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Game 2: Tigers vs. Royals

Tyler Collins didn’t have to wait as long as expected for his first Major League start. Not only is in the lineup for the second game of the season, he’s batting second, directly in front of Miguel Cabrera.

It’s a pretty big spot to have a left-handed hitter facing a left-handed pitcher, but in both cases, the splits are reversed. Left-handed hitters batted .327 (53-for-162) off Jason Vargas last season, and .263 off him the past five seasons, five points higher than righties have hit him in the same span.

At the same time, Tyler Collins raked against lefties last year at Double-A Erie, hitting them for a .289 average (41-for-142), 11 home runs and a .953 OPS, compared with a .219 average (71-for-324), 10 homers and a .676 OPS against righties.

By hitting him second, too, Ausmus freed up Torii Hunter to bat fifth behind Victor Martinez. That bumps down Austin Jackson, whose tendencies to struggle off lefties presents a bad matchup against Vargas.

Gameday | TV: FS Detroit, MLB.TV | Radio: 97.1 FM, AM 1270, Gameday Audio

TIGERS (career numbers off Vargas)

  1. Ian Kinsler, 2B (12-for-44, 5 doubles, HR, 3 walks, 2 K’s)
  2. Tyler Collins, LF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B (3-for-8, double, HR, 4 walks, K)
  4. Victor Martinez, DH (1-for-1)
  5. Torii Hunter, RF (8-for-29, 4 doubles, 4 walks, 7 K’s)
  6. Austin Jackson, CF (2-for-14, 3 K’s)
  7. Alex Avila, C (2-for-6, double, HR)
  8. Nick Castellanos, 3B
  9. Alex Gonzalez, SS (2-for-3, double)

P: Max Scherzer

ROYALS (career numbers off Scherzer)

  1. Norichika Aoki, RF
  2. Omar Infante, 2B
  3. Eric Hosmer, 1B (5-for-25, 2 doubles, 2 walks, 8 K’s)
  4. Billy Butler, DH (12-for-47, 2 doubles, 2 walks, 9 K’s)
  5. Alex Gordon, LF (11-for-28, 3 doubles, 2 HR, 7 walks, 4 K’s)
  6. Salvador Perez, C (7-for-18, double, 2 HR, 2 K’s)
  7. Mike Moustakas, 3B (3-for-23, double, 7 K’s)
  8. Lorenzo Cain, CF (0-for-9, 3 K’s)
  9. Alcides Escobar, SS (7-for-29, 2 HR, 6 K’s)

P: Jason Vargas

While Drew loses tag, Yankees DFA Nunez

Tuesday was a big day for free-agent shortstop Stephen Drew. With the regular season officially underway for nearly every Major League team, Drew no longer has to worry about being saddled with draft pick compensation if he hits the free-agent market next winter. That means a one-year deal is now a welcome option for him, though it still will cost the Tigers their first-round draft pick (23rd overall) to sign him anytime before this year’s draft begins June 6.

Tuesday was also a big day on the shortstop market through the waiver wire, where former Yankees shortstop-in-waiting Eduardo Nunez is about to land. The Bronx Bombers designated him for assignment Tuesday to make room for Yangervis Solarte on the roster.

MLB.com’s Yankees reporter, Bryan Hoch, has a good breakdown of Nunez’s situation on his blog, including Yankees GM Brian Cashman using the words “fresh start” in his explanation.

“We’re allotted 10 days to make an assignment of his contract,” Cashman told the Yankees beat writers, “so stay tuned.”

That sounds very much like Nunez is about to be on the move.

There was a time when the 26-year-old Nunez was seen as the logical successor to Derek Jeter. He started 69 games at shortstop last season with Jeter out, though a strained rib cage cost him two months as well. That said, there’s a reason why the Yankees are going with Solarte and parting ways with Nunez. His defense was disappointing when he started, including limited range and an erratic arm, and his OPS dropped to a career-low .679. The fact that the Yankees were supposedly looking for infield help on the trade market early this spring says something about where Nunez had fallen on the depth chart.

