The Mariners made no secret they were going to be aggressive on the basepaths and take advantage of the Tigers napping. Brendan Ryan took second base in the series opener when the Tigers forgot to cover it after his single. Chone Figgins stretched out a double the next night when the Tigers outfield didn’t expect it.
Come the fifth inningSaturday, when Greg Halman dribbled a slow grounder to short that both Jhonny Peralta and Don Kelly tried to charge, Peralta and Ramon Santiago were thinking what Figgins was thinking.
“I was anticipating Peralta, he made a good fake,” Santiago said. “Nobody’s on third base, because Kelly and Peralta both went to get the ball. But Peralta knows he doesn’t have a chance at first, so he kind of faked, and that was the key play.”
Figgins fell for it and rounded second, leaving Peralta with a rundown to execute for the third out. It was a huge play, because it turned what would’ve been an at-bat for Ichiro with two men on into Ichiro leading off the sixth inning and having to start something. If Ichiro’s triple happens in the fifth rather than the sixth, it’s a whole different ballgame.
It was one of the better displays of awareness all season from the Tigers by a double-play combo that doesn’t get to play together very often.
“Figgins, he’s a very good baserunner. He likes to take advantage of mistakes. When you don’t pay attention to them, they take advantage.”
Word from John Wagner of the Toledo Blade is that Magglio Ordonez’s rehab assignment is complete. Both Ordonez and Mud Hens manager Phil Nevin said after tonight’s game that Ordonez will return to Detroit on Sunday for one more evaluation. He’s expected to have Sunday off, then be activated from the disabled list in time for Monday’s game against the Rays.
Ordonez finished up his rehab with a 3-for-5 performance, including his second home run in as many nights. His timing appears to be better than it was a few days ago. He went 11-for-39 with two homers and a double over nine games as a Hen.
Jim Leyland said Saturday afternoon it will not be a tough decision on who goes out to make room for Ordonez on the 25-man roster. In other words, they won’t have an extra reliever anymore on Monday.
For any hitter this season, Mariners rookie Michael Pineda seems to be a handful. For someone like Ryan Raburn, coming off a three-strikeout night against Seattle southpaw Erik Bedard, it has the potential for something worse than an effort in futility.
Thus, after Ramon Santiago pinch-hit for Raburn with the potential tying run on base in the ninth inning Friday, manager Jim Leyland announced he’ll sit Raburn on Saturday against Pineda, and possibly Sunday against Felix Hernandez.
“I think he’s pressing a little bit and trying to get in a groove with his swing and probably putting extra pressure on himself,” Leyland said. “So I’m going to get him out of there tomorrow and get him away from it for maybe a couple days. We’ll see what happens. I don’t think there’s any question he’s fighting himself.”
Our Tigers associate reporter, Chris Vannini, has the story on Alex Avila’s two-triple night. Here’s the rundown on the feat, courtesy of baseball-reference.com:
- It’s the third time since at least 1919 that a Tigers catcher has had two triples in a game. Brad Ausmus was the last to do it, that one coming July 6, 1999. Lance Parrish was the other, doing it Sept. 27, 1980. Both games were at Tiger Stadium, and both were against the Yankees.
- The last Tigers player at any position to have two triples in a game was Curtis Granderson. He had four of them in a Detroit uniform, the last of them at Texas on Aug. 18, 2008.
- Avila is just the 18th Major League catcher with at a two-triple game, and just the third in the last 10 years.
If you read the site — not the blog, the Tigers site — you might have seen the Tigers notes from last Sunday on Ryan Raburn’s slow start and how it compares to previous seasons, especially last year and the similarity of his batting average to this year day to day.
After Raburn hit a grand slam this Sunday to help beat the White Sox, Jim Leyland went to the comparison himself.
“Check what he was hitting last year in May,” Leyland said. “I’m not sure, but I don’t think it was real good. I said the other day I think he’s starting to come around, and I believe it.”
Chronologically, he’s right. As mentioned in last Sunday’s notes, Raburn owned a .186 average on May 29 of last year thanks to a 1-for-22 slump. His .195 average on May 29 this year doesn’t look quite so bad in comparison.
The difference is the number of at-bats. He’s pretty much going at double of last year’s pace on playing time through two months, and he’ll obviously keep that up if he’s playing close to every day at second base. Thus, he has had more opportunity to break out of his slow start this year compared to last.
The Tigers are hoping this is the start of that. He has five straight one-hit games, which have raised his average above the Mendoza line to .201 on the year. As of June 5 last year, he was batting .179. He didn’t top .200 until late June, and he didn’t really heat up until after that. His strikeout pace last year was a little slower than it has been so far in 2011.
The Tigers rallied in the seventh and eighth innings to pull out their third straight win overall and their eighth straight over the Twins, now back-to-back late-inning losers. In that light, it’s hard to second-guess too much.
