Alex Avila takes a leap at the net

Not surprisingly, Alex Avila didn’t want to make a big deal out of his jumping catch at the screen Friday night to get an out. He was, however, willing to have a little fun with it.

“I felt like I probably could’ve dunked a basketball today. That’s how good my legs felt,” Avila said with a wry smile when asked about his vertical leap.

It was an odd sight to see any catcher have to jump for a ball, let alone Avila. He usually spends more time diving to the dirt to block a pitch. It’s especially odd to see a player using a screen like trampoline.

For Avila, it was what he felt he had to do to catch the ball before it hit the screen.

“I went up there and I jumped because I thought maybe the ball was going to hit the net,” Avila said. “It was kind of coming down, and I wasn’t sure if I reached up there if I would’ve been able to catch it. I just took a shot to jump and see if I could grab it before it hit the net. …

“Not exactly something you plan or practice. To be honest with you, it’s because I didn’t get back there fast enough. A guy with a little more mobility probably catches it a little bit easier.”

Brad Ausmus, a catcher who had a little more ability for most of his career, seemed to hint at that.

“It was a nice catch. I would’ve caught it without the jump,” he said. “Never seen that before in my life. Very athletic.”

Also very trusting that the net was going to hold him back from the seats, which were empty in the area where he jumped.

“The cable’s pretty thick, so I was hoping it did,” he said. “I mean, you look at those cables and they’ve got to last with foul balls going into them every day. I didn’t know. I just wanted to catch the ball.”

Friday’s lineups: Tigers vs. Indians

Eugenio Suarez returns to the lineup for the first time since last Saturday after Brad Ausmus started Andrew Romine for the entire Royals series.

“He wasn’t being punished for anything,” Ausmus said of Suarez during his pregame session. “Certainly, I think young guys at this point put a little more pressure sometimes on themselves.”

Ausmus said again that he started Romine this week trying to take advantage of his defense while his bat was hot.

Rajai Davis, meanwhile, returns to center field against a right-hander, in this case Carlos Carrasco.

On the Indians side, Mike Aviles starts in the outfield for the first time since his disastrous defensive display on Labor Day against the Tigers in Cleveland. Aviles starts in left, while lefty nemesis Ryan Raburn gets the start in right. Michael Brantley is the DH.

The forecast looks like it’s going to hold up for baseball, albeit with the first bit of fall chill in the air. Rain isn’t scheduled to arrive until after midnight.

Injury update: Phil Coke said today he was feeling improvement in his back, but he was still clearly limited in his movements. He was on the field for batting practice for a brief while before going back in.

“He still feels it a little bit in his lower back,” Ausmus said. “He’s touch-and-go at this point.”

Broadcast note: Tonight’s game is on MLB Network everywhere outside of the Detroit viewing market. Jack Morris is still in the booth this week along with Rod and Mario.

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

 

TIGERS (career numbers off Carrasco)

  1. Ian Kinsler, 2B (3-for-12, 2 doubles, walk, 4 K’s)
  2. Torii Hunter, RF (6-for-15, double, triple, 2 HR, walk, 3 K’s)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, DH (5-for-15, double, HR, 3 walks, 3 K’s)
  4. Victor Martinez, 1B (4-for-14, 2 doubles)
  5. J.D. Martinez, LF (2-for-7, K)
  6. Alex Avila, C (3-for-9, double, 2 walks, 5 K’s)
  7. Nick Castellanos, 3B (2-for-4, walk, K)
  8. Eugenio Suarez, SS (1-for-4, 2 K’s)
  9. Rajai Davis, CF (2-for-7, K)

P: David Price

INDIANS (career numbers off Price)

  1. Michael Bourn, CF (3-for-12, double, 3 K’s)
  2. Jose Ramirez, SS (0-for-4, 3 K’s)
  3. Michael Brantley, DH (2-for-13, walk, 2 K’s)
  4. Carlos Santana, 1B (6-for-15, 4 doubles, 3 walks, 3 K’s)
  5. Yan Gomes, C (0-for-3, K)
  6. Jason Kipnis, 2B (1-for-6, 2 K’s)
  7. Ryan Raburn, RF (5-for-16, double, 3 walks, 5 K’s)
  8. Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B (3-for-6, double, HR)
  9. Mike Aviles, LF (5-for-20, double, walk, 2 K’s)

P: Carlos Carrasco

MLB sets postseason schedule, Tigers prepare to put playoff tickets on sale

Not to presume anything or look too far ahead, but for planning purposes, below are the relevant dates for the MLB postseason schedule released today.