The advantage Nunez has over Alex Gonzalez, obviously, is age. For all the questions about his game, whether he can hold up over the course of a season shouldn’t be one of them.

Like Gonzalez, Nunez bats right-handed, so it’s hard to see the Tigers keeping both and platooning them. Thus, if the Tigers were to take a shot on Nunez, they’d have to believe he can step in right away and be a regular shortstop. In addition, Nunez would have to pass through most of the American League on waivers before the Tigers would be able to make a claim. So if Detroit wants him, it might have to work out a trade for him.

Ultimately, it comes down to this: Does Eduardo Nunez provide any more certainty at shortstop over the course of a season than Alex Gonzalez? And if it’s close, is it worth swinging a deal for him and giving up parts for the latest fix at short, especially if more errors and wayward throws could lead the Tigers back to Drew?

Speaking of Drew, there’s no sign yet that anything’s moving on that front. While Drew couldn’t sign anywhere before today if he wanted to shed the draft-pick drag next winter, that doesn’t mean teams weren’t able to negotiate with him ahead of today. And if the Tigers had any thought of adding Drew on the second day of the season, I doubt they would have brought in Alex Gonzalez and given up Steve Lombardozzi eight days ago. Thus, the waiting game continues.

Could the Tigers wait until June, see how Gonzalez holds up and then revisit Drew, with no draft pick required at that point? It’s possible, but there’s no guarantee he’ll linger on the market for two more months; the latest injury to Jose Reyes in Toronto shows how unforeseen needs can pop up elsewhere. More importantly, two months encompass a lot of games, and you can’t expect Drew to be ready immediately after signing. Even if he’s in game shape, he’d need his timing at the plate.

In summary: If you thought the Tigers closer watch was a long-running, painful saga last year around this time, this could conceivably go on longer, even if the Tigers made a play for Nunez. Gonzalez, for all his heroics Monday, still needs to play better — mainly in the field — if he’s going to grab the role and slow the speculation.

Game 1: Rookies set up old shortstop for big day

The game-winning RBI on Opening Day at Comerica Park came from a 37-year-old shortstop playing in his 15th Opening Day. The two rookies who set up the walkoff single had played in 11 Major League games combined before Monday.

That’s the kind of mix that got the Tigers through a hairy opener, with Alex Gonzalez responsible for a good chunk of the hairiness.

“I want to do the best,” Gonzalez said after his walkoff single. “I come here to do all my best on defense, offense, show the people I can still play shortstop. Errors are [part of] the game. I made a mistake, but I keep my head.”

So, too, did Nick Castellanos, who ended up with a two-hit game in his first start at third base.

“It’s a kid’s dream come true,” Castellanos said. “Opening Day with all the fans here — great energy in the park from when they announce our names. From start to finish, it was perfect. You can’t really write it any better than that.”

At times, it seemed like Castellanos’ nerves might have the better of him. He singled leading off the fifth inning, but in his aggressiveness to try to take second base on the liner to left, he didn’t account for three-time reigning Gold Glove winner Alex Gordon, who has at least 17 outfield assists in each of the last three seasons. It was the demonstration of the minute difference between the awareness Brad Ausmus is pushing for on the basepaths and the aggressiveness he seems to be getting.

Two innings later, he struck out badly on an 0-2 pitch from Aaron Crow, but the ball skipped away from catcher Salvador Perez, allowing Austin Jackson to dash home from third. It was not a good at-bat for Castellanos, who was out, but it came with a decent ending.

After that, he received some advice.

“Just relax,” Castellanos said. “It’s so easy to think but so hard to do. First big-league Opening Day, at home, in front of all these fans, it’s easy to press. I had a lot of players after my third at-bat, when I swung and missed at a pitch in the dirt, which is not me at all, everybody said, ‘Relax. Don’t try to do too much. Be yourself.’ I felt like I did a really good job of that.”

