Blogs > Out of Left Field

A sometimes-irreverent look at Detroit's Boys of Summer, the Tigers, as they try to defend their back-to-back American League Central titles.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

One last regular-season Must-See JV, on national TV


With Friday's 4-2 loss narrowing their divisional lead to just one game, the Tigers need another stop from their ace, Justin Verlander, who takes the mound against the Twins Saturday, in what will be — barring a Game 163 — his last regular-season appearance.

If you'll recall, this game was picked up for the FOX national broadcast schedule last week, and will start at 4:05 p.m.

Manager Jim Leyland has continued to insist that Verlander won't start again in the 'regularly-scheduled' regular season.

"I will not bring Verlander back on three days' rest, if that's your question," the manager said before Thursday's home finale. "No I will not. No, that's not (an option).

"He will pitch — if we're still playing — either the tiebreaker with the White Sox, if there is one, or Game 1, if we would get in. We have all the scenarios laid out, obviously, but sometimes you get surprises."

In that case, this is his last chance to impress Cy Young voters, before the ballots are due.

Here are the lineups:

DETROIT TIGERS (84-73, 1st AL Central)
Austin Jackson, CF
Quintin Berry, LF
Miguel Cabrera, 3B
Prince Fielder, 1B
Delmon Young, DH
Andy Dirks, RF
Jhonny Peralta, SS
Alex Avila, C
Omar Infante, 2B

Starting pitcher: Justin Verlander (16-8, 2.72 ERA, MLB-high 231 strikeouts)


Friday, September 28, 2012

More from Doug Fister's AL record-setting afternoon


Doug Fister set a new American League record Thursday afternoon, striking out nine consecutive Royals batters, finishing one shy of the Major League Baseball record.

You can read the full story here.

Below is some reaction from his teammates, then at the bottom is a compilation of the sights and sounds that surrounded the afternoon, along with quite a bit of fan reaction to the accomplishment.

Don Kelly: "Doug pitched unbelievable."

Prince Fielder: "What you guys saw. There wasn’t that much contact. Even at the end when they got their runs, he got the ground balls, just in a tough spot down the line. I think he pitched excellent.”

Phil Coke: "Basically the way the game played out, you have Fister doing something that nobody’s done since 2001, roll through consecutive punch to set an American League record. It would have been cool if he got one more just because he would have tied the great Tom Seaver. He didn’t but he was unbelievable today. He was taking what he was given, which was pretty much the outside part of the plate, is what it looked like."
"For him to go out there and throw pretty much three pitches to every guy — and they were all strikes — that, in and of itself, was impressive. For him to do it like that against nine consecutive batters. ... I believe that (Salvador) Perez might’ve been just a hair lucky that he didn’t miss that ball because he had been wearing him all day. The fact that he was able to get a piece of that ball was a credit to Perez, but I think Doug really wanted that pitch and that would’ve been pretty cool to see him tie the great Tom Seaver."

Alex Avila:  "Well, if you look at his numbers, he’s always got a bunch of strikeouts, so it really shouldn’t surprise anybody when he’s got that five, six seven strikeouts in seven innings of work or something. He has good command, he’s able to manipulate, and change speeds on guys to where he gets swings and misses."

Manager Jim Leyland: "Well, he was really in synch. I don’t know if all the emotion caught up to him (in the eighth inning), or not.  He seemed to get a little bit out of synch. I don’t think he was getting tired. 
"Just an unbelievable performance, to set the record, for him. Great job. This is a crazy game, and it’s almost a shame, really, that he didn’t get the win.
"But the Tigers got the win, and right now, as always, that’s the most important thing."

Royals outfielder Jeff Francouer: "Fister, for those three innings was unreal. They (his pitches) were diving and darting everywhere.” 
“I knew we had a lot of guys who had struck out. But didn’t know it was that many until we saw it somewhere.”
“It’s crazy, to go through a whole lineup and strike everybody out. And I don’t think he threw more than four pitches to any of the batters.”



Thursday, September 27, 2012

Doug Fister sets new AL record for consecutive strikeouts

DETROIT — There’s history that you set out to accomplish, and history that ... well, just more or less happens.
And when and where you least expect it to.

A pitch-to-contact guy who pounds the strike zone relentlessly and relies on late movement to not get pounded himself — making batters miss-hit, rather than miss entirely — Doug Fister is about the last guy you’d figure would have his name etched in the record books alongside guys like Roger Clemens, Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan in terms of strikeout records.

Yet, there he was Thursday afternoon, striking out nine straight Kansas City Royals, breaking the American League record held by Clemens, Ryan and two others, and coming within one of tying Seaver’s Major League Baseball record.

“Well, probably not, no. No, I think when you think about strikeouts on our particular staff, obviously, you’re thinking about Justin or Max,” manager Jim Leyland said, referring to Justin Verlander (231) and Max Scherzer (228), who came into the day ranked No. 1 and 2 in all of baseball in strikeouts.

“But here’s a guy that throws 88 to 92 (mph), and set the record. So that’s why it’s a great game.

“He was stuck on automatic there for a while.”

As he had been in his previous start, when he threw a complete-game shutout, Fister was indeed on cruise control early, facing just two over the minimum through four scoreless innings.

At the end of the last of those is when the momentum began to change from one type of domination to another.

He’d strike out Salvador Perez looking to end the fourth, then strike out the next six batters over the next two innings, tying the franchise record (Denny McLain, 1965; John Hiller, 1970) with seven straight.

He’d start the seventh by getting Alex Gordon looking to tie the American League record (done by five pitchers, most recently KC’s Blake Stein in 2001), then get Billy Butler looking to set a new one, and move within one of Seaver’s MLB record.

Fister would get a one-ball, two-strike count on Perez, before the Royals catcher rolled over a slow grounder on an 84-mph cutter, grounding out to shortstop to end the streak.

“It was a good pitch, it was down and away, a good pitch to get a ground ball on. Doug, he doesn’t go for strikeouts, he just happens to strike guys out. To be honest, he’s always pitching a guy to get a ground ball somewhere and get a guy out. ... I don’t really care about the strikeouts,” said catcher Alex Avila, who didn’t know what was transpiring.

“Nobody did. When you’re playing, that’s stuff you don’t think about. I’m sure guys in the dugout knew, obviously because they have more time. If I wasn’t playing, I’d probably have known. But when you’re playing, you don’t really think about stuff like that. I’m glad they announced it, though, because that’s a big deal.”

That might have been the best part.

It was happening, but nobody involved knew it.

Certainly not the pitcher himself.

He was even a little disoriented when first baseman Prince Fielder yelled at him to step off the mound, to acknowledge the roaring crowd.

“Honestly, I had no idea. He was yelling at me to step off during the inning, and I kind of looked at him. Normally, he’ll do that, to slow me down, if I’m getting too quick, as an older guy, kind of helping me out,” Fister admitted.

“I thought that was kind of what he was doing there. He just said, ‘Hey, step off.’ I look at him, and he kept looking at me, and he said ‘Aw, I’ll tell you later.’ ”

Fielder tried to explain it to him, too.

“I said, ‘Congratulations, man. You made history.’ He was like, ‘What are you doing?’ He was locked in so it was kind of like, get away from me,” Fielder said. “I was like, all right, they’ll tell you.”

Fister was still confused as he headed to the dugout.

“I put my arm around him, and said, ‘Hey, what was that all about?’ Was questioning him, because he just had that big old smile, like he always does, and he said, ‘You don’t know?’ ‘No, what’s going on?’ He said, ‘Go in there, and all the guys will tell you,’ ” said Fister, who headed to the dugout, and confusedly asked Verlander what was going on, finally being told what exactly he’d accomplished.

“I got in there, and congratulations from the team was tremendous. Very humbling and ... such an honor.”

What he’d done was incredible.

He got Perez on four pitches to start the streak.

Then he struck out the side in the fifth, getting Mike Moustakas and Jeff Francouer swinging, and Brayan Pena looking. The whole streak took 36 pitches. Seven of the nine strikeouts were on four or fewer pitches.

“Fister, for those three innings was unreal. (His pitches) were diving and darting everywhere,” said Francouer, who admitted he and his teammates didn’t know what had happened until they saw it somewhere. “It’s crazy, to go through a whole lineup and strike everybody out. And I don’t think he threw more than four pitches to any of the batters.”

He’d get Johnny Giavotella and David Lough looking to start the sixth, then finish off his second straight “strike-out-the-side” inning by getting Alcides Escobar swinging.

