The Royals became baseball’s Cinderella story last year with an aggressive style designed around taking the extra base and putting pressure on defenses.
The Tigers became the American League Central leaders again Friday night at Comerica Park by doing much the same thing.
“I just think we’re playing baseball like we can,” said Anthony Gose, who went from the batter’s box to the game-ending run in just two ninth-inning pitches for Detroit’s 6-5 win. “We definitely have speed. I think this is just who we are. This is the type of team we are, and we’re going to play this style of baseball. Sometimes it works for us, sometimes it doesn’t.”
For at least this night, the Tigers beat the Royals at their own game. They put pressure on the Royals to make a play, often All-Star catcher Salvador Perez. It wasn’t personal, just as the Tigers weren’t personally picking on rookie right fielder Paulo Orlando as third-base coach Dave Clark kept waving runners home on second-inning singles to right.
Orlando made plays. His throw on Andrew Romine’s single easily beat Nick Castellanos to the plate. When Perez turned to make the tag, however, the ball popped out of his mitt. Two batters later, Perez gathered Orlando’s throw but was so far in front that he couldn’t reach Romine with a swipe tag.
“Clarky has all the scouting reports on the outfield arms for every team that comes to town,” Brad Ausmus said. “But going back to last Spring Training, at times we’re going to force the defense’s hand, force them to make the play.”
It was a rough night for Perez, who had allowed just four stolen bases in 13 attempts entering the night.
Gose had never run on Perez in his career, in part because he didn’t reach base against the Royals often enough when he was a Blue Jay. After he walked with two outs in the fourth, he tried his go-to move, a delayed steal, on him. Perez had to dig the ball out of the dirt, but still got him.
“He’s a Gold Glover,” Gose said. “If he’s not the best in baseball, he’s one of the top two or three. You gotta hope that the pitcher gives you a chance to go or you can get creative some way. I tried and he showed why he’s the best. He shut that down real fast.”
He didn’t shut down Gose for the night, not when he singled leading off the seventh to put the tying run on base. Gose didn’t get a great jump on Jason Frasor, but he had the base stolen as Perez’s throw sailed over Omar Infante’s head. That put him on third base to score on Victor Martinez’s fielder’s choice.
So did Rajai Davis, 6-for-6 in stealing bases against the Royals since becoming a Tiger last year. Perez hasn’t thrown him out on a steal attempt since July 3, 2012, when Davis was still a Blue Jay.
“I think the last time he threw me out from his knees,” Davis said.
He nearly got him in the eighth inning, but Davis was ruled out, and replay was inconclusive. Wade Davis retired the bottom of the Tigers lineup in order from there to strand him.
Once Gose jumped a first-pitch fastball from Yohan Pino to begin the bottom of the ninth, the real footrace was on, interrupted only by a brief stop at second.
“I was thinking three,” Gose admitted, “but when I saw [Orlando] get to the ball as fast as he did, then get it to the cutoff man, with the heart of our lineup coming up, you don’t want to be out at third with two, three, four, five, six coming up. Our whole lineup, basically, you don’t want to be out.”
It never got to three. Kinsler’s bunt was near-perfect, and Pino’s aggressiveness to try to get an out was ill-advised. His throw went wide, and Gose strolled home.
It wasn’t a walkoff hit, but it was hard to tell the difference in Kinsler’s mood.
“I’ve had walk-off hits, I’ve had a walk-off home run and that one was probably more exciting than both,” he said. “Right there you’re just laying down a bunt, trying to move him over for Miguel. Then you’re running down the line thinking maybe I could beat it out. Then you see Hosmer kind of jump off the bag. Hopefully that throw’s a little too high, and you see it sail over his head and then it’s automatic excitement. It’s just adrenaline and excitement right away as opposed to hitting the ball in the gap and kind of know the game’s over right when you do. So that was a lot of fun.”
The style of play is giving that feeling. Even if winning has become familiar and expected in Detroit, winning this way isn’t.
