Jose Valverde’s track record in non-save situations is well-known, not just this season but his entire Tigers tenure. One expects a little edge to be missing from a high-intensity closer when he doesn’t have a save to wrap up.
Even so, Wednesday wasn’t good. It was a 9-3 deficit when he came in, but it was 13-3 after just 10 Valverde pitches, including a few hanging splitters.
“These are always situations I’ve found over the years that when they’re not really big situations or intense situations, sometimes closers don’t perform very well,” Leyland said. “I don’t think that was all of it. I think it was probably some of it, but certainly not all of it.
“I don’t want to sit here and look like I’m making excuses because I’m not in any way, shape or form. Things have to be a little bit better.”
Excuses or none, Leyland didn’t simply brush off this performance. He hadn’t pitched since Friday’s series opener in Minnesota, so whether he’s still the closer or not, he needed to get some work five days later. Whatever the score, he was going to get the work. They wanted to see better than that.
“It was an opportunity where we felt like he needed to pitch today, no matter what, Leyland said. “So we put him out there, and I think he threw one good split and a bunch of them that weren’t too good. That was obviously not a very good outing for him.
“You give him a little bit of a reprieve because there’s not much adrenaline probably in that situation, but he definitely needed to pitch. It didn’t work out too good for him today.”
In many ways, it was a no-win situation for Valverde, and a tough spot for Leyland to insert him. If he retired the O’s in order, it was a meaningless inning in a rout. If he didn’t, it was going to be another example of his struggles.
What happened was another level of struggles. After back-to-back foul balls from Manny Machado, three consecutive Valverde pitches went for base hits — a splitter grounded to left for a Machado, a 95 mph fastball for a Nick Markakis liner to left, and a 94 mph fastball that Adam Jones pummeled deep into the gap in right-center.
After Valverde missed with back-to-back fastballs, he threw three consecutive splitters to Chris Davis. He missed the first and took the second. He couldn’t miss the third.
“Split right into my barrel,” Davis said.
Davis’ evaluation might have been the most relevant of all.
“The first one he threw me was one of the better ones I’ve seen from him,” Davis said of Valverde’s splitter, “and the one away was good location. The last one was a good pitch. It just caught too much of the plate.”
Pitching coach Jeff Jones continues to work with Valverde on the splitter, trying to close his delivery and raise his arm angle so that his grip actually gets it to split instead of sit there like a hanging changeup. Like Davis, Jones saw the split from a couple pitches. He did not see it from the home-run ball.
It was the sixth home run Valverde has given up this year. He hadn’t given up many in a full season since 2008, when Houston’s homer-friendly Minute Maid Park was his home.
Five of those homers have come off the splitter. He gave up just three last year when he was throwing fastballs almost all the time.
“He does appear to be pushing it just a little bit,” Leyland said. “I can’t really explain it.”
Valverde allowed one more single but retired the side to finish out the game, including a called third strike on a splitter to Travis Ishiakawa. He gave up four runs on five hits.
He had a smattering of boos as he came into the game, and he was showered with them as he walked off. For someone who had one of the ultimate seasons for a closer just two years ago, it wasn’t pretty.
Leyland, who has stood up for Valverde, didn’t completely dismiss it this time.
“You don’t like to see that happen to anybody, particularly a veteran like Jose,” Leyland said. “But we all go through those moments where we have to take our shots. You don’t like it, but you understand it. That’s been going on in this business for a long time, and certainly I’m not campaigning for anybody not to express their feelings however they want to express them.”
When Leyland was on WXYT Wednesday morning, he said he wasn’t ready to cut ties with Valverde yet, that he still deserved an opportunity to show whether he can get his stuff back. When asked if he’s any closer to a decision on Valverde, Leyland didn’t sound like any move was imminent, but didn’t dismiss the notion that he’s being evaluated.
Wednesday’s outing, as rough as it was, nonetheless counts as a game finished, his 18th on the season. His contract incentives kick in at 25, with $500,000 each at the 25th, 30th, 35th, 40th, 45th and 50th game finished.