The Tigers announced earlier Thursday that they’ll put tickets for potential Wild Card and Division Series home games on sale next Wednesday at noon ET. If you’ve bought these in previous seasons, you know the drill. Tickets are available only online at tigers.com, not by phone or at the box office. There’s a limit of 12 per customer, per game.

Unless something crazy happens, plan on the Tigers having the worse seed if they get to the Division Series, whether they win the AL Central or not. That means hosting Games 3-4 on Oct. 5-6. Game 3 could create another football-baseball doubleheader downtown, as the Lions are hosting the Bills at 1pm that day. Surprisingly, those ALDS matchups are the only postseason games scheduled on a Sunday until the World Series.

The good news for AL fans is that there shouldn’t be much searching up and down the TV listings to try to find which network has which game in a series. TBS has the entire AL postseason, from Wild Card game through the ALCS. The National League games are being distributed among ESPN (for the Wild Card game), FOX, Fox Sports 1 and MLB Network. FOX has just two postseason games before the World Series, carrying Games 1 and 6 of the NLCS.

Tuesday, Sept. 30: AL Wild Card game, televised on TBS (NL game is Oct. 1 on ESPN)

AL Division Series (all games on TBS)

  • Game 1: Thursday, Oct. 2 (better seed hosts)
  • Game 2: Friday, Oct. 3 (better seed hosts)
  • Game 3: Sunday, Oct. 5 (worse seed hosts)
  • Game 4: Monday, Oct. 6 (worse seed hosts)
  • Game 5: Wednesday, Oct. 8 (better seed hosts)

AL Championship Series (all games on TBS)

  • Game 1: Friday, Oct. 10 (better seed hosts)
  • Game 2: Saturday, Oct. 11 (better seed hosts)
  • Game 3: Monday, Oct. 13 (worse seed hosts)
  • Game 4: Tuesday, Oct. 14 (worse seed hosts)
  • Game 5: Wednesday, Oct. 15 (worse seed hosts)
  • Game 6: Friday, Oct. 17 (better seed hosts)
  • Game 7: Saturday, Oct. 18 (better seed hosts)

World Series (all games on FOX)

  • Game 1: Tuesday, Oct. 21 (AL hosts)
  • Game 2: Wednesday, Oct. 22 (AL)
  • Game 3: Friday, Oct. 24 (NL)
  • Game 4: Saturday, Oct. 25 (NL)
  • Game 5: Sunday, Oct. 26 (NL)
  • Game 6: Tuesday, Oct. 28 (AL)
  • Game 7: Wednesday, Oct. 29 (AL)

Alburquerque’s fist pump creates a stir

Under most circumstances, an opponent taking offense to an Al Alburquerque out celebration is a sure sign of postseason baseball. It came a little early this season.

It hasn’t gotten much attention, but Alburquerque has been increasingly celebrating big strikeouts, big game or not, if they’re in a big situation. Usually, it involves a fist pump. When he struck out Mike Moustakas in the eighth inning Wednesday to keep the Tigers-Royals series finale a two-run game, however, he paired up a fist pump with a leg kick. He also happened to do so in the direction of the Royals dugout.

There was more than a few Royals glaring back.

“It definitely got me fired up,” Lorenzo Cain said, “because I was on deck. So to see him strike Moose out and fist pump like that, I was fired up the entire half inning I was out there. And I felt like I had to go up there and do something and prove myself in that next at-bat and that’s exactly what I did.”

Cain tripled and scored an insurance run in the ninth.

Alburquerque has a history of getting a reaction. He kissed a ball after inducing a comebacker in Game 2 of the 2012 AL Division Series against Oakland. That said, there seemed to be more than a little back-and-forth going on between the Tigers and Royals this week, including Royals players with Miguel Cabrera.

Iglesias cleared for lower-body workouts

Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias, whose 2014 season ended in Spring Training when stress fractures were discovered in both leagues, received a major go-ahead towards being ready for 2015 when he was cleared for lower-body rehabilitation and conditioning exercises Tuesday.

Iglesias received the go-ahead from Dr. Thomas Clanton during a follow-up exam at the Steadman Clinic in Colorado on Tuesday, six months following his initial diagnosis. An MRI, CT scan and other exams showed sufficient bone healing in both legs that he could increase his workouts and put more weight on the legs.

“This was the best possible news we were looking at,” head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said Wednesday. “As far as Dr. Clanton is concerned, it appears the bone [in each leg] has healed, and it’s now time to put stress back on it and see how the bone responds.”

