National League rules continue to bedevil Tigers

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Washington — Manager Brad Ausmus was on his way to Wrigley Field in Chicago during the Tigers' interleague series with the Cubs last summer when he was stopped by a Tigers fan.

The fan had a suggestion on how he could get Victor Martinez’s bat into the lineup even though there was no designated hitter. Ausmus recounted the conversation.

Fan: Put him in center field.

Ausmus: Who?

Fan: Victor.

Ausmus: Martinez?

Fan: Yeah.

Ausmus: No chance.

Fan: Get his bat in the lineup.

Ausmus: Victor Martinez in center field? Come on.

The story was relevant on Wednesday when Ausmus, because of National League rules, had to pull his hottest hitter, Nick Castellanos, out of the lineup. He started Martinez, who sat out the first game of his series, at first. Miguel Cabrera, who sat out Tuesday, started at third.

All three have been stinging the ball of late.

“We had to not play somebody,” Ausmus said. “I want to play all of them. But unfortunately, with National League rules, we aren’t allowed to.”

Fans on social media have clamored for Ausmus to start Castellanos in left field and bench the slumping Justin Upton. 

That’s why he told the Wrigley Field story.

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While it’s not as far-fetched as playing Victor Martinez in center, Castellanos hasn’t played or practiced playing the outfield since 2013. He started four games in left, played in nine, with the Tigers that September. 
It wasn’t his natural position, even then. He was moved there when the Tigers acquired Prince Fielder to play first and Cabrera switched to third. He switched back to third base after Fielder was traded.  
And left field at Nationals Park is spacious and tricky, with the wall jutting out from 336 feet to 377 feet in the alley. 
Castellanos is leading the American League with a .378 average and he has seven home runs, two in the first two games of this series. But Cabrera is 8 for his last 13 and Martinez had four hits Tuesday and is hitting .333. 
The slide rule

The Tigers, like every major league team, got a memo from the league office last week informing them that the slide rule had been modified. Essentially, the memo said the umpires and review room will have more discretion to protect against outcomes of games being decided on a technicality of the rule.

“Basically, if the runner doesn’t impede the middle infielder’s ability to turn the double play, it’s OK,” Ausmus said. 

That came into play Tuesday when Anthony Gose’s questionable slide into second base was ruled in compliance with the slide rule. Had it been ruled the other way, the Tigers would have had the go-ahead run taken off the board.

“We told (the players) about that in spring training,” Ausmus said. “In fact, we talked about that specific incident – bases loaded or runners on first and third. We told them, ‘Don’t risk it (trying to take out the fielder) because it might cost us a run. Just slide into the base.’”

Gose and the rest of the players weren’t aware of the league memo modifying the rule until it came up Tuesday night. And that was by design.

“We didn’t want them thinking about that,” Ausmus said. “When you slide you don’t know if you’re going to impede the fielder or not. Just slide into the base. We said, especially when there is a potential for us to score a run, just slide into the base. Leave no doubt.”

Ausmus said the issue would be addressed again before game Wednesday. 

Upton off?

Ausmus said he and hitting coach Wally Joyner have discussed giving Upton a mental health day.

Upton entered play Wednesday on a 0 for 17 drought with 11 strikeouts. He’s hitting .220 with 51 strikeouts in 127 at-bats.

“We have discussed it but we haven’t done it yet,” Ausmus said. “We will see what happens.”

On deck: Orioles

Series: Four games, Thursday-Sunday, Camden Yards, Baltimore

First pitch: 7:05 Thursday-Saturday, 1:35 p.m. Sunday

TV/radio: FSD/97.1

Probables: Thursday— RHP Mike Pelfrey (0-4, 6.23) vs. RHP Ubaldo Jimenez (2-3, 4.54). Friday — RHP Justin Verlander (2-3, 5.40) vs. RHP Chris Tillman (4-1, 3.05). Saturday — RHP Anibal Sanchez (3-3, 5.89) vs. RHP Mike Wright (1-3, 5.83). Sunday — RHP Michael Fulmer (2-1, 6.00) vs. RHP Kevin Gausman (0-1, 2.16)

Scouting report

Pelfrey: This may not be a drop-dead start for Pelfrey, but he is getting closer. He needs to give the club a reason to keep him in the rotation. There have been signs he’s beginning to put things together, but the overall results have been untenable. If there is a quality start in him, it may be time to let it out.

Jimenez: The Tigers have inflicted significant damage against him. He is 5-11 against the Tigers, with a 5.60 ERA and 1.50 WHIP. The Tigers have hit 12 home runs off him, the most he’s allowed to one team. These days he gets by on a deceptive delivery and an array of 89-91 mph fastballs (four-seam, sinker, splitter and cutter). The splitter is more of an off-speed pitch for him (83).