Cleveland — For so long it was Miguel Cabrera. And, of course, Victor Martinez. And, early on, it was Ian Kinsler, or Torii Hunter, or even the rookie Nick Castellanos, who at least helped the Tigers’ kingpin hitters.
What too often was missing from the Tigers lineup was any kind of red-meat offense from deeper within manager Brad Ausmus’ middle order.
Until lately, that is. The Tigers have suddenly remodeled their No. 5 and No. 6 spots, thanks to bat-blaster J.D. Martinez, as well as Castellanos.
Martinez had a double to center field in Sunday’s 10-4 victory over the Indians. And it was no ordinary double. It traveled at about the speed of a .38-caliber bullet before crashing against the center-field wall in the Tigers’ long, and lethal, seven-run fifth.
Martinez has a 12-game hitting streak cooking (.447), which includes four homers, five doubles, and 11 RBIs.
Castellanos, meanwhile, added a pair of doubles and knocked in a couple of runs, which helped somewhat compensate for the acrobatic, over-his-head, behind-his back catch David Murphy made against Castellanos in Saturday’s game that cost the Tigers rookie third baseman another double and at least another RBI.
“J.D. fills the void in that No. 5 spot run-production,” Ausmus said after Sunday’s game, which saw Martinez finish the day with a .310 batting average and his 26th and 27th RBIs of the season.
“And, Nick, he’s looked good. He went through that period, but now it looks like there’s life in his bat.”
For the first time since April of 2003, when just about anyone with a heartbeat could pitch for a then-troubled baseball team from Detroit, the Tigers unveiled two rookie pitchers in the same game Sunday.
Patrick McCoy, who was summoned Saturday from Triple A Toledo after Ian Krol was moved to the 15-day disabled list with shoulder inflammation, pitched a scoreless eighth inning that included a single and a strikeout.
Chad Smith, a right-hander who was rushed from Toledo when the bullpen wore down early last week, made his grand-stage debut during Sunday’s ninth inning. Smith started neatly, getting the first two batters, all before a couple of soft singles, followed by a single and a hard double, preceded a final strikeout of Jason Kipnis to finish a victory and complete Smith’s big-league baptism.
“McCoy looked real good,” Ausmus said. “Smith got the first couple of guys, but in his defense, he was facing a bunch of lefties.”
Ausmus is being gentle with his bullpen, and particularly with Joba Chamberlain, who is still building strength following a long recovery from Tommy John surgery. He pitched in three consecutive games at the end of last week was not going to be drafted Sunday unless an emergency arose, which wasn’t the case as the Tigers took a 10-1 lead.
“I wanted to bring in Joba Chamberlain,” Ausmus said, speaking of Saturday’s tight game, which saw the Tigers win, 5-4, in 10 innings. “The hard part is you have to do what’s best for the team and for Joba.
“That’s maybe not ideal for one game.”
The Tigers have an off-day today before meeting the Rangers and Astros in back-to-back road series.
“The hardest part (of managing a bullpen),” Ausmus said, “is keeping my eye on the big picture.”
It’s the delicate balance between utilizing personnel and not over-using it. A rookie manager knew even before he took the Detroit job that bullpen pieces were the most grueling of all roster and game challenges.
He knows it even better after 72 games with a Tigers team and its bullpen, otherwise known as baseball’s version of Rubik’s Cube.
Smith, the rookie who pitched at Southern Cal, was welcomed to the big leagues in Cleveland when Justin Verlander and a group of Tigers elder statesmen took Smith, and fellow rookie Blaine Hardy, to dinner at a Cleveland steak emporium, Morton’s.
Smith said one of his few apprehensions about joining the big-league team was how he would relate to big-league players who, for a called-up rookie, represent the same celebrity as they do for fans.
“It was just so nice,” Smith said of the welcome dinner, which Verlander financed. “I wasn’t sure how they would react to me. It was great.”