“His stuff was unbelievable. Tremendous movement on his two-seam (fastball). Tremendous movement on his slider. We couldn’t get to it,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “We’re lucky we don't have four guys laying on the training table the way we were diving for balls.”

He’d get Gordon and Butler in the seventh to break the record.

“Basically the way the game played out, you have Fister doing something that nobody’s done since 2001, roll through consecutive punchouts to set an American League record,” reliever Phil Coke said. “It would have been cool if he got one more just because he would have tied the great Tom Seaver. He didn’t but he was unbelievable today.”

It won’t necessarily sink in right away, either.

“It’s very humbling experience. I really couldn’t put it into words,” Fister said. “Doesn’t change anything, but it’s one of those things after the season’s over, kind of look back and take a look at it.”



Lineups for regular-season finale at Comerica Park


The Detroit Tigers came into Thursday afternoon's game with a one-game lead in the American League Central, the first time they'd held sole possession of first place since July 23.

It will be — barring, of course, a tiebreaking Game 163, which counts as a regular-season contest for stat purposes — the final home game of the regular season at Comerica Park. After the contest, the Tigers will fly to Minneapolis for three games with the Minnesota Twins, before heading to Kansas City for the final series of the regular season.

Whether or not the Tigers return to Comerica Park for another game depends entirely upon how well they do in that six-game road swing.

It may also depend on how healthy the pitching staff — which took a hit with Thursday's news of Max Scherzer's recurring deltoid injury — turns out to be the rest of the way.

For Thursday's game, it will be one last time for the Royals to try to play spoiler — here, at least. They'll have three more cracks the final three games of the season.

And they've been trying.

"I love my team. We’ve played three games here, and we’re 0-3, but we’re in these games and we’re not far from the point where we are going to be consistently winning these games," Royals manager Ned Yost said after Wednesday's loss. "No matter what has happened this year, we’ve gotten knocked down and gotten right back up. These guys fight every day, and they are going to do everything in their power to beat Detroit in these games."

Here are Thursday's lineups.

DETROIT TIGERS (83-72):
Austin Jackson, CF
Quintin Berry, LF
Miguel Cabrera, 3B
Prince Fielder, 1B
Delmon Young, DH
Andy Dirks, RF
Jhonny Peralta, SS
Alex Avila, C
Omar Infante, 2B

Starting pitcher: Doug Fister (10-9, 3.43 ERA)

KANSAS CITY ROYALS (70-85):
David Lough, CF
Alcides Escobar, SS
Alex Gordon, LF
Billy Butler, DH
Salvador Perez, C
Mike Moustakas, 3B
Jeff Francouer, RF
Eric Hosmer, 1B
Johnny Giavotella, 2B

Starting pitcher: Luis Mendoza, RHP (8-9, 4.44)

Max Scherzer will miss Friday start with deltoid strain





DETROIT — So much for the Detroit Tigers rotation shaping up for the postseason.

One step forward, one back.

Max Scherzer will not make his scheduled start against the Twins in Minnesota, due to a recurrence of his deltoid strain, leaving the rotation in flux again.

“Yeah, it’s extremely frustrating that I can’t go out there and help the team. But at the same time, everybody knows that I want to be out there. That’s not the issue,” said Scherzer, who thrives on pitching in big situations, and would love nothing more than to help the Tigers, as they try to protect a slim one-game lead in the American League Central.

“I have an arm injury. I have a deltoid injury. There’s just nothing you can do. Given that, when I’m 100 percent, that’s when I’m going to be out there for the team again.”

Scherzer was skipped two turns ago for the same reason, but made a start Sunday.

The right-hander said his arm felt fine when he threw his bullpen session Tuesday, but he felt his arm tighten up during that night’s game, an “alarming” development in Scherzer’s mind, and said it was “still locked up” the next morning.

He realized he’d “taken a step back.”

“It’s just back to where I was, back to Square One again. That’s the thing where now I have to address it in a more serious manner. Before everyone was on the team plan that if we just got the inflammation out, and my arm felt good, I was good to go. And that’s how I believed this injury was, because it was a deltoid, and not a structural problem. Given that I was healthy for my start, and felt good, to have it flare back up again, now you have to address it in a more intense manner. That’s where I’m at,” he said. “I have no regrets making that start, because I really felt 100 percent, when I went out there on Sunday and made the start. My arm, I was throwing the ball pain-free, discomfort-free. It felt good coming out of my hand.”

Scherzer does not know if he’ll be able to start again in the regular season. After Friday’s start, he was in line to start the regular-season finale on Wednesday, Oct. 3.

“It’s really hard to say. I have to 100 percent listen to my body right now, and I have to listen to what my arm is saying. Right now, my arm can’t throw a baseball,” he said.

“Going forward, with the treatment, hopefully, we’re able to correct this and strengthen everything back up, so I can get back out there as soon as possible. Right now, I just don’t know when that is.”

With the recurrence of the injury, Scherzer does not anticipate going back out on the mound until it’s 100 percent again.

Leyland had already mapped out his rotation through the end of the regular season weeks ago.

“I don’t alternate my plan unless I’m forced to,” said the skipper, who’s also concerned with the lackluster start made by Rick Porcello on Wednesday night, given the “lack of feel” he had. “Sometimes you get surprises.”

Leyland also reiterated that ace Justin Verlander, as of now scheduled to pitch Saturday and then again in either a tiebreaker Game 163 or Game 1 of a playoff series, would not start the season finale.

“He will NOT pitch on three days rest,” Leyland said. “I can guarantee that.”

For Smyly, who started the second game of Sunday’s doubleheader, his first start in nearly a month, the build back up from his long relief role should help him Friday. He lasted 4 1/3 innings Sunday, throwing 78 pitches, something that Leyland will monitor closely again.

“I just would never do anything at any expense to get anybody hurt. So yes, you’re right, I’ll watch it. The fact that he just had the start Sunday should help him some, as far as building him back up a little bit. He’ll still be monitored real close. But I think the fact that he had that start helps,” Leyland said.

“It’s OK, the Twins have got a lot of left-hand hitters. Unfortunately, most of them hit left-hand pitching pretty good.”

[Audio of the interview session with Scherzer is below.]

VIDEO: Dirks' slide wins game for Tigers — 'That's the way the game's supposed to be played'

Andy Dirks’ hard take-out slide, breaking up a potential inning-ending double play, that allowed the Detroit Tigers to finally win a one-run game Wednesday, 5-4, over the Kansas City Royals, and — suddenly — into first place all by themselves.

"Yeah, that’s just part of baseball. Just part of the game. The way it’s been for a long, long time. We play the game hard. That’s the way the game’s supposed to be played.

“That’s probably one of the biggest slides of the year, right there,” said Rick Porcello, who was on the hook for the loss before his teammates took him off. “That won us the game.”

The eighth-inning rally started when Delmon Young beat out a ricocheting infield single with one out and his pinch runner, Don Kelly, swiped second. Dirks singled to left, but the Tigers did not test Alex Gordon’s arm.

It was Dirks’ take-out slide at second, though, that allowed the go-ahead run to score, when Peralta’s one-hopper down the third-base line looked like a sure inning-ending double play.

“Dirks made that play happen. With Peralta running, we are always going to go for the double play there, and we had it, but Dirks busted his tail to get down there and break it up,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “He got a great job and he went in aggressively and cleanly. That’s just a great play.”

Dirks’ slide disrupted Royals second baseman Irving Falu, who lept in the air to avoid the sliding base runner, and came down with the ball still in his hand.

It was just a matter of a guy who professes to be “just a ballplayer” playing the game hard, the right way.

“I was on him pretty good. I’m not even sure where I hit him. I haven’t even seen the replay. I was just trying to get a piece of him. Maybe a little forearm in the knee or something like that,” said Dirks, who didn’t know whether he’d kept Falu from making the throw or not. “When he came back down with the ball, and the crowd went nuts, then I realized he didn’t throw it. Or if he did, it’s in the dugout somewhere.”



Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Leyland on JV's Cy Young chances: 'I think he's got a shot'



Manager Jim Leyland thinks that his ace, Justin Verlander, still has a shot at repeating as the American League Cy Young winner. But Tampa Bay’s David Price made it a whole lot tougher with his 13-strikeout, complete-game performance at Fenway Park on Tuesday. Price came into Wednesday’s game leading MLB in ERA (2.56; Verlander is 2nd in the AL with 2.76) and tops in the AL with 19 wins.

