Game 85: Porcello’s sinker takes flight

Rick Porcello compiled his 25-inning scoreless streak over the course of four different starts and three weeks. It took just five pitches and two batters for the Rays to end it. One batter later, Porcello had a three-run deficit before he had his first out. With David Price pitching on the other side, that was essentially the ballgame.

It took six batters for Porcello to get a ground-ball out, one of 10 he ended up earning on the night.

It took just five-plus innings for the Rays to get Porcello, owner of back-to-back shutouts, out of the game.

All in all, it was a rough night. And Final Vote or no, it was not a good spotlight for him on national television.

“I was falling behind guys,” he said. “I didn’t stay down in the zone well tonight at all.”

After three outings that made him look like he could pound hitters into the ground with his sharp-moving sinker, Sunday was a reminder that even sinkerballers like Porcello need secondary pitches to work.The numbers off the sinker were startling: He threw 27 out of 37 for strikes, the Rays swung at 22 of them, and missed on just two. They put 13 in play and got base hits on six.

“We’ve said all along that the key for him is being down with his sinker,” Ausmus said. “When it gets up, it gets flat. You see more fly balls. He made the adjustment. He actually started getting the ball down in the zone. He got some ground balls. A couple of them found holes. He was getting the ground balls he was trying to get. That’s going to happen sometimes with ground ball pitchers. Some will find holes.”

Porcello gave up three other hits off the four-seam fastball, two on the changeup, and one off the slider (which is really more of a cutter at this point). The one pitch that seemed to avoid heavy damage for him was the curveball, and even that drew eight swings out of 11 strikes.

To state the obvious, the Rays swung early and often, and they didn’t miss much.

“I think it’s important to get on him early like that,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said, “because if you don’t he settles in and it’s really difficult. We worked good at-bats, obviously, we have the last couple of nights.”

Tigers All-Stars in quotes

MIGUEL CABRERA (9th All-Star selection, 5th with Tigers)

“It’s very special. I appreciate the fans. We want to win, try to get home field advantage for the World Series.”

Best part of All-Star week: “We’re off. We see the best players in the National League, American League. We’re going to enjoy it.”

VICTOR MARTINEZ (4th All-Star selection, 1st with Tigers)

“Believe it or not, man, last year watching the Home Run Derby, [Victor Jose] told me these words: ‘Daddy, you better make it next year, because I don’t want to see my butt on the couch watching the Home Run Derby on TV again.’ I’m like, ‘Really? It’s that easy, kid?’”

MAX SCHERZER (2nd All-Star selection in a row)

“We both [Scherzer and Porcello] said we were kind of on the fringe if we were going to make it or not. We were crossing our fingers both.”

“It’s such an honor to represent the American League in the All-Star Game. I’m so excited to be able to go there next week.”

Cabrera will not take part in Home Run Derby

Miguel Cabrera will be an All-Star Game participant for the ninth time in his career. For the Home Run Derby, however, he will be an observer once again.

“I’m going to enjoy watching,” said Cabrera, who confirmed that he has declined an invite to the event.

Cabrera has taken his swings in the event twice in his career, but not since 2010, and not since his current run as the game’s most dangerous hitter. He did not take part in last year’s Derby because of a nagging back injury, a decision the Tigers welcomed.

Manager Brad Ausmus made it clear he’d have no problem if Cabrera or any other player wanted to take part. But while Ausmus doesn’t buy the idea that swinging for home runs in such an event can mess with a player’s swing, Cabrera does.

“I don’t feel like I can mess with my swing right now,” Cabrera said. “I’ve got enough [going on with it] right now.”

Cabrera definitely had a lot going on with his swing early in the year, when he batted .277 with just two months over the season’s opening month. He seemingly cleared that hurdle in May, when he hit .380 with eight home runs, 34 RBIs and a 1.126 OPS. However, he hit a relatively low .279 in June, though four home runs and 11 doubles tempered the average drop for an .845 OPS.

With Victor Martinez dealing with a sore back and uncertain for any of the All-Star festivities at this point, it appears unlikely the Tigers will have a competitor. Cabrera had been lobbying for Martinez to be invited, but that was before Martinez missed most of this week with the bad back.

Sunday’s lineup: Tigers vs. Rays

With lefty David Price on the mound, Rajai Davis and Austin Jackson switch spots in the batting order. Jackson in particular has struggled mightily against Price, but he has been hitting lefties better this year than in previous seasons.