“First, I don’t make that decision,” Leyland said on an evaluation. “That would be a decision that Dave [Dombrowski] and myself and the coaches would make, but I’m not going to panic after coming into the game at 9-3 or whatever it was. I think we just wait and see. I don’t think that’s something that we need to talk about today.”
It will undoubtedly be talked about within the Tigers offices soon.
Chris Tillman is about 10 points tougher against left-handed hitters than right-handed ones, so Jim Leyland took today as a spot to start Bryan Holaday behind the plate. The expectation was that Leyland would do it Thursday with Jose Alvarez pitching or Friday with Jon Lester starting for Boston, but thought the day game after a night game was a better opportunity. He also gave Torii Hunter a day off, inserting Don Kelly in right field. Kelly is 1-for-7 against Tillman, though the hit was a home run.
Cabrera’s history off Tillman, and the fact that no one else on this team has hit this guy, made it an easy pick for Beat the Streak. It actually had been a few days since a Cabrera pick. A hit from him today would get my streak to a season high of … well, five. So it goes. Other picks can be found here.
TIGERS (career numbers off Tillman)
- Austin Jackson, CF (1-for-6, 2 K’s)
- Andy Dirks, LF
- Miguel Cabrera, 3B (3-for-7, HR, walk, 2 K’s)
- Prince Fielder, 1B
- Victor Martinez, DH (1-for-3)
- Jhonny Peralta, SS (1-for-10, HR, 2 K’s)
- Don Kelly, RF (1-for-7, HR, walk)
- Omar Infante, 2B
- Bryan Holaday, C
P: Rick Porcello
ORIOLES (career numbers off Porcello)
- Nate McLouth, LF (0-for-6, K)
- Manny Machado, 3B (1-for-4, walk)
- Nick Markakis, RF (7-for-16, HR, 2 walks, K)
- Adam Jones, CF (3-for-15, 6 K’s)
- Chris Davis, DH (3-for-9, 2 HR, 3 K’s)
- J.J. Hardy, SS (5-for-12, 3 K’s)
- Travis Ishikawa, 1B
JohnRyan Flaherty, 2B (1-for-2)
- Taylor Teagarden, C
P: Chris Tillman
No, Justin Verlander’s fastball doesn’t look like it’s there yet.
Yes, his command resembles his younger form, even during part of the winning streak he had going.
And yes, 3.72 is a high ERA for him.
But here’s the thing: Even when he works through things, Justin Verlander is still a darn good pitcher.
How good? Well, if you go by Fangraphs’ calculations, he entered Tuesday night with the seventh-highest Wins Above Replacement among Major League pitchers. At 3.0 WAR, he had the same number as Yu Darvish, slightly above Clay Buchholz (2.9), and just barely under teammates Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer (3.1).
And if you go by Fielding Independent Pitching, he entered Tuesday tied for fifth in the Majors, trailing Sanchez but better than Scherzer, Darvish, Chris Sale and others.
Call it mediocrity if you want, but Verlander’s mediocrity is another pitcher’s greatness. He looked fairly bad in back-to-back losses in May, and the offensive support he received means he probably cost them those games. But he had two losses in April in which the Tigers were shut out.
“It’s been a battle so far,” Verlander said. “Obviously, you have that stretch of three or four starts where it was pretty frustrating. You know, I guess I’m always trying to get better, and I feel like I’ve made adjustments to get to that point.
“I feel like I’ve been getting better, better, and better. That’s not necessarily going to work towards a perfect game, but you’re not going to get better every time. There’s ups and downs, peaks and valleys, tonight was just one of those nights where two long balls hurt me. You know who knows what happens if I’m able to execute those pitches a little bit better. I’m not saying that I regressed, it’s just one of those games. This is Major League Baseball, you’re not going to be perfect every time.”
His fastball command has been a roller coaster. When he was struggling a month ago he went from a low of barely 50 percent strikes with his fastball up to 60 percent. When he seemed like he was right again, that percentage climbed to 70 percent.
On Tuesday, he threw 24 of his 39 fastballs for strikes, or about 61.5 percent, according to MLB.com Gameday and brooksbaseball.net.
He paid for one bad fastball with Adam Jones’ three-run homer. He paid for it more with four walks, three of them to Nick Markakis. He also paid for it in a pitch count that went from a 15-pitch first inning to a 15-pitch second, then a 30-pitch third.