“I don’t really know. I think he’s got a shot. I think if he wins another start, he’s got a shot,” Leyland said. “I think if David Price wins on Sunday, I believe it is, Saturday or Sunday, which I hope he does, that’d be his 20th win.”

Price’s Rays will be in Chicago for a key four-game series, starting Thursday, and Leyland’s Tigers would gladly take help from Tampa Bay’s stellar rotation.

According to the WAR (wins above replacement) statistic, however, Verlander is a no-brainer to win again. He’s at 7.2 in Baseball Reference’s formula, second-best in all of baseball behind only the Angels’ Mike Trout (10.5), while Price is tied for second among AL pitchers at 6.2.

Verlander came into the day leading the AL in innings pitched (231.1), strikeouts (231) and complete games (six). He's third in opponents batting average against (.219) and fourth in strikeouts per nine innings (9.0). 

Suspicious package causes brief stir at Comerica, but is found to be harmless




DETROIT — Major League Baseball players get a ton of mail from fans all over.

Most of it is entirely normal and goes without notice.

Occasionally, something raises a red flag, as did a package sent to one of the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday, necessitating the need for it to be checked out.

Despite the concern for fans caused by all the flashing lights from police, fire trucks and ambulances outside the ballpark hours before Wednesday evening’s game, it turned out to be nothing of concern.

Tigers vice president of communications Ron Colangelo issued the following statement:

“A package was delivered to Comerica Park and based on security protocol, local authorities were contacted. A thorough preliminary investigation proceeded by both local authorities and Comerica Park security, and the package was deemed a valid delivery.”

The Tigers are scheduled to play the Royals at 7:05 Wednesday evening, then close out their home season with a 1:05 p.m. game on Thursday.

Tigers try to protect share of first place vs. KC



For just the second time in nearly 10 weeks, the Tigers woke up Wednesday morning with a share of the lead in the American League Central Division. With eight games to go, they're in a dead heat with the Chicago White Sox. Starting with Wednesday night's game against the Royals, the Tigers have two more regular-season games at Comerica Park before heading out on the road to close out the season in Minnesota and Kansas City.

Rick Porcello (9-12) takes the mound trying to earn his first win since Aug. 7. His stats in that span: 0-6, 4.42 ERA, 38.2 IP, 52 hits, 25K/10BB, .313 AVG/.354 OBP/.476 SLG/.830 OPS allowed.

DETROIT TIGERS (82-72):
Austin Jackson, CF
Quintin Berry, LF
Miguel Cabrera, 3B
Prince Fielder, 1B
Delmon Young, DH
Andy Dirks, RF
Jhonny Peralta, SS
Alex Avila, C
Omar Infante, 2B

Starting pitcher: Rick Porcello, RHP

KANSAS CITY (70-84):
David Lough, CF
Alcides Escobar, SS
Alex Gordon, LF
Billy Butler, DH
Salvador Perez, C
Mike Moustakas, 3B
Jeff Francouer, RF
Eric Hosmer, 1B
Irving Falu, 2B

Starting pitcher: Jeremy Guthrie, RHP

VIDEO: Anibal Sanchez pitches the Tigers into a share of first


When Anibal Sanchez first came to the Detroit Tigers at the trade deadline, he didn't immediately endear himself to the fans.

Then when he got his first win at Comerica Park, he began to grow on the Tigers' faithful.

Carrying a no-hitter into the seventh inning, like he did on Sept. 15, certainly helped, as did throwing a three-hit complete-game shutout of the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday, helping the Tigers claim a share of the American League Central lead.

“They came into the game knowing they had to win the game and that kid (Sanchez) stood up," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "He had an outstanding game.”

Sanchez retired the first 11 batters he faced but, after giving up the perfect game and no-hit bids in the fourth, equally impressive was the way that he kept his pitch count low, allowing him to throw his first complete game of the season. It was the seventh of his career, and his fifth shutout. 

He struck out 10, the fourth time he's reached double digits in strikeouts in a game, and his first with the Tigers.

But he wasn't sure he was coming back out for the ninth. Nor was the crowd at Comerica Park, which gave him a pretty solid ovation.

"I don’t know. I don’t see the pitch count in this inning, but I don’t see the skipper in the front of dugout, so I just keep my routine, keep everything I do. Just go down, just keep it warm, to go back (for) the ninth inning. Jonesy come over there and ask me if I’m OK, and I say I’m OK. I don’t know how many pitch I threw today, I just say ‘I’m fine.’ I just want to finish the game," Sanchez said.

"Especially for me, this is my first game past the seventh inning. Last year, I threw a couple complete game, and like I said, this year, I don’t work over seven innings. And I feel great today. Especially because we got just one more start on the season."

And the crowd roared when he came back out for the ninth, before he got Alcides Escobar to fly out, Alex Gordon to strike out, and Billy Butler to ground out to end it.

"I saw that before when the other guy throw complete games. You know, I say all the time, these fans here is pretty good. They make every player excited. The ovation, just for me, for the team all the time, when we’re out there, is really emotional," Sanchez said.

Sanchez will get one more start in the regular season, on Sunday against the Twins. After that, it's either on to the postseason, or on to free agency.

But for Sanchez, who's never made the playoffs, he'd much prefer it to be the latter.

"Yeah, this is why the team bring me here, for help, for make the team in the playoffs. That is what I wanna do. Every time I got a chance for be on the mound, I just wanna do my best, and make games like that. That’s what I like, that’s what I do. I do that before, and I just going to continue to do that," Sanchez said.
"Nothing is over, nothing is in. We’re right there. I think we got a pretty good season this year."


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Leyland: 'I'm ashamed of myself, for what I called Vinnie Pestano'

If you’re enmeshed in a nail-biter of divisional race, it helps that game times are staggered occasionally.
 
That allowed the Tigers to watch the White Sox lose to the Angels Friday night, when they themselves were rained out. They also watched the Angels finish off a sweep of Chicago late Saturday night, after they’d already beaten the Twins.

And staggered start times Monday allowed the Tigers to watch the end of Chicago’s 5-4, come-from-behind win over the Indians.

Adam Dunn, whose sixth-inning home run elicited an expletive-deleted response from Jim Leyland, as the Tigers manager entertained the media in his office for a postgame press conference, won the game for the White Sox with a three-run home homer off reliever Vinnie Pestano in the eighth inning.

“I’m ashamed of myself, for what I called Vinnie Pestano,” Leyland jokingly admitted in Tuesday’s pregame media session, when asked about the home run that, considering hit helped them snap a five-game skid, may have momentarily saved their season. 

“I was sitting here, just like this, very comfortable, he got 0-and-2 on him, and within five seconds I was in the shower. Peeked around the corner to watch the last inning.”

Dunn’s home run was not surprising, really, considering that he’s got 41 of them on the season now. Still only hitting .209 with a MLB-high 210 strikeouts to go with his always prodigious power — it’s the sixth time he’s hit 40 or more homers, the ninth time with 30 or more — it’s still a far cry from Dunn’s historically bad season in his first in Chicago a year ago, when he hit .177 with 11 homers.
All the more reason that Pestano’s probably kicking himself (and Tigers fans kicking him, long distance) for grooving a two-strike pitch to Dunn.

“Well, he’s a good pitcher. He’s a really good pitcher. He just made a bad pitch to a veteran guy that’s got great power. One of the best home run hitters, probably, in the history of the game,” Leyland said.
“We thought a couple years ago he was the best power hitter in the game. If you looked at his track record, when he was hitting, and you were watching last night, you could probably say, ‘Well, this is probably going to be one of two things. He’s either going to either strike him out, or hit a home run.’ And he hit a home run.
“That’s the way it goes.”

The Tigers also got a chance to watch the White Sox lose, 4-3, Tuesday afternoon, giving them yet another opportunity to move into a tie in the American League Central with a win Tuesday night. The White Sox played a day game in observance of the start of Yom Kippur.

Verlander now aligned for possible Game 163 showdown with Sale

If the Tigers and White Sox should be tied at the end of the regular season, the two teams would have to play a tiebreaker, a Game 163 like the Tigers and Twins played in 2009, to determine the AL Central champion.

Since the Tigers won the season series, 12-6, they’d host the one-game playoff on Thursday, Oct. 4, the day after the end of the regular season.

The Tigers have for a week or so had their rotation aligned for that eventuality. Justin Verlander, whose last regular-season start is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 29, at Minnesota, would be in line to start either Game 163 on Thursday, or potentially a Wild Card matchup on Friday, Oct. 5, or Game 1 of the American League Division Series on either Saturday or Sunday, Oct. 6 or 7.

