Get used to the Tigers’ anti-lefty lineup, because with five meetings in the next six days against southpaw starters, it’s going to be a familiar sight. That potentially includes Rajai Davis in the leadoff spot, Ian Kinsler hitting second and Torii Hunter batting fifth.
“I’ve kind of had that in mind,” Brad Ausmus said.
On the Angels side, Brennan Boesch gets his first start in a Halos uniform. He’ll be playing right field, batting ninth.
TIGERS (career numbers against C.J. Wilson)
- Rajai Davis, LF (7-for-24, 2 doubles, triple, 2 walks, 4 K’s)
- Ian Kinsler, 2B (8-for-18, 2 doubles, triple, HR, 4 walks, 2 K’s)
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B (6-for-18, 2 doubles, HR, 5 walks, 5 K’s)
- Victor Martinez, DH (5-for-28, double, triple, 4 walks, 6 K’s)
- Torii Hunter, RF (11-for-33, 2 HR, 10 walks, 5 K’s)
- Austin Jackson, CF (3-for-20, double, triple, 2 walks, 7 K’s)
- Nick Castellanos, 3B
- Bryan Holaday, C (0-for-2)
- Andrew Romine, SS
P: Max Scherzer
ANGELS (career numbers vs. Scherzer)
- J.B. Shuck, LF
- Mike Trout, CF (3-for-10, double, HR, 5 K’s)
- Albert Pujols, DH (1-for-8, double, walk, K)
- Raul Ibanez, 1B (1-for-7, walk, 2 K’s)
- Howie Kendrick, 2B (1-for-6, 2 K’s)
- Ian Stewart, 3B (2-for-10, triple, HR, 3 walks, 4 K’s)
- Erick Aybar, SS (2-for-11, double)
- Hank Conger, C
- Brennan Boesch, RF (1-for-2, triple)
P: C.J. Wilson
(Can’t have a Jered Weaver start at Comerica Park without the above highlight.)
The Tigers have a six-game stretch coming up where they’re going to face five left-handed starters, so they’re getting their left-handed hitters some work now. Don Kelly gets the start at third base, and Andrew Romine (he’s a switch-hitter, but he’s essentially considered a left-handed hitter) starts for the first time in a week.
The bullpen now has an extra arm with Justin Miller called up, but manager Brad Ausmus says there aren’t any relievers who are completely ruled out.
“There’s nobody who’s not available,” Ausmus said. “There are guys I’d rather not pitch.”
The Angels originally had David Freese in their lineup, then scratched him. Ian Stewart now is starting at third base and hitting at the bottom of an injury-riddled batting order.
Remember, with the Red Wings opening up their Stanley Cup playoff series tonight, the Tigers broadcast is moved to FSD Plus, with the radio call on AM 1270.
TIGERS (career numbers off Jered Weaver)
- Ian Kinsler, 2B (19-for-82, 5 doubles, 3 HR, 6 walks, 9 K’s)
- Torii Hunter, RF (3-for-12, 2 HR, K)
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B (6-for-21, 3 doubles, HR, 3 walks, 3 K’s)
- Victor Martinez, DH (7-for-22, double, 5 walks, 3 K’s)
- Austin Jackson, CF (2-for-13, double, 2 walks, 6 K’s)
- Don Kelly, 3B (1-for-4, HR, walk)
- Alex Avila, C (1-for-10, 3 K’s)
- Andrew Romine, SS
- Rajai Davis, LF (5-for-21, 4 doubles, 4 K’s)
P: Drew Smyly
ANGELS (career numbers off Smyly)
- Colin Cowgill, RF
- Mike Trout, CF (1-for-6, double, K)
- Albert Pujols, 1B (1-for-4, double, K)
- Howie Kendrick, DH (1-for-5, K)
- Chris Iannetta, C (1-for-2, double)
- Erick Aybar, SS (1-for-3, double)
- J.B. Shuck, LF (0-for-0, walk)
- John McDonald, 2B (0-for-1, K)
- Ian Stewart, 3B
P: Jered Weaver
The Tigers’ first transaction of the 2014 season is a depth move for a taxed and tried bullpen. Detroit recalled right-hander Justin Miller from Triple-A Toledo on Friday for the start of a three-game weekend series against the Angels.