But if Jim Leyland was doing it after the game, everyone else can, too.
“I should’ve brought [in Charlie] Furbush for [pitching to] Morneau,” Leyland lamented after the game. “That was dumb on my part. I thought Max [Scherzer] was fine. He was throwing the ball 95 that inning. But it was a little late in the game, [Morneau] hadn’t seen Furbush yet.
“I mean, it was set up perfect, and I blew it. It was my fault. Nobody’s fault but mine. And the guys picked me up tonight. That’s a good feeling. They picked the manager up. It was a bad decision.”
The main concern over inserting Furbush there was a pretty shrewd move by Twins manager Ron Gardenhire in mixing up his lineup. By putting Michael Cuddyer in the cleanup spot between Morneau and Jim Thome, Gardenhire avoided having two left-handed hitters in a row against a team that has three left-handed relievers. The Tigers have lefties in abundance, but they were a man down with closer Jose Valverde off.
Short-handed, Leyland didn’t want to go lefty-righty-lefty to get through that stretch, so he stuck with Scherzer. Conceivably, Scherzer could’ve pitched around Morneau with first base open and opted to face Cuddyer. Once he put Morneau in an 0-2 count, that wasn’t happening.
He was nowhere near the strike zone on his next three pitches as he tried to get Morneau to chase. Morneau didn’t swing until he got to a full count, and Scherzer left a fastball over the plate that was supposed to be down and in, where catcher Victor Martinez placed his mitt.
“I left it over the middle,” Scherzer said. “Obviously he’s a good enough hitter where he’s going to be able to hit it to the seats. That’s the frustrating part for me, knowing I had a shot to get out of that inning — especially when I was up 0-2 on him — and he ends up hitting a home run.”
Leyland finally went to Furbush to face Thome, whom he retired.
The other decision came way earlier, when he opted to put Ryan Raburn back in left field after telling him a few days earlier that he was the regular second baseman. While no one said the move caught Raburn by surprise, it was clear that he had focused most of his efforts on second base since this past weekend.
Once he stepped back into left field, he arguably looked more like a second baseman. An odd route to Danny Valencia’s second-inning double in the gap left Raburn chasing the ball towards the fence. An inning later, Matt Tolbert hit a fly ball that sailed over Raburn’s head once he broke in on it.
Leyland said Raburn would “probably” start back at second base on Saturday. But Leyland also came to his defense as an outfielder.
“I don’t know why he’s taking heat,” Leyland said. “The ball fooled him a little bit. The wind was blowing. The ball was hit a little better than he thought. The wind took it. It sailed on him and went over his head. He’s played good in left field this year.”
Why start Raburn in left and Brennan Boesch at DH? In that case, Leyland was looking ahead to the late innings. If he put Raburn in left field and Boesch at DH, he could shift Raburn back to second base late in the game, when he might use Andy Dirks as a pinch-hitter for Worth. Turns out that was wasn’t needed, and Don Kelly replaced Raburn for defensive purposes.
Somebody in the Comerica Park box office put it best: No matter whether the umpires ruled on the eighth-inning interference call, whether Jhonny Peralta was allowed to score or had to stay at third base, one manager was going to get thrown out of the game.
Since Peralta came home with the go-ahead run and wasn’t sent back, it was Twins manager Ron Gardenhire getting tossed. And upon further review, he might have been right to react that way.
It was a very close play from a distance that no umpire usually has to make a ruling like that. And to be fair, I can’t be sure whether crew chief Gary Darlling actually meant that the fan in the orange shirt committed the interference that was called, or whether he was one of the people who touched it after one of the fans leaning over the railing touched it. The latter makes more sense, and from the camera angles available during the game, I thought it was hard to tell. It seemed like the indication on the field was that the second fan leaning over the railing might have touched it. One would think it would’ve been easier to tell from field level.
But if it really was the fan in the orange who was the first to touch the ball, replays showed he wasn’t leaning out into the field of play to do it. He really wasn’t leaning out at all until after the ball hit the boy beside him. That’s the difference between an interference call and a ground-rule double, which is the difference between an umpire’s discretion to allow a runner coming around third to score, and an automatic two-base ruling which would’ve left Peralta at third.
“I don’t care who it hit,” Gardenhire said. “When it hits a fan in the stands, it’s a ground-rule double and you don’t score. However you want to call it, that guy doesn’t score. So it doesn’t make sense to me, and what they told me didn’t make any sense, either.”
I’ve seen people on the message boards make the case that Delmon Young paid for giving up on that play too quickly, that he was supposedly too lazy to run it down and make a play at the
play plate. Sorry, but whatever the ruling, I’m not buying that. Every player I can think of on highlights like that goes for the interference signal as soon as they notice it. I’ve never heard anybody coached not to do that. The sooner the signal, the sooner the call, the better chance of getting the runner held at third. If the two sides were reversed and it’s, say, Ryan Raburn or Andy Dirks in left field and he plays through the play, he would be crucified for not making it clear that ball was interfered with.