On Tuesday, according to MLB.com’s Scott Merkin, White Sox manager Robin Ventura shuffled his rotation around to align Chris Sale — his starter from Monday — for the same possible scenarios. Like the Tigers had to do with Drew Smyly for Sunday’s doubleheader, Ventura inserted a sixth starter in the rotation to get it aligned properly, giving Wednesday’s start to Hector Santiago.

If the showdown comes about, that should favor the Tigers. Sale is 0-3 with a 6.00 ERA and a 1.556 WHIP against Detroit this season.

And it almost guarantees that Brennan Boesch would be in the lineup that day, considering he's homered in two of those starts this season, owning two of the three home runs the lefty Sale has ever allowed to left-handed hitters.

Lineups for Game 154: Royals (Chen) vs. Tigers (Sanchez)

DETROIT TIGERS (81-72):
Austin Jackson, CF
Omar Infante, 2B
Miguel Cabrera, 3B
Prince Fielder, 1B
Delmon Young, DH
Andy Dirks, LF
Jhonny Peralta, SS
Avisail Garcia, RF
Gerald Laird, C

Starting pitcher: Anibal Sanchez (3-6, 4.55 ERA)

KANSAS CITY ROYALS (70-83):
Jarrod Dyson, CF
Alcides Escobar, SS
Alex Gordon, LF
Billy Butler, DH
Salvador Perez, C
Mike Moustakas, 3B
Jeff Francoeur, RF
Eric Hosmer, 1B
Johnny Giavotella, 2B

Starting pitcher: Bruce Chen (11-12, 5.22 ERA)

Verlander gives everyone a scare, expects to be fine

Monday night’s obligatory gasp of worry was provided by one of those “did that just happen?” moments that the Tigers have had all too often this season. 

In this case, it was ace Justin Verlander diving on a loose ball like a live grenade, and tweaking his left shoulder in the process. At the time, he said it felt like it had popped out.

"That was how I explained it. ... I don’t think it came out. I don’t know. It felt like it tried to pop out," he said after the game. "I don’t know what the feeling would be like; it just felt like everything was stretched out."

In the fifth inning, with runners on first and third, Alex Avila’s throw back to the mound clipped home plate umpire Bill Welke on the hand, sending the ball weakly out onto the infield grass.

Before he saw the “dead ball” signal, Verlander dove after it, but appeared to slip, hurting his left shoulder in the process. He said it felt like it popped out.

“Obviously, I didn’t see. I guess the ball tipped the bat or the umpire hit Alex’s hand or something. That’s why the ball went in the dirt. I didn’t see that. If I had known that, obviously, I would have known that time’s out. But with a guy on third and the ball coming back on the ground, I’ve got to try to stop it. So I went down to get it and my body wasn’t prepared for that. All my weight landed on my left arm. It just kind of jarred my shoulder a little bit. I felt it for a little bit and then it went away. I got some ice on it after the game. It should be fine,” Verlander said.

“I gave myself a little bit of a scare and everybody else. It’s my left arm. Maybe I can throw with just it dangling. Who knows?”

In essence, the Tigers nearly lost their ace on a routine portion of play that wasn’t even really ever a live play.

“It’s obviously pretty scary. The reason I wasn’t too frightened was I didn’t see a whole lot of pain expression on his face,” Leyland said. “I saw him thinking ‘Ohh, what’s this?’ But I didn’t really see him grimacing in pain or anything.

“A little nervous about it? Sure. But he was fine.”

After a few warm-up tosses, Verlander was fine, good to continue pitching in a one-run game.

Still, it was a sigh of relief.

After the odd moment, Verlander struck out Jarrod Dyson looking and Alcides Escobar swinging to end the inning, stranding both the runners aboard. The two whiffs, Nos. six and seven on the night for Verlander, allowed him to reclaim the MLB strikeout lead from teammate Max Scherzer (230-228). He’d finish with eight on the night.

His manager was more worried about the pitch count, and having to reach back for extra velocity early at that point.

“He was terrific. That one inning was a pretty tough situation to get out of, to get Dyson and Escobar. Pretty tough. Both pretty good contact hitters,” Leyland said.

“He cranked one up to Dyson that was an absolute perfect pitch at 99, then he cranked up a perfect pitch at 100. But that’s a little early for that. I was a little nervous about it, to be honest with you. I don’t like to see him have to do that too early. Particularly after his last start, where he had to throw 122 pitches in six innings. It’s September. Hopefully we’re going to be playing for a while.

“So that was not the most comfortable feeling.”

Tigers get Ross as PTBNL in Baker trade

The Tigers announced Tuesday they'd acquired right-handed pitcher Greg Ross from Atlanta as the player to be named later in the Aug. 31 trade that sent utility player Jeff Baker to the Braves.

Just turned 23 this month, Ross was originally an 18th-round draft pick out of Frostburg State, an NCAA Division III school in Maryland, the third player ever selected from the school. The 6-foot-3, 200-pounder had good strikeout numbers at Class A Rome this summer, going 7-9 with 4.60 ERA in 131 innings pitched, striking out 106, and walking 40. He posted a WHIP of 1.420 and a hits-per-nine ratio of 10.0.

The Tigers still have to send two players to be named later to the Cubs in the original trade that brought Baker (pictured at right) to Detroit.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Out of Left Field chat, Week 4


Entering the final nine games of the regular season, the Tigers are still within hailing distance of the American League Central lead.

While everybody and their brother figured the Tigers would already have the title wrapped up by now ... they don't. And THEY for sure did not think that.

But they're still in it.

"Obviously, as far as expectations ... I think yeah, we’ve had kind of an inconsistent season, but if we make the playoffs, we’ll be right back at our first goal at the beginning of the season," catcher Alex Avila said.
"I don’t think anybody on our team expected us to blow anybody out of the water.

"To be honest with you, for the amount of times that ‘experts’ are right, there’s probably twice as (many times) they’re wrong. It’s unpredictable. That’s why they play the games."

Still plenty to talk about this week. Join me at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday for a lively discussion.


Tigers still struggling in one-run games

Winning tight games is supposed to be the hallmark of an excellent team. Those, after all, are the white-knuckle, tense, nail-biting type of affairs that you’ll see in the playoffs.

That, however, has not been a strong point of the Detroit Tigers, who have lost their last 11 one-run games, including Sunday night’s 2-1 loss in extra innings.

They’re 17-27 in one-run games overall, a year after going 29-17 in the same scenario. At one point in August and September this year, seven straight losses were all settled by one run each, and eight of nine by a total of 10 runs. 

“It’s usually a combination of things. You probably didn’t manage good enough, you probably didn’t pitch good enough. Maybe you didn’t close a game. You didn’t get a sacrifice fly with a man on third in the second inning. You probably made an error at a critical time. There’s a lot of combinations that go along with those things,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. 

And the margin for error is virtually nonexistent.

As Drew Smyly, the starter of Sunday night’s game, said afterward: “Well, when it’s 1-0, your margin for error is always pretty slim. You don’t want to let anybody else get on base. So every hitter, you just kind of attack.”

The last time the Tigers came out on top in a one-run game? It was a 3-2, 11-inning win over the Blue Jays on Aug. 23, when Austin Jackson made a stellar diving grab in the 10th inning to keep it tied, allowing Alex Avila to come up with the game-winning RBI single in the 11th. 

But that's when you have the last at-bat at home. The Tigers have also lost 10 straight one-run games on the road, dating all the way back to June. The last time they won a nail-biter in a road park was June 24, when Quintin Berry hit his first big-league home run.

Can it snowball on a team, though? Like have the hangover of one loss lead to another?

“No, I don’t think so. It’s just happens,” Leyland said.

“You gotta do the things that are conducive to winning games. When you start throwing the ball around, or making bad decisions as a manager, make a bad pitch at a crucial situation as a pitcher, you can expect those things might happen.”

By contrast, the Baltimore Orioles, who are are an MLB-best 27-9 in one-run games, won a franchise-record 13 straight one-games.

How much of a difference does it make?

Baltimore came into Monday a game out in the American League East division, and leading the AL Wild Card standings. The Detroit Tigers came into the day one game out in the AL Central, but six games out in the Wild Card race.


Another prime-time game for Must-See JV

Since the Tigers and White Sox keep playing meaningful games down the stretch, logic dictates that people should want to watch them.

So the Tigers' final Saturday game of the regular season, at Minnesota on Sept. 29, has been picked up for the FOX Saturday Baseball schedule. The time has been moved from 1:05 to 4:05 to accommodate that change.