The ninth-inning single was more in line with Castellanos’ hitting, taking a pitch and lining it into the opposite-field gap. The fact that Ausmus pinch-ran Tyler Collins in place of his starting catcher, Alex Avila, showed some degree of faith that Castellanos could hit a ball that way.

If Castellanos pulls a ball to left field, there’s no way Collins tests Gordon and tries to take third. With a ball to right, by contrast, Collins didn’t hesitate.

“Going first to third on a hard-hit ball like that is always tough,” Castellanos said. “He got a great jump, and fortunately he didn’t even make it a play. That’s because of his effort.”

Collins, by the way, became the fifth Major League player in the last 35 years to make his Major League debut as a pinch-runner and score a game-winning run on a walkoff hit. It happened last September 8, when San Francisco Ehire Adrianza scored in the bottom of the 11th against the Diamondbacks on an Angel Pagan walkoff single. Before that, however, it hadn’t happened since Sept. 2, 1985, when Jose Gonzalez scored a game-winning run for the Dodgers to beat the Expos on a Jay Johnstone walkoff single.

The other two names should be more familiar. Cal Ripken Jr. did it on Aug. 10, 1981, pinch-running for Ken Singleton in the bottom of the 12th and scoring on a John Lowenstein single to help Earl Weaver’s Orioles past the Royals. Two years earlier, Tommy Herr debuted for the Cardinals as a pinch-runner on Aug. 13, 1979 and scored on a Garry Templeton sacrifice fly to beat the Cubs and Hall of Fame closer Bruce Sutter.

Thanks to baseball-reference.com, as always, for the research tools with their Play Index.

Play of the game: Alex Gonzalez’s game-tying two-out triple was his first three-bagger since April 3, 2011, and was a critical two-out RBI, scoring Alex Avila from second base. Considering the Royals’ success last year protecting leads in the late innings, it changed the course of the game.

It was a continuation of the solid hitting that kept Gonzalez alive in Orioles camp all spring before the trade.

“Just stay relaxed, looking for my pitch,” he said. “I had a great Spring Training, and that helped me a lot. Stay back, think up the middle. I’ve been working out off the tee and in the cage, and it helped me a lot.”

Biggest out: The Royals had Justin Verlander on the verge of another rout in the fourth inning, scoring three times, including a bases-loaded walk of Omar Infante, loading the bases for more when he exercised some damage control against Eric Hosmer. Suddenly, a fastball that was generally 92-94 mph bumped up to 98 to overpower the Royals first baseman into a popout to the left side.

“Obviously I don’t want to walk Omar there,” Verlander said, “but I was able to gather it, get the next guy out and keep us in the ballgame. A big hit there to the next guy, that’s how the wheels fall off. Walk a guy and you get down on yourself, you make a mistake to the next guy and he hits a double, then it’s 6-1, not 3-1.”

Strategy: The decision to pinch-run for Avila in the ninth inning of a tie game — and doing so with a rookie outfielder in his Major League debut — was fairly aggressive on the part of Ausmus. He essentially threw the best hitter on his bench into a situation where the winning run wasn’t yet in scoring position, anticipating a chance to get him from first to third base.

“They had told me the inning before when Victor was hitting to make sure I was loose,” Collins said. “Then it was “Hey Collins, go run.’”

Line of the day: The much-dissected Tigers bullpen delivered three scoreless innings on one-hit between Evan Reed, Al Alburquerque and Joe Nathan.

Stat of the day: 125 — Plate appearances Victor Martinez had last season before hitting his first home run of the year. On Monday, he homered his first time up, then nearly hit another before the ball he launched sailed foul down the right-field line.

“I don’t really worry about hitting home runs, man. That’s not my game,” Martinez said afterwards. “I know my game and I know my strength.”