Let’s be honest: That’s a play where, based on how the umpires rule, whichever team benefits from the call supposedly did everything right to sell it. And on the other side, somebody will use it as further evidence for expansion of replay review.
Remember all the calls that went against the Tigers last year around this time? Jim Joyce? The phantom strike three on Johnny Damon in Atlanta? Well, this one went in their favor.
A few other notes before I finish up what’s left of this holiday weekend:
- If you thought Brad Penny was throwing a lot more curveballs than usual, you would be right. According to brooksbaseball.net, using data from MLB.com Gameday, 28 of Penny’s 105 pitches were curveballs, or about 26 percent. That’s double the percentage of curveballs from all his previous outings this season, according to fangraphs.com. Both Penny and Alex Avila said the curveball was working well and they wanted to establish it early, then it waned a bit later. By contrast, brooksbaseball.net had him with only 14 sinkers today, a lot less than he’s been throwing it lately. But fastball command probably played into that.
- Jim Leyland talked after the game about guys needing to expand their strike zone just a bit when they get into two-strike counts in situations where they need to put the ball in play to get a run in. He said that comes with experience. Still, it’s hard to accuse Austin Jackson of not expanding his strike zone, sometimes a little too much in some situations.
- For all that will be made of Leyland’s decision to hit Casper Wells in place of Andy Dirks, it’s very difficult to dismiss the righty-lefty idea in that situation, especially with Phil Dumatrait on the mound. Wells played with Dumatrait at Triple-A Toledo early last season. For Wells so far this season, the splits are reversed, he has actually been a little better against right-handers than left-handers, and his strikeout rate is higher against lefties.
For those who missed Jim Leyland’s postgame interview and were wondering why Leyland stuck with Brayan Villarreal against left-handed hitting Garrett Jones instead of using a lefty, word from the manager was that Thomas had some elbow problems and wasn’t available.
“Thomas’ elbow kind of locked up,” Leyland said. “We couldn’t pitch him, really, so we got into a little bit of a bind with some of their lefties. We didn’t want to go to [Daniel] Schlereth that early, so we kind of got into a little bit of a bind. That hurt a little bit.”
Would it have made a difference in the outcome of the game? Probably not, since the Tigers were down 3-1 at that point and still would’ve needed runs. It might have made a difference in the inning, considering Jones is 1-for-11 off left-handed pitching. But then, Thomas has given up a .400 (8-for-20) clip against lefties this year as part of his struggling start. Schlereth (4-for-24) has fared better for the year, but he also has struggled lately against lefty hitters.
Bullpen coach Jeff Jones said Thomas will be getting his elbow checked out. We’ll see where it leads. If it’s any sort of lengthy injury, it’ll be interesting to see how long the Tigers can fare with one lefty in the bullpen.
Before we get into dissecting Joaquin Benoit, let’s make something clear: Anyone who expected Benoit to duplicate his 2010 numbers from Tampa Bay was kidding themselves. When we point out that Benoit already has given up four more earned runs than he did all of last year, it’s almost more for entertainment purposes, because those numbers were ridiculously good. The fact that he’s now more than two-thirds of the way to his 2010 hit total in about a quarter of the innings is more concerning, because it’s more relevant, but that’s a little deceptive, too.
Also worth noting: Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, was a Brandon Lyon fan at this point in 2009. He had allowed 12 earned runs on 16 hits over 15 2/3 innings then, including 11 walks. He gave up just 40 hits over 63 innings with 20 walks and 52 strikeouts after that, and then was paid handsomely on the open market.
Got it? Good. Now, what the heck is going on with Benoit?
“If I would know that, I would give you an answer,” Benoit said. “I’m trying to figure it out.”
To Benoit’s credit, he stood in front of TV cameras and microphones and answered all the questions asked of him, which lasted a little more than three minutes. He didn’t have a whole lot of answers, but he tried.
“I’m probably giving the hitters more credit than what they deserve,” Benoit said later. “I’m probably throwing the pitch that they’re looking for, and in their location. There’s not much I can do when that happens. It’s wrong pitch selection.”
Manager Jim Leyland and pitching coach Rick Knapp have a little different take. To Knapp, pitch selection and pitch execution are pretty good. Pitch location is not.
“I can’t figure out what’s going on,” Leyland said, “because we don’t see anything that indicates something wrong, with the exception that he’s just [not] locating the ball. He’s just not getting the ball where he’s trying to throw it, it looks like to me. The velocity is certainly OK, but it looks to me like he’s not locating the ball where he’s trying to get it for some reason. That means you’re out of sync or something, and he has been for a few times out now.”
