The Tigers survived their three-city road trip with a 4-4 record against three teams that went to the playoffs last year. Yet the sense around the clubhouse after Thursday’s 4-0 loss to the Royals was that they not only could’ve done better than that, but should have.
“A 4-4 trip and you’re playing three playoff teams,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “Despite the fact that it was a .500 road trip and you’ll take that on occasion, I think we felt like we’re better than that.”
“I’d say we underachieved,” third baseman Nick Castellanos said, “just because we have high expectations for ourselves. But it doesn’t mean anybody’s discouraged or worried. It’s a long season. We’ve had some good at-bats, played some good teams. Go home and win the next series.”
Said Jarrod Saltalamacchia: “It’s not where we want to be, obviously. We want to win every series, especially against our division rivals. But it’s still early in the season. By no means are we hitting the panic button. We have too good of a team. We were in every game, and we don’t have guys like Miggy and Vic and J.D. swinging it like we know they’re going to and we know they can. That’s the positive to take out of it.”
Given that, you can imagine the expectations as they begin a seven-game, seven-day homestand against the Indians and Athletics. After just four games at Comerica Park over the first 2 ½ weeks of the season (not counting the postponed Sunday night matchup with the Yankees), the Tigers now get into the daily grind of baseball in their home surroundings, starting with a division rival that made its own offseason upgrades.
Scene-setter: While the Pistons and Cavs continue their playoff series, Detroit and Cleveland match up on the diamond for the first time this season as they test just how much better the other team is from last year.
Season series: The Tigers and Indians meet up 19 times this season, starting with this three-game set. They’ll face each other again in Cleveland May 3-5 on the tail end of the Tigers’ next road trip.
- Friday: Justin Verlander (1-1, 7.16) vs. Mike Tomlin (1-0, 1.80)
- Saturday: Anibal Sanchez (2-1, 4.60) vs. Corey Kluber (0-3, 6.16)
- Sunday: Shane Greene (1-1, 7.15) vs. Carlos Carrasco (2-0, 2.79)
Key matchups: The Tigers face the teeth of the Cleveland rotation this weekend with Kluber and Carrasco, though they get a break missing out on Danny Salazar. Detroit fared decently against Kluber and Carrasco last season, a big reason the Tigers won the season series for a third consecutive year (37-19 in that stretch, according to MLB Network research). But Tomlin tossed a complete-game win in Detroit last September.
The Cleveland on the front of the jersey should be a welcome sight for Miguel Cabrera, who pummeled its pitching for five homers and 17 RBIs in 17 games last season, batting .418 (28-for-67). However, Cabrera is 8-for-43 with three extra-base hits (doubles) in his last 11 games, and his struggles to drive the ball have been pronounced. He had similar April struggles two years ago (.277 average, .735 OPS in April) and bounced back with authority (.380 average, 1.126 OPS in May), so it’s a bit early for alarms.
He’s not the only Tigers run producer who’s been off, of course. Justin Upton heads to Detroit batting .226 (14-for-62) with one home run and 25 strikeouts. Ausmus made it clear he’s sticking with Upton batting in front of Cabrera, saying that to push him down would be a panic move. So far, it has been a rough combination, with Cabrera’s early struggles and Upton’s strikeouts providing less incentive to challenge Upton in the strike zone.
While Indians starters provide a challenge for Detroit’s lineup, the Tribe bullpen has struggled, allowing 15 earned runs in 21 2/3 innings. They covered 6 1/3 innings Thursday afternoon against the Mariners, losing in the 10th on a Robinson Cano home run off Cody Allen (six runs in 6 1/3 innings this season).
Just so you know: The series will mark the Major League debut of Ramon De Jesus, the first Dominican-born umpire to work in the big leagues.
Familiar faces: Rajai Davis, the Tigers’ speedy outfielder in 2014 and 2015, will get his first chance to face his old squad since signing with Cleveland over the winter. Joba Chamberlain made the Indians bullpen after coming to camp on a non-roster invite. Mike Aviles jumped from Cleveland to Detroit on a one-year deal last December.
The Tigers had just finished up their last homestand when Paul Carey passed away last week, so tonight will be their first home game since. Fittingly, they’ll remember the late broadcaster in a pregame ceremony slated to begin at 6:50 p.m.
