Austin Jackson went 2-for-3 in Game 5 but will remain at No. 8 in the batting order. (Elizabeth Conley / The Detroit News)
With his team on the brink of elimination in the American League Championship Series, Tigers manager Jim Leyland expects to stick with what’s worked — at least what’s worked for the last two games.
After the offense struggled through the first three games of the series, Leyland changed the lineup, moving Austin Jackson from leadoff to eighth and shifting the other hitters up a spot.
But injuries to Alex Avila and concerns about Miguel Cabrera’s mobility at third base could force Leyland’s hand.
He isn’t sure what his lineup will be for Game 6 of the ALCS in Boston on Saturday night. The Red Sox lead the series, 3-2, and are looking to clinch their first berth in the World Series since 2007.
If Avila, who suffered a strained left knee in Game 5, isn’t able to play in Game 6 on Saturday, it could have a domino effect on the rest of the lineup.
“You could DH Miggy and catch Victor and then obviously play (Ramon) Santiago or Donnie Kelly at third,” Leyland said on a conference call Friday. “I don’t think that’s going to happen. But it would be an option if Alex were not able to play.”
Cabrera, who has a litany of lower-body injuries, had a fielding error that led to a three-run second inning. But there are several factors that would go into putting Martinez in the field and moving Cabrera.
“That has been thought about, yes. Particularly this time of year with the significance of everything and then so much media, once you mention something like that, it’s all over the wires that Martinez might catch,” Leyland said. “That’s not true. I hope nobody starts writing that, because it’s not true. But it would be an option — let me put it that way.”
Since Leyland made the initial change to the lineup in Game 4, the Tigers’ bats have responded with 10 runs total in the last two games. But Leyland didn’t plan to tinker too much more.
“I don’t think there will be anything tricky — pretty much what we’ve been using the last couple days, depending on Avila’s health,” Leyland said. “I don’t look for any major changes or surprises.”
That means keeping Jackson in the No. 8 slot in the lineup, where he’s reached base six times in the last two games.
Leyland did commit to keeping rookie Jose Iglesias at shortstop.
The status of Avila, who suffered a left knee strain after absorbing a collision at the plate with Red Sox catcher David Ross, is uncertain. But Leyland said he hoped Avila would be able to play, which would have an impact on the rest of the lineup.
“We’ll just have to wait and see how he is tomorrow,” Leyland said. “He was a little sore but we’ll have to wait and see tomorrow how it is.”
Doing the wave
The Tigers’ first-inning rally was short-circuited with Cabrera being thrown out at the plate after trying to score from second on Jhonny Peralta’s single to left.
Third-base coach Tom Brookens initially waved Cabrera around but changed the sign. Cabrera continued running and was out by at least 10 feet, ending the inning without a run.
Leyland said there is no specific plan to holding Cabrera at third or signaling him to score in that instance.
“It’s always judging by your third-base coach. But it’s like anything else, I think some people were insinuating that I kind of blamed Brookens — I don’t really blame Brookens,” Leyland said. “I think what happened in last night’s case is what I was saying was if Miguel Cabrera were 100 percent, Tom Brookens stopped him in plenty of time.
“But where I think he possibly made the mistake was, he probably knew right off the bat when the ball was hit because of Miggy’s condition, he could not score. So I was saying maybe he shouldn’t have been waving as long as he was.”
On Thursday, Cabrera took responsibility and said he probably should have stopped.
Brookens’ calls have been questioned when Cabrera, Prince Fielder or Victor Martinez are trying to score from first or second, but there’s no specific protocol.
“In Miguel’s case it’s pretty much one base at a time right now,” Leyland said. “When guys don’t run good, they have a tendency to think they’re going one base at a time, so subsequently they don’t run all out. But our guys do that. But some of our guys aren’t that fast.”
Down but not out
The Tigers are in trouble. But they’re not necessarily finished.
Ten teams in best-of-seven League Championship Series have faced 3-2 deficits only to roar back and advance to the World Series.
Three have Tigers ties: the 1991 Braves won the last two on the road against the Jim Leyland-managed Pirates; the 2003 Marlins, led by Miguel Cabrera, did it against the Cubs in a series most remembered for the Bartman Incident; and last year’s Giants, who then swept the Tigers in the World Series.
The others: the 1985 Royals, ’86 Red Sox, ’87 Cardinals, ’96 Braves, 2004 Cardinals, ’04 Red Sox, and the ’07 Red Sox.
Four of the 10 won the last two games on the road, just as the Tigers will have to do if they’re to make back-to-back World Series.
Red Sox reliever gets a lot of big outs
The Tigers starters are getting all the attention.
But it’s a little-known Red Sox reliever who’s gotten some of the biggest outs — Junichi Tazawa, who has had two showdowns against Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera , and won both.
In Game 3, he struck Cabrera out on four fastballs, and in Game 5 he got Cabrera to hit into a pivotal double play.
“When we’ve been hurt by Cabrera, it’s probably been some off-speed pitches that haven’t gotten to the spot,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “You’re almost looking for ways to minimize the damage against such a great hitter as him. And typically that could be a well-located fastball. And that’s just Nichi’s strength.”
Tony Paul contributed