Torii Hunter of the Detroit Tigers is held back after being hit by a pitch by Bud Norris of the Baltimore Orioles in the eighth inning Monday. During the incident, third base umpire Paul Nauert touched Hunter on the face. (Patrick Smith / Getty Images)
Tigers doubters, this stretch is for you.
The new-look Tigers did what they were supposed to do the first month and more of the season, beating up mostly inferior competition to grab the best record in baseball.
Now, things get more interesting, thanks to two tough trips sandwiched around one tough home series.
The next eight Tigers games are on the road against two talented AL East teams, the Orioles and Red Sox, and a resurgent Indians squad. Then the Tigers come home for four games against the Rangers, followed by another seven-game trip that includes four games against the suddenly hot-hitting Mariners and three against those pesky A’s.
By the end of this 20-game stretch, which began with Monday’s 4-1 victory over the Orioles, the Tigers schedule will be more than 32 percent complete and give fans a better barometer of where this team is headed.
Q. What should the league do to the ump who brushed Torii Hunter’s face? — J.L Burden
A. Hunter says nothing. I disagree.
I appreciate Hunter taking the high road after Monday’s game, saying third base umpire Paul Nauert was in the right when he briefly put his hand on his face during a profanity-laced screaming match with Orioles pitcher Bud Norris.
Hunter said Nauert was just trying to calm him down. And while that might be true, that still doesn’t make it right.
Any player who puts his hands on an umpire draws a fine and suspension. So there’s absolutely no reason why the same punishment shouldn’t be applied when the situations are reversed.
The incident is reminiscent of a May 2009 dust-up between umpire Paul Schrieber and then-Tigers manager Jim Leyland, who went nuts after Schrieber put a hand on Magglio Ordonez to usher him toward the dugout after a disputed third strike. The next day, Schrieber issued a lengthy apology and there was no word about a fine or suspension.
Q. What happens first — Tigers sign Stephen Drew or Victor Martinez? Colin Poulin — poulin22
A. Has to be Drew.
The clock is ticking on Drew, who can be signed as early as June 8 without costing the Tigers any prime draft-pick compensation. And it wouldn’t surprise me if the Tigers already have had back-channel words with Drew’s agent, Scott Boras.
Andrew Romine has been a pleasant surprise at shortstop, especially defensively. He’s got good range, slick hands and a strong arm. But he’s not hitting, which always has been the rub on him.
And the Tigers could use another left-handed offensive threat, particularly against right-handed pitching. Drew certainly fits the bill. Last year with the Red Sox, he hit .284 with a .377 on-base percentage, .498 slugging percentage and .876 OPS against right-handed pitching. His career numbers are a little lower.
That’s why the Tigers have to be interested. Their only current threats from the left side are Martinez (switch hitter) and Alex Avila.
Plus, Drew is better defensively than most give him credit for.
Question is: How much competition will the Tigers face for Drew’s services? Keep an eye on the Yankees, who internally might be starting to wonder if Derek Jeter is best used as a part-time player at this point in his career.
Q. When do the Tigers sign Martinez to an extension? — Bruce Bentley
A. Probably not until the offseason. Under president and general manager Dave Dombrowski, they haven’t handed out too many extensions midseason.
The only reason to sign Martinez now would be to eliminate any risk of losing him to another team — there is speculation in Cleveland he wants to end his career where it started — over the winter.
I’m not convinced Martinez would be willing to sign now anyway, especially given his hot start. The offensive marketplace isn’t shaping up too grandly for the next hot-stove season, which, if he continues at this pace, would only drive up Martinez’s price and expand his pool of suitors.
Plus, the Tigers have reason to wait, too, because come November, they can make Martinez a one-year qualifying offer, which will be worth something in the neighborhood of $15 million. If he accepts, they have their DH for at least another year. And if Martinez, 35, declines and moves on, the Tigers will reap the reward: an extra pick for 2015.
Q. Any chance we see Eugenio Suarez up before Sept. 1? — spockmaster
A. There’s always a chance. But the Tigers, ever since Rick Porcello’s rookie year, aren’t overly fond of rushing prospects into the majors. It’s why the top relief prospect is making a stop at Triple A Toledo, when he, no doubt, could be helping the bullpen right now.
Suarez is an absolute wizard at shortstop who also hits for pop, even more this season now that his frame is starting to fill out.
In 34 games for Double A Erie, he’s hitting .270 with five home runs, 12 doubles and 21 RBIs in 34 games. His OPS is .828.
But he’s still 22 years old, so the longer the Tigers can wait, it’s probably for the better.
I’m not saying he couldn’t be called up to help the Tigers right now. He swings from the right side, has some good speed and can play some second base.
But for those calling on Suarez to replace Romine as the everyday Tigers shortstop, that’s probably a pipe dream.
Q. Does Robbie Ray stay up? — Eric Posa
A. Not gonna happen.
The kid made two dandy starts for his baptism, but it’s time for him to head to Toledo and take his regular turn in the Mud Hens rotation. He needs innings and needs to work on the curveball.
That’s not to say Ray can’t help the Tigers out again this year. No question, they’ll need another spot start or two.
And there could come a time in late August or early September, as Toledo’s season is winding down, the Tigers might see Ray as being able to help out in the bullpen. That likely would mean there’s been an injury, though, since Joel Hanrahan is expected to join the relief corps in early June and Knebel probably won’t be all that far behind. With Joe Nathan, Joba Chamberlain, Al Alburquerque, Ian Krol and Evan Reed, it’s a full house.
A September call-up is likely, if for no other reason than to get him used to being in the major league clubhouse.
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