June 15th, 2014

Ausmus keeping Suarez at bottom of order

Eugenio Suarez has become a spark for the Tigers offense over the past week. He will not be a savior, as Sunday’s win showed.

He also will not be a core run producer, not as a rookie with limited at-bats above Double-A ball. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire’s decision in the sixth inning Sunday showed one reason why. Brad Ausmus’ postgame comments reinforced it.

“I don’t want to throw him in the heart of the lineup,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “because there’s a lot more focus in the heart of the lineup.”

In other words, Suarez will be staying at the bottom of the batting order.

Suarez added another hit to his career-opening tear Sunday with a line drive single in the second inning, two batters after Nick Castellanos’ sacrifice fly pushed Detroit’s lead to 2-0. Ian Kinsler’s single moved him to third base before Torii Hunter’s groundout left him there.

After Twins starter Nicky Nolasco struck out Suarez on three pitches to retire the Tigers in order in the fourth inning, Detroit built a rally in front of Suarez in the sixth. Gardenhire, in turn, took his chances to set up Suarez with a chance to break the game open.

Castellanos’ double off the left-field fence not only tied the game, it moved J.D. Martinez to third as the Tigers’ potential go-ahead run. With first base open, Nolasco walked Avila — who grounded out and lined into the shift his previous two times up against Nolasco — to load the bases with one out.

It was an early situation to try to set up a double play or a force out at every base. It was a timely situation to put some pressure on a hot-hitting rookie to get a big hit. In that sense, it resembled what Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon did against the Tigers in July 2010 with Brennan Boesch protecting Miguel Cabrera in the order.

Suarez swung at the first pitch from Jared Burton and popped out to second base. Once Ian Kinsler flew out to right, the tactic worked, and the game remained tied heading to the seventh.

“By having young hitters towards the bottom of the order, you hope they can take advantage of it,” Ausmus said.

Father’s Day lineups: Tigers vs. Twins

Another game for J.D. Martinez, making his fourth consecutive start. Another day off for Rajai Davis. Meanwhile, Brian Dozier returns to the Twins lineup after back-to-back days out, though Dozier entered as a pinch-hitter. Eduardo Escobar starts at third base for Trevor Plouffe, who went on the 15-day DL with a left oblique injury.

TIGERS (career numbers off Ricky Nolasco)

  1. Ian Kinsler, 2B (2-for-3, 2 doubles)
  2. Torii Hunter, RF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
  4. Victor Martinez, DH
  5. J.D. Martinez, LF (1-for-3)
  6. Austin Jackson, CF
  7. Nick Castellanos, 3B
  8. Alex Avila, C
  9. Eugenio Suarez, SS

P: Rick Porcello

TWINS (career numbers off Porcello)

  1. Danny Santana, SS
  2. Joe Mauer, 1B (10-for-36, 3 doubles, 3 walks, 3 K’s)
  3. Brian Dozier, 2B (5-for-16, 2 HR, 2 K’s)
  4. Josh Willingham, LF (7-for-18, 2 doubles, 2 HR, 5 walks, 5 K’s)
  5. Kendrys Morales, DH (3-for-16, double, walk, 5 K’s)
  6. Oswaldo Arcia, RF (1-for-2, double)
  7. Kurt Suzuki, C (3-for-15, 2 doubles, 4 walks)
  8. Sam Fuld, CF (2-for-2)
  9. Eduardo Escobar, 3B (1-for-4)

P: Ricky Nolasco

Hardy called up, Knebel sent down

Blaine Hardy is indeed a Detroit Tiger now, as first reported by John Wagner of the Toledo Blade last night. Detroit purchased his contract from Triple-A Toledo, and optioned Corey Knebel back to the Mud Hens to make room.

It’s not a shakeup of a struggling bullpen so much as it is a retooling.

“He’s another left-handed arm. We’ve got a couple clubs coming up with a number of left-handed hitters,” Brad Ausmus said, noting the upcoming series against the Royals and Indians. “They have some key left-handed bats in their lineups. This gives us some options from the left-hand side.”

On Knebel, Ausmus said, “I think it’s important that he gets work. He’s still in development. He’s not a finished product, obviously. He’s only been out of college for about a year. He needs to a pitch on a little bit more regular basis. He did fine when he was here.”

The Tigers had an open spot on the 40-man roster after outrighting Danny Worth last week, so no corresponding move was necessary.

Hardy headed up from Toledo

The Tigers have made a move after their bullpen snafu turned what was a 10-run lead Saturday into a save situation. Blaine Hardy is on his way up from Triple-A Toledo. The questions to be answered are why and for whom, neither of which are likely to be cleared up before Sunday morning.

It’s an interesting move, given the pitcher. Chad Smith’s success since his promotion to the Mud Hens at the start of May (1.80 ERA, 17 hits over 20 innings, 2 walks, 18 strikeouts) raised expectations that the right-hander with a mid-90s sinker could be the next man up to try to address the Tigers’ bullpen woes.

However, Hardy had stingy numbers himself (3-2, 2.68 ERA, 35 hits over 47 innings, 13 walks, 53 strikeouts), and he had been stretched out over six starts this season. He’s also left-handed.

Hardy is also more of a known quantity to many Tigers people, having made an impression in Spring Training. That said, he was there as a non-roster invitee, so the Tigers will have to add him to their 40-man roster. That could easily be addressed by moving Luke Putkonen retroactively from the 15-day DL to the 60-day, having already missed nearly two months and due to miss 6-8 more weeks before he can even consider throwing again.

Depending on the return move, the Tigers might not need to open a spot. That part, however, remains a mystery.

The fact that Corey Knebel didn’t even warm up with what was once a 10-run lead Saturday makes him a strong candidate. However, Knebel is one of the few fresh arms the Tigers have after using Evan Reed, Phil Coke, Al Alburquerque and Ian Krol Saturday, so a Knebel move (assuming he’s healthy) wouldn’t make Detroit’s bullpen any more prepared to eat innings.

Though Coke gave up three runs Saturday, he has stranded seven inherited baserunners, seemingly making him a viable option again in situational lefty situations. Hardy is seen more of a general reliever than a situational guy. Fellow lefty Ian Krol told MLive.com he had been dealing with some arm discomfort, but didn’t seem to make much of it. So unless his situation changed in a hurry, he wouldn’t be the move.

Closer Joe Nathan was on the field for pregame batting practice with no sign of injury. So while many have speculated about his arm in the midst of his struggles, he wouldn’t seem to be the move, either.