“The one inning, it almost got up to the point where I looked up and I said, ‘Oh, this is going to be a tough one for the manager,’” Jim Leyland said. “Because he’s possibly got 60 pitches after three innings. As a manager, that’s not a good feeling.”
The mantra for Leyland was fastball command. As many different pitches as Verlander can throw in any count, he still has to command the basic fastball.
“His repertoire is what it is, but normally a successful evening for your pitching starts with commanding your fastball,” Leyland said. “When you don’t have that, that takes away some other stuff, because you’re not getting other stuff behind in the count. There’s really not a sophisticated answer. He just didn’t command the fastball.”
He hit 97-98 mph on his fastball several times, but it was early. He didn’t build with velocity so much as he spiked it, and that’s usually not a good sign with him.
Was he getting squeezed on the strike zone? It looked like it at times, and Verlander had to keep his composure. Still, those aren’t using downfalls for him.
“I felt I threw about 10 to 15 pitches tonight that were pretty doggone close to being perfect, just off,” Verlander said. “I think that goes to show you how fine of a line it is at this level between having a good start and not.”
Jim Leyland had a couple of choices to make today. He had to choose between Matt Tuiasosopo or Avisail Garcia for left field, and he had to decide whether Brayan Pena would still be his catcher against left-handed starting pitchers. Pena, as mentioned yesterday, has been stronger against righties this year, and Bryan Holaday’s strength at the plate in Toledo was against southpaws. The fact that Tuiasosopo gets the start in left makes one wonder whether Garcia is simply a placeholder for the next couple days until Jose Alvarez arrives, since the Tigers clearly don’t need an extra reliever these days.
If it was another pitcher going for Detroit, maybe Holaday would get the start, because Leyland suggested he would get the start against Boston’s Jon Lester this weekend. But catching Justin Verlander is a whole other matter.
On the other side, the O’s have brought up Travis Ishikawa, giving them a left-handed bat to help get some production out of the DH spot. Chris Dickerson’s three-strikeout game last night dropped him to 5-for-31 in June with two doubles, no home runs, no RBIs and 15 strikeouts.
Austin Jackson doesn’t hit a lot of left-handed pitchers too well, but he hits this one, so he gets my pick in Beat the Streak. You can check out other picks around the league here if you want, but you probably don’t have to. This one’s solid.
TIGERS (career numbers off Britton)
- Austin Jackson, CF (4-for-6, K)
- Torii Hunter, RF (3-for-10, 3 K’s)
- Miguel Cabrera, 3B (3-for-9, HR, 3 K’s)
- Prince Fielder, 1B (0-for-2, walk, 2 K’s)
- Victor Martinez, DH (0-for-8, 2 K’s)
- Jhonny Peralta, SS (3-for-6)
- Matt Tuiasosopo, LF
- Omar Infante, 2B (2-for-2)
- Brayan Pena, C (0-for-2)
P: Justin Verlander
ORIOLES (career numbers off Verlander)
- Nate McLouth, LF (2-for-9, walk, K)
- Manny Machado, 3B (1-for-6, walk, 2 K’s)
- Nick Markakis, RF (10-for-41, 2 walks, 10 K’s)
- Adam Jones, CF (2-for-24, walk, 8 K’s)
- Chris Davis, 1B (3-for-14, 2 walks, 8 K’s)
- Matt Wieters, C (3-for-17, HR, walk, 3 K’s)
- J.J. Hardy, SS (6-for-28, 2 HR, walk, 6 K’s)
- Travis Ishikawa, DH
- Ryan Flaherty, 2B (0-for-4, K)
P: Zach Britton
Max Scherzer clearly doesn’t want to be known as the guy who just wins games. He called wins and losses a “flukey” stat when he picked up his ninth win last Tuesday in Kansas City, and he brought out the term again when he beat the Orioles Monday night.
At 10-0, though, the narrative is hard to control. At this point, he’s better off enjoying the history.
“When you start realizing the history of this organization, to be 10-0, it’s great,” Scherzer said. “But at the same time, win-loss is kind of a flukey stat. Sometimes when you play with a good offensive team, you can run into these types of streaks.