As manager Jim Leyland has already laid out his rotation for the rest of the regular season, we know that will be Justin Verlander's turn to pitch, his final of the regular season — and possibly 2012, if the Tigers do not make the postseason. Max Scherzer is lined up for the final start of the regular season on Oct. 3, allowing the Tigers to keep Verlander in line for whatever is necessary — a potential Game 163, a one-game Wild Card playoff, or Game 1 of the American League Division Series. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Tigers lineups for Sunday's DH with Twins

The Tigers will have the unenviable task of trying to win both ends of a day-night doubleheader, after Friday's game was postponed by rain. It will mean that Drew Smyly will start the second game, taking the spot in the rotation that would have been Rick Porcello's on Friday.

There's an upside, though. With a sweep of the Twins in the twinbill, the Tigers have the ability to, at worst, put themselves in a first-place tie in the American League Central. Saturday's win, coupled with a later loss by the White Sox, left Detroit just 0.5 games out of first place, the closest they'd been for all but three days (Aug. 7 and 8, Sept. 2) in the last 58.

Andy Dirks was in the lineup for the 11th straight game — he's hit .351 with three extra-base hits in that span — as the obligatory lefty corner outfielder, along with right-handed rookie Avisail Garcia, as the Tigers faced lefty Scott Diamond.

With right-hander P.J. Walters scheduled to pitch the second game for the Twins, expect to see Dirks and Quintin Berry in the lineup, along with catcher Alex Avila.

GAME 1:
MINNESOTA TWINS (62-89)
Denard Span, CF
Ben Revere, RF
Joe Mauer, CH
Josh Willingham, LF
Justin Morneau, 1B
Ryan Doumit, C
Trevor Plouffe, 3B
Eduardo Escobar, 2B
Pedro Florimon, SS

Starting pitcher: Scott Diamond, LHP (11-8, 3.69 ERA)

DETROIT TIGERS (80-70):
Austin Jackson, CF
Omar Infante, 2B
Miguel Cabrera, 3B
Prince Fielder, 1B
Delmon Young, DH
Jhonny Peralta, SS
Andy Dirks, LF
Avisail Garcia, RF
Gerald Laird, C

Starting pitcher: Max Scherzer, RHP (16-6, 3.78 ERA)

GAME 2: 
MINNESOTA TWINS (63-89):
Ben Revere, CF
Jamey Carroll, 2B
Joe Mauer, C
Josh Willingham, LF
Justin Morneau, 1B
Ryan Doumit, DH
Trevor Plouffe, 3B
Matt Carson, RF
Pedro Florimon, SS

Starting pitcher: P.J. Walters, RHP (2-4, 6.39 ERA)

DETROIT TIGERS (80-71):
Austin Jackson, CF
Quintin Berry, LF
Miguel Cabrera, 3B
Prince Fielder, 1B
Delmon Young, DH
Brennan Boesch, RF
Jhonny Peralta, SS
Alex Avila, C
Ramon Santiago, 2B

Starting pitcher: Drew Smyly, LHP (4-3, 4.45 ERA)

Tigers rotation for the rest of the regular season

Sunday G1 vs. Minn.: Max Scherzer
Sunday G2 vs. Minn: Drew Smyly

Monday (9/24) vs. Kansas City: Justin Verlander
Tuesday (9/25) vs. Kansas City: Anibal Sanchez
Wednesday (9/26) vs. Kansas City: Rick Porcello
Thursday (9/27) vs. Kansas City: Doug Fister

Friday (9/28) at Minnesota: Max Scherzer
Saturday (9/29) at Minnesota: Justin Verlander
Sunday (9/30) at Minnesota: Anibal Sanchez

Monday (10/1) at Kansas City: Rick Porcello
Tuesday (10/2) at Kansas City: Doug Fister
Wednesday (10/3) at Kansas City: Max Scherzer

Saturday, September 22, 2012

When is the Handshake of Doom ... not?

If you watch, late in any starting pitcher's outing, there will be the manager, poised one foot on the dugout steps, waiting to greet him, hand extended.

Once the two press flesh, and the handshake is completed, the deed is done. So is the day.

It's called the Handshake of Doom, and it's the harbinger of a relief pitcher taking over.

Don't pitchers ever want to dodge it?

“At times. Obviously you never want to come out of the game, no matter where you are pitching-wise," admitted Tigers starter Doug Fister, with a wry grin. "With pitch count or results or anything else, it’s a matter of the competitive nature always wants to stay in the game.”

As it so happens, Fister himself managed to dodge it Saturday — or at least talk his way out of it.

When the lanky right-hander headed to the dugout after the eighth inning, sitting on 106 pitches after eight shutout innings, there was his manager, Jim Leyland, standing on the steps, waiting for him, arm extended, hand flat.

It was over, right, Yogi Berra?

Not necessarily. After the Tigers fans in attendance got one more chance to see MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera bat in the bottom of the eighth, grounding out to end the inning, out of the dugout bounced Fister.

Wait ... huh?

"I had a feeling Skip might think about pulling him out, but I knew he was going to try and convince him," catcher Alex Avila said. "He was pitching way too good, I thought, and with an 8-0 lead and a doubleheader tomorrow, why not just take a chance?"

The manager did need some convincing.

"I was going to take him out. Only because I was worried about the pitch count. He’s never had a shutout, and he said, ‘Please let me have a chance at it.’ I said, ‘All right, you’ve got a couple of hitters, but make it quick,' " said Leyland, who knew Fister wouldn't have a problem actually getting the complete-game shutout, but didn't want him to mess around, and run up his pitch count, getting up in to the 120-pitch range.

As Leyland said, "This is no time to get sentimental."

"I told him, ‘You gotta make it quick. I’m going to give you this opportunity, but you gotta make it quick. Because I can’t let you throw 120 pitches trying to get a shutout. Not this time of year.’ He’s got a big game to pitch again," the skipper said. "So that was a little bit tougher than it seemed to the average person. But I’m glad I did it."

And he wasted no time. 

"He followed orders pretty good," Leyland grudgingly admitted, after Fister finished off his first career complete-game shutout with just 11 more pitches. He finished with 117 for the night. 

“It doesn’t change anything. I go out there and still make pitches. That’s my mentality every inning is make it quick. I want to get bad contact within the first three pitches anyway, limiting to less than 15 pitches an inning. It doesn’t change anything for me,” Fister said.

“It’s an honor for me, coming from Skip, to allow me to go back out there. It’s something special.”

It helped that he was helping himself. Fister got 10 ground-ball outs, three of them coming with assists of his own.

"Fister showed you why you talk about PFP (Pitchers' Fielding Practice), because he’s a great fielder," Leyland said. "He helped himself two or three times today, including one of the double plays, and another shot up the middle that he stabbed."


Friday, September 21, 2012

Jim Leyland on Tigers fans: 'The loyalty and the support has been unbelievable'

The Detroit Tigers have already announced that they'll pass the 3,000,000 fan plateau sometime in this final homestand of the season. They came into Friday night's game with official attendance of 2,781,222 through 74 home contests. 

Manager Jim Leyland appreciates the fans who have come out for the games, even if the Tigers have been disappointing. 

Here were his thoughts before Friday's game:

"I think it speaks for itself. These people have been unbelievable, the loyalty and the support has been unbelievable. It’ll be the third time since I’ve been here that they’ve reached 3 million. I’m happy to be a part of that," he said. "I’m not saying I have anything to do with it, but I’m happy to be a part of it. That’s a thrill. That’s a big number. That’s a big number when you’re talking about workmanlike people and the economy not so great, that’s a huge number, so they can be proud of themselves. That’s loyalty. 

"But we’ve talked about this. There’s no question that St. Louis and Detroit, pure baseball fans, have the best. That’s just my opinion, and I know you probably upset some other cities, but it’s unbelievable really. 

"I think that part of that is what Mr. Ilitch talks about. I think you’ve got a couple stars, three stars. I’m sure that has something to do with it. That’s not to downplay anybody else, because I don’t mean it that way. When you’ve got Verlander, Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera, that’s like having Jaromir Jagr, Mario Lemieux and (Tom) Barrasso. I don’t know all the Red Wings or I would have said them. 

"I had an old pitching coach who you would remember, a lot of them probably don’t, John Gardzicki. He said that’s the only true description of a superstar. A superstar to him, the only superstar was when he played there was 2,000, 5,000, 10,000 extra people. That’s a superstar. That’s what was to him a superstar. That pretty much sums it up I think. 

