Jhonny Peralta, pinch hitting on Friday night in Oakland, flies out in the ninth inning. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)
Detroit — With his team on a 17-inning scoreless streak spanning the first two games of the American League Division Series, Tigers manager Jim Leyland is looking for a boost in offensive production.
Whether it’s a sign of opportunity or desperation, Leyland revealed Sunday afternoon that Jhonny Peralta will start Game 3 in left field — the Tigers’ third starter in left in the series.
Peralta, who started 105 games at shortstop this season before his 50-game suspension for his involvement with the performance-enhancing drugs scandal, will make his fourth start — and first in the postseason — in the outfield.
“I’m going to play Peralta tomorrow, maybe to try to get an extra bat in the lineup,” Leyland said. “We’ve got to try to score some runs, obviously. Jhonny is a threat to hit one in the gap or over the fence.”
In his three regular-season games in left in the final series of the season against the Marlins, Peralta went 4-for-12 with an RBI double. He finished the regular season with a .303 average, 11 home runs and 30 doubles.
That bat could be the elixir for an ailing Tigers offense that managed 10 hits but only three runs off Bartolo Colon in Game 1 and was almost silent in Game 2. Peralta likely will bat sixth, following Victor Martinez, to try to spur the left-field corps that featured Andy Dirks and Don Kelly starting the first two games.
Dirks went 0-for-3 and Peralta flied out as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning in Game 1. Kelly went 2-for-3 on Saturday night — providing half of the Tigers’ hits. A’s rookie Sonny Gray held the Tigers to four hits in eight innings with nine strikeouts and two walks, helping Oakland knot the series at 1-1, with Game 3 in Detroit today at 1:07.
Leyland said he didn’t expect any other lineup changes and added there wouldn’t be any difference in his approach when the Tigers are batting.
“You watch how it’s going and you try to be a little creative — which we did last night,” Leyland said. “We ran a guy at a 3-2 (count), which you normally do during a season and we put one hit-and-run on. Runs are stingy.”
The dearth of runs in the first two games wasn’t something Leyland could predict — and he insisted he didn’t plan on shuffling left fielders, especially given the question marks on defense.
“I wanted to look at it. We’re still pitching-oriented and you’re still taking a little bit of a chance because, defensively, you don’t know what’s going to happen (with Peralta),” Leyland said. “But there comes a point where you say, well, you might have to give up something to get something. So I’m just hoping that maybe he can knock in a couple of runs and we can get a lead and maybe get him out there later in the game.”
Even with the teams scoring only three runs each in the first two games, Leyland said his strategy is still the same.
“You just try to use a little common sense and you smell what you might need to do,” Leyland said.
“We’re not going to try to come out tomorrow and steal five bases, but you pick your spots.”
Catcher Alex Avila said the Tigers are not in a position to have to press.
“There’s no need to — we’ve been through this before. This is postseason baseball,” Avila said. “Sometimes you’re not going to get those opportunities. Teams pitch at you a little bit differently, a little bit tougher.”
Despite the offensive drought, Leyland said the Tigers seem to be in a positive state of mind and the tight series is bringing out the best of both teams — especially pitching.
“I haven’t seen any signs of anybody on our club pressing,” Leyland said. “I think they’re really competing. They seem to be in good spirits. The clubhouse has good atmosphere.”
“You really never know because you can’t get inside the individual to know the answer to that question. But I don’t really see any signs to that.”