The Tigers had the same game plan that every other team has against the Royals: Get to the starting pitcher, before the vaunted KC bullpen can get a chance to protect a lead.
“We know that coming in. We’ve gotta jump on them,” Andrew Romine said.
They found their opportunity when Jeremy Guthrie left pitches in the strike zone. Once they adapted their plan at the plate, they strung together at-bats and hits that put up a six-run third inning and knocked Guthrie out of the game.
“I think it was good at-bats from the get-go. Guys were aggressive in the strike zone,” Brad Ausmus said. “They weren’t chasing a lot of pitches out of the zone. Last time Guthrie pitched here against us he pitched outstanding. Luckily today, we had better at bats and were able to get to him.”
Guthrie’s previous two meetings against the Tigers this year fell on opposite extremes. His June 18 visit to Comerica Park saw him tie a season high with nine strikeouts over 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball, allowing the Royals to pull out a 2-1 win and a third straight victory over the Tigers in Detroit.
The July 10 rematch at Kauffman Stadium saw the Tigers score three runs in the opening inning, two more in the fourth, then eight straight hits (two off Guthrie before he exited) in an eight-run fifth. Guthrie was charged with eight runs on eight hits in four-plus innings, walking three and striking out just two.
Monday, especially the third inning, was more like the latter.
“It kind of seemed he was leaving a couple pitches up,” Romine said. “Guys were taking advantage of it. Obviously that carries over to the next guy, if you’re paying attention: Lay off some of those bad pitches and eventually he’ll leave one up. It seemed like everybody was taking that approach. At this level, that’s just watching a couple pitches.”
By the third inning, they didn’t take many. The eight-hit outburst took just 27 pitches over a 10-batter stretch. Just three hitters reached a two-strike count, and just two pitches resulted in a swing and miss.
None of the hits was especially crushed. They didn’t have to be. Torii Hunter singled deep into the hole at short. Miguel Cabrera pulled a line drive into left. Victor Martinez smacked a ground ball off a diving Eric Hosmer near first base.
J.D. Martinez hit into an out at second base, but Omar Infante couldn’t turn it into a double play.
The next three hits all were pulled inside the foul lines for doubles: Don Kelly inside first base, Nick Castellanos past Mike Moustakas and down the left-field line, then Alex Avila back inside first base and down the right-field line.
“Guthrie when he pitched here before, earlier in the season, he pitched really well. … We didn’t do much off him,” Kelly said. “So to get to him early today, get some balls up in the zone, be able to hit some extra-base hits, score some runs, was key.”
Romine hit an easy ground ball through the left side. Ian Kinsler finally broke the string by popping out on the first pitch. With two outs and the end in sight, Hunter lined a single into left to score Avila and build an 8-2 lead.
“Guthrie’s one of those guys that has that ability to make a big pitch,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “He was one pitch from getting out of that third inning but it just kind of snowballed on him. He couldn’t get that pitch where somebody would hit on the ground and we could turn two.”
Guthrie’s summary of the inning was fairly simple.
“Probably too many hittable pitches,” he said. “That’d be my guess.”
Don Kelly’s start in center field Monday against the Royals was his second in a row, his fifth of the season and the 44th of his career. Torii Hunter’s start in right was his 110th for the Tigers this year and his 2,070th career outfield start.
The 34-year-old Kelly and 39-year-old Hunter both showed a younger man’s range chasing after a Lorenzo Cain drive to right-center in the seventh inning. The result, however, was a disastrous collision that turned a would-be catch for Hunter into an inside-the-park home run for Cain, and left Hunter being tested multiple times for a possible concussion.
It was one of few lowlights for the Tigers in a 9-5 win Monday at Comerica Park. It was nearly far worse, but Hunter appears to be fine.
“It looked like it could be a problem,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “That happens sometimes in the outfield. Guys are running full speed, trying to make catches. Fortunately, I don’t think this is going to be a major problem.”
Kelly isn’t a frequent face in center, but he started the last two games as Ausmus tried to add a left-handed bat against Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie. Kelly couldn’t get to a two-run bloop single from Nori Aoki in the third inning, but ran down a ball later in right-center, a drive that sent Kelly and Hunter towards the same area before Hunter peeled off at the last minute.
When Cain drove Justin Verlander’s seventh-inning pitch deeper into the gap, Hunter seemed to have the route, but Kelly gave chase.
