Tigers split on whether to eliminate pitchers hitting

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Rajai Davis is safe at third under the tag by Cleveland's Lonnie Chisenhall after hitting a leadoff triple in the first inning Sunday.

Detroit -- It may not be debated much in the commissioner's lavish digs in New York, but among fans, the DH-vs.-no-DH argument is starting to smolder.

Especially in, say, St. Louis.

Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright might be lost for the season after suffering a leg injury -- an injury suffered not while pitching, but while hitting.

Tigers manager Brad Ausmus played many years in the American League and many more in the National League, and he's torn on the issue.

"Certainly, the question will be brought to the forefront again," Ausmus said Sunday, after word started trickling out about the severity of Wainwright's injury. "You hate to see a guy like Wainwright, or anyone when it's your team's horse, go down with an injury when he's hitting.

"It will make people second-guess the National League style of play."

This isn't the first time we've seen pitchers lost for substantial time due to injury while hitting. Chien-Ming Wang, one of the better pitchers in the AL at the time, suffered a foot injury while running the bases for the Yankees in 2008, and he never was the same again.

Joe Kelly, then with the Cardinals, missed multiple months with a batting-related injury a year ago.

Yet, Major League Baseball is not close to adding a DH to the NL game.

When Giants catcher Buster Posey was lost for the season in 2011 following a collision at home plate, MLB rushed to implement new rules on catchers blocking the plate, instituted for the 2014 season. But there appears no such urgency on this issue.

Ausmus, for one, doesn't spend his nights lying awake worrying about whether his own pitchers will get hurt when hitting -- which they'll have to do again next month during a three-game series in St. Louis.

"You can't control it," Ausmus said. "Hopefully it's a situation when they're just bunting. Oftentimes, we have them taking a strike. There's no reason to lose sleep over it. If it's going to happen, it's going to happen. We prepare, hit with them ahead of time. We try to avoid injuries as much as possible, but sometimes, you just can't control it."

It's strange that MLB still considers it OK that both its leagues have different rules, as they have since 1973, when the Yankees' Ron Blomberg became the game's first DH.

And it's amazing a DH hasn't become the norm in the NL, given the power of the players' union -- which has to love the idea of an additional 15 bidders for the services of big-name, free-agent DHs.

The NL fans swear by their game, saying it's more strategic, with all the double switches and the decision when to take the pitcher out. Earlier this month in Pittsburgh, Tigers starter Shane Greene had to come out of a game he was dominating -- having needed just 81 pitches to get through eighth scoreless innings -- because the Tigers needed a pinch-hitter to try to get an insurance run.

But Ausmus also argues NL fans would probably get used to seeing a DH on a daily basis, too. Fans love offense, and a guy like, say, Victor Martinez would provide a whole lot more than Bartolo Colon. (Although, those YouTube clips are great.)

Pitchers almost always are bunting with a man on base and fewer than two outs, and when they're swinging away, they're not doing it with much authority.

That said, pitchers may not be good at hitting, but most like to hit -- just ask Justin Verlander, who might've been more proud of his first career hit (after 26 hitless at-bats) than his Cy Young Award.

"I enjoyed it. I wasn't very good at it," said Tigers reliever Tom Gorzelanny, who got to hit plenty when he was a starter in the NL. "I think it should stay the same way. We're changing too much already. Why do we have to keep changing stuff?

"We're all professional athletes. Freak things happen."

Gose sits again

Center fielder Anthony Gose didn't start Sunday, despite Indians right-hander Carlos Carrasco on the mound. Rajai Davis got the nod, instead.

Gose has hit .222 with 10 strikeouts in his last 18 at-bats, after hitting .407 with nine strikeouts over his first 27 at-bats.

Gose didn't start Sunday against lefty T.J. House, and won't start Monday against Twins lefty Tommy Milone, either.

"Give him a chance to take a step back," Ausmus said. "And work with Wally (Joyner, Tigers hitting coach) in the cage a little bit.

"And Raj also has been swinging the bat pretty well."

Davis has three hits and a walk in his last five plate appearances.

Similarly, James McCann got the surprise start Sunday against a right-hander, after he missed facing the lefty Saturday because the Indians announced their starting switch so late. Ausmus said he simply wanted to get McCann a start, since he hadn't started in almost a week.

Around the horn

The Tigers continue to say reliever Al Alburquerque is fine, despite his noticeable drop in velocity and his early-season struggles. They're holding out hope it's just the weather. It's about to get a lot warmer this week, so they'll know soon if that's the case or not.

... Tigers reliever Bruce Rondon (shoulder tendinitis) had no issues throwing Saturday. He was off Sunday in Lakeland, and Monday will throw five change-ups and five sliders in addition to 20 fastballs.

... Joe Nathan will meet with Dr. Keith Meister this week, and they will determine when he will have his season-ending Tommy John surgery.

... Legendary Tigers second baseman Lou Whitaker was to receive the Tigers African-American Legacy Award before Sunday's game, wrapping up Negro Leagues Weekend in Detroit.

On deck Twins

Series: Three games, Monday-Wednesday, Target Field, Minneapolis.

First pitch: 8:10 Monday-Tuesday, 1:10 Wednesday

TV / radio: Monday on FSD-Plus, Tuesday-Wednesday on FSD / Monday on 1270, Tuesday-Wednesday on 97.1

Series probables: Monday -- LHP David Price (1-1, 3.28) vs. LHP Tommy Milone (2-0, 3.38); Tuesday -- RHP Anibal Sanchez (1-2, 5.96) vs. RHP Mike Pelfrey (1-0, 2.65); Wednesday -- RHP Shane Greene (3-1, 3.00) vs. RHP Phil Hughes (0-4, 4.39)

Monday's scouting report

* Price, Tigers: He's trying to forget about his outing against the Yankees last week, when he didn't even survive the third inning. He beat the Twins on Opening Day in Detroit, with 8.2 scoreless innings.

* Milone, Twins: He came over in a trade with the A's last summer, and has the potential to provide this rotation a boost, if he can stay healthy. He's never lost to the Tigers, in five career starts.