To make room on the 25-man roster, the Tigers optioned rookie outfielder Tyler Collins to Toledo. For Friday, at least, the Tigers will go with eight relievers and three bench players, though not nearly all the relievers will be available. That’s the point of bringing up Miller.
Miller gives the Tigers a fresh arm for the bullpen after they used five relievers Thursday afternoon and four Wednesday night, all ahead of Drew Smyly’s first start of the season Friday night. Al Alburquerque, Ian Krol and Joba Chamberlain pitched in both games. The only reliever who didn’t pitch in either game was long man Luke Putkonen.
While neither manager Brad Ausmus nor pitching coach Jeff Jones had a pitch count set for Smyly when asked Thursday morning, both made it clear they’ll have to be cautious with him since he hasn’t been stretched out as a starter since the end of Spring Training nearly three weeks ago. He threw 51 pitches on April 4 and 49 pitches on April 9.
Miller would be making his Major League debut after signing with Detroit last fall following his release from the Rangers organization. The hard-throwing 25-year-old had a rough Spring Training, making him an early cut from camp, but has recovered nicely in Toledo. He has thrown 4 2/3 scoreless innings for the Hens on three hits with a walk and six strikeouts.
Collins made the Opening Day as a reserve outfielder, making the jump from Double-A Erie. He was intended to give Detroit a left-handed bat off the bench and a potential platoon partner with Rajai Davis in left field, but he made just three starts over the first 12 games of the season. The 23-year-old went 2-for-14 with a walk and three strikeouts.
By rule, Collins must stay in the minors at least 10 days before he’s eligible to be recalled, unless the Tigers have to place a player on the disabled list. So if Detroit wants to add a bench player back once its bullpen gets some rest, it’ll have to recall somebody else. Ezequiel Carrera could be a candidate, as could waiver pickup J.D. Martinez. Either would have to be added to the 40-man roster, but the Tigers have an open spot for that.
The first bullpen transaction of the Tigers’ 2014 season is apparently on the way. Justin Miller was informed after Thursday’s Mud Hens loss that he’s being called up to Detroit, according to John Wagner of the Toledo Blade.
The Tigers aren’t expected to confirm any roster move until Friday. It might not be until then that we learn the return move. Wagner is very good at chronicling the Toledo end of these moves.
It’s possible the Tigers are calling up a fresh arm for the bullpen after using five relievers Thursday afternoon and four Wednesday night (Al Alburquerque, Ian Krol and Joba Chamberlain pitched in both games), all ahead of Drew Smyly’s first start of the season Friday night. While neither manager Brad Ausmus nor pitching coach Jeff Jones had a pitch count set for Smyly when asked Thursday morning, both made it clear they’ll have to be cautious with him since he hasn’t been stretched out as a starter since the end of Spring Training nearly three weeks ago. He threw 51 pitches on April 4 and 49 pitches on April 9.
The Tigers could go a position player short in the bullpen for a day, taking somebody off their bench. If the Angels were starting a lefty Friday, it wouldn’t be hard to envision the Tigers starting Victor Martinez at DH, freeing up Alex Avila to serve as the backup for a night. But with a righty going, Martinez is likely to DH, which means the Tigers would have to bat the pitcher’s spot to move Martinez behind the plate in the middle of a game. They could go short an outfielder.
It’s also possible the Tigers simply decided to make a change in their bullpen mix after watching their relief corps for nearly three weeks. The bullpen struggles have been well chronicled, though Tigers relievers have generally had better fortunes the last couple games. Phil Coke’s struggles have been well-chronicled, but the Tigers have no shortage of lefty relievers at Toledo if they were to go that route.
Miller would be making his Tigers debut after signing a Major League deal with Detroit last fall following his release from the Rangers organization. The hard-throwing 25-year-old had a rough Spring Training, making him an early cut from camp, but has recovered nicely in Toledo. He has thrown 4 2/3 scoreless innings for the Hens on three hits with a walk and six strikeouts.