Victor Martinez, meanwhile, remains out. The watch now rolls over to Tuesday’s series opener against the Dodgers.

TIGERS (career numbers vs. David Price)

  1. Rajai Davis, LF (7-for-29, 2 doubles, walk, 9 K’s)
  2. Ian Kinsler, 2B (8-for-31, 3 doubles, HR, 2 walks, 4 K’s)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B (1-for-14, 2 walks, 6 K’s)
  4. J.D. Martinez, RF (3-for-7)
  5. Torii Hunter, DH (6-for-19, double, 2 walks, 5 K’s)
  6. Nick Castellanos, 3B
  7. Eugenio Suarez, SS
  8. Bryan Holaday, C
  9. Austin Jackson, CF (2-for-14, 8 K’s)

P: Rick Porcello

RAYS (career numbers off Porcello)

  1. Desmond Jennings, CF (3-for-10, 3 K’s)
  2. Ben Zobrist, SS (1-for-8)
  3. Matt Joyce, LF (1-for-8, walk, 2 K’s)
  4. Evan Longoria, 3B (1-for-8, 2 walks, 3 K’s)
  5. James Loney, 1B (2-for-7, double, walk)
  6. Logan Forsythe, 2B
  7. Sean Rodriguez, DH (1-for-6, K)
  8. Jose Molina, C (1-for-5, double)
  9. Kevin Kiermaier, RF

P: David Price

Saturday’s lineups: Tigers vs. Rays

As expected, no Victor Martinez in the lineup today. Torii Hunter slots in at DH, with J.D. Martinez in right field and Rajai Davis in left. Andrew Romine gets the start at shortstop.

Reminder: Despite the atypical start time, today’s game is a Fox Sports Detroit broadcast. It’s a few hours earlier than normal for a summer Saturday game so that they can get on TV outside of the FOX national broadcast window.

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

TIGERS (career numbers off Chris Archer)

  1. Austin Jackson, CF (1-for-2, HR, walk, K)
  2. Ian Kinsler, 2B (0-for-6, 4 K’s)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B (1-for-2, walk)
  4. J.D. Martinez, RF (1-for-3)
  5. Torii Hunter, DH
  6. Nick Castellanos, 3B
  7. Alex Avila, C
  8. Andrew Romine, SS (2-for-2)
  9. Rajai Davis, LF

P: Anibal Sanchez

RAYS (career performance against Sanchez)

  1. Desmond Jennings, CF (0-for-6, 2 walks, 2 K’s)
  2. Ben Zobrist, SS (3-for-13, 2 walks, K)
  3. Matt Joyce, DH (4-for-12, double, 2 triples, HR, 4 K’s)
  4. Evan Longoria, 3B (2-for-9, triple, 2 K’s)
  5. James Loney, 1B (4-for-10, triple, K)
  6. Brandon Guyer, LF
  7. Logan Forsythe, 2B (0-for-2)
  8. Ryan Hanigan, C (1-for-5, K)
  9. Kevin Kiermaier, RF

P: Chris Archer

Verlander on A’s/Samardzija: “They made that trade for us”

The Oakland Athletics left town on Wednesday having been swept out of Comerica Park. The Tigers were busy with the Rays when the A’s made their move for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.

When Justin Verlander heard about the trade later Friday night, he felt the target on their backs. It wasn’t so much about this week, but the last two Octobers.

“I found it very interesting,” Verlander said Saturday. “Really, when I saw that trade, I thought that they made that trade for us. No doubt about it in my mind. If they want to win a World Series, they’re envisioning that they have to go through us, and even though it’s been two fantastic series, it’s been heartbreaking for them the last two years.”

The Tigers and A’s have met in the Division Series the last two years, with both series going to a winner-take-all Game 5. Both times, Verlander broke Bay Area hearts with dominant performances — a complete-game four-hitter with 11 strikeouts in 2012, then eight shutout innings with 10 strikeouts last year. Neither A’s counterpart — Jarrod Parker two years ago, then rookie Sonny Gray last year — delivered a quality start in return.

Oakland has scored one run on Verlander in 31 postseason innings the last two years. With Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez, Verlander said, they have others capable of doing the same.

“When you have a team like ours, somebody’s going to go out there and dominate,” Verlander said. “And it just happens the last couple years [against Oakland in Game 5], it’s been me. And I think they felt like they needed that person. Star power in the playoffs goes a long way. Power pitching in the playoffs goes a long way.”

Regardless of the matchups, Verlander said, it’s the concept. 

“I think a lot of factors had to do with why they did it,” Verlander said later. “Obviously October’s the main one, not necessarily us but October in general.”

If the regular season ended today, the Tigers and A’s would have to advance to the ALCS to meet again. Oakland owns baseball’s best record, and would meet the Wild Card winner in a Division Series, while the Tigers would match up with the winner of the AL East, a race the Orioles now lead after the A’s beat the Blue Jays Friday night.

V-Mart on weekend return: “I don’t see it happening”

The news out of the Tigers clubhouse on Victor Martinez’s back injury wasn’t a worst-case scenario, but for the short term, it wasn’t OK, either. At the very least, Martinez is out for Saturday’s showdown between Chris Archer and Anibal Sanchez. He didn’t sound particularly optmistic about Sunday night’s series finale against David Price, either.

“I don’t know,” Martinez said. “The way I’m feeling right now, I don’t see it happening.”

That might not be a bad thing. With an off-day Monday, Martinez could take three days of rest before returning for Tuesday’s series opener against the Dodgers.

The Alex Cobb pitch Martinez took off the back of his right leg had nothing to do with it, Martinez said. His leg was fine, even though he looked like he was hobbling around the bases on his way home that inning.

The aggravation, Martinez said, took place on his RBI single his next time up in the sixth inning. It was a similar swing last Sunday in Houston that tweaked his back in the first place.

“One swing,” he said. “That’s all it takes.”

Martinez said the soreness is on his right side, not his left as previously reported. It’s a similar injury to one he dealt with during the 2011 postseason, though his aching knee was a better-known problem at the time since he had limited him to DH duties instead of catching once in a while.

Asked his level of concern, Martinez said, “This is nothing major. I need time to get back like I used to. It’s just a matter of time.”

Fourth of July lineups: Tigers vs. Rays

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Left-handed hitters are batting just .198 (24-for-121) off Alex Cobb this season, compared to a .293 average from right-handed batters. The career trend, however, is pretty close to even. With Chris Archer and David Price coming up this weekend, Brad Ausmus will take tonight to give Nick Castellanos a game off and put Don Kelly in the game. The move is NOT injury-related. Though Kelly was on deck to hit for Castellanos in the fourth inning Thursday night, Ausmus admitted that was a stall tactic while Castellanos was in the bathroom.

Reminder: Tonight is an ESPN broadcast, though it’s still on Fox Sports Detroit in Michigan and Northwest Ohio. The difference is that fans outside the local markets can watch it on national TV.

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

TIGERS (career numbers off Alex Cobb)

  1. Austin Jackson, CF (3-for-8, 3 K’s)
  2. Ian Kinsler, 2B (3-for-10, 2 doubles, walk, 4 K’s)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B (2-for-6, double, 4 walks)
  4. Victor Martinez, DH (1-for-6, K)
  5. J.D. Martinez, LF
  6. Torii Hunter, RF (6-for-13, double, walk)
  7. Don Kelly, 3B (2-for-6, double)
  8. Alex Avila, C (4-for-7, double, walk, 2 K’s)
  9. Eugenio Suarez, SS

P: Drew Smyly

RAYS (career numbers against Smyly)

  1. Desmond Jennings, CF (1-for-6, triple, 2 walks, 4 K’s)
  2. Ben Zobrist, SS (1-for-5, double, 2 K’s)
  3. Brandon Guyer, LF
  4. Evan Longoria, 3B (1-for-1, double, walk)
  5. Logan Forsythe, 2B
  6. James Loney, 1B (0-for-1)
  7. Sean Rodriguez, DH (0-for-6, 3 K’s)
  8. Jose Molina, C (1-for-2, double)
  9. Kevin Kiermaier, RF

P: Alex Cobb

Thursday’s lineups: Tigers (now with V-Mart) vs. Rays

It took a round or two of batting practice to finalize, but Victor Martinez is back in the Tigers starting lineup after missing the past three games with soreness in his left side. He takes his usual spot at DH and cleanup. Instead of a day off for J.D. Martinez, who had been slated for a day off before Victor Martinez was hurt, Rajai Davis is the odd man out Thursday against lefty Erik Bedard, whom Davis does not hit well.

