July 6, 2013 at 11:42 pm

Lynn Henning

Pieces are finally starting to fall into place for Tigers, Dave Dombrowski

Notes, thoughts, items as the Tigers try to build a big American League Central lead the baseball world has been waiting for them to erect since Opening Day:

Why a Tigers team's personality has changed so rapidly.

I’ve seen Dave Dombrowski a dozen times this weekend as the Tigers and Indians have convened for a four-game scrap at Progressive Field.

One minute he is on the field during batting practice huddling with his manager, Jim Leyland. Moments later he is in the dugout and on his cell phone during the Tigers’ final tuneups, talking, perhaps, with another general manager.

You see him sitting in the pregame dining room with his right-hand man, assistant GM Al Avila. You see him stop by Leyland’s office for a postgame review.

And what you see from the team’s president and general manager is a kind of parallel to his team’s performance, which is why Dombrowski, this weekend, has looked like one of the Tigers hitters settling in for an at-bat.

There is a sense of confidence mixed with the reality that no game sets you up for failure like baseball.

Five days ago during a phone conversation with Dombrowski it was mentioned that rarely does a good team avoid bad stretches, even when those same troubled, frustrated teams finish off a tough year with a world championship. Ask the Cardinals about those kinds of seasons.

Dombrowski’s team has since won five games in five days. And there is nothing cheap about the way they have played or won. It comes down to this, which is why Dombrowski’s step appears to have quickened this week:

The pitching is back where it was projected to be. Anibal Sanchez dazzled Saturday in his return from the disabled list, which was the only concern in Leyland’s rotation.

But it is the bullpen that has restored the Tigers’ pitching luster. And that is all because two guys who were at Triple A Toledo only days ago, Al Alburquerque and Bruce Rondon, have at least temporarily quieted the back innings so Joaquin Benoit could settle in as the Tigers’ desperately needed closer.

Baseball begins with pitching. The Tigers were built on pitching. And even though barbed wire is ahead, Detroit’s pitching is built to win a World Series.

Still, because baseball is so unforgiving, you must balance quality arms with a lineup, 1 through 9, that has the capacity to break up games.

The Tigers lacked half that number of bats when (a) Austin Jackson was on the disabled list for a month, and when (b) Victor Martinez, Andy Dirks, and Alex Avila weren’t hitting. The Tigers, on any given day or night, were giving away multiple runs. And that forfeiture of offense was sabotaging their otherwise strong pitching.

Now, those bats are either beginning to heat up, or they are simply resuming some old habits.

Nothing is certain in baseball. But at some point you trust probabilities. And what the smart professionals outside of Detroit have, for the most part, seen in the Tigers in 2013 is a team that is a slight percentage bet to have a long October run — with a World Series in the cards — if reasonable health and not a lot of bad luck come their way.

Dombrowski is 3˝ weeks from a trade deadline. I suspect he will yet add another reliever to lock down his back end and protect against the craziness that affects most bullpens at various intervals during a six-month season.

But I think he knows, finally, that his poker hand is coming together in such fashion that he can stay in the game with anyone at the table.

And I think that’s why he had about him a different look this weekend. It’s a changed team from the Tigers club that wobbled through its first 80 games. Bad stuff happens in baseball, but good teams tend to be just that ahead of a roulette game known as the playoffs.

Reviewing the Colby Rasmus slide

From the moment Rasmus plowed into Omar Infante in Wednesday night’s game at Rogers Centre, I never understood the debate or the supposed ambiguity to a slide that was reckless and out of bounds.

Rasmus’ slide — it was more of a launch — was late and high as he tried, properly, to keep Infante from making a double-play relay throw to first base. His bad act is that he was all but on the bag when he threw himself at Infante, who was planted, and whose knee somehow missed shearing all its ligaments.

It wasn’t even marginally close to being acceptable big-league form. And that’s why Tigers players who normally are portraits of serenity — Torii Hunter, Max Scherzer, etc. — went bananas during and after Wednesday night’s incident between the Tigers and Jays.

I don’t for a moment believe Rasmus intended to hurt Infante. Any suggestion of malice is silly and baseless. But it was extraordinarily reckless. On a scale of 10, it was a solid 10 in violating basic baseball protocol and aggression the game otherwise accepts.

The counter-argument is Rasmus’ slide was no different than a slide Dirks made last September against the Royals. Dirks slid wide right from the bag and broke up a double play and might have been as big as any baserunning antic by a Tigers player in 2012.

On that same 10-scale, I’d place Dirks’ slide at 7 or 8 — definitely over the line and worth reprisals by the Royals if they had been so inclined. But it never touched Rasmus’ slide for danger or pure lack of discipline.

This is simply hometown analysis, some say. No it’s not. Every bit as bad was Bill Madlock’s slide in 1987 when the Tigers baserunner plowed late and hard into Jays shortstop Tony Fernandez, breaking Fernandez’s elbow with nine games remaining in a division race the Jays then led but the Tigers won on the last day of the season.

That, too, was a 10 on the unacceptable scale. And it might well have cost the Jays a 1987 playoff ticket.

The Tigers handled Rasmus the next night in smart fashion. No retribution, which would have been suicidal because of warnings and suspensions that would have followed. The problem for Rasmus is that memories are long.

He’ll take his plunking next season, as he knows. He didn’t intend to hurt Infante. But you have to slide with some degree of discipline, which he didn’t remotely display in nearly ending Infante’s season.

The Anibal Sanchez Name Game

People generally are particular about one thing, if one thing only: how their name is pronounced.

An exception is Tigers pitcher Anibal Sanchez. For the past year, since he joined the Tigers in a trade with the Marlins, we have steadily pronounced his first name as Ah-nee-bell.

It should be annunciated much differently: ah-KNEE-ball. The accent is on the second syllable.

He clarified this during a conversation a few weeks ago, after it had been noticed that Baseball-Reference.com provides the same emphasis on syllable No. 2.

Sanchez confirmed that it’s ah-KNEE-ball. He explained that it was not the kind of thing he was going to continually correct. He had grown accustomed to the error and wasn’t going to make an issue of it.

But most people care deeply about names. Their name. Your name. They want those names honored by correct pronunciation.

And so, for the past few weeks, there has been a personal effort to shift to ah-KNEE-ball. Anyone else who cares to join in a modest mission will no doubt be appreciated by a man who has been amazingly accommodating.


The Tigers' Miguel Cabrera (24) celebrates with Torii Hunter (48) and Austin Jackson after Hunter hit a two-run home run during the sixth inning Saturday against the Indians. / Jason Miller/Getty Images
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