“The reason I’m pitching well isn’t because I’m 10-0, it’s because of the other things I’m doing. I’m inducing quick outs, pitching deeper into games, generating strikeouts, minimizing walks, doing all the little things it takes to be a good pitcher. So that’s what I hang my hat on of being a good pitcher.”
The only other starting pitcher in Tigers history to go 10-0 to start a season was George Mullin in 1909. He went 11-0 on his way to a 29-8 season that year. A bio from David Cicotello from SABR says he was known for a “fearful fastball and biting curve.”
That said, Mullin struck out 124 batters over 303 2/3 innings in that 1909 season, posting a 29-8 record with a 2.22 ERA. Scherzer will have a chance to match or top that strikeout total in his next start, having fanned 116 batters over 96 1/3 innings so far.
His curveball, a pitch he developed last year, is now a legitimate part of his arsenal, and a big reason in Scherzer’s view behind his success. Leyland sees better pitching overall.
“I think his command is better,” Leyland said. “I think that other pitch has helped him. Those are two things that would add up it a little more. I think he has a terrific fastball. I think it’s harder to pick up and it’s hard to say something’s sneaky when it’s 94 or 95 but I think it kind of is. Some guy’s deliveries, you can see it all the way, there’s not much deception. But I think his is almost, it kind of shoots out. It’s a little different.”
As his strikeout of Chris Davis with the bases loaded in the fifth shows, Scherzer can throw his fastball right where he wants it, too. He threw to Pena’s mitt on his 1-2 and 2-2 fastballs, and Pena barely made a move. His 97 mph fastball on the full count, after Davis had fouled off a changeup, would’ve been ball four had Davis held off. But he chased it.
“It was a ball,” Davis said. “Like I said, when you’re throwing that hard and you’re throwing a number of pitches for strikes, you assume that he’s going to throw a strike. I was looking for a ball over the plate. He got me to chase.”
Maybe Scherzer can dismiss 10-0 as flukey. His numbers over the past 365 days are tougher to brush off. He’s now 21-3 with a 2.78 ERA since last June 17, striking out 259 batters over 213 2/3 innings.
Pitch of the game: Scherzer claims it was the 3-1 pitch to Nick Markakis with two on and one out in that fifth inning.
“I felt like it was a fastball count, and I was ready to throw a fastball,” Scherzer said. “I’d just missed with a 2-1 changeup low in the zone, and he did a great job of taking it, because I felt that was a great pitch. It was 3-1, first and second one out. I mean, that’s a bad situation to be in. And Pena put down changeup again. It took a second, but all of a sudden I trusted him.”
Everyone else said it was the at-bat against Davis, and staying composed to execute a fastball on 3-2 that was good enough to get a swing and miss.
“The fact that Davis got pretty good at-bats against us the previous two at-bats, for Max to strike him out with a fastball, that says a lot about Max,” Pena said. “He showed there that he’s one of the best, if not 1-2, I think, him and Justin. He’s unbelievable. It’s unbelievable, the fact that he was giving us everything that he got in that inning, especially after those two very close calls.”
Line of the night: As good as Scherzer was, you have to give the pitching line of the night to Drew Smyly, who threw three perfect innings in relief of Scherzer for his second save of three or more innings this year.
Stat of the night: 7 – Sacrifice flies by Victor Martinez this year, tying him for the Major League lead with Albert Pujols. Martinez is 2-for-11 with a runner on third base and less than two outs this year, but he has 12 RBIs thanks to the sac flies.
Print it: “The 2-2 was the [close] one. I turned around, not trying to show him up, because I would never do that, but he screamed. He usually screams before he rings somebody up. That’s why I thought that he was ringing him up, but he didn’t.” — Pena on the close call on the 2-2 pitch to Davis.
As you probably heard, Alex Avila is on the disabled list, leaving the Tigers mixing Brayan Pena and Bryan Holaday. Pena makes his first start since last Wednesday in Kansas City.
Not a lot of experience for Tigers hitters against O’s starter Jake Arrieta, so I ended up going with the hot bat with leadoff man Austin Jackson in Beat the Streak. MLB.com writers’ picks can be found here.
