Dissecting a tumultuous Tigers Tuesday
For eight innings, this looked like one of the quickest, least eventful playoff race shutouts the Tigers have suffered in recent memory. Then for about 10 minutes, this looked like another chapter in the book of J.D. Martinez’s heroics, which it arguably still is. Then in the end, it looked like the toughest loss so far this month for this team.
It was also the type of game that left strategic decisions and accompanying questions from the seventh inning on.
The Tigers didn’t have multiple runners on base against Ricky Nolasco until the seventh, when back-to-back two-out singles from Victor and J.D. Martinez put the potential tying run on base. Up came Don Kelly, who started the game to add a left-handed bat against Nolasco (.339 average to left-handed hitters entering Tuesday) but who had hit into a second-inning double play and popped out on the first pitch with a runner in scoring position in the fifth.
Ausmus, with two rookie left-handed hitters on his bench with Steven Moya and Tyler Collins, stuck with Kelly, who drew a 2-0 count before flying out to left. The situation, he said, was too soon for a pinch-hitter.
“It was too early in the game [to pinch-hit],” Ausmus said. “Keep in mind, I started Kelly [to hit] against Nolasco. It doesn’t really make a lot of sense if I’m going to start him against Nolasco then to pinch-hit for him against Nolasco. I wasn’t going to pinch-hit at that time.
“And the truth is, it’s dangerous to take Donnie out of the game because if you get the lead, you need him in the game [for defense].”
Part of that need might have been created by Nick Castellanos’ scratch from the starting lineup with a sore foot. However, Castellanos was available to hit and was on deck to hit for Kelly when J.D. Martinez homered in the ninth.
Moya has been used as a pinch-hitter three times this month. Once was in the ninth inning of the rout they posted at Cleveland Sept. 1. Another was in the eighth inning of a tie game Sept. 4, also in Cleveland. He pinch-hit for Hernan Perez in that situation against Bryan Shaw with two out and nobody on. Then, on Sept. 14 against the Indians at Comerica Park, he pinch-hit for Andrew Romine with runners at first and second, a 3-2 deficit and Scott Atchison pitching.
So Ausmus has used Moya that early before. The only difference in those cases has been that the starting pitcher was out.
Ausmus said he had a pinch-hitter as an option if somebody reached base in the eighth, when the bottom third of the order came to bat.
“We did have guys,” Ausmus said. “If Holaday had gotten on, we may have pinch-hit for Romine. We may have hit-and-run with Romine. There were a couple options.”
Those situations took a back seat when J.D. Martinez hit a go-ahead three-run homer in the ninth. The Tigers had both Joe Nathan and Joakim Soria warming at the time. However, Ausmus said there was no question who would close.
“Soria was coming in if we were tied,” he said. “Joe was coming in if we had the lead.”
A one-out walk to Trevor Plouffe started the Twins rally.
“You don’t want walks obviously,” Ausmus said, “but you’ve got to keep in mind: In a one-run closer situation, with a guy like Trevor Plouffe, who has the ability to drive the ball, you can’t just lay a 3-2 pitch down the middle. If it’s a home run, it ties the game. If it’s a double, it puts a guy in scoring position. So you still have to pitch him carefully. It’s a little bit different than a 3-2 count in the first inning. So you do have to be smart about it.
“Now if it’s a guy without a lot of power, that’s a different story. Plouffe has about as much power as anyone in their lineup.”
Kurt Suzuki did get a pitch to drive into left-center, where Ezequiel Carrera made his attempt at a diving grab.
That drive, and the play on it, turned the inning. A single there puts runners at the corners, or possibly first and second with one out for Eduardo Nunez, and two ground balls either seal the game or send it into extra innings. Instead, the tying run was in, with the winning run on second.
In that case, Carrera’s attempt at heroics set up the extra-base hit they couldn’t afford.
“We’ve actually already spoken to him about it,” Ausmus said. “I just think this is a case where if it happened all over again, he would understand that containing the runner at first as opposed to taking a less than high percentage at a catch, he would’ve probably backed up and just contained the line drive.”
Carrera did not talk after the game.
“We’re human beings,” Ausmus continued. “They’re going to make mistakes out there. I’m sure for a split second, he thought he could catch the ball. It just didn’t work out. But I do think if he could do it all over again, you’d see the proper play.”
Ausmus indicated the result will not lead to a rethinking of the Nathan-Soria roles.
While Soria’s return has given the Tigers depth from the seventh inning on, his lack of a regular role has become conspicuous in situations like the last couple nights, when Joba Chamberlain and Joe Nathan have both either given up crucial runs or put them on base. He’s a versatile reliever who can pitch well in several different situations, but that versatility means he owns none of them. That said, the struggles in multiple spots mean Ausmus is trying to fill multiple holes with one reliever.