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Game 11: Ausmus, Hunter talk about the bunt

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.

Wednesday’s lineups: Tigers vs. Indians

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)

  1. Ian Kinsler, 2B (2-for-3)
  2. Torii Hunter, RF (3-for-10, 2 K’s)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B (4-for-13, double, walk, 2 K’s)
  4. Victor Martinez, DH (5-for-9, 3 doubles, 2 K’s)
  5. Austin Jackson, CF (5-for-10, 2 walks, 4 K’s)
  6. Nick Castellanos, 3B
  7. Alex Avila, C (1-for-8, 4 K’s)
  8. Alex Gonzalez, SS
  9. Rajai Davis, LF (1-for-2)

P: Anibal Sanchez

INDIANS (career numbers vs. Sanchez)

  1. Michael Bourn, CF (8-for-27, 2 doubles, 2 walks, 7 K’s)
  2. Nick Swisher, 1B (2-for-12, 2 walks, 7 K’s)
  3. Jason Kipnis, 2B (3-for-17, double, 6 K’s)
  4. Carlos Santana, DH (4-for-16, double, triple, walk, 6 K’s)
  5. Michael Brantley, LF (5-for-17, K)
  6. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS (5-for-18, HR, 2 walks, 5 K’s)
  7. David Murphy, RF (1-for-5, K)
  8. Yan Gomes, C (2-for-5, HR, walk, 2 K’s)
  9. Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B (2-for-10, walk, 2 K’s)

P: Zach McAllister

Tigers-Indians postponed (updated with starters)

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.

What we learned from Tigers road trip

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.

Sunday’s lineups: Tigers at Padres

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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.

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

TIGERS

  1. Rajai Davis, LF
  2. Ian Kinsler, 2B
  3. Torii Hunter, RF
  4. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
  5. Victor Martinez, C
  6. Austin Jackson, CF
  7. Nick Castellanos, 3B
  8. Alex Gonzalez, SS
  9. Max Scherzer, P

PADRES

  1. Everth Cabrera, SS
  2. Alexi Amarista, CF
  3. Seth Smith, LF
  4. Jedd Gyorko, 2B
  5. Chase Headley, 3B
  6. Yonder Alonso, 1B
  7. Will Venable, RF
  8. Rene Rivera, C
  9. Tyson Ross, P

 

Saturday: Justin Verlander takes his hacks

SD 001

For the first time on this trip, Victor Martinez is the odd man out of the Interleague-shortened Tigers lineup. Alex Avila is back behind the plate to catch Justin Verlander, while Nick Castellanos returns to the lineup at third base. Expect Martinez back in the lineup Sunday, possibly behind the plate for Max Scherzer.

Meanwhile, Torii Hunter returns to the lineup after missing the previous couple games with soreness in his left knee. Don Kelly has soreness in his right shoulder and knee after his collision with the right-field fence last night, so it’s unclear whether he’ll be available.

TIGERS (numbers off Ian Kennedy)

  1. Rajai Davis, LF
  2. Ian Kinsler, 2B (3-for-4, double)
  3. Torii Hunter, RF (2-for-2, double)
  4. Miguel Cabrera, 1B (2-for-4, triple, walk)
  5. Austin Jackson, CF
  6. Nick Castellanos, 3B
  7. Alex Avila, C (0-for-3, K)
  8. Alex Gonzalez, SS (1-for-3, HR)
  9. Justin Verlander, P

PADRES (career numbers off Verlander)

  1. Everth Cabrera, SS
  2. Chris Denorfia, RF
  3. Seth Smith, LF (3-for-21, HR, 6 walks, 7 K’s)
  4. Jedd Gyorko, 2B
  5. Chase Headley, 3B (0-for-3, 3 K’s)
  6. Yonder Alonso, 1B
  7. Yasmani Grandal, C
  8. Will Venable, CF
  9. Ian Kennedy, P

Game 8: Cabrera says his swing is “terrible”

Miguel Cabrera says he feels healthy. Let’s get that out of the way now.

He feels good. His defense at third base Friday in San Diego seems to back it up. His Spring Training performance at the plate and in the field definitely backed it up.

It’s his swing that is ailing.

“I’m feeling good,” he said, “but my swing is not right.”

His swing isn’t doing too well, physically or mentally — yes, mentally, because his swing seems to have a mind of its own.

It’s not as if Cabrera forgot that opposite-field power is his ticket to Cooperstown. He remembers virtually every pitcher he faces. How is he going to forget himself?

His swing forgets. His swing falls into bad habits, maybe habits he developed while playing hurt last year. His swing wants to keep his top hand on the bat, apparently.

“My swing, he wants to pull the ball right now,” Cabrera said.