Tigers stick with the same lineup today against Danny Salazar, including Alex Avila catching the day game after a night game. For that matter, the Indians have the same starting nine, with only one change: Carlos Santana and Lonnie Chisenhall swap positions, getting Santana on the hot corner and Chisenhall a day at designated hitter.
TIGERS (numbers off Salazar)
- Ian Kinsler, 2B
- Torii Hunter, RF (1-for-7, 2 K’s)
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B (1-for-4, HR, 3 K’s)
- Victor Martinez, DH (2-for-6)
- Austin Jackson, CF (1-for-4, HR, 2 K’s)
- Nick Castellanos, 3B
- Alex Avila, C (2-for-2)
- Alex Gonzalez, SS
- Rajai Davis, LF (0-for-1, walk)
P: Justin Verlander
INDIANS (career numbers off Verlander)
- Michael Bourn, CF (7-for-18, 2 walks, 7 K’s)
- Nick Swisher, 1B (13-for-71, 5 doubles, 3 HR, 10 walks, 25 K’s)
- Jason Kipnis, 2B (3-for-24, double, 5 walks, 11 K’s)
- Carlos Santana, 3B (6-for-32, double, 3 HR, 4 walks, 5 K’s)
- Michael Brantley, LF (15-for-38, double, triple, 3 walks, 5 K’s)
- Asdrubal Cabrera, SS (11-for-54, 5 doubles, 5 walks, 21 K’s)
- Yan Gomes, C (1-for-4)
- Lonnie Chisenhall, DH (3-for-13, double)
P: Danny Salazar
One of the more quietly useful offensive stats to come about in recent years, in my opinion, is the Productive Out. As defined by Elias Sports Bureau, a Productive Out includes advancing a runner with the first out of an inning, scoring a runner with the second out, or when a pitcher lays down a sacrifice bunt to advance a runner with one out. Productive Outs aren’t a necessity for a winning a team, but they can provide a different look at the value of certain hitters.
Torii Hunter led the American League last year in productive outs, according to the Bill James Handbook. Only Dodgers slugger Adrian Gonzalez had more among Major League hitters. When Hunter came to the plate last year with a runner on second and nobody out, he advanced the runner 16 out of 27 times, according to baseball-reference.com. Part of the reason Hunter works batting second in a lineup is his ability to advance a leadoff man with a ground ball to the right side.
Hunter put up all these productive outs without an abundance of sacrifice bunts. He set a career high with three, but they came nine attempts according to STATS. He had three sac bunts in his previous 15 Major League seasons combined. When he did sacrifice, then-manager Jim Leyland took some occasional heat for it.
With runners at first and second and nobody out in the eighth inning Wednesday night, new Tigers manager Brad Ausmus called on Hunter to bunt. Hunter couldn’t get the bunt down, then grounded into a double play. Thus, instead of getting two runners in scoring position for Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers had a runner on third with two outs for the reigning MVP. He singled in the runner, but didn’t have the tying run to drive in.
Asked about the decision, Ausmus said he discussed it with Hunter.
“I talked to him about it before he went up,” Ausmus said after the game. “He was on board. He’s bunted before. It just didn’t work out that one time. You’re not always going to be successful in your sacrifice bunting. Everyone thinks it’s easy, but when a guy’s throwing 95 miles an hour, it’s not easy.”
Hunter confirmed they talked it over. He didn’t remember the numbers on how rarely he had bunted.
“I might have had one last year, maybe one every 10 years,” he said. “It’s been a long time, but I come to win. If my manager tells me to do something, I should be able to execute it and I didn’t today and that’s probably why we lost.”
Asked if he’d feel better swinging away in such a situation, Hunter said, “Oh yeah, no doubt. I’ve driven in some runs in my career. I always want to be the one at the plate in a clutch situation like that to try and get something done. But it doesn’t matter. I have to do what I have to do to help this ballclub. If I get those guys over and Miguel gets up, I don’t know if they walk him or whatever, but I give him a chance to get two RBIs instead of one.”
