April 29, 2013 at 1:00 am

Lynn Henning

Tigers pitchers on pace to shatter strikeout record

Detroit - Strikeout. Strikeout. Strikeout.

This, sometimes, is how it goes for Tigers pitchers. They aren't happy with a single occasional strikeout. They often bunch them within a single inning. Or in clusters that span multiple innings.

They could end up with so many punch-outs by the end of the 2013 season that the 2013 Tigers pitchers might well become baseball's all-time, single-season strikeout champions.

Max Scherzer inched them 1/162th of a season closer to history Monday at Comerica Park when he blew away 10 of the Twins' batters in a 4-3 Tigers victory.

David Schoenfield, who writes a blog for ESPN.com, was ruminating on this potential Motown baseball landmark when he wrote Saturday of Detroit's potential to unseat the 2003 Cubs, who behind Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, set the big-league single-season record of 1,404.

The Tigers are on pace to beat the Cubs by 200 or more strikeouts. It's a nervy forecast 24 games into a 162-game season, but as Schoenfield wrote, "This staff has what it takes to threaten the record."

The difference, as Schoenfield writes, is that the Tigers' premier snipers, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, have been joined by Anibal Sanchez, who Friday scrawled his name into the Tigers record book when he struck out 17 Braves batters.

Ahead of Scherzer's 10-man assault Monday, Doug Fister had eight strikeouts in Sunday's game. He has averaged six per game during his first four seasons in the big leagues and isn't likely to make a big difference either way in the Tigers' capacity to knock off the 2003 Cubs.

Nor is Rick Porcello, whose career average is slightly more than five strikeouts per game.

History of strikeouts

The deal-sealer is Sanchez, who had 202 punchouts for the Marlins in 2011 and who could manage that again, with victims to spare, if his health is steady in 2013. The Cubs had only Prior and Wood as 200-strikeout pitchers in 2003. If Sanchez reaches 200, a 10-year-old record could become dust.

If it happens, the mark would be more dramatic than significant.

It's not necessarily important how you put away batters. It's that you keep them off the bases and off the scoreboard in whatever manner works.

Nor is it necessarily more efficient to strike out batters. You can throw fewer pitches by getting quick strikes and by luring batters into groundouts or flyouts.

But on this Tigers team the strikeout pitch has added value. It keeps the ball out of play. And that helps mightily a Tigers team that does not feature even average infield defense.

Bragging rights

Scherzer was asked Monday night, as he unwound in front of his locker in the Tigers clubhouse, if there was any pride in making strikeouts a team's early calling card.

Scherzer smiled and said, yes, there had been some "trash-talking" in the dugout as Jeff Jones, the Tigers pitching coach, goaded his starters with "power rankings" that each day anoints a new staff strikeout leader.

It's in-house humor. Playful. Competitive. And it has its ceiling, which is where any talk turns serious.

"If you're trying for strikeouts, you nibble, and that's when you walk guys," said Scherzer, who had an uneven start to Monday's game but made it one batter into the eighth — a strikeout of Brian Dozier.

"Tonight, I had no walks. And that's why I was able to pitch into the eighth. I didn't walk a guy."

Strikeouts, of course, are soaring across baseball, and have been for the past few years. Starters are throwing harder than was the case a decade ago. And so are relievers, who are now more like an arsenal.

The Tigers, who got three strikeouts in a single inning Sunday from Al Alburquerque, are a neat example of how snuffing out batters has also become a bullpen's fashionable weapon.

Scherzer followed the script Monday against a Twins team that, unlike those swing-and-miss Braves batters, tends to rap the ball.

He whiffed his final four batters and had six knockouts in his last 3.1 innings.

It should be noted Scherzer on Monday gave his new curveball a workout. He threw it 10 times. It now teams with his fastball, slider, and change-up to, he said, "throw a new wrinkle in there" against batters who figured Scherzer had quite enough wrinkles.

But that's the way it has been going this April for Tigers batters.

Strikeouts aren't a pitching staff's primary objective. But they have become a team's early trademark.



Tigers pitcher Anibal Sanchez, who struck out a team-record 17 batters against the Braves Friday, could help Detroit set the single-season major league mark for strikeouts. / Elizabeth Conley/Detroit News
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