His swing is seemingly worse than his statistics. For someone who endured an 0-for-21 slump in April the year he won the Triple Crown, an 8-for-32 start through eight games isn’t the end of the world. He’s 2-for-16 with a pair of singles over his last four games.

Here’s the thing: Everything he has hit over those four games have gone to the left side or up the middle. The closest he has come to going opposite field has a comebacker to the pitcher. He hasn’t gone oppo since he flew out to right on Saturday.

“In BP and when I work in the cage, I feel normal,” he said. “When I come into the game, I see how I pull a lot of balls to third base and shortstop.”

Asked if it’s more about mechanics or timing, Cabrera said both.

“My mechanics are terrible right now,” he said.

He’s less certain about where it comes from. He allows for the possibility that he developed bad habits last year that he’s having a hard time shaking, but again, he didn’t have the issue in Spring Training.

“I don’t know. Sometimes you have, like, bad habits,” he said. “I don’t know if I took that from last year when I got injured, but I feel good. My mechanics are not very good but hopefully I can keep working, trying to swing more consistently.”

That’s all he can do. He’s not going to panic, because he knows better, even if his swing doesn’t. He’s been stuck here tomorrow, even if the last few years suggest he’s been perfect.

“I mean, last year at some point, it was like that,” he said. “Every year, you have to make adjustments. You come through hard times once every year. It’s a hard game.”

Brad Ausmus wasn’t around for those hard times. He’s around now. He’s trusting his MVP hitter.

“I mean, hitters are going to go through periods of time where they hit the ball, they don’t hit the ball well, they get hits, they don’t get hits,” Ausmus said. “I realize it doesn’t happen to Miggy as often, but it’s still going to happen.”

When it happens, things can get ugly offensively, like they did Friday against Andrew Cashner and the Padres.

Play of the game: Again, it goes to Cabrera, who stepped to bat in the sixth inning with runners at the corners and one out. He swung a first pitch fastball that missed the outside corner and got a little more of the plate. Cabrera swung over top of it and grounded it to third, where Chase Headley started an inning-ending double play that erased the last runner the Tigers would get on base.

Outs of the game: Not only did Cashner strike out the side in order in the third inning, he did so on the same pitch, spotting three fastballs close enough to the outside edge for called third strikes to Rick Porcello, Rajai Davis and Ian Kinsler.

Line of the night: Duh. Cashner needed just 108 pitches to deliver a complete-game one-hitter with two walks and a career-high 11 strikeouts. Add in 13 ground-ball outs, and Cashner wasn’t losing this one.

Stat of the night: 53 — Strikes Not in Play (SNIPs) by Cashner, according to brooksbaseball.net and MLB.com’s Gameday application. Compare that to just 10 swings and misses, and it’s clear that location was the key for Cashner.

Print it: “I think Jim Leyland said it to me: You know a guy’s a basestealer when everyone in the stadium knows he’s trying to steal a base and he still does.” — Ausmus on Rajai Davis, who stole second and third base after breaking up Andrew Cashner’s no-hit bid with a sixth-inning single.

Friday’s lineups: Tigers at Padres

SD 007

Torii Hunter felt better Friday and took early batting practice with several others at Petco Park (pictured) this afternoon, but there’s still just enough lingering soreness in his left knee that Brad Ausmus decided to rest him an extra day as a precaution. He’s available to pinch-hit, but probably would be lifted for a pinch-runner if he reached base. Don Kelly gets the start in right field in his place.

Elsewhere in the lineup, Victor Martinez gets the start at first base, with Miguel Cabrera shifted over to third and Alex Avila behind the plate. That means Nick Castellanos sits despite coming off his first Major League home run Wednesday. Ausmus said pregame that Martinez will sit one of the remaining two games. It would not surprise me at all if that day is Saturday, with Avila catching Justin Verlander.

If you’re staying up late back in Michigan to watch on TV tonight, take note that the game will begin on Fox Sports Detroit Plus before switching over to the regular FSD channel once the Red Wings game ends.

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

TIGERS

  1. Rajai Davis, LF
  2. Ian Kinsler, 2B
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B
  4. Victor Martinez, 1B
  5. Austin Jackson, CF
  6. Don Kelly, RF
  7. Alex Avila, C
  8. Andrew Romine, SS
  9. Rick Porcello, P

PADRES

  1. Everth Cabrera, SS
  2. Chris Denorfia, RF
  3. Seth Smith, LF (4-for-7, double. triple, walk off Porcello)
  4. Jedd Gyorko, 2B
  5. Chase Headley, 3B
  6. Yonder Alonso, 1B
  7. Will Venable, CF
  8. Rene Rivera, C
  9. Andrew Cashner, P

 

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

 

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