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Game 7: A day in the life of Joe Nathan

This is what Joe Nathan told Sirius/XM Radio’s Adam Schein about his season to date when Wednesday began:

I think the club has overcome me not throwing as well as I’d like to. I think I’m still at a case of maybe some dead arm going right now. Usually that happens to the middle or later part of spring and hopefully you get through it. But mine is going more into the season and I’m still fine tuning things but fortunately it hasn’t hurt us too much and my tougher outings still resulted in wins for us. So [I'm] very happy about that and I just look to continue to improve for this ball club and be as consistent as I can.”

A few hours later, this is what Nathan told the Tigers beat writing corps when asked about his dead arm comments:

“It’s not an injury. It’s something that every pitcher goes through every year. It’s not even newsworthy. You guys shouldn’t even waste your time writing about dead arm, because it’s basically like knowing there’s second base on the field.”

About seven hours, two dozen Nathan pitches and three runs later, this is what Nathan said about his second blown save of the year and any relation to his dead arm:

“The results obviously [stunk], but I felt like I got better tonight, to be honest with you. I felt like my stuff was good. My stuff got better tonight. My stuff got closer to where I want it to be, especially with my slider. A lot of pitches, even ones that missed, were very close, if not good pitches that could have been called strikes, very borderline pitches, where I want them. …

“Results, not where I want them to be, but a lot of times you have to not pay attention to results and just pay attention to the way the ball’s coming out of your hand. Tonight’s one of those situations I got to feel good about the strides I made tonight. Fortunately, again, it didn’t cost us. We had some guys step up and Victor, huge in the top of the 10th, and then the boys came in after me and pitched outstanding.”

The quotes aren’t presented to suggest inconsistencies, though Nathan seemed clearly surprised and maybe slightly irked it had become an issue before the game. They’re meant to show the evolution. What began as a talk radio question and became an issue Nathan seemingly wanted to kill ended as a struggle he suggested he was already pitching through.

“You’ve just got to keep throwing,” Nathan said early in the day. “Unfortunately, there’s no secret to getting through it quicker. It’s just one of those things that will hit guys throughout the course of a year and you never know when it is going to be or how long it is going to last. All you can do is continue to throw and throw through it and hopefully one day you come there and the ball is coming out of your hand a lot cleaner and with a little more zip on it.”

If this is the turning point for a dead arm issue that wasn’t even a topic until earlier in the day, then the turn was well-hidden. But it wasn’t as complete of a disaster as the pitching line, either.

“His stuff looked as crisp as we’ve seen it,” manager Brad Ausmus said, “and he felt that was the best stuff he’s had, in terms of the break on the slider and the fastball coming out of his hand.”

He got an uptick in fastball velocity, a question that had popped up last week in Detroit as his fastball hid around 90 mph. His home-run ball to Adrian Gonzalez leading off Wednesday’s ninth inning was a 90 mph fastball. By the time the save situation became a mess, Nathan gave up Dee Gordon’s game-tying single on a fastball at 93.

“The pitch to Gordon, we doubled up inside and he just got quick on the second one,” Nathan said. “He’s been one of those guys that put together very, very good at-bats [this series]. When [catcher Victor Martinez] called a second fastball in, it actually threw me for a loop, so I thought he might not be looking for it. But he turned and burned on a pitch that was inside, so credit to him in a big spot.”

In this case, however, it was the command that doomed him, walking Andre Either and Matt Kemp to put the tying run on base with nobody out and in scoring position soon enough. Yet even the control, Nathan suggested, wasn’t as far off as the walks seemingly argued.

“I actually felt it in the bullpen, felt like the stuff was coming out, right from the start of the 10th inning,” Nathan said. “Even with the home run, I think it was more a result of Gonzalez. He can hit the ball away pretty well, and we went away with three pitches. Probably not the best idea to a guy that can hit for power going the other way.

“I think I threw some pretty decent pitches that could’ve turned the count from like 1-1 to 0-2 and change the at-bats. But again, I’m not paying attention to results here. I’ve got to think positive and know that my stuff’s getting where it needs to be. Fortunately it didn’t cost us a win. We had other guys step up and pick me up tonight. Now it’s about getting better for this club, and dwelling on what I’ve done to this point is not going to help us. It’s about getting better and doing what I need to solidify wins in the future.

