June 18, 2014 at 5:59 pm

Tony Paul

MLB Insider: Tigers fans calling for Jeff Jones' firing need to get a grip

Justin Verlander won a Cy Young and MVP in 2011, Max Scherzer won the Cy Young in 2013, both with Jeff Jones, above, as their pitching coach. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)

Detroit — I'm starting to get the question all too frequently. And, frankly, it's only natural.

When will the Tigers fire a coach to shake things up following this month-long stretch of bad baseball, which, by the way, appears to have no end in sight?

The most popular guy among the fans to get the ax, naturally, is pitching coach Jeff Jones, as the pitching is the backbone of the Tigers' woes since things suddenly started going south May 19.

After the Tigers' victory over the Red Sox on May 18, their team earned-run average was down to a nifty 3.13.

But since then, following back-to-back duds by their so-called aces Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, it's been 5.53.

To put that in perspective, that's almost as bad as the ERA Jeremy Bonderman posted during his called-up-too-early 2003 season (5.56).

For these Tigers pitchers, it's been nearly a team-wide slump. During the month malaise, Justin Verlander's ERA is 7.88, Max Scherzer's 6.86, Rick Porcello's 6.00, Drew Smyly's 4.67, Joe Nathan's 13.50, Evan Reed's 7.71, Phil Coke's 5.74 and Ian Krol's 4.46.

During that span, only Anibal Sanchez, Joba Chamberlain and Al Alburquerque have pitched consistently well.

So the fans bark, "See! Fire Jeff Jones already!"

It's not that simple, nor, frankly, should it be.

Mid-season coaching shakeups almost always are done for the wrong reasons — often, they are nothing more than desperate measures by a front office out of answers. So, they make a move, hoping — praying, is more accurate — it might wake up a slumbering squad.

They almost never work, because they are what they are: Band-aids on bullet wounds.

A rare exception lately is what's happening with the Royals, who are red-hot, winners of nine in a row and 14 of 18 — a streak coinciding with the firing of hitting coach Pedro Grifol and replacing him with Dale Sveum. Since Sveum took over, the Royals’ offense has taken off, hitting .292 and averaging 5.8 runs a game. Before Sveum took over, the Royals were batting .251 and averaging 3.79 runs.

So, it's worked, you say? Well, it's far too early for that.

The truth is, the Royals have a history of underachieving on offense, dating back years. It's why they fired Kevin Seitzer as hitting coach two years ago — Seitzer, now, happens to be the hitting coach for the bopping Blue Jays — and replaced him with Jack Maloof and Andre David. Well, they were gone after less than a year on the job, replaced last season by George Brett and Grifol.

So, if you're counting, Sveum is the Royals' sixth hitting coach since 2012.

The law of averages suggested at least one hitting coach would "work" for a team that features such hitters as Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Omar Infante, Salvador Perez, Nori Aoki, Lorenzo Cain and Jarrod Dyson.

On the flip side, the Tigers — who surrendered first place to the Royals on Tuesday night for the first time all season — have a history of excellent pitching in recent years. Verlander won a Cy Young and MVP in 2011, Max Scherzer won the Cy Young in 2013, both with Jones as their pitching coach. The Tigers have had one of the top-10 pitching staffs in Major League Baseball the last two years, and had one of the best pitching staffs the second half of 2011, too, after Jones, then bullpen coach, was named Rick Knapp's replacement as pitching coach.

Jones, 57, didn't get much credit when the Tigers were rolling good, so why should he get all the blame with things now not so good?

Truth is, he knows these pitchers better than anybody, he knows what makes each one tick, he knows what flaws to look for on video. During his time as pitching coach, he's helped Scherzer became a great pitcher, Porcello become a very good pitcher and Verlander, last fall, again become the pitcher he was. That's why after briefly opening up the job to outside candidates, Brad Ausmus, hired as manager in November, made the right move to bring back Jones, a loyal member of the Tigers organization since the 1980s.

No question, this Tigers pitching staff, with the sixth-worst ERA in MLB (4.22), should be performing better, much better. The starting rotation's ERA of 4.00 almost seems impossible for a team that figured to have one of the deepest starting fives in the game.

But let's be honest: Jones didn't sign Nathan or trade Doug Fister.

So let's not be naive. No knee-jerk change on the coaching staff is going to fix things. Frankly, that's almost always the case with these sorts of things. Just ask the Mets. On May 26, they were batting .237 as a team, so they fired hitting coach Dave Hudgens. Since then, they've batted .214.

The Tigers aren't the Mets, of course. They're far too good to pitch like this forever.

But this always will be a players' game, as they say. It's on the players — and let's not give the struggling hitters a pass, either — to turn things around. Jones, certainly, can help — and should be there to help, despite such absurd calls for the Tigers to send him packing.

Maddux's maddener

I have a couple of favorite stories about Tony Gwynn, the legendary Padre who died this week from cancer at the age of 54.

Gwynn — the sweet-swinging left-hander whose swing never got any less sweet even as his body changed over the years — rarely struck out.

But this was really amazing: Gwynn faced one pitcher more than anybody else, Greg Maddux. The two squared off 107 times in all, and Maddux finished his career with 3,371 strikeouts — but not a single one of those was by Gwynn. Maddux was a Hall of Fame pitcher — he'll be inducted next month — but not against Gwynn, who batted .415 against the right-hander.

There's a reason Gwynn's Hall of Fame plaque actually includes the word "artisan."

Meanwhile, only one pitcher ever struck Gwynn out three times in a single game.

And that pitcher was Hazel Park native and Eastern Michigan alum Bob Welch, who also died young, just last week, at age 57.

No A grade

Yu Darvish has been everything the Rangers hoped he would be.

Well, at least against everybody but the A's.

The Texas ace lost for the eighth time to Oakland on Tuesday night. He hasn't lost to any other team more than three times.?

"I have to do everything in my power to prepare myself for the next start," Darvish told the Dallas Morning News. "I'm not just pitching against the A's this season."

For his career, he's faced the A's 10 times, and is 1-8 with a 4.94 ERA. In 58.1 innings, he's allowed 57 hits.

"Maybe we're his Kryptonite team," A's catcher Derek Norris told the Morning News.

The only other team Darvish, 27, has a higher ERA against is the White Sox — 5.12. But that's in just three starts.

Trade war?

The trade deadline this July 31 has the potential to be epic.

There are so few teams that believe they're out of contention, there will be lots of buyers, few sellers — and prices figure to be high.

This will be particularly interesting in the AL Central, where all five teams are separated by 5.5 games. The Twins already have signed Kendrys Morales, and the Tigers, Royals, Indians and White Sox have needs to fill as well.

They each could be especially eager to talk to the Phillies — who despite only being five games out of the NL East are going nowhere fast — but have plenty of big-money players GM Ruben Amaro Jr. would figure to be willing to part with. Among them, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins.

Talk about one-stop shopping.

"We think about it every day," Amaro told MLB.com, speaking of the trade deadline. "If we have to go backwards to go forward, then we're prepared to do that."

Around the horn

Condolences to the family of ESPN Dallas reporter Richard Durrett, who passed away suddenly Tuesday at the age of 38. It's terribly tragic for the father of two, who covered baseball with vigor and flair. Like most places he visited, Durrett also was a favorite in the Comerica Park press box, and like many, he enjoyed his fair share of postgame meals at the Anchor Bar.

... Pete Rose, the all-time hits leader who is banned from the game, told USA Today's Bob Nightengale he is optimistic commissioner Bud Selig will pardon him before leaving office. Rose is in the vast minority in his belief.

Three up ...

1. The Royals, finally clicking after years of hype, are in first place this late in the season for the first time since 2003. That year, they led as late as Aug. 29 before fading.

2. Just like with Miguel Cabrera earlier this year, there was silly concern over Mike Trout. Not anymore. The Angels phenom has hit in 12 straight games, batting .388 with five homers.

3. Despite the fourth-lowest payroll in MLB, the A's just keep rolling along. They've scored more runs than anyone and have given up fewer runs anybody, for a sick differential of plus-130.

... Three down

1. Tigers right fielder Torii Hunter is showing his age (38), defensively and offensively. His OBP is an abysmal .290, despite mostly hitting in front of Miguel Cabrera.

2. The Red Sox, searching for answers, had to part ways with outfielder Grady Sizemore, who made a valiant bid to stick in the majors after two years out of the game.

3. Tigers fans don't want to hear it, but bad stretches strike every team — bad and good. Just ask the Giants, who were unbeatable not long ago but have lost seven of eight.

Diamond digits

4 — Reigning Cy Young Award winners who have allowed at least 10 runs in one start, according to Elias Sports Bureau: Detroit's Max Scherzer on Tuesday, Randy Johnson in 2003, Pat Hentgen in 1997 and Bob Welch in 1991.

25 — First-inning leadoff home runs for Mets outfielder Curtis Granderson; 24 of those were with the Tigers, the other was Sunday.

6/19/63 — Gates Brown makes his major-league debut, pinch-hitting for the Tigers in the fifth inning of a game at Fenway Park. Brown homered, naturally. It was the first of his 16 career pinch-hit homers.

He said it

"For his sake, they should rest him tomorrow. He's got a chance to be a pretty good player, so I don't think they want to tire him out."

— Terry Francona, Indians manager, deadpanning to reporters after Trout homered twice in the Angels' 9-3 victory Tuesday.

tpaul@detroitnews.com
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