Benoit agreed that his health is fine.
“I mean, I’m pitching,” Benoit said. “I have my velocity. Things are not going right.”
He does not have his location, for whatever reason. Or at least, he has it inconsistently. The game-turning double from Aaron Hill came in a five-pitch at-bat that started off with two nasty pitches to put Hill in an 0-2 hole. He pitched to catcher Alex Avila’s mitt on the next two pitches, but Hill didn’t chase.
The last pitch, the 2-2 pitch, was supposed to be low and away. It was up and over the plate.
“He made four pitches to Hill that were good,” pitching coach Rick Knapp said. “The fifth one’s bad. He just missed the spot.”
Knapp has his own ideas why.
“Is it mechanics? I don’t think it’s mechanics,” Knapp said. “I think it’s just confidence. Throw the ball down isn’t really something you can think about. You have to leverage it that way. You have to know that you’re going to throw the ball down and not have to think about it. When you have to think about it, then you have a better chance to make a mistake. And that’s kind of about where he’s at right now. He’s trying to execute pitches maybe too hard and he’s not.”
Both Knapp and Benoit said they felt his previous outing last week at Minnesota was a big step forward. He gave up three hits over 1 1/3 innings and a game-tying run that was unearned thanks to a double-error play, but he also kept the Twins from pulling ahead with help from two eighth-inning strikeouts.
When he’s on, he’s a swing-and-miss pitcher more than a contact pitcher.
“It was really better in Minnesota,” Benoit said.
Knapp believed the Minnesota outing was something to build on.
“I think Minnesota was a good positive stepping point,” Knapp said. “It just didn’t work out for him tonight. He’ll get more opportunities. It’s one of those deals where you have to execute to get confidence. Confidence isn’t something that you’re going to just show up with. It isn’t something that just walks through the door. You have your swagger, but I think right now he’s a little bit in his own head.”
Just about everyone was asked whether the three-year, $16.5 million contract, and the pressure to pitch up to it, could be contributing to that.
“I’ll answer that by saying I don’t know the answer to that,” Leyland said. “Something’s not right. He’s obviously a little frustrated, trying to do too much. That’s a possibility. That’s something we’ll have to look at it. He’s an important piece of the puzzle, but we’re going to have to look at it and figure something out. I’ll have to figure out the strategic part.”
Benoit had that question posed as well.
“There’s always pressure when you’re pitching and you don’t perform to the level that everybody expected,” he said.
Said Knapp: “I don’t know that he’d be out there in those situations if he didn’t perform like he did the year before. He deserves what he got [contractually]. Like I said, we need him to be good — not great, just good.
“I know it isn’t because he’s not trying. He’s digging in. He’s looking at tape. He’s trying to feel it, trying to make sure. There’s a fine line between trying to do too much and maybe his stuff dropping off. I don’t think it’s a stuff issue. I think his stuff is fine. I think now we have to get him zeroed in on hitting the glove, staying on the spot, executing the pitch he’s trying to make.
“I think everybody wants him to perform, nobody moreso than him. Like I said, I don’t see the stuff falling off. I see him missing his spots, which means we’re getting closer to where we need to be.”
The quote in the headline came from Jim Leyland, who doesn’t normally gush about veteran hitters. He could’ve said he’s performing to his track record, and he probably was on his way to. But the type of hits Martinez has been getting lately, centering almost everything he swings at, defy that.
“Believe me, I didn’t think he’d hit like he has the last three days,” Leyland said. “I knew he’d hit, but I mean, that’s uncanny the way he’s centered the ball the last three or four days.”
The numbers are similar:
- His three straight games with three or more RBIs matches the longest streak by a Tiger since 1919, the earliest records go back. Several others share in the mark, but nobody had done it since Dan Gladden from August 10-12, 1993.
- His 11-game hitting streak encompasses a 20-for-40 tear.
- His seven RBIs in this two-game series pushed his season total to 22, one behind Alex Avila for the most by a Tiger not named Cabrera.
Jhonny Peralta has seen this before.
“He’s like that,” Peralta said of Martinez. “Victor is a kind of player like that. He can start like really bad, but when he starts to hit the ball, you’re going to see him hit three or four hits every day. Right now, he is the player that I know. He’s hitting really good.”
This is also the player that Miguel Cabrera helped recruit to Detroit.
“I think that’s him,” Cabrera said. “He’s a great hitter. He’s going to help us a lot to win games like this. I’m not surprised.”
Whether or not Martinez is surprised, he isn’t saying. He’s saying his lucky.
“I don’t know, man. Like I always say, it’s better to be lucky than good,” Martinez said. “Right now, I’m just making sure that I go out there and put good at-bats together and put a good swing on the ball. And like I say, when you put a good swing on the ball, anything can happen.”