July 25, 2014 at 1:00 am

A shift in hands has Tigers' Drew Smyly getting the drop on hitters

Anaheim, Calif. — It was an adjustment, one of those slight alterations that can sometimes make all the difference to a hitter, or to a pitcher.

Drew Smyly did nothing but drop his hands. And only a few inches at the start of his delivery, from a starting spot near his neck to more of a mid-section launch. But the degree to which his fastball and cutter appear to have picked up steam and spin is, the Tigers left-hander believes, one reason why he has had three consecutive strong starts.

“I’m getting more arm speed,” Smyly said after he struck out 11 batters in 5 2/3 innings, and still was the losing pitcher Friday in the Angels’ 2-1 victory over the Tigers at Angel Stadium of Anaheim.

“Sometimes before, my arm would lag. I’ve felt real good about it the last few starts.”

Smyly allowed only four hits Friday. His cut fastball was his preferred weapon in his 11-strikeout blitz, six of them coming against consecutive batters in the second, third, and fourth innings.

Smyly had won his two previous starts, against the Royals, and Indians. In the start against Cleveland, last Sunday, he allowed four hits, just as he did Friday. Smyly struck out seven Indians batters ahead of his 11-strikeout spree Friday, the most batters he has ever whiffed in a single game.

Book 'em

The subject was books. Baseball books. How much does Brad Ausmus read about sabermetrics, managerial strategy, about the game’s science, or its past and present luminaries?

The Tigers manager said reading is, for him, like it is for so many people. It happens in spurts. And those spurts tended to occur more before he began work last November as the team’s skipper.

Ausmus said most of his time on team charter flights is spent researching statistics and data about other teams: their tendencies, their performance histories, their records against his players and pitchers, etc.

“I’ll read five books in six months and not one for a year,” he said Thursday as the Tigers dressed for a second game in their four-game series against the Angels at Angel Stadium of Anaheim.

“I bounce around. I’ve read a lot of Michael Crichton’s stuff. I read that biography on John Adams. I read a book about waves — tsunamis and all.”

Ausmus remembers, rather fondly, an English course he took as he completed his degree at Dartmouth. It was a course that needed to be friendly to his schedule during his minor league playing days, so he and a professor there worked out a correspondence course in which Ausmus would read “eight or 10” classic baseball books (“The Boys of Summer,” “Men at Work,” “Ball Four,” etc.) and delve into the fabric of baseball literature and the game’s societal imprint.

Ausmus enjoyed the class. But for now, at least until the offseason, books will be shelved. At least those that don’t have relevance to upcoming opponents and to a team’s championship mission.

Mitt love

Alex Avila sat in front of his locker spraying thick liquid against the palm of a black catcher’s mitt.

The substance was Lextol, a leather conditioner Avila uses religiously on a mitt he wishes could last a lifetime.

“I’ve been able to milk this one for two years,” he said, “but as you can see, it’s getting a bit thin.”

Avila’s mitt, a Rawlings model, is so soft and dexterous, he cringes at the thought of replacing it.

“I’ll take it home in the offseason and get it reworked and patch it up,” he said, explaining that a leather shop in Miami should be able to restore some of the worn-away fabric.

“I’ve got two others that are broken in, but they’re not as good as this one.”

Avila estimates that he has used, at the most, “three, maybe four?” catcher’s mitts since he came to the big leagues in 2009.

It has not helped that Tigers pitchers specialize in mid-90-mph fastballs that can pound leather into putty. Avila acknowledges that he now uses an inner pad to protect his left hand, because some of the mitt’s leather has been all but vaporized by fastballs from the likes of Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Rick Porcello, etc.

Back at it

J.D. Martinez was in the lineup Friday against Angels starter Tyler Skaggs. Martinez had missed the last three games after straining a quadriceps muscle. Martinez started in left field.



Tigers at Angels

First pitch: 9:05 Saturday, Angel Stadium of Anaheim

TV/radio: FSD/97.1

Scouting report

RHP Justin Verlander, Tigers (9-8, 4.84): Better in recent starts. Verlander looks as if he is building toward a finish that might rival his 2013 closeout.

PHP Matt Shoemaker, Angels (7-3, 4.54): He was born in Trenton and pitched at Eastern Michigan. Has a power pitching package (72 strikeouts in 6913 innings).

Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Drew Smyly has noticed dramatic improved since dropping his hands a few inches in his delivery. / Christine Cotter / Associated Press