Asked if he’d say something like that to his manager, Hunter said no.
“I’m not going to say I want to swing,” he said. “If he wants me to bunt, I’m going to do that. That’s my job. I’m the employee. If he tells me to do something, I’m going to do it. I’m the soldier.”
As far as the strategy behind it, Ausmus acknowledged the possibility that the Indians would have walked Cabrera, loading the bases and taking their chances with Victor Martinez and Austin Jackson. Doing so, however, would have put the go-ahead run on base.
Essentially, Ausmus played to force the decision and set up a potential go-ahead rally instead of a game-tying one.
“I don’t know if [Terry Francona] would have walked Cabrera or not,” Ausmus said. “It would have been the winning run at that point. But if he does walk him, I like the way the two guys behind him are swinging the bat, Victor and Jackson.
“Generally speaking, I don’t know that I would necessarily want to bunt and make a base open for Miggy, especially if he’s swinging the bat and he’s hitting the ball well like he normally does. But in this situation, I felt pretty good with the two guys behind him, and if they decided to walk Cabrera, I felt good about Martinez and Jackson now with the winning run on base.”
Play of the game: Yan Gomes’ go-ahead two-run triple in the second inning looked bigger and bigger as the game went on and Anibal Sanchez. It was the only hit the Indians managed in 13 at-bats with runners in scoring position, but it drove in two runs instead of one. In the end, was the difference.
Out of the game: The Indians had a few of them, including strikeouts of Alex Avila and Austin Jackson to end threats with runners in scoring position. But John Axford’s strikeout of Don Kelly on a breaking ball with the tying run on third base and one out was huge, essentially deciding the game. Axford got a player who normally doesn’t chase pitches outside the zone to chase a very good breaking ball that dove out of it. He also retired a guy who came up 14 times last year with a runner on third and less than two outs, and plated the runner eight out of 14 times.
Line of the night: It wasn’t like Max Scherzer’s line from the other night, but it wasn’t far off, Anibal Sanchez striking out eight batters over five innings yet giving up three runs, two earned, on just two hits.
Stat of the night: The Indians and Tigers combined to go 2-for-22 with runners in scoring position, one hit apiece. The Indians’ hit drove in two runs. The Tigers’ hit plated only one.
Print it: “I think after the season, I’ll be able to go to the beach with no t-shirt.” — Miguel Cabrera on the exercises he has to do during the season to keep his core strong following surgery last fall.
With the return of the DH slot, the Tigers lineup looks a lot more normal tonight, including the return of Ian Kinsler to the leadoff spot, Miguel Cabrera to the third slot in the order, and Rajai Davis to ninth.
Nick Castellanos remains in the sixth spot, with Alex Avila moving to seventh. It’s a creep up for a player who was expected to remain in a lower-pressure spot in the lineup for at least the early part of the schedule, but it’s a sign of how well he has handled himself at the plate for the first couple weeks.
“I don’t want to throw Nick in the heart of the lineup,” Brad Ausmus said this afternoon, “but I just think Nick’s handled himself pretty well, so I don’t feel as uncomfortable putting him in the sixth spot.”
TIGERS (career numbers off Zach McAllister)
- Ian Kinsler, 2B (2-for-3)
- Torii Hunter, RF (3-for-10, 2 K’s)
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B (4-for-13, double, walk, 2 K’s)
- Victor Martinez, DH (5-for-9, 3 doubles, 2 K’s)
- Austin Jackson, CF (5-for-10, 2 walks, 4 K’s)
- Nick Castellanos, 3B
- Alex Avila, C (1-for-8, 4 K’s)
- Alex Gonzalez, SS
- Rajai Davis, LF (1-for-2)
P: Anibal Sanchez
INDIANS (career numbers vs. Sanchez)
- Michael Bourn, CF (8-for-27, 2 doubles, 2 walks, 7 K’s)
- Nick Swisher, 1B (2-for-12, 2 walks, 7 K’s)
- Jason Kipnis, 2B (3-for-17, double, 6 K’s)
- Carlos Santana, DH (4-for-16, double, triple, walk, 6 K’s)
- Michael Brantley, LF (5-for-17, K)
- Asdrubal Cabrera, SS (5-for-18, HR, 2 walks, 5 K’s)
- David Murphy, RF (1-for-5, K)
- Yan Gomes, C (2-for-5, HR, walk, 2 K’s)
- Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B (2-for-10, walk, 2 K’s)
P: Zach McAllister
The wintry weather system that put metro Detroit over the top for its snowiest season on record put a stop to the latest AL Central clash between the Tigers and Indians. Tuesday night’s series opener at Comerica Park was postponed due to inclement weather.