"But that’s a fantastic number. That’s a big number and I can’t tell you how grateful we are for that. There’s no question about that."

Scherzer: 'I'm expecting I should be able to make the start'

DETROIT — Sunday’s starter for the Tigers is still officially listed as ‘TBA.’

By Saturday afternoon, it will be changed to something else.

Whose name will be penciled in there? TBA.

The Tigers do know that, after a rainout Friday that created a day-night doubleheader (1:05 and 7:05 p.m.) on Sunday, one of the starters will be rookie Drew Smyly. The other is still up in the air.

After a good session playing catch in the outfield Friday afternoon, starter Max Scherzer — whose turn it is in the rotation it originally was for Sunday — felt pretty confident it would be his name would be written in for the other game.

“I’m expecting I should be able to make the start,” said Scherzer, who lasted just two innings into his last start on Tuesday, before being removed with weakness in his throwing shoulder. “I was able to play catch and felt no pain, felt good, ball was jumping out of my hand. The big thing will be tomorrow (Saturday), I’ve got to really air it out, be able to let it fly and be able to throw all my pitches to be sure that I can start. If I am able to do that tomorrow, I don’t see there’s a reason why I wouldn’t be able to start on Sunday.”

Manager Jim Leyland went into Friday night still hedging his bets, planning to keep Smyly in his back pocket, just in case. Instead, he shifted Smyly into one of the Sunday starts, and kept Saturday’s starter, Doug Fister, in his spot. Friday’s scheduled starter, Rick Porcello, will either pitch one of Sunday’s games, if Scherzer can’t go, or be skipped until what would have been his next scheduled start, on Wednesday.

“Yeah. I don’t know. (Scherzer) had a pretty good day, but I won’t know anything until tomorrow (Saturday). That’s to answer your question. I really won’t know anything until tomorrow. ... Tomorrow will be the big day. He’ll throw, like the slider and stuff tomorrow. We’ll either shut him down, or have to make a decision,” Leyland said before Friday’s game was rained out.

The wild card is still whether or not Scherzer is going to be able to go.

Arguably the hottest starter in the American League in the second half (7-1 in eight starts since Aug. 10, with a 1.41 ERA, and a .197 batting average allowed), Scherzer left his last start after throwing just 44 pitches, many of which were far below his normal velocity.

The diagnosis ruled out any serious injuries to the hard structure of Scherzer’s throwing shoulder, but showed inflammation in the front of the deltoid muscle, which kept him from comfortably rotating his arm forward — a necessity, obviously, in his delivery.

It’s responded well to treatment and medication, allowing Scherzer to try playing catch on Friday, tossing easily from 75 feet. He’ll have to do the same on Saturday before he’s cleared to go.

“Once I can air it out. Once I can get out to 90 feet and throw the ball as hard as I can, when I can do that, that’s when I know I’m right. I don’t see any reason why I won’t be able to do that tomorrow, but I’ve got to be able to do that,” Scherzer said. “I gotta be able to air out my fastball. I gotta be able to do that tomorrow when I’m playing catch. So as soon as I’m able to do that, that’ll be the biggest tell-tale sign whether or not I’ll be able to make the start. I’m guessing I’ll be able to.”

It’s not something that Leyland is willing to push, if it’s still a question mark.

He’s that same way with any pitcher who might be pushing the envelope on their endurance, or any player who’s been injured, like Alex Avila had been.

He’s not going to jeopardize a player’s health for a short-term gain, even in a must-win situation like the Tigers are in.

“No, you don’t ... I would never ... You would never do that. Like today, for instance, Max feels real good, you know? And the manager’s always the guy that (thinks), Max might feel good, but in the back of my mind, am I taking a chance with this guy for his future, for the Tigers’ future. You know what I mean? It’s always a tough call. It’s not easy. People think you just make a decision, is he going to pitch or not? It’s not that easy,” Leyland said.

“Because I’m not smart enough to know, does this thing lead to something else? Is there some weakness here that causes something else to happen? I don’t want any part of that. So I’ll have to be totally convinced by our medical team, which is excellent, but that clearance would have to come from them. I’m not going to make that call. I’m not going to do it.”

And the medical staff doesn’t sugarcoat things, or give the manager the answer he wants to hear, rather than the truth.

“Oh, they don’t do that. There’s too much red tape involved with that stuff anymore. There’s not a medical guy that’s going to put himself on the line, if there’s any question at all. They’re very good about ... We always shade to the precautionary side. If Kevin says ‘This guy can’t play,’ he can’t play. I trust him totally. Because I don’t know anything about that. That’s not my expertise,” Leyland said.

“You’re at the mercy of whatever they say.”

Much like the Tigers were at the mercy of the weather on Friday.

NOTE: Both of Sunday's games will be televised on Fox Sports Detroit. Those fans with tickets to Friday's game can use them for the 7:05 game on Sunday.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Joking Avila cleared to return, but situation was no laughing matter

DETROIT — It was a laughing matter.

It also was not.

When Alex Avila ran into teammate Prince Fielder’s elbow, both chasing a foul pop-up in Cleveland on Sunday, he went down like a sack of potatoes. His manager said he looked “like a prize fighter” who’d gotten knocked out.

Friends teased Avila a bit.

“I got a few phone calls, texts saying ‘What are you doing running into a tree?’ ” the catcher admitted Thursday morning, when he’d been cleared to play again after missing three games with a sprained jaw and what were termed “mild concussion symptoms,” including headaches.

Even Avila, always quick with a self-deprecating joke, was willing to laugh at himself a little bit.

“Ask him how his elbow feels,” the catcher said with a grin, jabbing his sore chin in the direction of the seated Fielder in the locker room, when a reporter had started to ask a question about the norm for a collision like that, where both players get staggered.

Someone asked him if he’d seen the replay yet.

“Yeah. Yeah,” he said, watching someone in the circle of reporters shudder at the memory. “That was exactly my reaction.”

Someone asked him if he’d take an extra peek at his surroundings, when chasing any future pop-ups on the first base side, what with Fielder roaming around over there, too.

“I will be taking ... a FEW more looks,” he laughed.

All in all, he was in a far better frame of mind to be fielding the questions Thursday, after he’d gotten the medical clearance to play. He’d scored basically the same on the SCAT (Sport Concussion Assessment Tool — a grouping of questions and balance and coordination checks) the two previous times it was administered since Sunday, but scored better in his last try.

“Yeah, no. Much better. Everything was just better across the board. I just feel better, mentally, feel more normal. Everything’s good, no more headaches, nothing like that. Just the jaw’s going to be sore for a few more days,” he said. “But a little pain’s not going to hurt me.”

Umm ... channeling Yogi Berra much?

Playing through pain is certainly not a new phenomenon for the tough-as-nails Avila, though. Yes, he got dinged up repeatedly in the few games leading up to the collision, but no, that part’s not concerning.

“It’s nothing new. I feel fine, physically. Yeah, I got hit a few times, and stuff like that, but that’s just ... I mean, how many times have you asked me that question?” Avila said. “A lot. It’s just part of the job.”

It’s common enough that his wife, Kristina, did not flinch when she was called by her parents, telling her he’d come out of the game. She did not see it live.

“When someone tells her, ‘Your husband got hit,’ she’s like ‘OK, well? Is he OK? That’s nothing new,’ ” Avila recalled. “Then obviously, when she heard how bad it was, concussion and all that stuff, she was concerned.”

That’s where the not-so funny stuff comes in.

As Tigers manager Jim Leyland said the other day, when you’re talking about “upstairs” — his words — it’s no laughing matter. It was something he was not messing around with. No chance.

“They have rules on this stuff, with concussion symptoms. You can’t do certain things. You’ve gotta be cleared. I don’t want to fool with that stuff,” the skipper said. “I don’t want that on my plate.”

Or on his conscience.

And concussions are no laughing matter, as Major League Baseball — like all of the major sports — have come to realize. When Avila plays next, he’ll likely be able to look across the field to see someone who can relate to that.

The Minnesota Twins, who visit Comerica Park Friday to Sunday, went without first baseman Justin Morneau for 174 games — more than a full season’s worth — over the last two years, after he suffered several concussions. The first came in July 2010.

Even as recently this spring training, he was concerned that his career was in jeopardy.

Those are the thoughts that went through Avila’s mind, as well.

“Once it happened, obviously, all the concerns from the trainers and the doctors telling me what it could become, if I didn’t take care of it. And obviously, hearing stories from guys like Morneau, and talking to them over the last couple of years, and seeing what they’ve gone through — a few (Twins) guys have gone through those concussion symptoms and missed a lot of time. That’s something I didn’t want, especially in my position, knowing that I’m going to get hit in the head a few times,” he admitted.