A career high in hits allowed wasn’t the worst news of the night for Tigers ace David Price, who left Friday’s game against the Royals with a right hamstring injury.
Price overcame a four-run fourth inning to pitch into the seventh before three straight one-out singles pulled the Royals in front. It also put a bat in Price’s eventual path when Alex Gordon singled home Eric Hosmer.
Plate umpire Alan Porter tossed Gordon’s bat out of the home-plate area to avoid any potential contact with Hosmer. At nearly the same time, Price was running to back up home and ended up where the bat landed.
“I stepped on the bat with my heel,” Price said, “then it rolled toward the front of my foot. Felt like it kind of hyperextended my leg a little bit.”
Price immediately hopped around in pain. He threw a few warmup pitches to test his leg, but he was in considerable discomfort, hunching over on the back of the mound. He left the game but stayed on the dugout bench, his right leg extended.
Price set a career high with 13 hits allowed over 6 1/3 innings.
“He had allowed three straight hits. He had the righty coming up. I probably would’ve given him one more hitter,” manager Brad Ausmus said.
Price wasn’t ready to put a timetable on how much if any time he might miss.
“It’s nothing I’ve ever been through before,” Price said, “so I guess we’ll find out more tomorrow.”
Asked about his level of anxiousness, manager Brad Ausmus said, “Any injury is concerning, especially when you’re talking about the ace of your staff. But I think I’m less concerned now than I was when I was in the dugout while he was upstairs getting treated, now that I know what the diagnosis is.”
Any time lost for Price would be another test for a Tigers rotation that has already had to get along this season without the services of Justin Verlander, out since the final week of Spring Training with a right triceps strain. Kyle Lobstein has filled in effectively for Verlander, but the Tigers would likely have to dip back into their reserves at Triple-A Toledo to fill in for Price — possibly with former fifth-round Draft pick Buck Farmer, who made two fill-in starts last August.
Detroit could also take advantage of Monday’s off-day to skip Price’s spot until next weekend. The Tigers could go with four starters until next Saturday.
UPDATE: In a last-minute change, James McCann is catching, not Alex Avila. Word from Tigers is that Avila was scratched with a bruised right forearm. He took a foul tip off that area on Thursday in Chicago.
As expected, Jose Iglesias gets his second straight game off while he deals with tightness in his groin. In fact, it sounds increasingly like Iglesias won’t be a part of this series at all.
“We gave him a couple days last time and it popped back up,” Brad Ausmus said, “so he’s going to have to take a few days at least before we’d consider putting him back in.”
Andrew Romine gets the start at shortstop. Everything else is as expected, though Rajai Davis’ numbers off Yordano Ventura (2-for-5) raised the question whether he might get another start.
On the Royals side, Alcides Escobar returns from the concussion DL to bat leadoff, moving Alex Gordon down. On the flip side, Mike Moustakas will be gone for the weekend after being placed on the bereavement/family emergency list this afternoon. Christian Colon, who had been filling in for Escobar, will now fill in for Moustakas.
Reminder: Tonight’s game will be on MLB Network for fans outside the Detroit and Kansas City markets.
TIGERS (career numbers vs. Ventura)
- Anthony Gose, CF
- Ian Kinsler, 2B (1-for-3)
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B (0-for-2, walk, K)
- Victor Martinez, DH (2-for-3, K)
- Yoenis Cespedes, LF (1-for-4)
- J.D. Martinez, RF (2-for-3, double)
Alex Avila, C (0-for-3, walk, 2 K’s)Nick Castellanos, 3B (0-for-4, K) Nick Castellanos, 3B (0-for-4, K)James McCann, C
- Andrew Romine, SS
P: David Price
ROYALS (career numbers off Price)
- Alcides Escobar, SS
- Lorenzo Cain, CF
- Eric Hosmer, 1B (1-for-7, K)
- Kendrys Morales, DH (4-for-17, walk, 4 K’s)
- Alex Gordon, LF (0-for-10)
- Salvador Perez, C (2-for-6)
- Omar Infante, 2B (1-for-6, HR, K)
- Paulo Orlando, RF (0-for-3)
- Christian Colon, 3B (1-for-3)
P: Yordano Ventura
What initially looked like a day game off after a night game for Jose Iglesias actually was an aggravation of his groin injury. Not sure when it happened, but Brad Ausmus said he noticed it when Iglesias scored from second on Victor Martinez’s eighth-inning single last night. He’s out of the lineup this afternoon and possibly tomorrow’s series opener against the Royals.