No makeup date was announced Tuesday, but it won’t be made up this series, which will now be a two-game set with games Wednesday night and Thursday afternoon. The Indians return to town after the All-Star break for a three-game series July 18-20 and another three-game set Sept. 12-14. Both teams have two days off after the All-Star break.
Tickets for Tuesday’s game will be honored for the makeup date, which no ticket exchange necessary.
Anibal Sanchez, who was scheduled for Tuesday, will instead start Wednesday night’s game. Justin Verlander remains on schedule to start Thursday’s series finale. That means Drew Smyly, Wednesday’s previously scheduled start, will be pushed back by a weather postponement for the second time in two weeks.
Smyly, Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer will start against the Angels this weekend, but the order is unknown. Manager Brad Ausmus said over the weekend that he wanted to separate Smyly and Porcello in the rotation order, so it’s unlikely they’ll pitch back to back. That means one will probably pitch Friday, the other on Sunday, with Scherzer pitching on Saturday.
The Indians, meanwhile, are keeping their rotation order, with their starters simply pushed back. Zach McAllister, who had been scheduled to start Tuesday, will start opposite Sanchez on Wednesday. Danny Salazar is now scheduled to start Thursday opposite Verlander.
Tigers players and coaches had been looking at Tuesday’s game with unease since last weekend, when they were still basking in the warmth of the West Coast. A storm system of cold and snow lived up to forecasts, dropping 2-3 inches of snow across the area overnight and covering the field at Comerica Park.
The bigger concern, however, might have been the temperatures, which barely crept above freezing during the day. The hourly forecast from weather.com called for temperatures in Detroit around 33 degrees at first pitch with a wind chill of 22, dropping further as the night went along.
Tuesday was the first scheduled night game of the season at Comerica Park. The Tigers opened the season at home with five afternoon games. They lost a game from that homestand, too, to a postponement, with rain washing out an April 3 game against the Royals. That game will be made up June 19.
Between two postponed games and four scheduled off-days, the Tigers have played just 10 games in 16 days since the season began. They haven’t needed a fifth starter, which has left Drew Smyly pitching out of the bullpen. Smyly was scheduled to make his first start of the season Wednesday.
The Tigers’ first road trip of 2014 felt a lot like many of their road trips from 2013: A number of close, low-scoring games; a couple games where the Tigers struggled to hit some pitchers they seemingly would’ve hit; and close to a break-even mark coming back. A 2-3 record on a West Coast trip isn’t the worst outcome for this team. It could’ve been better, mainly if they could’ve produced another run off Kenley Jansen Tuesday in L.A. It could have been worse if the Dodgers had finished the rally they put together against Joe Nathan the following evening.
Here are some trends that emerged:
1. The Tigers are going to have to create some opportunities against some right-handed pitching.
The righty-lefty balance the Tigers used to enjoy in their lineup isn’t the same now with Prince Fielder gone and Andy Dirks injured. The imbalance is stronger when Alex Avila isn’t hitting, as he is now with a 3-for-23 start and 14 strikeouts in 28 plate appearances. That was bad news Sunday against Tyson Ross, who held right-handed batters to a .198 (45-for-227) average and 72 strikeouts last year. That number has gone up and down over the years, but left-handers have always fared better against him. But with Avila slumping and sitting, the only hitter from the left side in Sunday’s Tigers lineup was Victor Martinez.
“We are a right-handed hitting lineup, and if Alex isn’t in the lineup that day, we become even more right-handed,” manager Brad Ausmus.