Iglesias continues to follow a program to strengthen his bones through medication and diet. The goal from here is to get Iglesias to a point where he can have a normal offseason workout program and be ready for full activity when Spring Training begins in February.

“Generally, he would start his normal offseason conditioning program at the beginning of November,” Rand said. “So we have from now until the beginning of November to put him in a position to hopefully be able to do that.”

That involves strengthening muscles and biomechanics. More than that, though, it involves seeing how Iglesias’ legs respond to weight bearing.

Iglesias has had limited lower-body work for the past few weeks, but mainly in the pool, keeping weight off his legs. He has been working out near his home in Miami, rather than at the Spring Training facility in Lakeland, so that he can work out without the pressure of pushing himself too soon.

Wednesday’s lineups: Tigers vs. Royals

IMG_2949

First things first, I don’t know the chances of getting this game in. The forecast isn’t encouraging, but they’ve dealt with that before. The alternative is to call this game and bring both teams back to Detroit on their common off-day next Thursday — the Tigers flying in from Minnesota on their way to KC, the Royals from KC in the middle of a homestand — and neither team seems keen on doing that. So I’m guessing they’re willing to wait a while to get this game in.

Assuming they do play, Don Kelly starts in center field for the third time in four games, getting a left-handed bat in the lineup against James Shields. Andrew Romine gets his fourth consecutive start at shortstop, which has less to do with lefty-righty splits and more to do with defensive consistency. That said, there’s not a huge lefty-righty split against Shields (.253 AVG vs. righties, .266 vs. lefties). The difference in OPS is minuscule.

TIGERS (career numbers off Shields)

  1. Ian Kinsler, 2B (11-for-50, 2 doubles, 3 HR, 3 walks, 3 K’s)
  2. Torii Hunter, RF (18-for-56, 4 doubles, triple, 13 K’s)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, DH (19-for-50, 8 doubles, 2 HR, 4 walks, 9 K’s)
  4. Victor Martinez, 1B (13-for-41, 4 doubles, HR, 9 K’s)
  5. J.D. Martinez, LF (5-for-12, double, HR, walk, 3 K’s)
  6. Don Kelly, CF (2-for-9, K)
  7. Nick Castellanos, 3B (1-for-5, 2 K’s)
  8. Alex Avila, C (9-for-28, double, 2 HR, 3 walks, 13 K’s)
  9. Andrew Romine, SS (1-for-6, K)

P: Rick Porcello

ROYALS (career numbers against Porcello)

  1. Nori Aoki, RF (0-for-5, 2 walks, K)
  2. Omar Infante, 2B (4-for-6, triple)
  3. Alex Gordon, LF (11-for-34, 2 doubles, 2 HR, walk, 7 K’s)
  4. Josh Willingham, DH (8-for-21, 3 doubles, 2 HR, 5 walks, 7 K’s)
  5. Eric Hosmer, 1B (6-for-19, 2 HR, 2 walks, 2 K’s)
  6. Salvador Perez, C (3-for-16, 2 K’s)
  7. Mike Moustakas, 3B (5-for-20, 3 doubles, 2 walks, 4 K’s)
  8. Lorenzo Cain, CF (0-for-5, walk, 2 K’s)
  9. Alcides Escobar, SS (1-for-26, 5 K’s)

P: James Shields

Tuesday’s lineups: Tigers vs. Royals

Andrew Romine gets a third start at shortstop, partly for his defense, partly for his recent at-bats.

“Consistency with the glove, obviously, we’ve known,” Brad Ausmus said pregame. “But if you get a guy like that, who’s a good defensive shortstop, swinging the bat pretty well, stealing some bases, it makes it a lot easier to write his name in the lineup if you’re scoring runs. If he were scuffling with the bat and the team was struggling scoring runs, it might be a different scenario.”

The switch-hitting Romine, for what it’s worth, is 17-for-47 off left-handed pitching this season. He’s 1-for-3 lifetime against Jason Vargas.

Don Kelly’s reign in center field, however, is done for the night. Rajai Davis returns to his usual spot with lefty Vargas on the mound for KC.