“It’s one of those balls that is right in between,” Kelly said. “I didn’t hear him call it, and I called it late, because I didn’t know … I didn’t want to call it and not be able to get there.
“I called it late, and he was already committed. It was just one of those freak plays that was right down the middle, unfortunately. I hope he’s OK.”
The ball was in Hunter’s glove when they collided, knocking both ball and glove away. Both players hit the ground, Hunter hitting with his head.
Kelly immediately got up, but didn’t realize where the ball was. He chased after the glove, but the ball had gone the opposite direction and was sitting near the fence.
“I heard it go in his glove,” Kelly said. “That’s why I checked his glove, because I thought maybe his glove came off with the ball still in it. But I must’ve knocked the ball out when I ran into him.”
Cain, meanwhile, was motoring around second into third base. By the time Kelly reached the ball, which Hunter had spotted, Cain was headed home.
“As I’m running, I’m just looking, looking, looking to see if they were going to catch it,” Cain said. “I noticed that Torii Hunter had it and [Kelly] ran into him and I just saw the ball fly out. I just had to turn it on and see what happened. I definitely didn’t think it’d be an inside-the-park home run but I’ll take it.”
Hunter stayed down as Ausmus and head athletic trainer Kevin Rand ran out from the Tigers dugout. Rand followed Hunter back to right field, asking him questions to check his state of mind.
“The first concern was concussion,” Ausmus said. “Kevin Rand ran some questions by him. He answered all the questions correctly.”
Hunter stayed in for another single, doubling and scoring in the eighth. Ausmus said Hunter complained of a headache after scoring, so they took him out as a precaution.
“Tested him again when he came out of the game, Kevin Rand said he tested fine,” Ausmus said. “We don’t expect it to be an issue.”
Comerica Park was quiet enough to hear Joakim Soria exert some energy as he dropped a breaking ball under Steven Moya’s swinging bat for a strike. The stands were empty, and the Tigers’ division clash with the Royals was still three hours away.
The way Soria looked and felt in his simulated game Monday afternoon, however, could end up making an impact on the American League Central race, possibly directly. As long as the Tigers reliever feels fine Tuesday morning after 27 pitches Monday, he could be activated from the disabled list as soon as Wednesday.
That could put Soria on track to be available for the series finale against his old team Wednesday night.
“I’m excited,” Soria said. “We took a big step today.”
Soria, out for the last four weeks after suffering a left oblique strain during a game in Toronto, threw his entire arsenal to a group of September call-ups Monday, then did some agility drills in the outfield.
It wasn’t game intensity, but it was close enough to simulate the effort he’ll have to put on a pitch to retire a hitter. While Soria said he felt good, manager Brad Ausmus said he didn’t see any signs to suggest otherwise.
“It didn’t look like anything was bothering him,” Ausmus said. “He said he felt good afterwards, said he didn’t even get tired. All signs are pointing in the right direction. We just have to make sure tomorrow he comes in and there’s no issues.”
Even if he feels fine, Tuesday will be a rest day for him. That means Wednesday would be the earliest he can return. It could be a huge game in the AL Central race, and it could mean Soria taking the mound against his original organization, the team he spent five years trying to get to this point, and several players he still considers friends.
It’s an interesting subplot, but for Soria, it’s business.
“It’s fun to watch them playing really good,” Soria said, “but now I’ve got a new family. We need to win these games and hopefully get back on top of the division.”
Soria pitched everywhere from the seventh inning to the ninth and extras in the half-dozen appearances he made for the Tigers before going on the 15-day DL. Ausmus indicated he’ll likely reprise that role once he returns, though with some precautions.
“We probably still have to be careful in terms of usage, at least initially,” Ausmus said, “but I still expect him to be pitching towards the back of the bullpen.”
For a second straight game, Brad Ausmus loads his lineup with left-handed hitters against a starting pitcher with lefty-righty split difference. In Jeremy Guthrie’s case, he’s giving up a .298 average and an .837 OPS to left-handed hitters compared with .246 and .617 from right-handed batters. Also for a second straight game, Don Kelly gets the start in center over Ezequiel Carrera and Tyler Collins. Kelly is 6-for-20 off Guthrie, while neither Carrera nor Collins have faced him.
“He’s had some decent at-bats against Guthrie, and I’d like some left-handed bats in there as well against him,” Ausmus said, “so we decided to go with the same lineup.”
