Tigers blast Astros, Cabrera shrugs off plunking
Lakeland, Fla. — Justin Verlander was back in the clubhouse doing his post-game work when the fireworks hit at Publix Field Saturday.
The Tigers had gone 11 innings without scoring a run this spring until Andrew Romine, Ian Kinsler and Victor Martinez homered in consecutive at-bats in the third inning off Astros right-hander Edison Frias.
Martinez’s blast was majestic, into the new Margaritaville Patio in right field.
Verlander was watching the video feed with Kirk Gibson.
“Gibby said, ‘Somebody is going to get hit,” Verlander said. “I was like, ‘This is spring training, nobody is going to get hit, and it’s Miggy (Cabrera, at the plate).’ Then the first pitch to Miggy, whack. I just went, ‘Holy crap!’ and I went running.”
It could have been an ugly scene, as players from both dugouts quickly got to the top step of their respective dugouts. But Cabrera, who was hit in the left forearm with the high and tight pitch, quickly raised his hand to the Astros bench and to umpire Hunter Wendelstedt that all was OK.
“Miggy is good at that,” Verlander said. “You take a second to realize it wasn’t a fastball and he was sure it wasn’t on purpose. But it looked bad.”
So bad, in fact, that Verlander left the clubhouse and ran out to the field in case benches cleared.
“Just in case,” he said, with a smirk. “I’m sure with my cutoff shirt I was pretty intimidating.”
Wendelstedt immediately ejected Frias, Cabrera was unharmed (he had a double and a single in three at-bats) and the Tigers went on to beat the Astros 11-4. Afterward, Cabrera completely waived off the incident.
“He does what he needs to get ready,” he said. “I do what I need to get ready. Not my business.”
Still, the Tigers are tired of seeing their hitters put on the DL after being hit by pitches (Cameron Maybin and Nick Castellanos last year).
“We need to protect that man,” Verlander said of Cabrera. “He gets pitched in a lot and we had some freak injuries last year when guys got pitched in and got hit and broke their hand. You can very easily point to those as to why we weren’t in the playoffs last year.
“If you can’t pitch in, don’t pitch in. And I am not saying (Frias) did that; he threw a breaking ball (slider) and I am sure it wasn’t intentional. But a baseball is a weapon. You are throwing it 96, 97 miles per hour and if you can’t effectively throw the ball into a righty, if you are right-handed, you shouldn’t be doing it.”
Verlander, making his first start of the spring, featured a lively fastball in two scoreless innings. According to the radar gun the Tigers were using, Verlander’s fastball was hitting 92-95 mph.
“I felt pretty good, a really good first step,” he said. “I made it through, my arm’s still attached. Everything is all right. I mean, it was a little erratic. I worked on some stuff, but overall, pretty good.”
He struck out two, throwing fastballs past Teoscar Hernandez and Jake Marisnick in the second inning. He gave up an infield hit to Nori Aoki to start the game — a bounder that eluded Verlander — and a walk.
“I thought that was the best first outing I’ve seen from Ver,” manager Brad Ausmus said.
In all he threw 33 pitches, 18 for strikes.
“I don’t think you will ever see me throw five or six straight change-ups,” Verlander said, which he did when he walked A.J. Reed leading off the second. “It’s just points of emphasis. I will throw enough fastballs to get dialed in, just through the natural process of pitching.
“For now, I’m spinning some stuff, throwing stuff when normally I wouldn’t, just to get a feel for it. My hope is that it speeds up the process of getting a feel for the other pitches.”
Lefty Blaine Hardy, in a fight for one of the final bullpen spots, threw a 10-pitch, scoreless third inning. Of the 10 pitches, nine were strikes.
Right-handers William Cuevas, Mark Lowe (two strikeouts) and Alex Wilson (two strikeouts) pitched scoreless innings. Right-hander A.J. Achter (MSU) gave up two unearned runs in the fourth.
Shane Greene gave up two runs on three hits in the eighth. Justin Wilson pitched a scoreless ninth.
The Tigers pounded out 15 hits. Justin Upton ripped a long, RBI double to the center field fence. Jason Krizan homered and Alex Presley got himself a Little League grand slam in the seventh.
With the bases loaded, his single eluded the center fielder. He circled the bases, all four runs scored.
Tyler Collins, who has a lat injury and can’t play in the field for two weeks, ripped an RBI single and lined out to deep left center field. JaCoby Jones also contributed two singles.
Matthew Boyd will start for the Tigers Sunday against the Mets in Port St. Lucie.