double, HR, 2 walks)
  5. Torii Hunter, RF (2-for-19, double, HR, 3 walks, 6 K’s)
  6. Austin Jackson, CF (9-for-21, 2 doubles, HR, walk, 5 K’s)
  7. Alex Avila, C (4-for-15, 2 HR, walk, 4 K’s)
  8. Nick Castellanos, 3B
  9. Andrew Romine, SS (1-for-4)

P: Justin Verlander

RANGERS (career numbers vs. Verlander)

  1. Shin-Soo Choo, DH (12-for-50, double, 2 HR, 6 walks, 21 K’s)
  2. Elvis Andrus, SS (5-for-26, 2 walks, 3 K’s)
  3. Mitch Moreland, 1B (4-for-16, 3 doubles, 2 walks, 7 K’s)
  4. Adrian Beltre, 3B (12-for-45, 2 doubles, HR, walk, 9 K’s)
  5. Alex Rios, RF (14-for-40, 3 doubles, triple, 4 walks, 9 K’s)
  6. Leonys Martin, CF (1-for-3, walk, K)
  7. Michael Choice, LF
  8. Robinson Chirinos, C
  9. Rougned Odor, 2B

P: Colby Lewis

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