Tigers discover A-game at plate in series win
Detroit — Perspective, they call it.
A baseball team that won its first three games in 2016, whipping up on the Marlins and shutting out the Yankees, last weekend coughed up three straight to the Indians, at home, which of course had fans reeling ahead of this week’s series rebound that was completed Thursday when the Tigers conked the A’s, 7-3, on a gray, April day at Comerica Park.
“Amazing, isn’t it?” Brad Ausmus asked, rhetorically, sitting in his office as a team packed for its charter flight to Minneapolis and a three-game weekend series against the Twins at Target Field.
“Your season’s over one day. And four days later, you’re contenders.”
Ausmus was poking fun at how not only fans, but even players — and maybe a manager or two — can get emotionally distended by winning streaks or a bad weekend series that might have capped a rough stretch.
Yes, of course, seasons span 162 games, not three weeks in April. But the Tigers also knew as the A’s arrived for a four-game set that saw Detroit win three times that certain areas of baseball comportment needed to change.
And they did, beginning with the Tigers offense.
They had 11 hits Thursday, six for extra bases, the third time in four games this week that Tigers artillery thundered from throughout Ausmus’ lineup.
Anthony Gose had a long-range homer into the right-field seats, as well as a double, each hammered against fastballs that earlier this month had been beating him.
Nick Castellanos, hitting .333 and looking more like the weapon always anticipated, had a pair of doubles. Ian Kinsler (.345) had a double and a single and drove in a run, while Miguel Cabrera was good for two singles and a RBI. Jarrod Saltalamacchia ripped a triple to right-center and invited generous images of next week’s Kentucky Derby as he galloped into third base.
J.D. Martinez had another hit, also, as he continued to enjoy his new home at the No. 2 spot. Even the forlorn Justin Upton looked as if he was departing his hitting coma as he blasted a long drive caught at the warning track in center and later rapped a RBI single.
“From Cleveland,” Ausmus said, putting a week’s events into context, “we did a 180.”
Hitting might have been the main mystery as the Tigers slogged through some dismal middle-April days. In fact, it was, as the manager had acknowledged Wednesday when he transposed J.D. Martinez and Upton in his order.
“Sometimes, it’s a little befuddling,” Ausmus said. “I know I believed this team coming out of spring training was going to score some runs. It just stinks when you’re struggling.”
But as the skipper said after Wednesday’s game, when the lineup switches seemed, at the very least, to have helped an offense shake loose, “As much as anyone wants to talk about my lineup, pitching and defense wins championships.”
That’s perspective, also.
The Tigers got three starts in three games against the A’s — from Jordan Zimmermann, Justin Verlander, and Anibal Sanchez — that were more than ample when a team’s offense and defense were cooperating.
Sanchez is still fighting it a bit and showed it Thursday when he walked seven batters, which was the reason a pitcher who otherwise allowed only three hits, and struck out a whopping nine, had to leave after 114 pitches and 5⅔ innings.
But what counted Thursday was the general quality of Sanchez’s pitches, highlighted by a diving change-up that countered his fastball and slider and helped account for most of his strikeouts.
Even more, Sanchez got back in touch Thursday with himself. He opted for a modified back-turn in his delivery, which had been abandoned during spring camp. And that seemed to restore not only verve to his pitches but esteem to a proud pitcher who last Saturday appeared lost.
“Now I feel really good,” Sanchez said Thursday, and unlike five days earlier, he smiled easily after this stint.
He has the right balance now, he said: A half-turn that allows him to stay on top of the ball and keep his fastball down, which in turn sets the stage for that dipping change-up.
“He looked more comfortable,” the manager said. “His fastball had better finish. His slider was better. But I’d like to see him take another step or two the next few outings.”
That, of course, is also perspective. The Tigers tried not to over-react as Cleveland left town five days ago. They’re likewise trying to keep this week’s modest gains from creating any bad expectations heading into a weekend set against the Twins.
On deck: Twins
Series: Three games, tonight-Sunday, Target Field, Minneapolis
First pitch: 8:10 Friday, 2:10 p.m. Saturday-Sunday
Series probables: Friday — RHP Michael Fulmer (0-0, 0.00) vs. RHP Phil Hughes (1-3, 3.91); Saturday — RHP Jordan Zimmermann (4-0, 0.35) vs. RHP Tyler Duffey (0-0, 2.25); Sunday — RHP Mike Pelfrey (0-4, 4.64) vs. Ricky Nolasco (1-0, 3.25).
Fulmer: It’s his first day, and night, in the big leagues, and the Tigers are only concerned about nerves and emotions. Has power repertoire, heavy on fastball and slider.
Hughes: Nothing complicated about Hughes. He’ll make you hit the ball — and batters will get their hits — but keeps a team in a game. Mixes it up, hits spots. Frustrating, and skilled.