As they did when Ernie Harwell, Carey’s broadcast partner for 18 years and colleague for over 20, passed away in 2009, the Tigers will raise a flag on the center-field flagpole with Carey’s initials. The flag will be flown there for the rest of the season.
Carey, part of Tigers radio broadcasts with Harwell from 1973 to 1991, passed away Tuesday night at age 88. Much like Harwell’s death seven years ago, the news hit home to Tigers fans who remember listening to the pair growing up. Carey was an unmistakable voice of Michigan summers, and an influential voice for many broadcasters in the game today.
Anthony Gose actually has pretty good numbers off Edinson Volquez (5-for-11), but Tyler Collins gets the start in center. Brad Ausmus said it’s more about getting a game for Collins than getting Gose a day off. That’s the only change in either lineup tonight.
Though the Red Wings are on Fox Sports Detroit tonight, there’s no need to page down the TV listings for FSD Plus. Tonight’s game is on FS1. For the radio broadcast, though, you’ll still have to go to AM 950.
TIGERS (career numbers off Volquez)
- Ian Kinsler, 2B (6-for-17, double, walk, 2 K’s)
- Justin Upton, LF (8-for-17, 4 doubles, walk, 4 K’s)
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B (5-for-8, double, 3 walks)
- Victor Martinez, DH (2-for-15, double, walk, 2 K’s)
- J.D. Martinez, RF (1-for-12, double, 2 walks, 3 K’s)
- Nick Castellanos, 3B (3-for-9, double, 2 walks, 3 K’s)
- Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C (1-for-4, double, walk, 3 K’s)
- Tyler Collins, CF (3-for-8, 2 doubles, 2 K’s)
- Jose Iglesias, SS (2-for-10, K)
P: Mike Pelfrey
ROYALS (career numbers opposing Pelfrey)
- Alcides Escobar, SS (6-for-18)
- Mike Moustakas, 3B (4-for-12, HR, 3 walks)
- Lorenzo Cain, CF (7-for-14, 2 doubles, 2 K’s)
- Eric Hosmer, 1B (4-for-10, double, 4 walks, 2 K’s)
- Big Ken Morales, DH (2-for-10, HR, 2 K’s)
- Alex Gordon, LF (5-for-14, triple, walk, 5 K’s)
- Salvador Perez, C (5-for-15, double)
- Omar Infante, 2B (17-for-41, triple, 3 walks, K)
- Jarrod Dyson, RF (0-for-2, K)
P: Edinson Volquez
Victor Martinez’s 999th career RBI Tuesday night was a first for him, bases-loaded hit-by-pitch. His 1000th RBI looked a little more familiar, a line drive single into the gap with two outs and two strikes in a close game on the road.
It wasn’t electrifying, but it was efficient, going with an offspeed pitch and sending it to the opposite field. And as the stoic Martinez admitted later, it meant something for him.
“You know what? No lie, I think it means a lot,” he admitted. “Never thought I was going to make it, first of all, to the big leagues, and then to get to this point. Proud for everything I’ve done in my career. But I think the most important thing tonight is we were able to put a good win. Those guys over there are tough.”
As he was saying this, his teammate, Miguel Cabrera, was one locker over in the clubhouse, making a bigger deal of it.
“Oooh, a thousand RBIs,” Cabrera said. “That’s a lot of RBIs. Venezuelan power.”
Indeed, Martinez is the fifth Venezuelan-born player to drive in 1000 runs in the big leagues. Cabrera tops the list with 1449, just ahead of Andres Galarraga (1425). After Bobby Abreu (1363) sits former Tiger Magglio Ordonez with 1236.
“It’s an honor to be on that list with all those names, you know,” Martinez said. “Those are the little things that make you still hungry for the ballpark. All four great baseball players, no doubt. Great. I mean legends.”
Then he turned to Cabrera.
“This one right here is a future Hall of Famer.”
Martinez is in another group, too, as one of three active switch-hitters with 1000 RBIs. Carlos Beltran (1451) and Mark Teixeira (1262) are the others.
