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Friday, May 24, 2013

Leyland gambles with pinch-running for VMart early

DETROIT — The minute last season ended, and he began to prioritize this season’s challenges, Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland knew that there would be one on the list for sure.

He knew they’d need to have someone on the squad that, in key situations, could pinch run for Victor Martinez. No disrespect intended, but the designated hitter — never a speed merchant, anyway — was coming off an entire season lost to a knee injury.

“There’s one thing you know you’re going to need next year: Somebody that can pinch run. And I don’t mean that sarcastically at all. I’m talking very common sense. Because I’m thinking like a manager. You’re going to have to run for Victor. You know that. And I don’t mean that disrespectful. That’s just common sense,” Leyland said the day he re-signed with the team, two days after the World Series.

“Hopefully, we can be a little bit more athletic, and the extra position guys, something like that. But somebody’s — you’re going to need some flexibility. ... Sometimes we’re not the easiest team to coach third for.”

It does make it more difficult when the middle of your order — the guys you’re depending on to make the rallies go in crunch time — are not the fleetest afoot.

Sometimes, that means you need to gamble on taking one of them out, if you think he might not be able to make a baserunning play in a key situation.

That’s exactly the decision Leyland had to make in Thursday night's come-from-behind, 7-6 win over the Minnesotay Twins. He had to make the call when Martinez ended up on third in the seventh inning, representing the go-ahead run. Jhonny Peralta, who’d just doubled in the game-tying run, was on second.

Leyland wanted to make sure that the run had every chance to score, so he pulled Martinez in favor of pinch runner Don Kelly.

“Last night was an interesting call for me, and one I hate. I would not have run for Victor, if he’d have just been at second base. But when he got to third, I felt like I had to do it. If (Matt) Tuiasosopo hits a fly ball, and I can’t tag him and score him, I’d kick myself in the (butt),” Leyland said.

“I don’t like to do that, run, until the eighth inning. Because I knew that Victor could possibly come back up again. But I just felt like, if he hits a sac fly, and I don’t score him, because he can’t run good enough — and I know that if I get that run, I’ve got (set-up man Joaquin) Benoit (ready to go for the eighth), I’m saying that’s a pretty good situation.

“But I don’t like to run too quick, to be honest with you. I like Victor’s bat in there.”

It became a moot point, as Tuiasosopo was hit on the hand, loading the bases, but the Tigers left them that way, when Brayan Pena and Andy Dirks both flew out in foul territory, ending the inning.

Would it have mattered if a different batter had been at the plate, other than Tuiasosopo?

Not really.

“Well, it wouldn’t have mattered who it was, because — OK, supposing it was Santiago. I might want to squeeze with Santiago. And Victor might not make it. Please don’t write it like I’m being critical, because I’m not. I’m just making a point,” Leyland said. “In fact, we were going on contact on that play, with Kelly, because we were taking a chance they’d bobble that ball, or maybe they’ll miss-throw it or something, because you still have the same situation. Instead of second and third, it would have been first and third, if he gets thrown out at home. A hit still scores the go-ahead run.

“But I don’t like to do that. I don’t like to run too soon. You try to figure out when you’ve got that guy coming around again.”

Martinez’s No. 5 spot in the order did come around again, in the next inning, further complicating Leyland’s decision to sacrifice bunt the potential go-ahead run into scoring position.

That, too, became a moot point, when Prince Fielder delivered what ended up as the game-winning hit, singling back through the middle to make it 7-6.

Would Leyland pinch run for the other two in the middle of the Tigers’ order, if the situation arose?


“I’m not running for Prince Fielder or Miguel Cabrera. I’m not running for them. I ain’t doing it. Maybe you should, maybe you shouldn’t. But I ain’t doing it,” the manager said. “I’m keeping those (two) in there, all the time. If we don’t make it, we don’t make it. But I’m not doing it. I ain’t running for them.”


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