Detroit — Victor Martinez just shook his head. He didn’t make a single comment. Just a head shake.
Ian Kinsler mostly shrugged.
It’s not like it was a news flash, but when you throw it out there as a raw number, it can alter your perspective on this crazy, amusement park ride of a season for the Tigers.
Manager Brad Ausmus Wednesday, in game No. 158, wrote the names of his nine starting position players on the same lineup card for just the 11th time this season.
“I didn’t write it,” he joked. “I texted it.”
Catcher James McCann, Miguel Cabrera, Kinsler, Jose Iglesias and Nick Castellanos around the infield, Justin Upton, Cameron Maybin and J.D. Martinez in the outfield, and Victor Martinez at designated hitter — that lineup had played just 10 games together (going 6-4) and none since June 11.
“Let’s hope it’s a charm,” Ausmus said.
On top of that, four-fifths of the expected starting rotation — Jordan Zimmermann, Anibal Sanchez, Mike Pelfrey and Shane Greene — spent a good portion of the season either on the disabled list or in the bullpen.
And yet, with five games to go in the season, the Tigers took the field Wednesday a game out of a playoff spot.
“You assume there’s going to be injuries,” Ausmus said. “But, like I’ve said before, I think it’s more surprising that for a good chunk of the season we’ve had three rookie starters and we’re in this spot. To me, that’s more surprising than anything else.”
Technically, Michael Fulmer is a rookie, Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd are not. But all three began the year at Triple A Toledo.
Kinsler was asked if he had known in spring training the regular lineup would have been used just 11 times, would he have expected to still be in contention the last week of the season.
“Yeah,” he said. “We have guys who are capable of replacing those players. Obviously, it’s not how you want to go about the season. But stuff happens. You can’t expect to lose because you don’t have the starting nine you expected to have.”
All told, the Tigers players have a combined 1,641 days on the disabled list this season. Maybin missed the first month and a half of the season. McCann missed most of April and May. Martinez missed seven weeks and Castellanos returned to the starting lineup Wednesday after breaking his hand on Aug. 6.
Fulmer went into his start Wednesday having thrown 171 innings this season, including his three starts at Toledo. The Tigers’ plan, by all measures, worked. By giving him extra days of rest before 14 of his starts, they kept him within a reasonable innings increase without having to shut him down.
“I still think, looking back, it was wise pushing him back a number of times, anywhere from one extra day to three extra days,” Ausmus said. “I just think his arm is fresher as a result. It’s probably a good route to take to get a young pitcher through a season – just push him back when you can, as opposed to pitching him every fifth day and then shutting him down.”
Fulmer on Wednesday made his 12th start on regular rest. In the previous 11 he was 4-3 with a 3.50 ERA. He’s made six starts with one extra day of rest (4-1, 1.73) and eight starts with two or more (3-3, 3.26).
Ausmus is biased, of course he is. Still, he said he feels strongly that Fulmer deserves Rookie of the Year honors, despite Yankees’ catcher Gary Sanchez’s 20 home run barrage.
“Sanchez has only been here for a third of the season, maybe not even a third,” Ausmus said. “Fulmer has been here almost the entire year. He is 6⅓ innings from qualifying for the ERA title, and he’s leading.
“For me, Fulmer is the guy. I don’t see any way around it.”
He acknowledged that Sanchez, Indians’ Tyler Naquin, Rangers’ Nomar Mazara and Twins’ Max Kepler have had stellar seasons.
“But it’s hard to get around what Fulmer has done,” he said.
JV for Cy
While Ausmus was busy endorsing his players for postseason awards, he said a strong case could be made for Justin Verlander’s Cy Young Award candidacy.
“I think Justin Verlander is making a case for Justin Verlander for Cy Young,” he said. “He’s had a tremendous second half of the season, best second half in the American League. You could make the argument he’s been better than he was in his prime.”
Verlander is 8-2 since the break, with a 2.00 ERA and a 0.852 WHIP. He is averaging 11 strikeouts per nine innings.
“I thought he’d still be good, but I didn’t know he’d be this good still,” Ausmus said. “He’s been dominant. There’s no other way to describe it.”
Around the horn
Ausmus said Jordan Zimmermann will start Friday in Atlanta and Verlander will start on Sunday. The Saturday starter will either be Matt Boyd or Buck Farmer. Obviously, if the Tigers were to clinch a playoff spot before Sunday, Verlander would be saved for the Wild Card game.
... Ausmus reiterated that Victor Martinez will be relegated to pinch-hitter duty only in the no-DH series in Atlanta.
... Told there could be a scenario in Atlanta this weekend where a pitcher might deliver a game-winning hit to send the Tigers into the playoffs, Ausmus cracked, “I am sure Verlander is already dreaming about it.”