Print it: “We’ve got some guys that can go out and take that extra 90 feet. And that’s what you have to be, a hyena, to get that extra 90 feet, take advantage of the weak link.” — Torii Hunter

Breaking down the Cabrera extension

The year-by-year breakdown of Miguel Cabrera’s $292 million extension came out today, first reported by Jon Heyman. And the contract is somewhat backloaded, though maybe not as much as expected.

Cabrera’s $22 salary remains intact for this year and next. His salary will jump to $28 million for 2016 and 2017, then $30 million from 2018 through 2021. The last two guaranteed seasons of his deal are the most lucrative at $32 million each. Thus, yes, Cabrera will make $32 million at age 40 in 2023.

Cabrera will get either a $30 million salary in 2024, if his option vests with a top 10 MVP finish or if the club picks it up, or he’ll get an $8 million buyout. The same option is in place for 2025, though not with a buyout.

The deal also includes some good-sized bonuses. Another MVP award will earn him $2 million. Finishing second through fifth in the voting will earn him $200,000. Placing sixth through 2010 will earn him $100,000. Winning the Hank Aaron Award is worth $250,000. He also has a bonus of $100,000 for being voted an All-Star or being named to the Baseball America, AP or Sporting News end-of-season All-Star teams.

Cabrera has $100,000 bonuses for Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards, $150,000 for LCS Most Valuable Player, and $200,000 for World Series MVP. If he wins league MVP, the Hank Aaron Award and World Series MVP in the same season, he gets a $1 million bonus.

Bottom line, he has a pretty good chance at earning well beyond the $292 million guaranteed money in his contract.

Opening Day lineups (updated with Royals lineup)

Opening Day 012

What was long suspected became reality Sunday with the release of the Opening Day lineup: Austin Jackson is no longer the leadoff man in Detroit.

What was not anticipated also became a fact: Austin Jackson is now the man batting behind the Tigers’ big two run producers, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. Jackson will bat fifth on Monday, partly out of his phenomenal Spring Training, partly out of the lack of any proven options.

“I think the middle part of the lineup, below Victor, is where you probably have a little more gray area and can shift people around if necessary,” Ausmus said.

If there was a spot where Ausmus could use a hot bat, that was it. None were hotter in Spring Training than Jackson, who hit .429 (24-for-56) in Grapefruit League play with nine extra-base hits, two home runs and 14 RBIs.

“He’s hit there really for the majority of Spring Training and he’s looked exceptional,” Ausmus said. “Does that necessarily mean it’s going to carry over? No, but right now I feel he’s the best option in that spot.”

The matchup also potentially favors Jackson, a right-handed hitter who fares better against right-handed pitchers (.291 career, .296 last year) than lefties (.246, .213). Royals Opening Day starter James Shields, in turn, is a right-hander who gives up a higher batting average to righties (.264 career, .272 last year) than lefties (.249, .233). More to the point, Jackson is 8-for-25 with three walks lifetime off Shields, including 8-for-21 the last two seasons.

TIGERS (career numbers off Big James Shields)

  1. Ian Kinsler, 2B (9-for-41, 3 HR, 3 walks, 3 K’s)
  2. Torii Hunter, RF (15-for-46, 4 doubles, 12 K’s)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B (17-for-40, 6 doubles, 2 HR, 4 walks, 6 K’s)
  4. Victor Martinez, DH (9-for-34, 9 K’s)
  5. Austin Jackson, CF (8-for-25, 3 walks, 7 K’s)
  6. Alex Avila, C (6-for-21, HR, walk, 10 K’s)
  7. Nick Castellanos, 3B
  8. Alex Gonzalez, SS (0-for-7, K)
  9. Rajai Davis, LF (2-for-14, triple, 3 K’s)

P: Justin Verlander

ROYALS (career numbers off Verlander)

  1. Norichika Aoki, RF
  2. Omar Infante, 2B (0-for-1)
  3. Eric Hosmer, 1B (9-for-39, HR, 4 walks, 8 K’s)
  4. Billy Butler, DH (30-for-68, 2 HR, 8 walks, 9 K’s)
  5. Alex Gordon, LF (14-for-66, 2 HR, 7 walks, 24 K’s)
  6. Salvador Perez, C (8-for-21, HR, 4 K’s)
  7. Mike Moustakas, 3B (6-for-33, HR, walk, 7 K’s)
  8. Lorenzo Cain, CF (2-for-9, 3 K’s)
  9. Alcides Escobar, SS (8-for-40, walk, 4 K’s)

P: James Shields

Tigers purchase Collins contract, finalize 25-man roster

The Tigers’ 25-man roster is now set. And Tyler Collins can finally celebrate making the team.

