Lineup shuffle aids J.D. Martinez, Tigers in win

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

Detroit — So, you take a couple of those confused, dazed, out-of-answers batters who were part of an overall stymied crew of Tigers hitters, and you have them swap places.

And you do it, as Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said before Wednesday’s game, mostly because you’re “throwing a blind dart” hoping to hit a bull’s-eye that might help a team and a skipper begin to make sense of a supposedly loaded offense.

And then the real surprise: The shake-up seems to work.

J.D. Martinez loved his new home in the No. 2 hole in Ausmus’ lineup so much that he powered one of his trademark homers beyond the scoreboard and into the right-center-field seats, part of a four-RBI night that helped re-invigorate him and the Tigers, who stomped the Oakland A’s, 9-4, at Comerica Park.

BOX SCORE: Tigers 9, A's 4

“You only have so much at your beck and call as a manager when an offense struggles,” said Ausmus, who decided before the game that a team wobbling from a hitting virus needed treatment — in this case switching J.D. Martinez and Justin Upton at the No. 2 and 5 spots in his order.

“You hope some shock to the lineup system has some positive effects.”

One hitter remained at his old post, still tied to some old habits. Victor Martinez unloaded his fourth homer of 2016, a three-run shot that disappeared deep into the right-field chairs in the sixth and gave the Tigers an 8-3 lead.

The irony, of course, to Wednesday’s drama is that the Tigers’ offense had been such a dog in April that nothing Ausmus, or his batting order, was likely to do figured to unravel A’s ace Sonny Gray.

Not that Ausmus' re-tooled order likely affected him, but Gray, who’s normally magnificent, looked like a bad dancer as his rhythm waned and he threw 65 pitches in two innings of uncharacteristically tortured work before he was excused.

“Let’s be honest,” Ausmus said. “If Sonny Gray’s on his game, he’s a lot tougher.

“But still, he’s Sonny Gray,” Ausmus added, unwilling to sell his hitters short for some early, patient at-bats, with J.D. Martinez’s first-inning walk one of the prizes there.

The Tigers built big leads on the Martinez’s blasts — J.D’s three-run bomb in the second, and Victor’s three-run rocket in the sixth — that never seriously allowed Oakland into the game.

That made a winner of Justin Verlander, who stayed on the job into the seventh, despite allowing one of the longest home runs in Comerica Park’s 17 seasons.

It came in the fourth when Khris Davis rode into a Verlander fastball and drove it on a stupendous arc into the night and off the top of the brown-brick wall in distant left-center field, a blast of some 450 feet.

Verlander otherwise had an uneventful shift against the A’s before a bloop double, a long double, and a one-out single brought on the Tigers bullpen in a game the Tigers then led, 8-2.

Verlander felt fine and pitched according to script, the one to which he’s been sticking since last summer.

“Really, I think he’s had only one bad game since last July,” Ausmus said.

Verlander had about the same read on a night he gave the A’s five hits, walked two and struck out six. His only regret was the seventh, when “it felt like it had dropped 20 degrees” between innings and he was charged with two runs.

“I’d like to have gone a little deeper,” said Verlander, who is now 2-2. “Hopefully, when the weather warms up, it’ll be a little easier.”

Verlander, though, could relax Wednesday, at least in relative terms for a pitcher who so often sees a good start undone by too few runs or some bullpen breakdowns.

The Tigers had nine hits, most of them balls that were hammered more than batted. J.D. Martinez so loved his home run, his third of the season, he nearly hit another in the fourth when he sent a liner screaming for the left-field fence.

It was snagged by Davis, but because Anthony Gose was on third courtesy of a throwing error by A’s pitcher Ryan Dull, Gose scored to put the Tigers on top, 4-1. He later added a double to right-center, wrapping up a three-hit night that made him look like a No. 2 hitter who’ll definitely stay put when the Tigers and A’s wrap up their four-game series today (1:10 p.m.).

“He looked really good — probably the most confident and relaxed I’ve seen him,” said Nick Castellanos, whose scorched liner to left-center against Gray, leading off the second, became the first Tigers triple of 2016 and led to Detroit’s first run.

“It was very nice. Just beautiful. Even his strikeout (called, sixth inning) was a borderline pitch.”

Miguel Cabrera showed more of his old pep Wednesday, as well, with a double and a single, while Nick Castellanos had the first Tigers triple of 2016, a drive to left-center against Gray that led to Detroit’s first run. Jose Iglesias added a pair of singles.

Alex Wilson, Justin Wilson, Drew VerHagen, and Francisco Rodriguez, who pitched the ninth inning and had two strikeouts in his first game since returning from family leave, finished up for the Tigers, who returned to the .500 mark (10-10).

Anibal Sanchez was to pitch Thursday against A’s starter Chris Bassitt.