Give Francisco Rodriguez credit: He’s not going to pretend he’s not struggling. He’s not going to pretend that the end result is all that matters for him. And after what had been a 3-0 lead he inherited in the ninth became a 3-2 win he finished off with the tying and winning runs on base, he wasn’t going to keep his self-criticism to, well, himself.
“You have to be able to make pitches early in the count and try to put hitters away quick. I’m totally pitching the opposite,” he said Wednesday night. “Even though I still got the job done, it’s quite embarrassing. Simple as that. I have to pitch a lot better now, just get first-pitch strikes and put hitters away. Stop messing around.”
The three-run lead became a one-run lead on back-to-back homers with one out, both on second pitches. Alex Gordon turned on a fastball and sent it out to right-center. Two pitches later, Salvador Perez did the same on a changeup, sending it deep to left-center.
It marked just the fourth two-homer outing for Rodriguez in 866 career appearances. None of the previous three, however, had come in a save situation. The only one that changed a result was his previous on Sept. 9, 2014, and he entered that contest in a tie game.
More frustrating for him, though, seemed to be the back-to-back two-out walks that followed. He hadn’t walked multiple batters in a save situation since June 8, 2014, and that came in a four-out performance.
Rodriguez had a 2-2 count on Jarrod Dyson before trying to get him to chase a fastball. With the count full, he threw a changeup in the dirt that put Dyson on. Rodriguez got ahead of Alcides Escobar with a strike, but the curveball gave Dyson an easy pitch on which to steal second base. After missing with a curveball to run the count even, Rodriguez threw three consecutive fastballs out of the zone, putting Escobar on the open base and bringing up Mike Moustakas with a chance to win it on an extra-base hit.
At that point, it was Rodriguez’s inning to finish, one way or the other. Nobody was warming up, though manager Brad Ausmus said the rising pitch count became a concern.
Rodriguez fell behind on a 2-1 count on Moustakas, who fouled off a changeup to run the count even. On his 29th and final pitch, Rodriguez went back to the changeup, which Moustakas went after and missed to end it.
It was a win. And for Rodriguez, it was his 390th save, tying him with Dennis Eckersley for sixth in Major League history. But Rodriguez couldn’t get too charged up about it.
“It’s just giving way too much credit to the hitters, second-guessing myself,” Rodriguez said. “Walking the tying and go-ahead run is something that you as closer cannot let happen. You cannot do it. Simple as that. So I’ve just got to make some adjustments quick and start pitching better.”
The regulars are in on both sides. The top third of the Tigers order is a combined 11-for-22 against Royals starter Ian Kennedy, who will face Detroit for the third time since he was part of the Max Scherzer/Curtis Granderson three-way trade at the 2009 Winter Meetings. Victor Martinez is back in the lineup after taking Kelvin Herrera’s slider off his right knee last night.
“It could’ve been a lot worse,” Martinez said today.
With the Pistons resuming their Eastern Conference playoff series in Cleveland tonight, the Tigers are back on Fox Sports Detroit Plus. They’re also on ESPN outside of the Detroit market. However, they’re back on 97.1 FM for a night.
TIGERS (career numbers off Kennedy)
- Ian Kinsler, 2B (5-for-7, 3 doubles)
- Justin Upton, LF (3-for-8, HR, 3 walks, K)
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B (3-for-7, double, triple, walk)
- Victor Martinez, DH (2-for-6, K)
- J.D. Martinez, RF
- Nick Castellanos, 3B (0-for-3, K)
- Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C (0-for-4, walk, 3 K’s)
- Anthony Gose, CF
- Jose Iglesias, SS
P: Jordan Zimmermann
ROYALS (career numbers vs. Zimmermann)
- Alcides Escobar, SS (1-for-3)
- Mike Moustakas, 3B (1-for-3)
- Lorenzo Cain, CF
- Eric Hosmer, 1B (1-for-4, K)
- Kendrys Morales, DH (2-for-3)
- Alex Gordon, LF (0-for-4)
- Salvador Perez, C
- Omar Infante, 2B (3-for-17, triple, HR)
- Jarrod Dyson, RF
P: Ian Kennedy
Justin Upton seemingly threw Shane Greene a lifeline with his second-inning throw from left field. With one hop, it became an anchor.