After a couple days in which the Tigers had 25 active players in camp but weren’t finalizing anything, a clear sign of waiting to see what roster cuts in other camps might bring, the Tigers set their roster Saturday. Collins, who came to camp on a non-roster invite because he didn’t have enough years to require a 40-man roster spot, had his contract purchased from Double-A Erie, where he spent last season.

There had been suspense whether the Tigers would make a run at a left-handed hitting outfielder with experience. Ex-Tiger Brennan Boesch reportedly has an out clause in his contract with the Angels, while players who are out of minor-league options generally had to be claimed by this point if a team was going to pick them up in time for Opening Day.

The Tigers also made their season-opening moves to the disabled list. Jose Iglesias (stress fractures in both shins) and Bruce Rondon (Tommy John surgery) both went on the 60-day DL, while Andy Dirks was placed on the 15-day DL. The latter move doesn’t necessary mean the Tigers expect Dirks (back surgery) to be back in sooner than 60 days. They just don’t need the 40-man roster spot, so there’s no reason to use the 60-day DL for him just yet.

Officially, rosters have to be finalized by Sunday.

Tigers-Nationals exhibition rained out

I didn’t go to Washington, but apparently the weather wasn’t very good, because they didn’t wait long to postpone Saturday’s exhibition between the Tigers and Nationals. Essentially, the Tigers got an overnight stay in D.C. before returning home Saturday evening.

Only a couple players will really be affected by it. The first is scheduled starter Anibal Sanchez, who was scheduled to throw around 85 pitches to get ready for his regular-season assignment Thursday against KC. Instead, Sanchez will now throw a shorter session against Tigers hitters along with Rick Porcello as part of Sunday’s voluntary workouts (no, it’s not voluntary for the hitters scheduled to face them, I’m told).

The other player affected is Don Kelly, who was supposed to get some field work in Saturday’s game. He returned to game action Friday in Lakeland, but it was a minor-league camp game, and he was the designated hitter for both teams in the contest. I’m not sure whether that will help set Brad Ausmus’ decision on who starts in left field for Opening Day. He said Friday he still hadn’t decided.

What Cabrera deal says about Scherzer situation

The question was going to come up, and it wasn’t going to take long into Friday’s press conference announcing Miguel Cabrera’s record contract extension.

Why do this now?

The answer from team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski was fairly long.

“When you’re in a position like ourselves trying to make things happen, and you’re in a spot where you’re anticipating what’s going to take place in the game, my experience has told me if you are in a spot where you have a star player, that you’re much better off to sign them with two years left on his contract than one.

“I realize that a lot of other people may think in other ways, but for me, when you get to one year away, that lure of free agency becomes very large for a player. Secondly, they get a lot of additional pressure on themselves to test that market. Perhaps if you had something to observe on the player, that you felt you needed to observe, I could understand that. I don’t think we need to observe Miguel’s abilities at this point. I think he’s the best player in the game of baseball.

“So to me, I’ve always really approached with two years in advance, if possible, because those lures end up being large. Secondly, since I’ve been in the game and people look at those dollars, generally — I know people will look and say this is the largest contract out there, and understandably so — the dollars generally don’t go down with other contracts.”

Left unsaid was what this meant about Max Scherzer’s situation. The answer on that seems fairly straightforward: A deal probably wasn’t going to happen, on either side.