TIGERS (career numbers off Jason Vargas)

  1. Ian Kinsler, 2B (17-for-53, 6 doubles, 2 HR, 3 walks, 2 K’s)
  2. Torii Hunter, RF (10-for-37, 4 doubles, 4 walks, 7 K’s)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, DH (4-for-15, 2 walks, HR, 6 walks, 2 K’s)
  4. Victor Martinez, 1B (4-for-9, walk, 2 K’s)
  5. J.D. Martinez, LF (0-for-4, 2 K’s)
  6. Nick Castellanos, 3B (1-for-9, HR, K)
  7. Alex Avila, C (4-for-14, double, 2 HR, walk, 4 K’s)
  8. Andrew Romine, SS (1-for-3, K)
  9. Rajai Davis, CF (5-for-19, 2 doubles, walk, 5 K’s)

P: Max Scherzer

ROYALS (career numbers off Scherzer)

  1. Nori Aoki, RF (1-for-4, walk, K)
  2. Omar Infante, 2B (2-for-6, 2 K’s)
  3. Alex Gordon, LF (14-for-34, 4 doubles, 3 HR, 7 walks, 5 K’s)
  4. Salvador Perez, C (9-for-23, 2 doubles, 2 HR, walk, 3 K’s)
  5. Eric Hosmer, 1B (6-for-31, 2 doubles,  2 walks, 9 K’s)
  6. Josh Willingham, DH (5-for-20, double, 2 HR, 3 walks, 9 K’s)
  7. Mike Moustakas, 3B (4-for-28, double, HR, 9 K’s)
  8. Lorenzo Cain, CF (0-for-12, 5 K’s)
  9. Alcides Escobar, SS (8-for-34, 2 HR, 7 K’s)

P: Jason Vargas

Soria to be activated from DL on Wednesday

Two days after pitching a simulated game against his teammates, Joakim Soria will be available to pitch in a real, critical game in the division race against his old team. The Tigers will activate the reliever from the 15-day disabled list on Wednesday, manager Brad Ausmus announced.

His return brings a major boost to a Tigers bullpen that has struggled to cover the late innings not just in his absence for the past month, but for nearly the entire season.

Soria said Tuesday his arm and his left oblique, the latter which landed him on the DL in early August, felt fine after throwing 27 pain-free pitches off the mound at Comerica Park Monday afternoon. He played light catch before batting practice on Tuesday just to make sure.

The move brings Soria back for the late-season games they acquired him to pitch. The 30-year-old right-hander made just a half-dozen appearances in a Tigers uniform following his July 23 trade from Texas before strained his left oblique in an August 9 game at Toronto.

Soria gave up runs in each of his first three Tiger appearances, including four runs on six hits with one out July 29 against the White Sox. He had just started to settle down with back-to-back scoreless innings in August before the injury hit.

Ausmus said Monday that Soria will likely reprise his previous role, pitching anywhere from the seventh inning on.

“We probably still have to be careful in terms of usage, at least initially,” Ausmus said, “but I still expect him to be pitching towards the back of the bullpen.”

J-Gutted: Eight-hit third fulfills Tigers plan against Guthrie

The Tigers had the same game plan that every other team has against the Royals: Get to the starting pitcher, before the vaunted KC bullpen can get a chance to protect a lead.

“We know that coming in. We’ve gotta jump on them,” Andrew Romine said.

They found their opportunity when Jeremy Guthrie left pitches in the strike zone. Once they adapted their plan at the plate, they strung together at-bats and hits that put up a six-run third inning and knocked Guthrie out of the game.

“I think it was good at-bats from the get-go. Guys were aggressive in the strike zone,” Brad Ausmus said. “They weren’t chasing a lot of pitches out of the zone. Last time Guthrie pitched here against us he pitched outstanding. Luckily today, we had better at bats and were able to get to him.”

Guthrie’s previous two meetings against the Tigers this year fell on opposite extremes. His June 18 visit to Comerica Park saw him tie a season high with nine strikeouts over 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball, allowing the Royals to pull out a 2-1 win and a third straight victory over the Tigers in Detroit.

The July 10 rematch at Kauffman Stadium saw the Tigers score three runs in the opening inning, two more in the fourth, then eight straight hits (two off Guthrie before he exited) in an eight-run fifth. Guthrie was charged with eight runs on eight hits in four-plus innings, walking three and striking out just two.

Monday, especially the third inning, was more like the latter.

“It kind of seemed he was leaving a couple pitches up,” Romine said. “Guys were taking advantage of it. Obviously that carries over to the next guy, if you’re paying attention: Lay off some of those bad pitches and eventually he’ll leave one up. It seemed like everybody was taking that approach. At this level, that’s just watching a couple pitches.”