Carrera is not injured, Ausmus said. Clearly, however, he has fallen down the pecking order in the Tigers outfield, at least for a starting option. At this point, he’s looking more like a defensive substitute, pinch-runner and situational pinch-hitter.
As expected, Miguel Cabrera is the designated hitter today, with Victor Martinez at first. That, Ausmus said, was being planned before Cabrera tweaked his ankle scoring from first base on Victor Martinez’s double in the seventh inning last night.
I switched things up and gave Royals numbers off Verlander for just this season, rather than career. At this point, they’ve seen each other enough that it gives a decent glimpse of how the Royals are faring off this current version of Verlander.
Reminder: Today’s game is on MLB Network outside of Michigan and Northwest Ohio. So if you’re not in an area where Fox Sports Detroit is on your cable system, and you don’t have MLB.TV, you can still catch the game.
Another reminder: With the Lions playing tonight, the Tigers are on AM radio only in Detroit. They will not be on 97.1, which will have Lions pregame programming.
TIGERS (career numbers off Guthrie)
- Ian Kinsler, 2B (13-for-36, 2 doubles, triple, 3 walks, 5 K’s)
- Torii Hunter, RF (14-for-43, 3 doubles, HR, 3 K’s)
- Miguel Cabrera, DH (15-for-45, double, 3 HR, 6 walks, 8 K’s)
- Victor Martinez, 1B (9-for-30, 3 doubles, 2 walks, 3 K’s)
- J.D. Martinez, LF (4-for-13, double, 2 HR, walk, K)
- Don Kelly, CF (6-for-20, 5 K’s)
- Nick Castellanos, 3B (2-for-5, double, K)
- Alex Avila, C (7-for-28, 2 doubles, 3 HR, 4 walks, 8 K’s)
- Andrew Romine, SS
P: Justin Verlander
ROYALS (2014 numbers against Verlander)
- Nori Aoki, RF (1-for-8, 5 walks, 2 K’s)
- Omar Infante, 2B (2-for-13, HR, walk, K)
- Alex Gordon, LF (2-for-7, 2 walks, K)
- Salvador Perez, C (6-for-9, 3 doubles, K)
- Eric Hosmer, 1B (3-for-13, double, K)
- Billy Butler, DH (4-for-11, double, walk, 3 K’s)
- Mike Moustakas, 3B (1-for-11, 2 K’s)
- Lorenzo Cain, CF (2-for-6, double)
- Alcides Escobar, SS (3-for-11, double, walk, K)
P: Jeremy Guthrie
Brad Ausmus confirmed after Sunday’s win that Miguel Cabrera’s ankle problem is indeed bone spurs — or a bone spur, at least. However, he said there’s no decision yet on surgery.
“We don’t know if he requires surgery,” Ausmus said. “We don’t know if it’s going to be rest or if surgery would help, and that’ll be determined when the season’s over. That’s what’s causing irritation, not spurs, I would say it’s one. That’s what the general consensus is, but whether it’s rest that will help the inflammation or the irritation go down in the area, or whether it’s something that has to be done surgically, we don’t know that.”
There are non surgical solutions for bone spurs, but the ankle is a tricky area for that. One, it requires complete healing with so much weight going on it. Two, it plays a huge role in a baseball swing.
The right ankle injury that has hobbled Miguel Cabrera for the better part of the last month will reportedly lead to another offseason surgery. ESPN’s Buster Olney reported Sunday on Baseball Tonight that Cabrera has bone spurs in his right ankle that will likely require surgery to remove.
A Tigers spokesperson said no decision has been made on surgery. At the same time, the team had no immediate comment on the bone spurs part of the report.
The presence of bone spurs would explain the change in how Cabrera feels from one day to the next, feeling well enough to play first base one day before feeling limited the next. Sunday marked his third consecutive game at first base.
Cabrera, of course, had surgery at the end of last postseason to repair a sports hernia, leading to a rehab program for most of the winter. The hope around team circles has been that a healthy offseason would allow him to return to his regular winter workout program, which would lead to a rebound in his power numbers for 2015.
The normal timetable for recovery from such a surgery, according to injury expert and national sports medicine writer Will Carroll, is 4-6 weeks. It’s obviously not as severe as core muscle surgery, but with Cabrera’s body frame, explosive swing and the weight put on his ankles, full recovery is crucial.