The Tigers had a choice to make last offseason, when both Scherzer and Justin Verlander had two years left before free agency. At that point, Verlander was a vote or two away from being a back-to-back Cy Young winner. Scherzer was emerging as a top-quality starter, having overcome a slow start to 2012 to deliver some of the nastiest pitching in the game down the stretch before a shoulder issue limited him entering the postseason.

Given the choice, the Tigers signed Verlander. Under the circumstances, a lot of teams would have. Once that choice was made, the chances of re-signing Scherzer ahead of free agency became low. The money that might have swayed him away from free agency two years out wasn’t going to be the same at one year out, even without the breakout season.

Once Scherzer went 21-3, started in the All-Star Game and won the AL Cy Young award, those chances became lower, though the Tigers tried. Doesn’t mean Scherzer doesn’t like Detroit. Does mean he’s well aware of the market.

Could the Tigers have fit a Scherzer extension and a Cabrera extension into their budget? The fact that the Tigers were doing both negotiations at the same time suggests they thought they might, at least to a point. They still might, though the fact that other teams will be bidding next offseason makes the chances seemingly remote. The chances might have been better, obviously, if they had taken place one offseason apart, rather than at the same time.

Source: Cabrera, Tigers agree to terms on long-term extension

The Tigers went into Spring Training with two contract situations to watch: Max Scherzer entering his final year before free agency, and Miguel Cabrera entering the stage to consider an extension with two years left on his deal. Detroit will head north having locked up one of the two.

Cabrera and the Tigers have agreed to terms on an eight-year extension that, when added in with the remaining two seasons on his current deal, is expected to comprise the largest contract in baseball history, a source with knowledge of the talks told MLB.com. The deal will be announced on Friday, the final day for the Tigers’ Spring Training camp. Jon Heyman first reported the deal Thursday evening.

The agreement extend Cabrera’s current contract through at least 2023. Published reports estimate the value of the extension at $248 million guaranteed. A report from CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman said the deal will include vesting options for two more years at $30 million each.

Add in the remaining years on his current contract, which will pay him $22 million per year in 2014 and ’15, and Cabrera would make about $292 million over the next 10 seasons, not including the options. With or without the options, if the remaining years on the current deal are included, the terms mark the largest contract in Major League history, surpassing the 10-year, $275 million deal signed by Alex Rodriguez after the 2007 season. It would also all but ensure that Cabrera concludes his career in a Tigers uniform.

While Scherzer’s situation had a sense of urgency to it this spring, with free agency so close and neither side interested in negotiating during the season, Cabrera has been fairly laid-back about his contract talk. He said going into camp that they had no rush on getting a deal done, tempering fears that this spring would be Detroit’s lone shot to keep him long-term.

An extension comes almost six years to the day after the Tigers made Cabrera, then a new arrival from the Marlins, one of the highest-paid players in the game. He’s scheduled to make $22 million this season and next on the eight-year, $152.3 million extension he signed on March 24, 2008.

When that deal came together, observers said Ilitch finally had the baseball superstar he wanted. This deal ensures that he’ll keep him for the rest of Cabrera’s career and likely the rest of Ilitch’s days.

Thursday: Tigers vs. Braves

Originally, this Tigers lineup was set up to face a left-handed starter, as Alex Wood was slated to pitch for the Braves today. The assignment went to Aaron Harang at some point, but don’t expect any changes.

The lineup is very similar to yesterday’s batting order against Philly’s Cliff Lee, which backs up the notion that Rajai Davis could get some opportunities to bat leadoff against lefties.

TIGERS

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

P: Max Scherzer

BRAVES

  1. Jason Heyward, DH
  2. B.J. Upton, CF
  3. Freddie Freeman, 1B
  4. Chris Johnson, 3B
  5. Ryan Doumit, RF
  6. Dan Uggla, 2B
  7. Evan Gattis, C
  8. Andrelton Simmons, SS
  9. Jordan Schafer, LF

P: Aaron Harang

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