Everything goes Tigers' way — for now

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
David Price has pitched 14.1 innings without allowing an earned run.

Detroit — It's not who you play, it's when you play them.

That is one of the great axioms in baseball and, as an exercise in perspective, it should be applied to the Tigers 8-1 start.

Not to take anything away from them. They have done what a talented, veteran team is supposed to do: They hit the ground running right from the opening bell and ambushed the Twins, Indians and Pirates — teams not quite as regular-season ready as they will be at other points in the long season.

Certainly, the Indians will pitch better than they did against the Tigers, and the Pirates' offense will not remain impotent. The Twins, well, they aren't likely to morph into serious contenders, nor are they likely to get outscored 25-1 in every three-game set.

All that throat clearing is to make this point: Enjoy this while it lasts, especially the starting pitching, because the road will get bumpier. It always does.

"I don't think it's a complete coincidence," manager Brad Ausmus said when asked about the brilliant starting pitching thus far. "Maybe the timing of it is, but we have pitched well. I think we felt our starting rotation was stronger than most people thought. Certainly, we're not going to continue to put up zeros like we have the first week. There's going to be more offense against us."

Alfredo Simon pitched eight innings of two-hit shutout ball against the Pirates on Wednesday night.

The Tigers have posted four shutouts in nine games. They have a major-league-best 1.61 ERA. Opponents are hitting .193 against them. Their WHIP is 0.86. Only Kansas City's is better (0.85).

Shane Greene, one of the much-discussed "question marks" in the Tigers rotation, has thrown 16 innings without allowing an earned run. He's allowed seven hits and only one extra-base hit.

Alfredo Simon, another question mark because his statistics fell off dramatically after he made the All-Star team for the Reds last season, pitched eight innings of two-hit shutout ball against the Pirates on Wednesday night.

David Price — no question marks here except about where he will pitch next season — has pitched 14.1 innings without allowing an earned run, though his own error contributed to three unearned runs by the Indians.

Anibal Sanchez endured the only loss, but in two starts he's had one bad inning.

All this without Justin Verlander, out because of a right triceps strain, throwing a single pitch.

"Let's face it, they have been keeping us in the game," Miguel Cabrera said. "They are giving us a chance to win our games. What we need to do (now) is start giving them support, start swinging the bats."

Ausmus has said since very early in spring training that he liked his starting rotation. He felt, despite Simon's spotty track record and Greene's inexperience, both were being undervalued by some of the pundits.

"It's their stuff that we liked," he said. "It's an imperfect science looking at someone and trying to determine how good their stuff will perform at the major league level. ... But you can look at the stuff. You can look at how hitters react and how the ball comes off their bat."

Ausmus also knew that the Tigers defense had been upgraded with the return of shortstop Jose Iglesias and the additions of left fielder Yoenis Cespedes and center fielder Anthony Gose. He knew the improved range, both up the middle and all across the outfield, would translate into more outs and better ERAs and WHIPs for his pitching staff.

"It's a factor for sure," Ausmus said. "I would not downplay the importance of the defense."

Rajai Davis, who is sharing center field with Gose, put it a little stronger.

"It's night and day," he said. "It's a big difference, a huge difference. We are a lot stronger defensively, especially up the middle. And that's key."

There is only one drawback to the early dominance of the starting pitching, one so tiny Ausmus almost didn't want to mention it.

"The downside is, we have a lot of guys in the bullpen who could use some work," he said. "Joba Chamberlain could use some work. Tom Gorzelanny could use some work. But, to be honest, I will take a 1-0 win and a rested bullpen any time."

Next up is a White Sox team that, like the Pirates, is scuffling offensively. Other than former Tiger Avisail Garcia (.348), several key offensive weapons have been quiet — Jose Abreu (.233), Alexi Ramirez (.222), Adam LaRoche (.200), Adam Eaton (4 for 34).

"Now the offense has to get back into a rhythm and get back to doing what we started out the season doing," second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "We need to give our pitchers some support and go from there."



White Sox at Tigers

Series: Three games at Comerica Park

First pitch: 1:08 p.m. Friday-Sunday

TV/radio: FSD, MLBN/97.1, 1270 Friday; FSD/1270 Saturday; FSD/1270, 97.1 Sunday

Probables: Friday — RHP Jeff Smardzija (0-1, 6.23) vs. LHP David Price (1-0, 000); Saturday — LHP Chris Sale (1-0, 1.50) vs. Anibal Sanchez (1-1, 3.46); Sunday — TBA vs. RHP Shane Greene (2-0, 0,00).

Scouting report

Most likely, the White Sox will start left-hander Jose Quintana on Sunday, but that hasn't been made official. The last time Sale pitched at Comerica, he accused Victor Martinez of having somebody in center field with binoculars stealing and relaying pitch signs. So that should be fun. The Tigers, with the league's best ERA coming in, will be facing a White Sox lineup that's scuffling early. Other than Avisail Garcia (.348), Jose Abreu (.233), Alexi Ramirez (.222), Adam LaRoche (.200) and Adam Eaton (4 for 34) are off to slow starts.