Tigers like small ball, but not built for it
Minneapolis — It was a thing of beauty.
Tyler Collins on first. James McCann at the plate. Tigers clinging to a 4-3 lead over the Minnesota Twins in the top of the ninth inning Tuesday. Collins runs, McCann laces a text book hit-and-run single to right — runners on first and third.
Then Andrew Romine comes up and executes an indefensible safety squeeze bunt to score what ended up being the winning run.
“That’s how we need to play,” Romine said. “I think too much of this year we sat around hoping for the big inning — hoping for a home run, hoping for a double. We are a great hitting team but you can’t rely on that all year long.”
On one level, manager Brad Ausmus agrees with that. He has spent a lot of time in his two spring trainings with the Tigers emphasizing and drilling the fundamentals of small-ball – baserunning, hitting behind runners, bunting.
It’s the kind of baseball Ausmus loves.
But on a more practical level, he knows the Tigers aren’t built for it.
“We don’t really have the lineup to pursue that,” Ausmus said. “Romine can do some of those things, but Romine doesn’t play every day. You have to have the personnel to do it and you have to have the right pitcher on the mound to do it.
“You say we could do it more, but if you try to do more with the wrong personnel, you end up doing less.”
His point is well-taken. It wouldn’t be prudent to bunt or hit-and-run with middle of the order hitters Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez. Anthony Gose is still a below-average bunter and he swings and misses too often for hit-and-run plays.
Jose Iglesias, Romine and McCann are the best options for hit-and-run plays.
“I could hit-and-run with (Ian) Kinsler, but once he got hot, I didn’t want to take the bat out of his hands,” Ausmus said. “I tried it with (Nick) Castellanos a couple of times earlier in the year. Yoenis Cespedes was thrown out at second twice on swing and misses.”
When the Tigers have tried to force the running game, the results have been negative — 55 outs on the bases, 23 outs at home, 45 times caught stealing, 26 times picked off first (including runners picked off trying to steal).
“We were getting reckless in that sense,” Romine said. “We were pushing the envelope a little too much and forcing outs. There’s a fine line between, ‘We’re just going to run crazy,’ and, ‘We’re going to run at the most opportune time.’
“We were just running crazy a little bit. We got a little frustrated with how the year was going and we just starting going over the top.”
Ausmus said before Wednesday’s game that left-hander Kyle Lobstein was out of the rotation and will work long relief “unless something changes.”
It’s not a complete surprise. Lobstein has lost six straight starts and in the last three after he came back off the DL, he’s allowed 17 runs and 22 hits in just 11-1/3 innings.
The current rotation is Daniel Norris (who started Wednesday but is still on a pitch limitation after coming off the DL), Justin Verlander, Matt Boyd (who might have his innings restricted in his remaining starts), Alfredo Simon and Randy Wolf.
Kyle Ryan is going to start in one of the two games on Monday, but Ausmus said it was just a spot start. He will return to the bullpen immediately afterwards.
Around the horn
Dixon Machado (hamstring) ran for the first time Wednesday. He expects that to be the final hurdle before returning on Friday. “You want to play, you want to keep doing your thing, but it is something I can’t control,” said Machado, who has a history of hamstring problems. “I just happens. I’ve dealt with this before. That’s why I know I will be fine in a couple of days.”
... Buck Farmer (forearm strain) threw off flat ground for the third straight day. Ausmus said he could throw a full bullpen this weekend.
... Third baseman Nick Castellanos was a late scratch Wednesday. He had some tightness in his left groin and was replaced by Jefry Marte.