TIGERS (career numbers vs. Jake Arrieta)
- Austin Jackson, CF (1-for-3, K)
- Torii Hunter, RF (2-for-7, 3 K’s)
- Miguel Cabrera, 3B (1-for-6, 2 K’s)
- Prince Fielder, 1B
- Victor Martinez, DH (0-for-6, 2 K’s)
- Jhonny Peralta, SS (1-for-3)
- Andy Dirks, LF
- Omar Infante, 2B
- Brayan Pena, C
P: Max Scherzer
ORIOLES (career numbers off Scherzer)
- Nate McLouth, LF (0-for-8, 5 K’s)
- Manny Machado, 3B (0-for-4, 2 K’s)
- Nick Markakis, RF (4-for-13, 3 walks, 4 K’s)
- Adam Jones, CF (8-for-15, HR, 4 K’s)
- Chris Davis, 1B (5-for-14, 5 K’s)
- Matt Wieters, C (5-for-14, 2 K’s)
- J.J. Hardy, SS (3-for-20, HR, walk, 4 K’s)
- Chris Dickerson, DH (0-for-6, 4 K’s)
- Ryan Flaherty, 2B (0-for-3, K)
P: Jake Arrieta
As you probably heard already, the Tigers made two DL moves today, placing right-hander Anibal Sanchez (right shoulder strain) and catcher Alex Avila (deep contusion on left forearm) on the 15-day disabled list.
Both are expected to be minimal DL stints. Sanchez returned home on Sunday for an MRI on his right shoulder. The results showed no structural damage. Avila was still waiting for x-rays as of Monday afternoon, but a preliminary exam taken after Sunday’s game came back negative for structural damage.
“I think they will both be ready in two weeks,” Leyland said.
In Avila’s case, both Leyland and Avila think he could be ready in a matter of days, but they can’t afford to go more than a couple days with only one catcher.
“I don’t think it’s broken,” Avila said, “but obviously it’s something that’ll probably take a few days and we can’t leave the team short-handed.”
Bryan Holaday has been recalled from Triple-A Toledo to take Avila’s place. His average has dropped since his torrid May hitting, but with a .259 average and .702 OPS, he’s still enjoying his best offensive season as a pro.
He will not be an emergency catcher. He’s going to play some games, though the mix isn’t quite clear.
“The playing time will be just kind of a gut feel thing for me,” Leyland said.
If it’s a platoon, ironically, it could put Brayan Pena in a stronger role. Though Pena was signed to spell Avila against left-handed starters, he has actually hit better against right-handers (15-for-40, 2 HR, 9 RBIs) this year than lefties (11-for-48, 3 RBIs). Holaday hasn’t faced many lefties in Toledo, but he’s batting .308 (12-for-39, two doubles, triple) against them.
As for Sanchez’s spot, Jose Alvarez will be called up from Triple-A Toledo on Thursday to start the series opener against the Red Sox. Alvarez, of course, made a huge impression in a spot start last homestand, tossing six innings of one-run ball with seven strikeouts against the Indians June 9.
“It looks like we should miss Anibal for two starts and he’ll be right back in there,” Leyland said.
The Tigers added to their draft signings by agreeing to terms with Corey Knebel, the 39th overall selection in the First-Year Player Draft two weeks ago.
The former University of Texas closer said on draft night that he expected a deal to be completed shortly, so a deal had been expected. It took a little longer than fellow Tigers first-round pick Jonathon Crawford, but Knebel is in the fold. Baseball America’s Jim Callis first reported the deal Monday.
Major League Baseball’s slotting system pegged the signing bonus for Knebel’s slot at $1,433,400. Knebel got the full slot value, according to Callis.
Tigers vice president of amateur scouting David Chadd said earlier this month that the team envisions Knebel as a starter. For the time being, though, he’ll begin his pro career in the bullpen. Knebel is eventually expected to join Crawford and other Tigers draft picks at short-season Class A Connecticut, but will begin working out in Lakeland.
Torii Hunter returns to the lineup as expected, making for a pretty standard lineup. Prince Fielder is DHing today, something Jim Leyland has been looking to do for a game since Kansas City.