In the scorebook, it goes down as an RBI single from Royals ninth hitter Jarrod Dyson, who advanced to second on the non-errant throw. Yet it was a play that effectively turned the game in an eventual 8-6 Tigers loss to open a three-game divisional clash at Kauffman Stadium.
The Royals, never shy about testing defenses with their baserunning, made it clear from the outset they would test Upton, whose nine assists last season were a career high. The first to test was slow-footed Kendrys Morales, who got the wave home from third-base coach Mike Jirschele as Upton charged at Dyson’s liner into left. Upton’s throw seemingly had him passing that test until it hit ground.
At first glance, it looked like a whiff on the part of catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. The throw not only beat Morales home, it had enough arc on it that Morales couldn’t block Saltalamacchia’s view of it. A slow-motion replay from one angle, though, showed the ball bouncing higher than the angle would suggest, while also angling towards behind home plate.
“It definitely took a weird hop,” Saltalamacchia said afterward. “You’re taught to stay down, stay low, and it’s like it hit the dirt and bounced over my head. Obviously you want to make that play, and nine times out of 10 you do, so I’m frustrated I wasn’t able to kind of grab onto it.”
Said manager Brad Ausmus: “It kind of was a short hop, and it looked like it hopped up. I don’t know if it skipped on the dirt, but it obviously caught Salty by surprise the way it hopped up.”
Morales scored. More importantly, the inning continued with two outs for Tiger killer Alcides Escobar, who drove in two more runs to turn an opening run into a three-run rally and a clear advantage early. Dyson, who reached second on Upton’s first throw, tested Upton on Escobar’s hit and drew a much less accurate throw. Greene, with or without the extra pitches, struggled to thrwo strikes with the fastball and lasted 4 1/3 innings.
Saltalamacchia made up the run differential with his three-run homer in the seventh inning.
The Tigers are coming off an off-day, but Nick Castellanos is 1-for-11 lifetime against Yordano Ventura. That provides some reason behind him being out of the lineup despite his hot start. He took ground balls from infield coach Omar Vizquel this afternoon, so it’s not injury. Mike Aviles gets his first start since April 9. It’s more of a day-on for Aviles, Ausmus said, than a day off for Castellanos.
“We have such a set lineup that, especially now with all the off-days we’ve had and the rainout, it’s tough right now to find these guys spots to play,” Ausmus said. “Especially when at some of the positions the regulars are swinging the bat well, it makes you pause and go, ‘Well, do I want to take him out?’ But I can’t have Mike Aviles sit on the bench for two weeks and then ask him to pinch-hit in a game to win it. He’s got to get some at-bats.”
The Royals recalled Jarrod Dyson today and put him in the lineup in right field. Add in Terrence Gore on the bench, and Kansas City has enough speed to test Jarrod Saltalamacchia and the Tigers bullpen late.
Note that with the Red Wings back at it tonight, the Tigers telecast moves to FSD Plus. The radio broadcast moves to WWJ AM 950.
TIGERS (career numbers vs. Ventura)
- Ian Kinsler, 2B (5-for-13, double, walk, 3 K’s)
- Justin Upton, LF
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B (2-for-7, walk, 2 K’s)
- Victor Martinez, DH (4-for-13, 2 HR, 2 walks, 2 K’s)
- J.D. Martinez, RF (4-for-11, 2 doubles, 4 walks, 3 K’s)
- Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C
- Mike Aviles, 3B (1-for-5, walk, K)
- Anthony Gose, CF (4-for-10, 2 walks, 6 K’s)
- Jose Iglesias, SS (2-for-9, K)
P: Shane Greene
ROYALS (career numbers off Greene)
- Alcides Escobar, SS (1-for-6, K)
- Mike Moustakas, 3B (1-for-2)
- Lorenzo Cain, CF (0-for-3)
- Eric Hosmer, 1B (2-for-5)
- Kendrys Morales, DH (1-for-3, double, K)
- Alex Gordon, LF (1-for-5, double, walk, K)
- Salvador Perez, C (0-for-6, K)
- Omar Infante, 2B (0-for-6, 2 K’s)
- Jarrod Dyson, RF
P: Yordano Ventura
In case you missed it, Jim Leyland is returning to managing one more time, albeit for country rather than for a big-league team. USA Baseball named him Friday as the manager for Team USA in next spring’s World Baseball Classic.
From Jon Morosi’s story currently live on MLB.com:
“I’ll definitely be ready,” Leyland told MLB.com during a telephone interview. “I’m never going to manage again after this. I didn’t think I’d manage this, either. But when I was asked, I could not turn this down. Not from an ego standpoint, but it’s the honor of being asked to manage for your country.
“This is probably going to take me a little time, to start thinking about game situations, to sharpen up again. Contrary to what a lot of people think, I don’t try to manage the game anymore. I just watch the Tigers, watch the game, watch the players. I don’t think too much about the strategy. That’s not my business anymore, not my job anymore.
“I’m not going to be a manager anymore, but this is a special thing that came up. I agreed to it right away. I’m very honored.”
He’s the second Tigers official in as many months named to a managerial post for the World Baseball Classic. Tigers first-base coach Omar Vizquel will manage for his native Venezuela.
Though Leyland is 71, age shouldn’t be a factor in what is a relatively short tournament, far different from the daily grind of the Major League season. Joe Torre managed the U.S. team three years ago at age 72.
Nor should Leyland have any problem connecting with superstars, considering the level of respect for him in the game. More interesting to follow will be how he handles playing time. He was lukewarm about this event when it first started because of the timing, taking players away from camps for much of Spring Training and ramping up their playing time more aggressively than if they were in their regular camp. It’ll also be interesting if Leyland takes a utility player or two (no, not Ryan Raburn) to provide some late-game versatility.
In any case, it’s a great honor for him, and it’ll be good to see him managing one more time in search of a title. The Americans have yet to make it to the championship game.
The quotes about Jordan Zimmermann being a bulldog are starting to run together by now. So here’s some reaction to Zimmermann’s reaction to being in a jam:
- “He’s one of the best pitchers in the game for a reason over the last six, seven years,” Ian Kinsler said. “You expect a guy like that, one of the best pitchers in the game, to get himself out of trouble.”
- “He doesn’t scare often,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “I don’t think the situation bothers him, regardless of the inning or the baserunning situation. He’s going to keep coming after you. He’s going to do whatever he can to get you out. And whatever happens, happens.”
- “[The demeanor] definitely doesn’t let the offense feel like they’re in charge, even when they might be,” Nick Castellanos said. “That just goes back to how much of a competitor he is.
- “You don’t see any difference with him, whether it’s the first inning or bases loaded,” catcher Bobby Wilson said. “I didn’t feel any panic. When we go over scouting reports, we have a pretty good idea of what we’re trying to do. So it’s just executing pitches at that point. It’s just making a pitch.”
Zimmermann faced two bases-loaded jam — one with two outs, the other with one out. He had three-ball counts to back-to-back hitters in the latter. But there’s a reason he hasn’t given up a bases-loaded walk since Aug. 28, 2011, and has just two bases-loaded walks in his career.
At the same time, there’s also a reason opponents are just 12-for-50 against him for his career in bases-loaded situations.
“Early in my career, I’d get in a jam like that, three balls, no strikes or one strike, and I’m coming with the fastball,” Zimmermann said. “But now, I’ve gotten a little wiser I guess over the years, knowing that you can throw an offspeed in there. The hitters are definitely geared up for the fastball, so if you can throw an offspeed in for a strike, you pretty much got them where you want them.”
Zimmermann believes in his offspeed when he has to make a pitch, and he had a lot of those occasions Thursday. He escapes the bases-loaded, one-out jam with sliders — 3-2 to Starling Marte, 3-1 to Gregory Polanco.
“I couldn’t locate the fastball for whatever reason and fell behind,” Zimmermann said. “My slider was good and I can throw it whenever I want. I went with that [to Marte]. And then 3-1, bases loaded [to Polanco], I went with a backdoor slider and got him to pop up.
“Most guys, the heater’s coming 3-1, and they go with their best pitch. But when you’re comfortable throwing your slider and you can throw it for strikes when you want, why not go with it?”