Boston — Ah, the lineup card. It is Jim Leyland’s least favorite, most irksome, point of focus by media members who can’t resist wondering why the Tigers manager decides on particular people on a particular day.
“Can you give us your thinking on your shortstop, left field decisions today?” ESPN’s Buster Olney asked Leyland during Sunday’s press conference, which preceded Game 2 of the American League Championship Series at Fenway Park.
The question was in reference to Leyland opting for Don Kelly in left against Red Sox right-hander Clay Buchholz, with Jhonny Peralta his choice at shortstop over Jose Iglesias.
“Yeah,” Leyland said, brusquely. “Peralta is playing short and Kelly is playing left.”
“Could you explain?” Olney followed.
Leyland wasn’t pleased by the persistence.
“What do you want me to explain?” he asked, impatiently. “That’s the same way I played the other night in Game 5 (Division Series against the A’s).
“Very simple. I thought that would give us the best chance to win.”
Leyland later apologized for being curt, saying, “Maybe I came across a little sarcastic.”
But questions about his lineup have long been a source of irritation for a Tigers manager who does not care to reveal all the reasons particular matchups are chosen.
Sometimes, it is a simple and obvious matter of left-handed batters working against right-handed pitchers and vice versa. Sometimes, there are scouting reports that need to be protected. Sometimes, Leyland chooses to rest a player, maybe after he has been through a bad stretch, or — more often — because one of his hitters historically has poor numbers against a particular pitcher.
Other times, he simply wants his privacy. The manager has to make these calls each day. And being grilled about those personal choices can be viewed, by any manager, as intrusive and not subject to great revelation.
The situation is touchier these days because of Jhonny Peralta.
Peralta rejoined the Tigers two weeks ago. He has been hitting so well, Leyland can now use him at his natural position, shortstop, where Peralta started Sunday night. Or, he can shift him, at considerable defensive risk, to left field, where he has filled what otherwise was a right-handed hitting void.
If Peralta plays left field, Leyland gambles on defense. If he plays him at short over Iglesias, defense also drops a notch as the Tigers’ newly anointed regular shortstop, Iglesias, sits, as was the case Sunday.
Leyland talked about the tradeoff following Saturday’s game, in which Peralta started in left, had three hits, and drove home the only run in Detroit’s 1-0 victory.
“It’s like I said, as a manager, if you’re not willing to give up something to get something, then you should play them,” he said, speaking of his preference for Peralta’s bat. “But I’m willing to do that.
“And, if something happened bad in the outfield, you take your criticism and you take it like a man.
“But the fact of the matter is you’ve got to give up something to get something, and that’s what we’re doing when we play him in left field.”
Peralta also invites questions from national media who want to know more about the big issue from 2013: his 50-game suspension for an alliance with the Biogenesis clinic in Coral Gables, Fla., and its trafficking in performance-enhancing drugs.
One writer from New York asked Leyland about his thought process as the Tigers collectively pondered Peralta’s return to the team.
Leyland has a hair trigger when it comes to Peralta and to the team’s disposition toward his suspension. He wants no part of the discussion. He believes it is a legal imperative that he sidestep such conversation.
“That was a decision made by Dave Dombrowski,” Leyland said Sunday, referring to the Tigers’ front-office boss, and chopping off follow-up questions. “That was a decision Dave Dombrowski made.”
“You felt comfortable with it?” the writer, Ken Davidoff of Newsday, asked.
“Like I said,” Leyland responded, clearly out of patience, “that was a decision that Dave made.”
These are tense times as the playoff season evolves. Games are tight and tough. Questions can also be that way. A manager hopes to win on both fronts, understanding opposing teams — and media — are also trying to succeed.