Tigers' David Price set to seize clincher role

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — Brad Ausmus can't and won't think beyond the right here, right now.

Until the Tigers either clinch the AL Central title or are forced to accept a wild-card berth, he can't and won't project how he'll set his postseason roster or pitching rotation.

"I am pretty good at staying day by day," Ausmus said.

So, while the question was relevant before the game, it was to Ausmus unanswerable — If the Tigers clinch the division on Saturday, would he scratch David Price from the starting assignment on Sunday?

"As of right now, he's a go," Ausmus said, some three hours before the game Saturday.

Very early on Saturday, as the Twins were carving up one Tigers pitcher after another on their way to a 12-3 rout, the question became moot.

Price will pitch Sunday with a chance to help the Tigers clinch their fourth straight division title. The magic number was trimmed to one thanks to the White Sox 5-4 win over the Royals.

"It would be nice if we clinched the division; that's our main goal," Price said. "If we can get that done today and have tomorrow not mean a whole lot, that's always good."

But don't misunderstand. The competitor in Price will be chomping at the bit to take the mound Sunday.

"I already got my work done for today," he said. "I am ready to pitch tomorrow. My thought process doesn't change. I will be ready."

Price is coming off a start where he pitched eight innings of shutout, three-hit ball, only to give up three runs in the ninth.

"Just execute pitches, make pitches, get ahead of guys and get the leadoff guy out," Price said of his mind-set. "Just try to throw up zeros. We're in the driver's seat and this is what you want in September. You want to be able to control your own destiny and that's the position we are in."

He will be facing a band of white-hot Twins hitters who have produced 23 runs and 31 hits the last two games. In the last 10 games against the Tigers, they have scored 85 runs.

About Anibal

As the Twins continues to shred the Tigers' bullpen Saturday (scoring six runs off Blaine Hardy and Robbie Ray), Anibal Sanchez was not available.

Ausmus said he was hesitant to use Sanchez, who was a starter all season until suffering a pectorals strain in August, in back-to-back outings.

"It sounds like you (media) are more concerned about it than I am," Ausmus said, when asked about Sanchez's role going forward. "I am not really worried about it. I haven't talked to him yet, but my guess is he'll probably be fine. I'm not worried about it. He's not worried about it.

"It's not an enormous change. It's still pitching. He still has to stand on the rubber and make pitches and throw strikes and get outs."

After the game, Ausmus said he was happy to have Sanchez available for Sunday.

"I wanted him to pitch in a stress-free inning for his first time, but now, I can use him is a game that is a little closer," he said.

Porcello still in

The situation is fluid, of course, but despite his struggles in September, Rick Porcello is still expected to enter the postseason as the Tigers' fourth starter.

"I am not blind to the fact that (his struggles) could be related to the amount of innings he's worked," Ausmus said. "But we're at a point in the season where we can't not start Rick Porcello."

Porcello has thrown more than 200 innings for the first time in his career. He was over his career-high in innings coming into September, a month where the team was winless in his five starts. His ERA was 6.20. The opposition was hitting .368 against him with an OPS of 1.000.

Porcello answered with an emphatic "no" when asked if fatigue was an issue. Ausmus doesn't think the struggles were fatigue-related, either.

"I don't see that there is a huge degradation of his stuff," Ausmus said. "His ball is still sinking. His breaking ball is still good. It's just a matter of location."

On the bubble

Ausmus has said repeatedly that his postseason roster will be determined by the opponent and by whether it's a one-game or seven-game series. But in the past two seasons, the Tigers have had four starters and seven relievers on the postseason roster.

If that holds, and Max Scherzer, Price, Justin Verlander and Porcello are the starters, then Ausmus will have some difficult decisions to make for his bullpen.

It is safe to assume Joakim Soria, Joba Chamberlain and Joe Nathan will make the cut. Sanchez, even though he hasn't pitched much since August, has some of the best stuff on the staff. If he's healthy, it would be hard to keep him off.

That leaves 10 pitchers for three spots. Given how little they've pitched lately, Patrick McCoy, Ray, Farmer, Evan Reed and Kyle Ryan are longshots to see postseason work.

That leaves Phil Coke, Al Alburquerque, Kyle Lobstein, Blaine Hardy and Jim Johnson as the most probable candidates for those last three spots.

The guess here is, Coke, Alburquerque and Hardy get the spots.

Around the horn

J.D. Martinez is in a playoff chase for the first time in his young career, but if it's causing him any extra stress, he isn't letting on.

"It's a blast," he said. "I don't put any added pressure on myself. I mean, I am not even supposed to be here."

He's right about that. His season started by getting released by the Astros.

…With his home run Friday, Miguel Cabrera became the fourth player in history to produce at least 25 homers and 100 RBI in 11 straight seasons. The others – Alex Rodriguez (13 times), Jimmie Foxx (12) and Lou Gehrig (12). He also eclipsed the 100 mark in runs scored for the fifth straight season.

... According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Cabrera's streak of 100 RBI and 100 runs in five straight years is the longest active streak and is tied with Charlie Gehringer (1932-1936) for the longest in Tigers history.

Chris McCosky on Twitter @cmccosky

Minnesota Twins at Detroit Tigers

First Pitch: 1:08 p.m.

TV-radio: FSD/1270


RHP Kyle Gibson (13-11, 4.50), Twins: Not finishing the year strongly. He's 2-2 with a 6.39 ERA in seven starts since Aug. 19.

LHP David Price (3-4, 3.97), Tigers: Has been good more often than not as a Tiger, but the Tigers are just 5-5 in his 10 starts.