That’s where the Tigers might have to utilize their speed if the struggles continue. Ian Kinsler stole second and third against Josh Beckett on Wednesday, setting up a sac fly. Rajai Davis did the same thing against Andrew Cashner on Friday, but Miguel Cabrera hit into a double play with runners at the corners and one out.
On the whole, the Tigers’ .251 average and .707 OPS against right-handed pitching rank ninth in the American League. Their .303 on-base percentage sits them at 12th. Most of those struggles come from Avila (2-for-18, 11 K’s off righties) and the shortstop position (5-for-30).
Those numbers will improve once Miguel Cabrera (9-for-35, 3 doubles, HR off RHP so far) starts getting more opposite-field hits to drop, but the imbalance is going to be an issue against right-handed pitchers with heavy splits. And for now, unless the Tigers do something at shortstop, there isn’t much ability to change. Davis is off to a hot start that includes righties (9-for-28), and his history shows it’s worth riding out the hot streaks through lefties and righties alike.
2. Dead arm is still a baseball term.
Until Joe Nathan brought it up on a radio show, the term seemed relegated to baseball lore. He not only brought it back into discussion, his struggles made it all anybody wanted to talk about with him. It’s usually about velocity, but Nathan hasn’t thrown consistently in the mid-90s for a few years. He got his fastball up to 93 on Wednesday, and Dee Gordon turned on it for a game-tying single.
The issue with Nathan has as much to do with command. He walked 14 batters in his final season with the Twins in 2011, and 13 batters his first year in Texas, before that number jumped to 22 last year. He now has four walks in 4 1/3 innings, twice as many as he had in the first month of the past two seasons combined. The good news for him is that half of his 14 walks in 2011 occurred in April, so he has some history of settling down.
3. Even the best hitter in the league goes through mechanical issues at the plate.
The final numbers on the trip weren’t pretty for Miguel Cabrera: 2-for-20 with a double, two walks and five strikeouts. None of those hits went to the opposite field. For that matter, he didn’t send a ball to right with authority until Saturday.
For all the discussion about lefty-righty balance in the lineup, Cabrera’s ups and downs will have a much bigger impact. The two games in which the Tigers scored more than two runs were the two games in which Cabrera had a base hit. With no Prince Fielder, that’s just how it goes.
Cabrera’s pull tendency, and his habit to keep both hands on the bat through his swing, came after a very good Spring Training for him — not against minor-leaguers and non-roster guys, but everybody. At a time of camp when pitchers are ahead of hitters, Cabrera was ahead of pitchers. Now he’s fighting himself, though two well-struck outs to right over the weekend suggest he’s not far from breaking out of it.
4. Andrew Romine is better than utility level at shortstop if he could hit.
The numbers at the plate, while a small sample size, are ugly for Romine, 1-for-12 with two walks and five strikeouts so far this year. The defensive ability has been borderline stellar. While Alex Gonzalez has been hit-and-miss in the field, usually stronger towards the middle, Romine has arguably been the defensive stability in his four starts, moving well both laterally and charging in on balls.
Aside from opening day, the shortstop position hasn’t been strong for offense, and it’s worth wondering what the timetable will be for the Tigers to evaluate the mix. It’s early still, but at least defensively, Romine is much better than an afterthought.
Time to sign off in San Diego and bid farewell to the West Coast. Victor Martinez gets the start behind the plate for the getaway day, giving slumping Alex Avila an afternoon off and keeping Nick Castellanos in the lineup.
- Rajai Davis, LF
- Ian Kinsler, 2B
- Torii Hunter, RF
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B
- Victor Martinez, C
- Austin Jackson, CF
- Nick Castellanos, 3B
- Alex Gonzalez, SS
- Max Scherzer, P
- Everth Cabrera, SS
- Alexi Amarista, CF
- Seth Smith, LF
- Jedd Gyorko, 2B
- Chase Headley, 3B
- Yonder Alonso, 1B
- Will Venable, RF
- Rene Rivera, C
- Tyson Ross, P