Cabrera himself has not commented on his health since telling Jorge Ortiz of USA Today during the All-Star festivities that his core muscles had good and bad days, taking some strength out of his swing. He hasn’t commented at all on the ankle injury. The Tigers sometimes cite medical privacy laws under HIPAA in saying they can’t release certain medical details without permission from the player.
With Tim Hudson giving up somewhat more damage against left-handed hitters compared with righties (.277 to .236 on batting average, .748 to .607 on OPS), Brad Ausmus shakes up his lineup a bat and adds three left-handed bats (Andrew Romine is a switch-hitter, but fits the purpose). Alex Avila’s return was expected after he had a symptom-free day Friday, but Eugenio Suarez and Rajai Davis sit in favor of Romine and … Don Kelly.
Ausmus said he went with Kelly over Ezequiel Carrera, who hasn’t started since Monday in Cleveland, and Tyler Collins, who is an option in center but — like Kelly — not really a center fielder. Whether Carrera has dropped from occasional starter to defensive replacement based on his recent at-bats is another question, because this is the first start for Kelly in center since June 18, and just his fourth all season.
A few pregame injury tidbits to throw in …
- Anibal Sanchez did some light throwing this afternoon, playing catch for the first time in a while. It’s basically a first step, and nobody’s putting a timetable on where it’s going to lead. Nobody’s writing off Sanchez coming back this season, but with the usual timetable to ramp up from playing catch to throwing off a mound to pitching to hitters, it’s not hard at all to reach the expectation that the Tigers are going to have to at least find a way to get into the postseason without him.
- Tigers officials aren’t flat-out defining Monday’s simulated game as the final test for Joakim Soria before he can return from the disabled list, but Ausmus said that he could be game-ready after that. He’d get at least a day of rest afterwards, and he could get one more simulated game if he wants it, but he could be ready to return as soon as Wednesday.
- As Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported in his Sunday notes, Joel Hanrahan will not need another Tommy John surgery, though his 2014 season is done. He’s working out in Lakeland since his contract runs through season’s end, but he’s not throwing. The timetable calls for Hanrahan to rest his arm and resume throwing this offseason with the expectation he should be ready to join a team in time for Spring Training.
- Though Luke Putkonen fared well during his minor-league rehab assignment at low Class A West Michigan, his season appears to be over with the Whitecaps’ elimination from the Midwest League playoffs. He won’t be returning from the disabled list this month. “We’ve got him back to where he’s pitching,” head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said. “He’s not to the level where we’d like to see for him to be ready for here, so probably that’ll be it. At least he’s going forward knowing that he’s OK. He should be ready to compete in Spring Training.”
TIGERS (career numbers off Hudson)
- Ian Kinsler, 2B (1-for-2, double, walk, K)
- Torii Hunter, RF (10-for-35, 2 doubles, HR, walk, 9 K’s)
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B (12-for-28, double, triple, walk, 4 K’s)
- Victor Martinez, DH (2-for-4, K)
- J.D. Martinez, LF (1-for-3, K)
- Don Kelly, CF
- Nick Castellanos, 3B
- Alex Avila, C
- Andrew Romine, SS
P: Kyle Lobstein
- Angel Pagan, CF
- Joe Panik, 2B
- Buster Posey, C
- Hunter Pence, RF
- Pablo Sandoval, DH
- Adam Duvall, 1B
- Joaquin Arias, 3B
- Gregor Blanco, LF
- Brandon Crawford, SS
P: Tim Hudson
Alex Avila had no concussion symptoms Friday, Brad Ausmus said, and he probably could have started Saturday afternoon. With lefty Madison Bumgarner on the mound, however, Ausmus changed course and opted to give James McCann his first big-league start behind the plate. He’ll be hitting against Bumgarner and catching David Price. Welcome to The Show.
Other than that, it’s a pretty standard lineup. Miguel Cabrera gets another start at first base after playing there for eight innings through the rain delay Friday night. Ausmus said the rain delay after three innings seemed to help, since it got him off his feet for a few hours, though it also gave his sore right ankle a chance to stiffen up.
TIGERS (career numbers against Bumgarner)
- Ian Kinsler, 2B (0-for-2, walk)
- Torii Hunter, RF
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B (1-for-5, walk)
- Victor Martinez, DH (1-for-6)
- J.D. Martinez, LF (2-for-13, double, HR, 2 K’s)
- Nick Castellanos, 3B
- Eugenio Suarez, SS
- James McCann, C
- Rajai Davis, CF
P: David Price
GIANTS (career numbers off Price)
- Angel Pagan, CF
- Joe Panik, 2B
- Buster Posey, 1B (0-for-4)
- Hunter Pence, RF (2-for-8, double, HR, walk, 3 K’s)
- Pablo Sandoval, DH (0-for-4, K)
- Andrew Susac, C
- Joaquin Arias, 3B (1-for-3, double)
- Matt Duffy, SS
- Gregor Blanco, LF (1-for-3, walk)
P: Madison Bumgarner
Tigers reliever Joakim Soria could conceivably be on track for a quick return — maybe within the next week or so — after throwing a lengthy mound session Friday afternoon at Comerica Park.
Soria threw 39 pitches by his count without any lingering pain in the strained left oblique that landed him on the disabled list four weeks ago. He had felt lingering soreness in the oblique after throwing long enough until his last bullpen session a few weeks.
Now, he says, “I don’t feel anything. I threw 39 pitches and everything feels good.”
That was encouraging news for manager Brad Ausmus, but he wasn’t ready to write in Soria for the next step in his rehab until seeing how he feels Saturday.
Soria, for his part, indicated the next step is to face hitters.
“Maybe we’ll throw live [batting practice] Monday and then we go from there,” Soria said.
With the minor-league regular seasons over, any work with hitters is likely to happen on the side with the team rather than on a rehab assignment. The only two affiliates still playing as of Friday were Class A West Michigan, which faced a deciding Game 3 to its postseason series against Fort Wayne Friday night, and short-season Class A Connecticut.
Meanwhile, the Tigers have enough extra hitters with expanded September rosters that they can set up a simulated game.
Soria, clearly pushing for a quick return, does not expect he’ll need much time against hitters to be ready.
“It’s not like [the injury] was something in my arm,” he said. “My arm is still in shape. My arm feels good. It depends on how they see me in the bullpen.”
Miguel Cabrera makes his return to first base for the first time since last Saturday in Chicago, a move that appears to involve getting Victor Martinez a day out of the field as much as Cabrera getting back into the field. It’s going to be a mix from here on out.
“It’s going to be a balancing act with Miggy’s ankle and Victor over there at first,” Ausmus said.
Alex Avila, however, remains off, after what Ausmus called a minor headache following a workout yesterday.
“We want to have a day when he’s completely symptom-free,” Ausmus said Friday afternoon. “Yesterday when he started getting active, he had a minor headache. It might be unrelated, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.”
Bryan Holaday starts behind the plate once again. Asked about James McCann, Ausmus reiterated what he said in Cleveland, that McCann’s lack of work with most of the Tigers pitching staff outside of Spring Training (and his relatively little knowledge on Major League hitters) makes him a lower option as a starter, though he could get a start soon if Avila remains out and Holaday needs a break.
“Triple-A to the big leagues is a big jump,” Ausmus said, “and it’s a bigger job when you’re talking about handling a pitching staff.”
Torii Hunter returns after being out of the starting lineup last night in Cleveland to rest his bruised left foot.
TIGERS (career numbers against Jake Peavy)
- Ian Kinsler, 2B (5-for-10, double, triple, walk, 2 K’s)
- Torii Hunter, RF (9-for-21, 2 doubles, triple, HR, walk, 2 K’s)
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B (16-for-49, 2 doubles, 3 HR, 4 walks, 15 K’s)
- Victor Martinez, DH (4-for-12, 2 HR, K)
- J.D. Martinez, LF (2-for-3, double)
- Nick Castellanos, 3B
- Bryan Holaday, C
- Eugenio Suarez, SS
- Rajai Davis, CF (0-for-10, 2 K’s)
P: Rick Porcello
GIANTS (career numbers off Porcello)
- Angel Pagan, CF (2-for-2, double)
- Joe Panik, 2B
- Buster Posey, C
- Pablo Sandoval, 3B (1-for-4, double, 2 K’s)
- Hunter Pence, RF
- Gregor Blanco, LF (2-for-10, walk, 4 K’s)
- Travis Ishikawa, 1B (1-for-3, 2 K’s)
- Adam Duvall, DH
- Brandon Crawford, SS (0-for-4)
P: Jake Peavy