April 6, 2014 at 1:00 am

Tony Paul

Tigers fans could fall in love with Ian Kinsler

Detroit Trying to make sense of what went down at Comerica Park Saturday, when the Tigers held on for dear life to beat the Baltimore Orioles, 7-6, and remain baseball's lone undefeated team.

Kinsler's contributions

Ian Kinsler might not necessarily be the perfect ballplayer.

But, boy, is he sure a ballplayer from the way he plays the game right down to how he wears his uniform. And Tigers fans are going to fall in love with him.

Two plays stood out in Saturday's victory.

■ The first was in the third inning, when on Torii Hunter's laser shot off the wall in left field, he scored all the way from first base and didn't even draw the hint of a throw. Last season's Tigers didn't have one guy who could've done that.

■ The second went less noticed, because Hunter followed with a long two-run homer. But with no out and a runner on second in the fifth inning, Kinsler did everything he could to send a Bud Norris slider over to the right side of the infield, to move the runner up.

"What you're seeing early on this season is basically showing what kind of ballplayer he is," said Tigers closer Joe Nathan, who spent the last two years as Kinsler's teammate with the Rangers. "This is what you're going to get day in and day out. He's a baseball player."

Said Hunter, who's seen his share of Kinsler over the years from Hunter's days with the Rangers' chief rival, the Angels: "What you see with Ian Kinsler, this is what you're going to get. We got what we wanted."

Kinsler, 31, came to the Tigers in the November blockbuster trade that sent Prince Fielder packing.

While the Tigers parted with a premier slugger, they gained a premier athlete one who plays the game at full speed, and runs the bases as efficiently as anyone Tigers fans have seen for years. In one spring game, he scored from second on a single to left and from first on a shallow double to right.

But Kinsler also is a fundamentals freak.

Take the at-bat in which he gave himself up even though he said after the game, "I didn't necessarily want to give myself up as easily as I did" on the 2-0 slidder.

"A slider. He could've turned on that slider and hit it out of the park," Hunter said. "Instead, he tried to go the other way to get the guy over. He did what he had to do. That's what I like about Ian."

Kinsler's single also began the three-run third inning, which erased a 1-0 Orioles lead.

Through four games, Kinsler is batting 368. Just like with Austin Jackson, every swing Kinsler takes, he looks locked in. That's to say nothing of his defense, which is slick and an upgrade over Omar Infante's.

"He's very excited, giving him a chance to come to a (new) organization," Nathan said. "Not saying he was flat by any means (with the Rangers), because he never was over there. But it almost gives you another little charge to your battery when you come over to a new club. I think he's excited to be here. He's very energetic. This is what you get when you get a player like that."

Kinsler, by the way, confirmed Nathan's thoughts.

While he may still have lingering ill will toward his former employer he hasn't spoken to Rangers GM Jon Daniels since the night of the trade, miffed that he had to read about his switching teams via the Internet and not a phone call from Texas brass he's loving every minute of being a Tiger.

"We've got a really good squad," Kinsler said. "It's going to be a fun summer."

No panic in bullpen

Yes, the bullpen is a problem. It's shaky. There is a guy or two or maybe more down there who probably won't be on the roster when September and October roll around.

But let's not make it out to be this epic debacle.

First, Evan Reed, with his high-90s fastball and improving slider, threw another 113 scoreless innings Saturday; Al Alburquerque faced one batter and gave up a bloop hit that wouldn't have been a hit if not for a stiff breeze on a chilly afternoon at Comerica Park; and Joe Nathan, while rocky early this season, still shut the door by getting Nelson Cruz to chase a wicked 3-2 slider and getting the uber-dangerous Chris Davis to pop up an inside fastball to end it.

If there are alarm bells to be set off, it's Phil Coke and Joba Chamberlain who've triggered them.

"Do we want to get sharper and do we want to be at our best right now and always? Absolutely," Nathan said, of the bullpen, collectively. "There's not a day we come here going, 'I don't feel like being that sharp today.'

"Even though we're not at our best and not pitching as sharp as we'd like, we're still winning games. We're very relaxed. We know we're going to get better and better."

Teammates expect as much, particularly in regard to Nathan, who, outside Mariano Rivera, has been perhaps the game's best closer over the last decade.

Through two games as a Tiger after so much success against the Tigers his ERA is 6.75.

"He's just one of the most consistent closers the game has seen," Kinsler said. "That's really what (fans) can expect. He brings the same intensity every day, and he's going to be ready to pitch.

"It's always nice to see the ball in his hands."

Spring blues

Boy, the schedule-makers sure didn't do the Tigers any favors in the early going in 2014.

First, they opened the season at home, in March, at the start of a week. And they opened the season against two teams that don't exactly have the drawing power of the Red Sox and Yankees.

Combined with poor weather and afternoon start times during the work week, it's led to some tough early gates for a Tigers team that, frankly, could use every nickel to cover a payroll that's a bit out of whack for a mid-market.

Sure, they sold out Opening Day, with a record Opening Day crowd for Comerica Park. That was inevitable after they added several hundred nifty seats above the right-field bleachers.

But for the second game of the season, against the Royals, the Tigers drew just 26,906, their worst Game 2 attendance since 2007 down 12,000-plus from 2013 and nearly 15,000 from 2012. Then on Friday, for the series opener against the Royals, they drew just 23,625, worse than any game in 2013 and their lowest draw since April 10, 2012.

Win the sun shining bright even if the temperature remained low things got back on a track a bit Saturday, with 32,041. And a bigger crowd is expected Sunday, for "Kids Opening Day."

Things should pick up from there as the weather improves, and again when school lets out. And, surely, another 3-million attendance mark will be within reach, particularly if the Tigers remain in the playoff picture for a fourth straight year. They just have a little ground to make up, that's all.

Could be worse, of course.

The Tigers could be the White Sox, who apparently are so desperate to sell tickets, they're taken to advertising in rival markets. On Saturday, a White Sox ad even appeared on detroitnews.com.


Ian Kinsler, 31, came to the Tigers in the November blockbuster trade that sent Prince Fielder packing. / Elizabeth Conley / Detroit News