“To be honest, the pitch I struck Puig out on [for the first out], I thought, was one of the sliders on that side of the plate that probably wasn’t a strike. There were other ones I threw throughout the inning that I thought were better pitches. ”

He’ll get ample chances to improve. Nathan’s outlook on dead arm continued to evolve Wednesday, but manager Brad Ausmus gave every indication that he’ll get the ball the next time the Tigers have to protect a ninth-inning lead.

Make no mistake, for all the current turbulence, this is the Tigers’ closer. There’s no Joaquin Benoit setup type in waiting, no new Bruce Rondon this early in the year. Besides, the rest of the Tigers bullpen has had struggles of its own. This is the closer who was by far the biggest acquisition the Tigers made this winter, and they didn’t sign him to a two-year deal only to give him a break barely a week and a half into the season.

“You can try and pinpoint what it is,” Ausmus said. “I think the fact that he said his stuff felt better tells me the first couple times, it didn’t feel that great. It means he’s moving in the right direction. I think also, closers are going to blow saves, and they seem to come in bunches, but they don’t come in bunches often. …

“Joe, he’s a proven commodity. He’s closed games. He’s blown saves. He knows how to deal with the failure. The mark of a good closer is one who can handle letting his entire team down and coming back the next day and closing the game.”

 

 

Wednesday’s lineups: Tigers at Dodgers

Dodger Stadium 002

No Torii Hunter in the Tigers lineup today. Though he’s supposedly feeling some improvement in his bruised left knee, there’s still some swelling in there, leading Brad Ausmus to try to rest him today in hopes of having him back in the lineup Friday night in San Diego. There’s a possibility Hunter could pinch-hit, though Ausmus said he’d rather avoid it. Tyler Collins gets the start in right against Josh Beckett.

Meanwhile, Victor Martinez gets the start behind the plate to catch fellow Venezuelan Anibal Sanchez, moving Miguel Cabrera back to first base and getting Nick Castellanos back in the lineup at third base. With Hunter out, Cabrera and Martinez also moves back to the third and fourth spots in the batting order.

No Yasiel Puig in Dodgers lineup, which means Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier in the outfield.

Fun fact: With Josh Beckett officially starting for the Dodgers tonight, he and Anibal Sanchez are pitching against each other for the first time since they were traded for each other after the 2005 season. Another player from that trade, Hanley Ramirez, is starting at shortstop for the Dodgers. That’s three of the seven players involved in that Marlins-Red Sox deal, plus three more former Florida Marlins — Miguel Cabrera, Alex Gonzalez and Adrian Gonzalez, who was the Marlins’ top pick in 2000 but never played in a game for them.

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

TIGERS (career numbers off Beckett)

  1. Rajai Davis, LF (0-for-3)
  2. Ian Kinsler, 2B (3-for-17, 2 doubles, 2 walks, 4 K’s)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B (4-for-19, 2 HR, 2 walks, 3 K’s)
  4. Victor Martinez, C (7-for-22, HR, 2 walks, 5 K’s)
  5. Austin Jackson, CF (2-for-7, double, 3 walks, 4 K’s)
  6. Nick Castellanos, 3B
  7. Tyler Collins, RF
  8. Alex Gonzalez, SS (2-for-4)
  9. Anibal Sanchez, P

DODGERS (career numbers off Sanchez)

  1. Dee Gordon, 2B
  2. Carl Crawford, LF (1-for-4)
  3. Hanley Ramirez, SS
  4. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B (1-for-6)
  5. Andre Ethier, RF (1-for-8)
  6. Matt Kemp, CF (1-for-4, walk, 2 K’s)
  7. Juan Uribe, 3B (0-for-5)
  8. Tim Federowicz, C
  9. Josh Beckett, P

 

Game 6: Why Victor Martinez tried to steal 2nd

LA skyline 002

There were plenty of decisions and events that went into Tuesday’s Tigers loss, from Kenley Jansen’s move not to pitch around Miguel Cabrera to Brad Ausmus’ move to try to get a fourth out from Joba Chamberlain in the 10th inning, then turn to Phil Coke against two left-handed hitters, including one that was previous 3-for-6 against him and produced the walkoff double. Arguably the most interesting one, however, came on the basepaths.

Victor Martinez extended the game with his two-out, ninth-inning single off Jansen to score Ian Kinsler. Just three pitches later, however, he was thrown out trying to steal second base, ending the rally with Austin Jackson left standing at the plate in a tie game and Jansen just shy of 20 pitches thrown.

The decision to go, Brad Ausmus said, came from Martinez and first-base coach Omar Vizquel working in tandem.

“Victor and Omar were in cahoots, just in terms of finding something they could take advantage of from the pitcher,” Ausmus said. “And it’s not really a bad play, because if he’s out, you’ve got [Austin] Jackson leading off the next inning.”

That’s an arrangement that has been in place since the season began, in an effort to utilize Vizquel’s read on pitchers.

“I’ve given Omar, if he sees something that he can take advantage of, he’s got the capability of talking to the runner, telling him what he sees,” Ausmus said. “It actually was a close play. And we all know Victor, he’s not known for his speed. If he ends up getting there, now with a single, it’s the winning run. …

“Omar does a really good job watching these pitchers, picking up on things they do when they throw over or they throw home. It was a good effort.”

To see a way to swipe a base off a closer certainly isn’t new. Remember, it’s how teams were able to turn a baserunner into a run off former Tigers closer Jose Valverde with sometimes only one base hit, making the most of their limited opportunities.

The Tigers have been aggressive trying to swipe bases so far, carrying over the mentality they built during Spring Training. Even so, Tuesday marked the first time Detroit had even attempted to steal a base in the late innings of a close game — seventh inning or later with either a one-run game, tie score, or the tying run at least on deck, according to baseball-reference.com.

Given the stuff Jansen was throwing — Ausmus and others said it’s the hardest they’ve seen him throw — it might have been worth the chance to get Martinez into position to score on just a Jackson single. In this case, given how hard Jansen was throwing to the plate, it didn’t work.

Play of the game: Hard not to go with Carl Crawford’s walkoff double here, especially given how sharply it sliced towards the left-field line and past left fielder Rajai Davis once it bounced. Davis was playing closer towards the gap, while Crawford ended up with an opposite-field game-winner.

“It had a little fade to it,” Davis said. “I guess it was hit solid. I certainly wasn’t expecting it to skip like that, that much.”

Biggest out: Though Victor Martinez still tied the game immediately after Jansen struck out Miguel Cabrera, logic says Cabrera had an opportunity to get much more than a single if he connected with any of Jansen’s fastballs. He didn’t, ending a day in which he went hitless without getting the ball out of the infield.

Strategy session: With three lefty relievers available, Ausmus used Ian Krol for the left-handed hitters in the top half of the Dodgers order in the eighth inning, then went to Phil Coke once the lineup reset in the 10th. Drew Smyly, Ausmus said, was ready to face Adrian Gonzalez and Andre Either if need be, but then stay in for potential long relief.

Line of the day: Miguel Cabrera went 0-for-4 with nothing hit out of the infield. It’s actually the second time he did that this year, having done the same against Kansas City’s Jason Vargas in the second game of the season.

Stat of the day: The Tigers and Dodgers combined to go 1-for-16 with runners in scoring position, leaving 10 men on base.

Print it: “We’ve stayed in touch since I played here. We’d often have dinner together or exchange barbs in texts. He’s one of the best people I’ve met in the game, and I consider him a good friend. Although, if he doesn’t get me tomorrow’s starting pitcher soon, I’m not going to consider him a good friend.” — Ausmus on Dodgers manager Don Mattingly

Tuesday: Tigers at Dodgers

Dodger Stadium 004

It’s a different looking lineup for the Tigers today, but the batting order at least seemingly revolves around one concept: With the pitcher batting ninth, Rajai Davis doesn’t bat ninth as a second leadoff type guy. So instead, he becomes the actual leadoff man, and everybody else moves down.

As for the positioning, the expectation was that Victor Martinez would catch tonight, given that he has caught Max Scherzer in a game before. Instead, Martinez gets the start at first base, Miguel Cabrera shifts over to third, and Nick Castellanos heads to the bench for a night. It’s seemingly not a simple matchup decision, since Alex Avila is 0-for-11 with four strikeouts for his career against Dodgers starter Dan Haren.

Since Brad Ausmus said over the weekend that he expected Martinez to catch one of these two guys, that presumably means he’ll catch Anibal Sanchez tomorrow night.

TIGERS (career numbers off Haren)

  1. Rajai Davis, LF (1-for-6, 2 K’s)
  2. Ian Kinsler, 2B (8-for-36, 3 doubles, 3 walks, 6 K’s)
  3. Torii Hunter, RF (3-for-13, double, HR, walk, 3 K’s)
  4. Miguel Cabrera, 3B (4-for-19, HR, 3 K’s)
  5. Victor Martinez, 1B (9-for-26, 2 doubles, HR, 3 walks, 6 K’s)
  6. Austin Jackson, CF (2-for-11, double, triple, 2 K’s)
  7. Alex Avila, C (0-for-11, 4 K’s)
  8. Andrew Romine, SS
  9. Max Scherzer, P

 

DODGERS

  1. Dee Gordon, 2B
  2. Carl Crawford, LF
  3. Hanley Ramirez, SS
  4. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
  5. Andre Ethier, RF
  6. Matt Kemp, CF
  7. Juan Uribe, 3B
  8. Tim Federowicz, C
  9. Dan Haren, P

The numbers behind the Tigers’ draft debate

Opening Week has come and gone, and so far, there’s no sign of a deal between the Tigers and free-agent shortstop Stephen Drew. So for now, it looks like if there’s a chance at it happening, it’ll likely involve either a horrendous start from Alex Gonzalez, or Drew remaining on the market into June, which would take the draft compensation tag off of him.

It’s the draft pick that appears to be looming in importance for the Tigers, who currently hold the 23rd overall selection. It’s not just the pick, but the spending cap money that comes with it. A look at the numbers gives some hint why.

If nothing else changes between now and June, the Tigers will go into the draft with just under $4.9 million of cap money to spend on their top 10 picks, sixth lowest among the 30 Major League clubs. About $1.95 million of that money comes from their first-round pick, though they can spend some of that money elsewhere if they sign their top pick for below slot. If the Tigers sign Drew and forfeit their first-round pick, they’ll have just under $3 million to spend on their remaining nine picks. Only the Orioles ($2.2 million), who gave up draft picks to sign Nelson Cruz and Ubaldo Jimenez this spring, would have less to spend.

Whether that decides this matter is certainly debatable. On the one hand, even with a new manager and younger players being worked, this is still a team looking to win now, and a team whose best chance to win looks like this year and maybe next as players hit free agency. On the other hand, Miguel Cabrera’s record deal puts a new imperative on player development to bring some younger, cost-controlled talent through the system to Detroit if the Tigers have any chance of staying a long-term contender, and this year’s draft reportedly runs deep in talent — deep enough that the late first round and the rounds beyond that should matter. Of course, the Tigers should get some extra help from next year’s draft if they make Max Scherzer a qualifying offer and he signs elsewhere.

Also, in case you were wondering, the Tigers have the sixth-lowest spending cap on international signings with just under $2 million. That won’t change whether the Tigers eventually sign Drew or not.

Yankees trade Eduardo Nunez to Twins

So much for the what-if speculation that the Tigers would’ve faced had Eduardo Nunez reached their waiver spot. The former Yankees shortstop of the future is now part of the Twins organization, traded to Minnesota on Monday for left-handed pitching prospect Miguel Sulbaran.

The Yankees designated Nunez for assignment a few days ago to make room on their roster for Yangervis Solarte, who pretty much took the shortstop prospect title along with Dean Anna. That raised the question of whether the Tigers would take a shot on the 26-year-old who, despite a fairly bad, injury-shortened 2013 season filling in for Derek Jeter, provided a bit of a compromise of being younger than Alex Gonzalez but more experienced than the prospects the Tigers currently have in waiting.

The Twins, for what it’s worth, assigned Nunez (who actually had a minor-league option left) to Triple-A Rochester.

Sunday: Tigers vs. Orioles

The first Sunday of the regular season brings the first Sunday lineup of Brad Ausmus’ managerial tenure. Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez swap positions — Cabrera at DH, Martinez at first base. Bryan Holaday starts behind the plate. Andrew Romine gets the start at shortstop, while Tyler Collins gets another start in left.

On the O’s side, Buck Showalter tweaks his lineup a bit to try to get a spark. Chris Davis and Adam Jones switch spots in the batting order, while Nick Markakis moves back to his old second spot.

Bonus: Today’s game is being shown on MLB Network for viewers outside of Michigan.

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

TIGERS (career numbers off Chris Tillman)

  1. Ian Kinsler, 2B (4-for-12, double, HR, walk, K)
  2. Torii Hunter, RF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, DH (4-for-9, double, HR, 2 walks, 2 K’s)
  4. Victor Martinez, 1B (2-for-6, K)
  5. Austin Jackson, CF (2-for-9, 2 K’s)
  6. Tyler Collins, LF
  7. Nick Castellanos, 3B
  8. Bryan Holaday, C (1-for-2)
  9. Andrew Romine, SS

P: Justin Verlander

ORIOLES (career numbers off Verlander)

  1. David Lough, LF (2-for-12, double, 3 K’s)
  2. Nick Markakis, RF (10-for-41, 4 doubles, 5 walks, 10 K’s)
  3. Adam Jones, CF (3-for-27, HR, walk, 8 K’s)
  4. Chris Davis, 1B (3-for-17, 2 walks, 9 K’s)
  5. Nelson Cruz, DH (4-for-26, 2 HR, 8 K’s)
  6. Matt Wieters, C (3-for-19, double, triple, HR, 2 walks, 4 K’s)
  7. J.J. Hardy, SS (8-for-31, double, 3 HR, walk, 6 K’s)
  8. Ryan Flaherty, 3B (2-for-6, K)
  9. Steve Lombardozzi, 2B (0-for-2)

P: Chris Tillman

Saturday: Don Kelly Opening Day — Tigers vs. O’s

Bud Norris gave up a .315 batting average and .889 OPS to left-handed hitters last season, compared with .241 and .629 from right-handers. So if you’re going to pick a spot for left-handed hitting Don Kelly to get his first start of the season, this one makes more sense than others, though it comes at the expense of sitting Nick Castellanos while he’s swinging a hot bat. Right-handed hitting Rajai Davis keeps the start in left.

Baltimore welcomes back J.J. Hardy to the lineup after he missed Friday’s opener with back spasms. Interesting decision by manager Buck Showalter to move Nelson Cruz to the second spot and shift Nick Markakis down to fifth.

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

TIGERS (career numbers vs. Norris)

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

P: Rick Porcello

ORIOLES (career numbers off Porcello)

  1. David Lough, LF (2-for-5, double, K)
  2. Nelson Cruz, RF (4-for-20, 6 K’s)
  3. Chris Davis, 1B (4-for-12, 3 HR, 4 K’s)
  4. Adam Jones, CF (3-for-18, 6 K’s)
  5. Nick Markakis, DH (8-for-19, double, HR, 2 walks, K)
  6. J.J. Hardy, SS (6-for-15, double, 3 K’s)
  7. Matt Wieters, C (4-for-11, double, 2 walks, K)
  8. Steve Lombardozzi, 2B
  9. Jonathan Schoop, 3B

P: Bud Norris

Friday: Tigers vs. Orioles

I’m off today. Chris Vannini and Matt Slovin will have the Tigers coverage this weekend from Comerica Park. Still, I figured I’d post the lineups for today. The Tigers lineup should look awfully familiar from yesterday. The Orioles lineup features former Tiger (even if he never played a regular-season game in a Detroit uniform) Steve Lombardozzi at second base, but no J.J. Hardy, who is being rested with back spasms.

Weatherwise, a day that began with dense fog this morning turned to midday rain, which delayed first pitch until 1:15pm. Topping it all off, there’s a wind advisory for this afternoon. This seems like the true April in the D.

Here are the lineups for today’s series opener against the O’s:

TIGERS (career numbers off Miguel Gonzalez)

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

P: Anibal Sanchez

ORIOLES (career numbers off Sanchez)

  1. Nick Markakis, RF (1-for-3, double)
  2. David Lough, LF (0-for-4, walk)
  3. Adam Jones, CF (2-for-3)
  4. Chris Davis, 1B
  5. Nelson Cruz, DH (1-for-4, HR, K)
  6. Steve Clevenger, C
  7. Jonathan Schoop, 3B
  8. Ryan Flaherty, SS
  9. Steve Lombardozzi, 2B (0-for-3)

P: Miguel Gonzalez

Tigers-Royals postponed, Sanchez pushed to Friday

As expected, the cold, rainy forecast across Michigan this afternoon led to an early postponement of today’s Tigers-Royals finale at Comerica Park. The game will be made up with a 1:08 contest on Thursday, June 19, tacked onto the end of the Royals’ next trip into town. It was an off day for both teams, and neither would be playing 21 days in a row.

As for the Tigers rotation, Anibal Sanchez — who hasn’t faced Major League hitters in a game setting since March 12 — has been bumped to Friday’s series opener against the Orioles. Rick Porcello moves back to Saturday, while Justin Verlander stays on turn Sunday. That means Drew Smyly’s spot will be skipped, which makes sense given Brad Ausmus’ previous statements on watching Smyly’s innings. With three off-days in an eight-day span starting next week, the Tigers could go without a fifth starter until April 19 and pitch Smyly in relief until then if they wanted.

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