By the third inning, they didn’t take many. The eight-hit outburst took just 27 pitches over a 10-batter stretch. Just three hitters reached a two-strike count, and just two pitches resulted in a swing and miss.

None of the hits was especially crushed. They didn’t have to be. Torii Hunter singled deep into the hole at short. Miguel Cabrera pulled a line drive into left. Victor Martinez smacked a ground ball off a diving Eric Hosmer near first base.

J.D. Martinez hit into an out at second base, but Omar Infante couldn’t turn it into a double play.

The next three hits all were pulled inside the foul lines for doubles: Don Kelly inside first base, Nick Castellanos past Mike Moustakas and down the left-field line, then Alex Avila back inside first base and down the right-field line.

“Guthrie when he pitched here before, earlier in the season, he pitched really well. … We didn’t do much off him,” Kelly said. “So to get to him early today, get some balls up in the zone, be able to hit some extra-base hits, score some runs, was key.”

Romine hit an easy ground ball through the left side. Ian Kinsler finally broke the string by popping out on the first pitch. With two outs and the end in sight, Hunter lined a single into left to score Avila and build an 8-2 lead.

“Guthrie’s one of those guys that has that ability to make a big pitch,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “He was one pitch from getting out of that third inning but it just kind of snowballed on him. He couldn’t get that pitch where somebody would hit on the ground and we could turn two.”

Guthrie’s summary of the inning was fairly simple.

“Probably too many hittable pitches,” he said. “That’d be my guess.”

Hunter, Kelly OK after collision in right-center

Don Kelly’s start in center field Monday against the Royals was his second in a row, his fifth of the season and the 44th of his career. Torii Hunter’s start in right was his 110th for the Tigers this year and his 2,070th career outfield start.

The 34-year-old Kelly and 39-year-old Hunter both showed a younger man’s range chasing after a Lorenzo Cain drive to right-center in the seventh inning. The result, however, was a disastrous collision that turned a would-be catch for Hunter into an inside-the-park home run for Cain, and left Hunter being tested multiple times for a possible concussion.

It was one of few lowlights for the Tigers in a 9-5 win Monday at Comerica Park. It was nearly far worse, but Hunter appears to be fine.

“It looked like it could be a problem,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “That happens sometimes in the outfield. Guys are running full speed, trying to make catches. Fortunately, I don’t think this is going to be a major problem.”

Kelly isn’t a frequent face in center, but he started the last two games as Ausmus tried to add a left-handed bat against Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie. Kelly couldn’t get to a two-run bloop single from Nori Aoki in the third inning, but ran down a ball later in right-center, a drive that sent Kelly and Hunter towards the same area before Hunter peeled off at the last minute.

When Cain drove Justin Verlander’s seventh-inning pitch deeper into the gap, Hunter seemed to have the route, but Kelly gave chase.

“It’s one of those balls that is right in between,” Kelly said. “I didn’t hear him call it, and I called it late, because I didn’t know … I didn’t want to call it and not be able to get there.

“I called it late, and he was already committed. It was just one of those freak plays that was right down the middle, unfortunately. I hope he’s OK.”

The ball was in Hunter’s glove when they collided, knocking both ball and glove away. Both players hit the ground, Hunter hitting with his head.

Kelly immediately got up, but didn’t realize where the ball was. He chased after the glove, but the ball had gone the opposite direction and was sitting near the fence.

“I heard it go in his glove,” Kelly said. “That’s why I checked his glove, because I thought maybe his glove came off with the ball still in it. But I must’ve knocked the ball out when I ran into him.”

Cain, meanwhile, was motoring around second into third base. By the time Kelly reached the ball, which Hunter had spotted, Cain was headed home.

“As I’m running, I’m just looking, looking, looking to see if they were going to catch it,” Cain said. “I noticed that Torii Hunter had it and [Kelly] ran into him and I just saw the ball fly out. I just had to turn it on and see what happened. I definitely didn’t think it’d be an inside-the-park home run but I’ll take it.”

Hunter stayed down as Ausmus and head athletic trainer Kevin Rand ran out from the Tigers dugout. Rand followed Hunter back to right field, asking him questions to check his state of mind.

“The first concern was concussion,” Ausmus said. “Kevin Rand ran some questions by him. He answered all the questions correctly.”

Hunter stayed in for another single, doubling and scoring in the eighth. Ausmus said Hunter complained of a headache after scoring, so they took him out as a precaution.

“Tested him again when he came out of the game, Kevin Rand said he tested fine,” Ausmus said. “We don’t expect it to be an issue.”

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