“It’s something that, in my position, could cut my career short. Obviously, I had to think about not only myself and my career, but the quality of life after that, and making sure that I was right before I got back in there.”

No laughing matter.

Lineups for series finale with Athletics

DETROIT TIGERS (79-69):
Austin Jackson, CF
Omar Infante, 2B
Miguel Cabrera, 3B
Prince Fielder, 1B
Delmon Young, DH
Jhonny Peralta, SS
Avisail Garcia, RF
Andy Dirks, LF
Gerald Laird, C

Starting pitcher: Anibal Sanchez (3-5, 4.19 ERA)

OAKLAND ATHLETICS (84-64):
Stephen Drew, SS
Josh Reddick, CF
Yoenis Cespedes, DH
Brandon Moss, RF
Chris Carter, 1B
Seth Smith, LF
Josh Donaldson, 3B
George Kottaras, C
Cliff Pennington, 2B

Starting pitcher: Tommy Milone (13-10, 3.81 ERA)

More support for Miggy's MVP candidacy

Sometimes, you want to really string things beautifully together with striking prose. Other times, you just need to get out of the way of the quotes. This is one of the latter times.

So, without further ado, here are the feelings of some of Miguel Cabrera's teammates on the possibility of him competing for not only a triple crown, but also the American League Most Valuable Player award:

Gerald Laird on Miggy's sensational season, especially after having played with Albert Pujols in St. Louis last year: "It’s unbelievable. Whatever he does, doesn’t seem to amaze me anymore. I’m just waiting for what he does next. Being able to play with Albert last year, who was a great hitter, and Miggy this year, who’s a great hitter, I’ve seen them both, seen both leagues, and honestly, in my eyes, he’s the best hitter in the game right now, hands down. National League, American League. He’s proving that, every day. He’s going out here every day, and doing something big for this team."

Does that mean he's got Gerald's support for MVP?: "I mean, I don’t know — I don’t even think it’s a discussion anymore. He’s definitely the MVP of the league. To do what he’s doing, to get walked, and to hit balls out like he hit out tonight, I mean just goes to show you how unbelievable he is. I just don’t even think it’s a discussion. I know they want us to get in the postseason, but this guy’s putting up numbers that he’s never done before, and he’s just ... he’s unbelievable.
"It’s just fun to be around, and I hope he gets the votes that he deserves. In my eyes, he is the MVP of the league."

Alex Avila on whether or not Miggy has a chance at the triple crown: “There’s not a lot in his control there. It depends on the play of other guys. If he plays well, other guys don’t play as well or (Texas' Josh) Hamilton doesn’t hit two, three or four more home runs, you never know. But a triple crown is pretty crazy to talk about and what’s pretty crazy is people are talking about him winning a triple crown but that he’s second in MVP to Mike Trout. Pretty crazy. That’s pretty ridiculous.”

There are those who say that the triple crown may not matter in the MVP race, Alex: “I would like to meet those people who say that. Ask them how long they’ve been watching baseball. 
“I don’t even want to talk about it because it’ll get me upset.”

How does the reigning AL MVP, Justin Verlander, feel about Cabrera's season: "Unbelievable. He, obviously, has my support for the MVP. You’re talking about a guy who is one home run away a Triple Crown. That’s a rarity in baseball and that’s just a testament to how good of a player he is and his natural ability.
"Look at the ball he hit tonight for a home run. We were talking about that up here – a couple of guys – you just don’t see that. You execute your pitch, 94 mph, up at his chin and he gets the barrel of the bat on the ball and hits a home run. It’s impressive to watch. It’s been impressive to watch since he’s been here, but this year is really something special."

Justin, there's a thought that Miggy could win triple crown, and not get the MVP. Thoughts?  "Bull(bleep). Yeah. That’s ridiculous. When was the last time there was a triple crown winner?"

Ted Williams won two triple crowns, and didn't win MVP, Justin: "Who won it? Ted Williams lost because of ... Joe DiMaggio? Which goes down as one of the worst MVP votings of all time, in my opinion. His statistics weren’t nearly as good as Ted Williams.
"That would be a joke in my opinion."

So would it be a joke if the same thing happened to Miggy, Justin?: "Yeah. Hasn’t been done since 1967. I mean, come on. Just the fact that he’s one home run away is absurd.
"Just watch him. Watch him when we need him, down this home stretch."
There's a big discrepancy in numbers for Cabrera and Trout in August and September, Justin:"Oh, my God. You want to talk about MVP? Compare their numbers the last two months of the season. Big difference."

Jim Leyland on whether or not the MVP race should be settled solely by Sabermetrics: "Sabermetrics? Well. (Long pause.) I’m going to answer that this way. I will not use the player’s name, but according to the Sabermetrics there is a player that is better than Miguel Cabrera. So from the guy that gave me the Sabermetrics told me that, I said, ‘Well, should we trade Miguel Cabrera for the player you’re talking about?’ He said, ‘Oh, no, you can’t do that.’ And I said, ‘Well, then you don’t believe in Sabermetrics. And neither do I.’"


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Miggy closing in on triple crown territory

DETROIT — He’s been hearing the “M-V-P” chants from fans at home, and even some on the road.

Could Miguel Cabrera start hearing a new chant? “Tri-ple-Crown.”

Or maybe “Carl-Yas-Trzemski.”

“Who?” Cabrera jokingly asked Tuesday night.

Carl Yastrzemski, Miggy. The last guy to win a triple crown? What do you know about him?

“Oh, a lot,” Miggy said with a laugh, after making sure everyone would be reading that name a lot the final two weeks of the regular season.

With his two-homer, six-RBI night on Tuesday, establishing new career highs in both categories, the Tigers slugger certainly made the possibility that much stronger that he could be the first since Boston’s Yastrzemski in 1967 to claim the rare honor.

Cabrera came into Wednesday’s games with possession of the lead in two of the three triple crown categories — batting average (.333) and RBI (129) — and just two off the pace in the third, home runs (40).

Has he got it in him?

“He better,” joked former teammate Brandon Inge, now with the visiting Oakland Athletics, who were at Comerica for a three-game series. “How hard is it? All he’s gotta do is hit home runs. He’s got everything else.”

And he does.

At the moment.

Cabrera finished Tuesday night with a six-point lead over his primary MVP competition, LA’s Mike Trout (.327), in batting average.

He had a six-RBI lead over Texas’ Josh Hamilton, the player behind whom Cabrera finished second in the 2010 MVP balloting.

And Hamilton’s lead in the home run department has shrunk considerably with Miggy’s eight homers in September, after two Tuesday, and another Wednesday.

“It’s not easy. There’s a lot of competition, a lot of good guys. .... It’s a hard thing to, you know? You gotta get lucky. And hopefully we get lucky and beat some more good teams,” said Cabrera, who admitted the MVP chants make him feel good, but would still rather talk about team success, rather than individual numbers.

“If you do it, it’s like, ‘Wow,’ ” Cabrera said. “In those categories — average, RBI and home run — it’s amazing, because (when you try to hit for) average (it brings) down your home runs. You want to put the ball in play. You want to make something happen. You want walks, too. To get that together is very impressive.”

Since joining the Tigers in 1008, he’s led the American League in each of the triple crown categories — home runs (37) in 2008, RBI (126) in 2010 and batting average (.344) last season — but never more than one in a season.

“It is what it is with Cabrera. You guy have all seen him. There’s no sense in really asking any questions about him because you guys all have first-hand information on him. You’ve watched this kid play for several years now so you all know how good he is. I don’t know what to say. I’m not avoiding it,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “I don’t know what to tell you, you guys all watch him so you know how good he is. It’s remarkable really. I think the fact that it’s been so long since it’s been done tells you how unbelievably hard it would be to do. But other than that, I don’t really have much information for you.”

 

How have his home run numbers climbed so precipitously, though?

He’s hit 30 or more in eight of his 10 big-league seasons, but never more than 38. Last year, he hit 30. Now he’s got 40.

Easy answer.

“Prince behind me. I see more good pitches. Last year, I think I see one, two pitches good pitches in at-bat, right now I see a lot,” Cabrera said.

“They be aggressive with me, and I’m an aggressive hitter. It doesn’t have to be in the middle of the plate to swing the bat. If it is something close, I’m going to be aggressive and swing, put my best swing on it.”