“It’ll probably be a couple days, I would think,” Ausmus said.
Hernan Perez gets the start today.
On the White Sox side, Avisail Garcia moves up to the cleanup spot against the lefty, flipping spots with Adam LaRoche. Gordon Beckham gets the start at third base.
TIGERS (career numbers off Quintana)
- Rajai Davis, CF (11-for-29, 3 doubles, HR, walk, 4 K’s)
- Ian Kinsler, 2B (6-for-20, 2 doubles, walk, 5 K’s)
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B (8-for-23, 2 doubles, HR, 2 walks, 4 K’s)
- Victor Martinez, DH (10-for-21, double)
- Yoenis Cespedes, LF (6-for-8, double, 4 HR)
- J.D. Martinez, RF (1-for-9, triple, 2 walks, 2 K’s)
- Nick Castellanos, 3B (3-for-13, 4 K’s)
- Alex Avila, C (1-for-6, double)
- Hernan Perez, SS
P: Kyle Lobstein
WHITE SOX (numbers off Lobstein)
- Adam Eaton, CF
- Melky Cabrera, LF
- Jose Abreu, 1B (1-for-3)
- Avisail Garcia, RF (0-for-3, K)
- Adam LaRoche, DH
- Alexei Ramirez, SS (0-for-2, walk, K)
- Gordon Beckham, 2B
- Tyler Flowers, C (1-for-3, HR)
- Micah Johnson, 2B
P: Jose Quintana
Brad Ausmus’ summation of the eighth inning was succinct for the television cameras.
“In the eighth inning, they swung the bats well enough to beat us,” he said.
He went into a little more detail on the decisions that led up to it.
“It really was lining up fairly well, considering the starter goes five,” Ausmus said of the bullpen. “You’re somewhat piecing it together. But on any given night, someone can have an off night.”
Because Al Alburquerque, Tom Gorzelanny and Angel Nesbitt worked two outs apiece to cover the sixth and seventh, Ausmus had little backup if Joba Chamberlain struggled in the eighth. Alex Wilson wasn’t available after tossing 3 1/3 innings the night before, and Joakim Soria was on call for the ninth, leaving Blaine Hardy as the only backup.
“Hardy’s the only guy that can pitch multiple innings at that point down there,” Ausmus said.
So Ausmus went with Chamberlain with a three-run lead. But the rally that extended the lead to three runs also extended the lineup to the point that Nick Castellanos was due up in the ninth. That played into Ausmus’ decision not to use Andrew Romine as a defensive replacement in the eighth.
“It was a consideration,” Ausmus said, “but then we came around to the point where his bat was going to be up the following inning.”
Once Chamberlain retired his first two batters, it didn’t look like it would matter. Then Micah Johnson’s single reset the lineup, and Adam Eaton hit a hard liner to third.
Castellanos was playing in to defend against the bunt. It left him less reaction time for the liner that followed.
“It’s a line drive bullet right at the guy,” Ausmus said. “It’s not like it’s an easy play. It’s a line drive off a left-handed bat, which you generally don’t see.”
Said Castellanos: “It was just a hard-hit line drive, but catchable. Should’ve caught it.”
Up came Melky Cabrera, 2-for-27 against left-handed pitchers on the season after Gorzelanny had come on to retire him his last time up. Ausmus had Hardy available to try it again, but opted against it.
Ausmus did not mention matchups, though Cabrera was 0-for-2 against Chamberlain, and 2-for-4 against Hardy.
“The one that pitch we’d like to change would be the three-run home run to Melky,” James McCann said, “but other than that, they just put good swings on it.”
The slider was on a 2-1 pitch.
“I don’t know whether he was sitting on it or reacting to it,” McCann said. “Whatever it may be, he put a good swing on a pitch that a lot of hitters don’t hit out. Just gotta tip your cap to him and move on to the next pitch.”
Said Chamberlain: “Obviously I didn’t execute the pitch that I wanted to in the right spot. He did his job.”
At this point, Ausmus could’ve gone to Hardy in a tie game. Again, the lack of depth leads him to stick with Chamberlain, thinking about extra innings.
“Because it’s tied, you have to be more aware,” Ausmus said. “But even if it’s 7-6 or 6-5, you’ve gotta be conscious of the fact that this game is not over and it could go extra innings. You don’t want to end up with nobody left down there. If you were to bring in Blaine Hardy to face a lefty and they tie it anyway, now you’re really up a creek without a paddle.”
In the end, McCann might have had the best summation when asked about the opportunities to add on runs.
“They played a good game to come back,” McCann said, “but at the same time, it’s hard not to feel like we beat ourselves.”
Justin Verlander is throwing again. The 2011 American League Cy Young Award winner, sidelined since late March with a right triceps strain, threw 50 times off flat ground Wednesday afternoon after doctors reviewed his MRI exam and decided inflammation had sufficiently subsided.
The Tigers confirmed that Verlander was examined Wednesday by Dr. Anthony Romeo, an elbow and shoulder specialist at Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center, to review the results.
“He was given the clearance to resume a throwing program designed to return him to full competition,” the team’s statement said.
Shortly after that statement came out, Verlander was at U.S. Cellular Field playing catch with teammate David Price. Ausmus said Verlander told him he felt fine afterward.
It’s still a long way from throwing in a game, and manager Brad Ausmus acknowledged that Verlander likely faces a lengthy Minor League rehab assignment once he’s ready for game action. Still, the clearance means he can at least start making progress.
“He’s not going to be off the mound for a while,” Ausmus said Wednesday afternoon. “There’s no real set timetable. He’s able to throw, he’s able to catch on an everyday, every-other-day basis. It really just depends on how he feels. …
“He’s got to start building up his arm strength again,” Ausmus said, “basically from ground zero. We’ll just have to see how it goes.”
For the first time this season, manager Brad Ausmus has tweaked the middle of the Tigers lineup. It was a minor shuffle, flip-flopping J.D. Martinez and Yoenis Cespedes in the batting order, but it was nonetheless significant.
It was a sign of Ausmus starting to make some moves to try to spark an offense that was held to two runs or less in four of seven games on the current road trip entering Wednesday night’s game against the White Sox.
Martinez has scuffled through most of those games after hitting six home runs with an .813 OPS in April. He entered Wednesday’s game in a 1-for-18, 12-strikeout funk, and 2-for-25 with 16 strikeouts since last Tuesday. He entered Wednesday ranked fourth among American League hitters with 36 strikeouts on the season.
“He’s just chasing pitches,” Brad Ausmus said of Martinez Tuesday night. “I personally think he’s thinking a little bit too much, a combination of not picking up the ball and thinking too much. His swing is fine.”
Ausmus can deal with the strikeouts. With Cespedes batting .316 (16-for-57) over Detroit’s last 16 games, though, Ausmus decided to try to get more RBI opportunities for the hits.
“Just mix those two up,” Ausmus said on the reasoning. “J.D. has scuffled a little bit here lately, so we’ll try to really just put Cespedes in front of him and get a more productive bat there, and hopefully J.D. there in the six hole finds his stroke again.”
Asked if more batting order changes were under consideration, Ausmus said, “I wouldn’t say that. Even if I had considered it, I wouldn’t tell you. … If I feel something’s necessary to make the team more productive, I would make a lineup change.”
- Rajai Davis, CF (6-for-15, 2 doubles, walk)
- Ian Kinsler, 2B (6-for-25, 2 HR, 4 walks, 4 K’s)
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B (7-for-32, 2 HR, 7 walks, 12 K’s)
- Victor Martinez, DH (15-for-32, 3 doubles, 3 HR, 2 walks, 5 K’s)
- Yoenis Cespedes, LF (3-for-12, walk, 6 K’s)
- J.D. Martinez, RF (6-for-19, 2 doubles, HR, 9 K’s)
- Nick Castellanos, 3B (1-for-10, walk, 7 K’s)
- James McCann, C (0-for-2)
- Jose Iglesias, SS (3-for-8, K)
P: Alfredo Simon
- Adam Eaton, CF
- Melky Cabrera, LF (1-for-4, double)
- Jose Abreu, 1B
- Adam LaRoche, DH (2-for-6, double, 2 walks, K)
- Avisail Garcia, RF
- Conor Gillaspie, 3B
- Alexei Ramirez, SS (1-for-3, K)
- Tyler Flowers, C
- Micah Johnson, 2B
P: Chris Sale
Justin Verlander has been cleared to begin a throwing program again. The former Cy Young award-winner, sidelined since late March with a right triceps strain, received the go-ahead after doctors reviewed his MRI exam Tuesday and decided inflammation had sufficiently subsided.
Verlander all but announced the news himself through his Instagram account.
— Justin Verlander (@JustinVerlander) May 6, 2015
The Tigers later confirmed, saying he was examined by Dr. Tony Romeo on Wednesday to review the results.
“He was given the clearance to resume a throwing program designed to return him to full competition,” the team’s statement said.
It’s still a long way from throwing in a game, and manager Brad Ausmus acknowledged last week that Verlander likely faces a lengthy minor-league rehab assignment once he’s ready for game action. Still, the clearance means he can at least start making progress.
Verlander has been undergoing near-weekly MRIs since cutting his simulated game in Pittsburgh short three weeks ago and experiencing soreness afterward. Team officials insisted Verlander wouldn’t begin a throwing progression again until the MRI shows no fluid around the triceps, indicating that inflammation is gone. It’s an unusual approach to what Verlander calls an unusual injury, but they’re trying to avoid any more stops and starts.
“I’m itching,” Verlander said Tuesday afternoon after the exam. “I told [head athletic trainer] Kevin [Rand] if I get that green light, man, it’s going to be hard to hold me back. I’m ready to go.”
Wednesday’s tweet was a clear reference to the green light.
Three doctors — one with the team — have been looking over Verlander’s tests and progress reports and making recommendations, Verlander said Tuesday. That process held up any decision on Verlander’s Tuesday test results until Wednesday morning.
In the meantime, Verlander has been doing exercises as well as “extremely light” tossing, as Ausmus put it, meant more to keep Verlander occupied.
The numbers on Victor Martinez through his first 25 games were ugly: A .212 batting average, .263 slugging percentage, no home runs and a .542 OPS.
His numbers when he crossed 100 plate appearances were even uglier, batting .198 with a .514 OPS.
Those numbers were not from Tuesday. They were from 2013, when Victor Martinez was working his way back from knee surgery, and when some were suggesting he was done. He didn’t hit his first home run until his 28th game and his 125th plate appearance. He kept on playing, and he kept on batting fifth behind Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. He ended up batting .319 with 14 home runs, 73 RBIs and an .837 OPS the rest of the way.
It doesn’t mean he’s in for that kind of turnaround this year. It does mean he’ll get the benefit of the doubt to try.
So, too, will J.D. Martinez, who has his own slump to worry about. While Victor Martinez fell to 1-for-14 in May with his 0-for-4 night Tuesday, J.D. Martinez extended his skid to 0-for-18 with 12 strikeouts since his home run off Tim Stauffer last Wednesday in Minnesota.
“He’s just chasing pitches,” Brad Ausmus said of the latter. “I personally think he’s thinking a little bit too much, a combination of not picking up the ball and thinking too much. His swing is fine.”
The path out for both of them was made clear after Tuesday’s loss.
“Really, they’re going to have to hit their way out of it,” Ausmus said. “It’s not a bad thing we see a couple lefties in a row for Vic.”
Victor Martinez’s surgically repaired left knee is not an issue when he bats right-handed. He’s also 15-for-32 with three doubles and three home runs off Chris Sale, who starts Wednesday, and 10-for-21 off Thursday starter Jose Quintana. The Tigers need the favorable matchups they can find against both.
Beyond that, the Tigers need what they can get this season out of Victor Martinez, too. By now, the scouting report against him is clear: A pitch low and in to make him move his legs can set him up for an out. It has happened daily, and will probably keep happening.
At this point, there’s no indication to believe a stint on the 15-day disabled list will change the situation with his knee, let alone a couple days off. His knee pretty much is what it is for now, limited meniscus and all. Fifteen days won’t help that.
Play of the game: Conor Gillaspie’s two-run triple was a culmination of the struggles Shane Greene had all night commanding the strike zone. It was his 57th and final pitch of the game, and just his 26th strike. Gillaspie was the 12th White Sox batter on which Greene had fallen behind on his first pitch.
Out of the game: Jeff Samardzija’s three-pitch strikeout of Miguel Cabrera thwarted the Tigers’ best chance to get back into the game, stranding runners at the corners in the fifth inning.
Strategery: Ausmus said he wasn’t simply trying to give Angel Nesbitt work when he brought in the rookie reliever to pitch the eighth. First, he said, he was trying to keep the game close. Beyond that, he was trying to keep left-hander Blaine Hardy available for Wednesday’s game by using him for one inning instead of two.
Line of the game: Shane Greene’s 2 2/3 innings tied the shortest start of his Major League career. The four walks tied his career high from his last meeting with the White Sox on April 19 at Comerica Park.
Stat of the game: Greene gave up as many ground-ball hits as groundouts, four each.
Jose Iglesias said he expected to be ready for Tuesday after leaving Sunday’s game with groin tightness, but he’s not in the lineup today. Andrew Romine gets the start. Other than that, it’s a regular lineup against Jeff Samardzija.
It’s a dreary day in Chicago, where the fog settled in this morning and hasn’t left. Chances are it’ll still be around this evening, judging from the forecast. Could also be light rain, but scattered, so figure they’ll get this game in.
TIGERS (career numbers off Samardzija)
- Anthony Gose, CF (2-for-4)
- Ian Kinsler, 2B (0-for-4)
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B (2-for-4, double, K)
- Victor Martinez, DH
- J.D. Martinez, RF (2-for-10, triple, K)
- Yoenis Cespedes, LF (1-for-4, HR, 2 K’s)
- Alex Avila, C (0-for-3, K)
- Nick Castellanos, 3B (1-for-3, 2 K’s)
- Andrew Romine, SS
P: Shane Greene
WHITE SOX (numbers off Greene)
- Adam Eaton, CF (0-for-2, walk)
- Melky Cabrera, LF (3-for-6, double)
- Jose Abreu, 1B (2-for-6, triple, HR, K)
- Adam LaRoche, DH (1-for-3, K)
- Avisail Garcia, RF (0-for-5, walk, 2 K’s)
- Conor Gillaspie, 3B (0-for-4, walk, K)
- Alexei Ramirez, SS (2-for-4, 2 walks, K)
- Geovany Soto, C (2-for-3, K)
- Micah Johnson, 2B (1-for-2, K)
P: Jeff Samardzija