TIGERS (career numbers vs. Erik Bedard)

  1. Austin Jackson, CF (0-for-8, 3 walks, 4 K’s)
  2. Ian Kinsler, 2B (12-for-41, 2 doubles, 4 walks, 5 K’s)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B (5-for-17, double, HR, walk, 6 K’s)
  4. Victor Martinez, DH (6-for-24, double, 2 HR, 2 walks, 5 K’s)
  5. J.D. Martinez, LF
  6. Torii Hunter, RF (9-for-28, 2 doubles, 2 HR, walk, 6 K’s)
  7. Nick Castellanos, 3B
  8. Alex Avila, C (1-for-4, K)
  9. Eugenio Suarez, SS

P: Max Scherzer

RAYS (career numbers off Scherzer)

  1. Desmond Jennings, CF (1-for-12, 5 K’s)
  2. Ben Zobrist, SS (2-for-15, HR, 2 walks, 2 K’s)
  3. Matt Joyce, LF (2-for-15, double, HR, 2 walks, 4 K’s)
  4. Evan Longoria, 3B (2-for-12, HR, walk, 5 K’s)
  5. James Loney, 1B (5-for-20, double, HR, walk, 3 K’s)
  6. Vince Belnome, DH
  7. Kevin Kiermaier, RF
  8. Ryan Hanigan, C (0-for-1, walk, K)
  9. Cole Figueroa, 2B

P: Erik Bedard

Tigers open international market with five signings

The Tigers have a form when it comes to signing prospects on the international market, and it usually involves quantity. They’ll go in on one mid- to upper-ranked talent, maybe two in a good year, then bolster that with a handful of deals or more involving lesser-known kids or raw prospects. They’ve done that since well before the MLB-imposed spending rules, and it has served them well.

In that sense, the Tigers stuck to tradition when this year’s international signings market opened Wednesday. In another sense, their deal for outfielder Julio Martinez went against the profile.

When they go position players, certainly in recent years, they’ve gone for top athletes at premium positions. Martinez is a big kid with a power bat who will either be a corner outfielder or a first baseman. Coming on the heels of last month’s First-Year Player Draft, when the Tigers were rumored to be looking at college power bats, it makes some more sense.

“Even at the big league level, power is a premium tool,” Tigers international scouting director Tom Moore said. “When you go through the draft and stuff like that, you definitely see more prevalent power, so that’s why we’ve been trying to get the athletes and guys you could project down the road. But this is a premium tool and something we couldn’t ignore.

“We always have a certain focus and things we think are successful in terms of producing talent. But at the same time, you always have to go with the best talent.”

Jesse Sanchez, who does a tremendous job covering the international signings for MLB.com, has a profile of Martinez here. Martinez ranked 19th on Sanchez’s list of top international prospects.

The secondary crop includes some more projected talent:

Irwin Chirinos, OF, Venezuela

Like Martinez, the left-handed-hitting outfielder has a strong body for his age (6-feet, 170 pounds) and a bat with some power. Chirinos’ outfield arm has the chance to be a strong one as his body fills out, while he should be an average runner. YouTube video of Chirinos is above.

Adonis Figuera, RHP, Venezuela

Figuera is more of a projection signing, based on what scouts believe he could do once his 6-foot-2, 165-pound frame fills out.

“He’s a tall, skinny-framed kid,” Moore said, “but he’s got a real big arm. His fastball is in the mid-80s, but he projects to have a lot more gas in the tank.”

He already has a curveball and a changeup, the latter of which is a work in progress.

“The bet on this kid is, as he gains strength, he’s going to gain more power,” Moore said.

Jose Salas, SS, Venezuela

Initially, Moore said, the Tigers saw Salas as a defense-first infielder, rangy and athletic but not necessarily a great hitter. As scouts continued to watch the teenager learn pitchers and adjust his game, they saw more upside to his bat.

“He’s got real quick hands. He’s going to be able to play shortstop,” Moore said. “The thing that’s really come on is his bat speed and ability to make hard contact.”

Jorge Ynirio, SS, Dominican Republic

If Martinez represents the Tigers’ need for power bats, Ynirio profiles more like the kind of player the Tigers have targeted in past summers, an athletic player with upside who can play a premium position. He can run, Moore said, and he has a plus arm. His bat speed shows the promise for offensive production.

“He’s got a little bit of crudeness to his game, nothing moreso than a lot of kids,” Moore said. “But really, the thing we’re banking on is the athleticism. The tools are there. They’re certainly things we can bank on. He’s got a good chance to become a good player.”

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