If Cabrera becomes the first player in 45 seasons to win the triple crown, how can he NOT win the MVP? [Here are how some of his teammates feel about it]

That debate has become more and more pronounced in recent days, what with Trout’s numbers coming back to earth (he’s hit just .274 in September, compared to .373 for Cabrera).

“Personally, yeah, I think so. Nothing against Trout. Trout’s unbelievable, he really is. I like him as a player, I love the way he does things, but nobody makes an impact on a ballclub the way Miguel Cabrera does,” said Inge, stunned when a reporter asked him to elaborate, with a ‘how so?’

“You don’t have a notepad long enough to write down all the things. Everything. Everything. Everything offensively.”

Will that be enough to offset Trout’s perceived advantage in defensive metrics?

Yes, Inge said.

“I don’t care. I don’t care. You’re never going to convince me otherwise. And nothing against Trout. I LOVE the type of ballplayer that he is, I really do. I like everything he does. But no one impacts a game like Miguel Cabrera does,” the longtime Tiger said.

“(Tuesday) night, bases are loaded, and I’m sitting here going, ‘This is not good.’ And sure enough, ‘Bam,’ grand slam. I just knew it. It’s just one of those things.

“Maybe Trout, he could do that also, but I’m confident — I knew that guy was going to come through.”

VIDEO: Brandon Inge gives his MVP vote to Miggy, too

Former Tigers 3B Brandon Inge, now a member of the Oakland A's, visited Comerica Park for this series. He's back in Michigan after having season-ending surgery to fix a separated shoulder.

While he plays for another team with postseason aspirations, Inge had no problem throwing his support behind former teammate Miguel Cabrera's MVP candidacy, however.


Lineups for Must-See JV against A's

DETROIT TIGERS (79-69):
Austin Jackson, CF
Omar Infante, 2B
Miguel Cabrera, 3B
Prince Fielder, 1B
Delmon Young, DH
Jhonny Peralta, SS
Avisail Garcia, RF
Andy Dirks, LF
Gerald Laird, C

Starting pitcher: Justin Verlander, RHP (14-8, 2.82 ERA)

OAKLAND A'S (84-63):
Stephen Drew, SS

Seth Smith, DH
Josh Reddick, RF
Yoenis Cespedes, CF
Brandon Moss, LF
Josh Donaldson, 3B
Daric Barton, 1B
Derek Norris, C
Cliff Pennington, 2B

Starting pitcher: Brett Anderson, LHP (4-1, 1.93 ERA)

Tigers don't lose any ground, end up not losing players

DETROIT — It’s going to be hard enough for the Tigers to chase down the Chicago White Sox with a fully healthy team.

When players started dropping like flies in Tuesday’s game, you had to wonder how sustainably realistic that goal was going to continue to be.

Alex Avila was unavailable for the game, still suffering from mild concussion symptoms. Bright lights and fast-paced activities after the game were still bothering him to an extent, adding to his headache, so catching a Max Scherzer fastball? Not a good idea ...

“That’s a real touchy one when you start messing with upstairs,” manager Jim Leyland said Monday. “I’ll have to feel 100 percent that he’s totally cleared before I would play him.”

Speaking of Scherzer, he left after just two innings of his scheduled start, after the last few of his mere 44 pitches were way below the normal velocity you’d expect from the fireballer.

“Well, we were a little suspicious when we saw the velocity was down some. We were a little suspicious of that, and then Jonesy (pitching coach Jeff Jones) checked with him when the inning was over, and said ‘He can’t go, you gotta take him out,’ ” Leyland said.

Danger sign, right?

“Oh, sure. It flashes through your mind,” Leyland admitted.

Then, when — seemingly for good measure, a kick when the team was down, so to speak — Quintin Berry did not get up from attempting a diving catch in the seventh inning, writhing around on the ground in pain, looking for all the world like he’d dislocated a shoulder, you kind of had the feeling the cosmic fix was in, that karma was telling the Tigers to stop.

“I was worried that he probably did something to his collarbone or something. Dislocated it, or something,” Leyland said.

“Yeah. I got scared,” Berry admitted. “I had a labrum problem before, on my left, (from) doing the same thing. So I kind of got a little afraid in the beginning, that that could have been it.”

Then, as if magically, the good news began to trickle in all at once. A Tigers team spokesperson was literally finishing the announcements on the public address system in the press box the moment Miguel Cabrera erased all doubt about the game’s outcome with one bases-loaded swing of the bat, sealing a 12-2 win with the team’s first grand slam of the season.

Karma? Pffft.

Not looking so bad anymore.

Avila still suffering from headaches, although the team continues to insist that he does NOT have a concussion. And the catcher even clarified earlier comments he’d made to a reporter, when he said he couldn’t remember the incident that had caused the problems, saying “I wasn’t walking around not knowing who anybody was.”

Yes, the news is very good.

“Took a CT scan (Tuesday), and everything checks out very good. Thank God there’s no damage or anything like that,” said Avila, calling it a ‘waiting game.’ “According to the doctor, once the symptoms are gone — which in my case is headaches — they’ll put me through the test again, and if everything checks out there, then I’ll be good to go.”

Scherzer knew his issue wasn’t as bad as it could have been, as soon as he ran through a battery of test with the training staff, but he went to the Detroit Medical Center for an MRI anyway, just to confirm the early diagnosis.

“I’ve battled through things in the past, and it just didn’t feel like that. I could really localize it, where it was on my shoulder. It was outside all the major problems. It was right there on the side of the shoulder. I could feel it. It was right there on the muscle. So I was never really worried, for me, that anything was structurally wrong. But that type of situation, you gotta have an MRI to make sure you are 100 percent. Having that just gives you a peace of mind,” said Scherzer, who knew it wasn’t any of the issues he’d had before, and isolated the problem area to his deltoid — the large, round muscle atop the shoulder joint — causing rotational weakness.

“My ‘Uh oh’ moment, to be specific, is my bicep tendon. When my bicep tendon barks, that’s the ‘Uh oh.’ That’s the alarm for me. When it’s out side that tendon, in the deltoid, it’s on the side, that’s muscular. It wasn’t any structural damage. I just wanted to have the peace of mind to have the MRI, to make sure everything else was OK, and that there wasn’t anything else underlying.”

There wasn’t. Scherzer was well enough to return from the hospital in time to join the handshake/high-five line after the win, and tell his skipper, “I’m fine.”

A few days off, and a few anti-inflammatory treatments, and he could be right back ready to pitch again.

“Going to take a couple days off throwing, going to try to take some medication to help get out the inflammation,” the starter said. “Obviously, once we get to that point, if I can pick up a ball, it is possible I could make my next start.”

In Scherzer’s world, good news “brings a smile to his face” routinely, maybe even a laugh. So do things like the question of whether he and Berry passed on the way to and from all the diagnostic equipment.

“Sure does seem like it,” Scherzer said after a laugh. “He was hustling to get that ball.”

When Berry landed awkwardly after trying to catch Josh Reddick’s slicing liner, he got up to his knees just long enough to get the ball back in to the infield, before going back prone, waiting for the training staff.

X-rays, however, showed that there was nothing more than a contusion on his shoulder. He was not scheduled to play in the remaining two games of the series against Oakland, considering both were scheduled to be started by left-handers, giving him time to rest the sore spot.

Despite all the concern and consternation, the Tigers finished the night roughly where they’d started: No worse for wear and three games behind the White Sox, with now 15 to play.

Still doable, right?

“Yeah, you gotta always believe what you have here,” said Cabrera, who had two homers and six RBI on the night. “We have a good team. We play good. We play not as good. We need to be more consistent the last 10 games here, the last six games on road. We gotta believe we can do it.

“We gotta go out there and play hard, and do things to help us win games.”

And not get hurt, doing so.

VIDEO: Miguel Cabrera talks HRs, triple crown, and Tigers hopes

Miguel Cabrera is having himself an MVP-type season, reaching career highs in home runs (40) and RBI (129) after hitting two homers and driving in six runs in Tuesday's 12-2 win over the Athletics.

He finished the night first in batting average in the American League (.333), first in RBI and second in homers, just two off the MLB-leading pace of 42, set by Texas' Josh Hamilton.

What do the MVP chants from the Comerica Park crowd mean to him?

"Ahh, it make you feel good, but ... it's not about personal numbers," he said.

It's about winning games for Cabrera, who still thinks the Tigers have a good shot, despite coming into the night — and going out of it, as well — three games behind the White Sox. 

He doesn't give himself the same odds at winning the triple crown, however.

Here are his postgame thoughts: