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Tuesday: Tigers at Dodgers

Dodger Stadium 004

It’s a different looking lineup for the Tigers today, but the batting order at least seemingly revolves around one concept: With the pitcher batting ninth, Rajai Davis doesn’t bat ninth as a second leadoff type guy. So instead, he becomes the actual leadoff man, and everybody else moves down.

As for the positioning, the expectation was that Victor Martinez would catch tonight, given that he has caught Max Scherzer in a game before. Instead, Martinez gets the start at first base, Miguel Cabrera shifts over to third, and Nick Castellanos heads to the bench for a night. It’s seemingly not a simple matchup decision, since Alex Avila is 0-for-11 with four strikeouts for his career against Dodgers starter Dan Haren.

Since Brad Ausmus said over the weekend that he expected Martinez to catch one of these two guys, that presumably means he’ll catch Anibal Sanchez tomorrow night.

TIGERS (career numbers off Haren)

  1. Rajai Davis, LF (1-for-6, 2 K’s)
  2. Ian Kinsler, 2B (8-for-36, 3 doubles, 3 walks, 6 K’s)
  3. Torii Hunter, RF (3-for-13, double, HR, walk, 3 K’s)
  4. Miguel Cabrera, 3B (4-for-19, HR, 3 K’s)
  5. Victor Martinez, 1B (9-for-26, 2 doubles, HR, 3 walks, 6 K’s)
  6. Austin Jackson, CF (2-for-11, double, triple, 2 K’s)
  7. Alex Avila, C (0-for-11, 4 K’s)
  8. Andrew Romine, SS
  9. Max Scherzer, P

 

DODGERS

  1. Dee Gordon, 2B
  2. Carl Crawford, LF
  3. Hanley Ramirez, SS
  4. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
  5. Andre Ethier, RF
  6. Matt Kemp, CF
  7. Juan Uribe, 3B
  8. Tim Federowicz, C
  9. Dan Haren, P

The numbers behind the Tigers’ draft debate

Opening Week has come and gone, and so far, there’s no sign of a deal between the Tigers and free-agent shortstop Stephen Drew. So for now, it looks like if there’s a chance at it happening, it’ll likely involve either a horrendous start from Alex Gonzalez, or Drew remaining on the market into June, which would take the draft compensation tag off of him.

It’s the draft pick that appears to be looming in importance for the Tigers, who currently hold the 23rd overall selection. It’s not just the pick, but the spending cap money that comes with it. A look at the numbers gives some hint why.

If nothing else changes between now and June, the Tigers will go into the draft with just under $4.9 million of cap money to spend on their top 10 picks, sixth lowest among the 30 Major League clubs. About $1.95 million of that money comes from their first-round pick, though they can spend some of that money elsewhere if they sign their top pick for below slot. If the Tigers sign Drew and forfeit their first-round pick, they’ll have just under $3 million to spend on their remaining nine picks. Only the Orioles ($2.2 million), who gave up draft picks to sign Nelson Cruz and Ubaldo Jimenez this spring, would have less to spend.

Whether that decides this matter is certainly debatable. On the one hand, even with a new manager and younger players being worked, this is still a team looking to win now, and a team whose best chance to win looks like this year and maybe next as players hit free agency. On the other hand, Miguel Cabrera’s record deal puts a new imperative on player development to bring some younger, cost-controlled talent through the system to Detroit if the Tigers have any chance of staying a long-term contender, and this year’s draft reportedly runs deep in talent — deep enough that the late first round and the rounds beyond that should matter. Of course, the Tigers should get some extra help from next year’s draft if they make Max Scherzer a qualifying offer and he signs elsewhere.

Also, in case you were wondering, the Tigers have the sixth-lowest spending cap on international signings with just under $2 million. That won’t change whether the Tigers eventually sign Drew or not.

Yankees trade Eduardo Nunez to Twins

So much for the what-if speculation that the Tigers would’ve faced had Eduardo Nunez reached their waiver spot. The former Yankees shortstop of the future is now part of the Twins organization, traded to Minnesota on Monday for left-handed pitching prospect Miguel Sulbaran.

The Yankees designated Nunez for assignment a few days ago to make room on their roster for Yangervis Solarte, who pretty much took the shortstop prospect title along with Dean Anna. That raised the question of whether the Tigers would take a shot on the 26-year-old who, despite a fairly bad, injury-shortened 2013 season filling in for Derek Jeter, provided a bit of a compromise of being younger than Alex Gonzalez but more experienced than the prospects the Tigers currently have in waiting.

The Twins, for what it’s worth, assigned Nunez (who actually had a minor-league option left) to Triple-A Rochester.

Sunday: Tigers vs. Orioles

The first Sunday of the regular season brings the first Sunday lineup of Brad Ausmus’ managerial tenure. Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez swap positions — Cabrera at DH, Martinez at first base. Bryan Holaday starts behind the plate. Andrew Romine gets the start at shortstop, while Tyler Collins gets another start in left.

On the O’s side, Buck Showalter tweaks his lineup a bit to try to get a spark. Chris Davis and Adam Jones switch spots in the batting order, while Nick Markakis moves back to his old second spot.

Bonus: Today’s game is being shown on MLB Network for viewers outside of Michigan.

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

TIGERS (career numbers off Chris Tillman)

  1. Ian Kinsler, 2B (4-for-12, double, HR, walk, K)
  2. Torii Hunter, RF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, DH (4-for-9, double, HR, 2 walks, 2 K’s)
  4. Victor Martinez, 1B (2-for-6, K)
  5. Austin Jackson, CF (2-for-9, 2 K’s)
  6. Tyler Collins, LF
  7. Nick Castellanos, 3B
  8. Bryan Holaday, C (1-for-2)
  9. Andrew Romine, SS

P: Justin Verlander

ORIOLES (career numbers off Verlander)

  1. David Lough, LF (2-for-12, double, 3 K’s)
  2. Nick Markakis, RF (10-for-41, 4 doubles, 5 walks, 10 K’s)
  3. Adam Jones, CF (3-for-27, HR, walk, 8 K’s)
  4. Chris Davis, 1B (3-for-17, 2 walks, 9 K’s)
  5. Nelson Cruz, DH (4-for-26, 2 HR, 8 K’s)
  6. Matt Wieters, C (3-for-19, double, triple, HR, 2 walks, 4 K’s)
  7. J.J. Hardy, SS (8-for-31, double, 3 HR, walk, 6 K’s)
  8. Ryan Flaherty, 3B (2-for-6, K)
  9. Steve Lombardozzi, 2B (0-for-2)

P: Chris Tillman

Saturday: Don Kelly Opening Day — Tigers vs. O’s

Bud Norris gave up a .315 batting average and .889 OPS to left-handed hitters last season, compared with .241 and .629 from right-handers. So if you’re going to pick a spot for left-handed hitting Don Kelly to get his first start of the season, this one makes more sense than others, though it comes at the expense of sitting Nick Castellanos while he’s swinging a hot bat. Right-handed hitting Rajai Davis keeps the start in left.

Baltimore welcomes back J.J. Hardy to the lineup after he missed Friday’s opener with back spasms. Interesting decision by manager Buck Showalter to move Nelson Cruz to the second spot and shift Nick Markakis down to fifth.

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

TIGERS (career numbers vs. Norris)

  1. Ian Kinsler, 2B (0-for-2, walk)
  2. Torii Hunter, RF (1-for-6, double, 2 K’s)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B (1-for-6, double, 2 K’s)
  4. Victor Martinez, DH (2-for-6, HR)
  5. Austin Jackson, CF
  6. Alex Avila, C (0-for-6, 2 K’s)
  7. Alex Gonzalez, SS (3-for-6, double)
  8. Don Kelly, 3B (1-for-5, K)
  9. Rajai Davis, LF (0-for-2, K)

P: Rick Porcello

ORIOLES (career numbers off Porcello)

  1. David Lough, LF (2-for-5, double, K)
  2. Nelson Cruz, RF (4-for-20, 6 K’s)
  3. Chris Davis, 1B (4-for-12, 3 HR, 4 K’s)
  4. Adam Jones, CF (3-for-18, 6 K’s)
  5. Nick Markakis, DH (8-for-19, double, HR, 2 walks, K)
  6. J.J. Hardy, SS (6-for-15, double, 3 K’s)
  7. Matt Wieters, C (4-for-11, double, 2 walks, K)
  8. Steve Lombardozzi, 2B
  9. Jonathan Schoop, 3B

P: Bud Norris

Friday: Tigers vs. Orioles

I’m off today. Chris Vannini and Matt Slovin will have the Tigers coverage this weekend from Comerica Park. Still, I figured I’d post the lineups for today. The Tigers lineup should look awfully familiar from yesterday. The Orioles lineup features former Tiger (even if he never played a regular-season game in a Detroit uniform) Steve Lombardozzi at second base, but no J.J. Hardy, who is being rested with back spasms.

Weatherwise, a day that began with dense fog this morning turned to midday rain, which delayed first pitch until 1:15pm. Topping it all off, there’s a wind advisory for this afternoon. This seems like the true April in the D.

Here are the lineups for today’s series opener against the O’s:

TIGERS (career numbers off Miguel Gonzalez)

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

P: Anibal Sanchez

ORIOLES (career numbers off Sanchez)

  1. Nick Markakis, RF (1-for-3, double)
  2. David Lough, LF (0-for-4, walk)
  3. Adam Jones, CF (2-for-3)
  4. Chris Davis, 1B
  5. Nelson Cruz, DH (1-for-4, HR, K)
  6. Steve Clevenger, C
  7. Jonathan Schoop, 3B
  8. Ryan Flaherty, SS
  9. Steve Lombardozzi, 2B (0-for-3)

P: Miguel Gonzalez

Tigers-Royals postponed, Sanchez pushed to Friday

As expected, the cold, rainy forecast across Michigan this afternoon led to an early postponement of today’s Tigers-Royals finale at Comerica Park. The game will be made up with a 1:08 contest on Thursday, June 19, tacked onto the end of the Royals’ next trip into town. It was an off day for both teams, and neither would be playing 21 days in a row.

As for the Tigers rotation, Anibal Sanchez — who hasn’t faced Major League hitters in a game setting since March 12 — has been bumped to Friday’s series opener against the Orioles. Rick Porcello moves back to Saturday, while Justin Verlander stays on turn Sunday. That means Drew Smyly’s spot will be skipped, which makes sense given Brad Ausmus’ previous statements on watching Smyly’s innings. With three off-days in an eight-day span starting next week, the Tigers could go without a fifth starter until April 19 and pitch Smyly in relief until then if they wanted.

Game 3: Tigers vs. Royals (weather permitting)

Radar

Neither the radar nor the forecast look promising for baseball today at Comerica Park. It might be an easier decision, though, if the rain arrives before game time rather than during the game. As Brad Ausmus pointed out, it would be easier to push back the rotation and start Anibal Sanchez on Friday than it would be to have a rain delay knock out Sanchez around the third inning and leave the bullpen to cover the rest of the game.

The Tigers and Royals have a common off day June 19, the day after their next series here in Detroit. Playing that day wouldn’t cause either team to play more than 20 days in a row.

Sanchez has been a magnet for bad weather lately. Between Spring Training rainouts, his shoulder scare and a rainout last Saturday at Washington, he hasn’t faced Major League hitters in a game setting since March 12.

“Sanchie’s going to start our next game, whenever that is,” Ausmus said. “I think the bigger concern is we don’t want to be in a situation where Sanchie goes out there, throws two innings and then all of a sudden we get rained out. For us, that would be the worst-case scenario.”

At the same time, Ausmus said, Justin Verlander will not be shifted from his next starting assignment Sunday against the Orioles. That means Rick Porcello or, more likely, Drew Smyly would be skipped in the rotation this weekend. Considering they’re already keeping an eye on Smyly’s innings, skipping him might make more sense.

If this game does get played, Andrew Romine is scheduled to make his first start at shortstop, which Ausmus said is mainly intended to give 37-year-old Alex Gonzalez a day off, rather than a matchup play. That would leave Don Kelly and Bryan Holaday as the two Tigers yet to play in a game, and Ausmus said he’d like to get both in a game before they head to the West Coast next week for Interleague Play.

TIGERS

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

P: Anibal Sanchez

ROYALS (career numbers off Sanchez)

  1. Norichika Aoki, RF
  2. Omar Infante, 2B (3-for-18, walk, 3 K’s)
  3. Eric Hosmer, 1B (3-for-16, K)
  4. Billy Butler, DH (4-for-15, walk, 3 K’s)
  5. Alex Gordon, LF (5-for-15, walk, 3 K’s)
  6. Salvador Perez, C (0-for-9, 2 walks, 2 K’s)
  7. Mike Moustakas, 3B (1-for-10, double, 2 walks, 3 K’s)
  8. Lorenzo Cain, CF (3-for-10)
  9. Alcides Escobar, SS (4-for-15, 3 K’s)

P: Yordano Ventura

Game 2: The greatest trick the devil ever pulled

Joe Nathan has inflicted plenty of pain on the Tigers over the years. He’s 36-for-36 in save chances against them, including 19-for-19 at Comerica Park. He pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings against them in Game 163 back in 2009. He held Detroit to 2-for-20 with no runs scored in 2005, then 2-for-26 with no runs in 2008.

None of that damage he inflicted against the Tigers would compare to the damage he could do as a Tiger if he had nothing left. And as the tweets chimed in after Nathan’s blown save Wednesday, one blown save, you could sense the panic in Tigertown.

“89 mph on Nathan’s fastball,” one tweet read. “Two years/$20 million down the drain without getting any productive outings out of him.”

“Glad we got that lockdown closer!” another tweet read.

“Joe Nathalverde,” chimed in another.

It’s like the grand final act in his tormenting the Tigers! Except, well, no. It’s one outing, and he’s still Joe Nathan.

That doesn’t mean the Tigers got Nathan near his prime, because they didn’t. But they also didn’t get a broken-down closer, either.

More than a few people remarked about Nathan’s velocity, but he has averaged 94 mph on his fastball only once since 2008. He averaged just over 92 mph last year during his dominant season, and he averaged just over 91 mph on Wednesday, according to data from brooksbaseball.net. The power-throwing closer from the Twins days changed his game a while ago, well before he turned 39 years old, focusing on three different pitches and different looks. Besides, Max Scherzer averaged exactly 92 mph on his fastball Wednesday, so Nathan had company.

Second, to say the Tigers didn’t get any productive outings out of Nathan not only panics after two outings, it ignores the scoreless ninth inning Nathan threw on Opening Day before the Tigers scored the winning run in the bottom half.

Third, the only base hit Nathan allowed Wednesday was a one-out ground-ball single up the middle from Omar Infante.

“He hit a pretty decent pitch, got it on the end of the bat but got enough of it to get it to the outfield grass. Pretty good pitch,” Nathan said. “That’s the difference between two out, nobody on and a man on that ends up stealing a base and now you’re facing some good hitters with the tying run in scoring position.

“Fell behind Hosmer 3-0 and tried to make some really good pitches away, tried to be as fine as I can. You don’t want him hurting you when you’re down 3-0, especially when you’ve still got a chance to maybe get a double play ball with Butler. He gets up and we had a grinder at-bat. I thought I might have had a chance when we got to a spot to throw a curveball after feeding him a bunch of sliders and fastballs. Went to a curveball that might have had a chance and he fouled off a pretty good pitch that I felt I might have been able to get him on, and then from there you’ve just gotta hope you can get him to maybe chase one. You don’t want to give in to him and feed him a slider for a strike. He’s been known to hit some gaps and he could have done some more damage.

“Bases-loaded, one out with Gordon, you never want to give up the lead but you also don’t want them taking the lead either. So we’ll take a fly ball the opposite way to tie the game and try to at least extend that game, give ourselves a chance to win it or go extra innings.”

The fly ball to left from Gordon carried deep enough to easily score Pedro Ciriaco. That was all Nathan allowed. It wasn’t pretty, but it wasn’t disaster either.

So, everyone take a deep breath. And please, if you still need to vent and compare Nathan to past Tigers closers Todd Jones, Jose Valverde and Joaquin Benoit, at least give Fernando Rodney the professional respect to put him on the list, right?

Play of the game: By the game Wednesday’s game ended, it seemed like hours since Tyler Collins made his diving grab in short left field to rob Alex Gordon on a leadoff hit in the second. But it was no less important with the game’s late developments, because it helped Max Scherzer settle in and take over the game from there.

Biggest out: Long before Billy Butler battled to get a walk out of Nathan in the ninth inning, he swung at Scherzer’s 3-0 pitch with two men on and one out. Even for a guy who’s 11-for-29 with four home runs lifetime when putting 3-0 pitches in play, it was amazing.

“I’m not mad at myself for swinging at that,” Butler said later. “I got the green light, got a good pitch to hit and just got a bad result.”

Strategy session: Brad Ausmus went with the reverse splits and not only started Collins in left field, but batted him second. He went 0-for-3 with a fielder’s choice, reaching base when replay confirmed he had beaten a double-play throw to first.

Strategy session, part 2: For those who grew used to seeing Jim Leyland visit the mound only to make a pitching change or line up the infield, rarely ever to judge his pitcher, seeing Ausmus have a lengthy mound visit with two outs in the ninth and Alcides Escobar at the plate had to be a throwback.

“He asked me how I’m doing,” Scherzer said alter. “I was honest. I told him I was tired. When it got down to it, I wanted to face Escobar, I wanted to get out of that inning. Fortunately I was able to make the pitches to do that.”

Shortstop watch: Alex Gonzalez went 1-for-4 with an infield single, and was thrown out at home plate on a ground ball to third. He did not have any glaring misplays at short.

Line of the day: Ian Kinsler had half of Detroit’s hits, going 3-for-5 with a solo homer, a walkoff single and two RBIs.

Stat of the day: 1: No-decisions Scherzer has taken as a Tiger when delivering six or more shutout innings in an outing. After the highest run support in the Majors last year, perhaps it was karma.

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

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