Meanwhile, Alex Avila makes his third consecutive start behind the plate, his slump now at 0-for-19 and his average down to .163 — his lowest since mid-April. His 0-for-8 history against P.J. Walters doesn’t bode well for breaking that today. After alternating starts with Brayan Pena for stretches over the last few weeks, this might be Plan B.
No Josh Willingham again for the Twins. MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger reports he received a cortisone shot in his left knee yesterday.
Those who have seen the Tigers against P.J. Walters would not be surprised by the numbers. Prince Fielder is the major exception. He was the obvious Beat the Streak pick, which of course might leave him hitless. You can see other picks around the league here.
TIGERS (career numbers off P.J. Walters)
- Austin Jackson, CF (1-for-6)
- Torii Hunter, RF (1-for-5, K)
- Miguel Cabrera, 3B (4-for-16, HR, 4 K’s)
- Prince Fielder, DH (5-for-11, 2 HR, 3 walks)
- Victor Martinez, 1B (1-for-3)
- Jhonny Peralta, SS (4-for-12, HR, 3 K’s)
- Andy Dirks, LF (4-for-10, HR, 2 K’s)
- Omar Infante, 2B (1-for-4, walk)
- Alex Avila, C (0-for-8, 2 walks, K)
P: Doug Fister
TWINS (career numbers off Doug Fister)
- Clete Thomas, CF
- Joe Mauer, C (7-for-27, HR, 3 walks, 5 K’s)
- Ryan Doumit, DH (2-for-9, K)
- Justin Morneau, 1B (8-for-22, HR, 5 K’s)
- Oswaldo Arcia, LF
- Trevor Plouffe, 3B (2-for-14, HR, K)
- Chris Parmelee, RF (2-for-5, walk, K)
- Brian Dozier, 2B (3-for-6, K)
- Pedro Florimon, SS (0-for-6, 3 K’s)
P: P.J. Walters
Jim Leyland said a few days ago that he planned on giving Torii Hunter the Saturday game off. He didn’t want to do it Wednesday against James Shields, and he sure wasn’t going to do it Friday against Twins lefty Scott Diamond. As promised, Hunter is out of the lineup. Don Kelly takes his place in right field, batting seventh.
The Twins welcome back Trevor Plouffe from the disabled list, but Josh Willingham (2-for-16 off Anibal Sanchez with seven strikeouts and eight walks) is off.
I took a chance with the small sample size and went with Jhonny Peralta on Beat the Streak. Andy Dirks would’ve been the true splits play, in hindsight. You can check out all the picks from MLB.com’s beat folks here.
Quick reminder that tonight’s game is on FOX, not FS Detroit as usual. If you’re stuck in a region getting another game (and there are about five regional games tonight), I wish I could help you. You can follow along online with Gameday, or listen to the broadcast here.
TIGERS (career numbers off Sam Deduno)
- Austin Jackson, CF (2-for-5, HR, walk, K)
- Andy Dirks, LF (6-for-10)
- Miguel Cabrera, 3B (2-for-8, walk, K)
- Prince Fielder, 1B (1-for-4, 4 walks, K)
- Victor Martinez, DH (0-for-3)
- Jhonny Peralta, SS (3-for-6, 2 walks, K)
- Don Kelly, RF (1-for-3, HR)
- Omar Infante, 2B (1-for-6, walk)
- Alex Avila, C (1-for-7, walk, 3 K’s)
P: Anibal Sanchez
TWINS (career numbers off Sanchez)
- Clete Thomas, CF
- Joe Mauer, DH (5-for-12, walk, 3 K’s)
- Ryan Doumit, DH (3-for-14, walk, 7 K’s)
- Justin Morneau, 1B (3-for-14, walk, 2 K’s)
- Oswaldo Arcia, LF (0-for-6, 2 K’s)
- Trevor Plouffe, 3B (2-for-8, 2 K’s)
- Chris Parmelee, RF (1-for-10, walk, 3 K’s)
- Brian Dozier, 2B (0-for-7, 2 K’s)
- Pedro Florimon, SS (3-for-7, K)
P: Sam Deduno