Unsung heroes bolster ailing Tigers
Detroit — As he often does, Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler put it straight.
“We need to win every game,” he said Saturday night. “I know it gets rhetorical, but you have to win every game regardless of what happens during the course of a game. We need to win them all.
“This league is very competitive and it comes down to one or two games at the end of the season.”
So the Tigers aren’t accepting pity or excuses just because they happen to have four starters on the disabled list — shortstop Jose Iglesias (concussion), first baseman Miguel Cabrera (groin), center fielder JaCoby Jones (lip laceration) and right fielder J.D. Martinez (foot).
Fact is, they will point to their 10-8 record and tell you they are grinding along just fine. The next-man-up approach is working. Andrew Romine has filled in admirably at three of those positions himself — shortstop, center and first base.
But it was Toledo call-ups John Hicks and Jim Adduci who took stepping up to a new level over the weekend in Minnesota. They combined to go 6 for 9 with a double (Adduci), home run (Hicks) and seven RBIs (five by Hicks) on Sunday.
“Special,” said Hicks, who went 5 for 10 Saturday and Sunday.
“Two good wins and two good performances. Just trying to keep it going.”
The question was raised to manager Brad Ausmus how long he might stick with Hicks, who is a catcher by trade brought up to play first base largely because he’s a right-handed hitter and the Tigers were facing a left-handed pitcher on Saturday.
They will face two right-handers in the three-game series against Seattle starting Tuesday.
“We’ll see,” Ausmus said after the game Sunday. “I don’t know if he’ll be able to continue to hit at that clip, but if he keeps driving in runs, he can be a big asset for us while Miggy is on the shelf.”
Sounds like the Tigers are going to give him a heat check (play him until cools off).
“We put him back in there (Sunday, against right-hander Kyle Gibson) because of how well he swung the bat Saturday and he answered the bell,” Ausmus said.
Adduci, a left-handed hitter who can play first base as well as all three outfield positions, could offer the Tigers a temporary platoon with Hicks at first base, though Ausmus has not mentioned that as a possibility.
It is also possible the Tigers could bring up another position player from Toledo — veteran first baseman James Loney, perhaps — and return a pitcher to the Mud Hens. The Tigers presently are carrying one extra pitcher and only three bench players.
And after the blowout win Sunday and the day off Monday, the bullpen is well rested for the start of this 10-game home stand, which will feature three games with the Mariners and seven Central Division battles — three with the White Sox and four with the Indians.
Here are some things to look for during the home stand.
There is a good chance the Tigers will get at least three of their four wounded starters back before the end of this home stand.
Iglesias, barring an unforeseen setback, will return Thursday for the finale against the Mariners.
Cabrera’s return is a little less clear. He is eligible to come off the DL on May 2, but the Tigers will proceed with extra caution, especially given Cabrera’s history with groin injuries. Still, there is a good chance he gets back in the lineup sometime during the Indians series.
Jones is eligible to come off the DL the same day as Cabrera, but that could change depending on the results of a CTscan he was scheduled to take on Monday. Also, Jones was struggling at the plate before the injury. The Tigers could opt to send him to Toledo, either option him or for a rehab assignment.
Ausmus guessed on Sunday that J.D. Martinez could make it back in less than three weeks. But he would have to cover a lot of rehabilitative ground quickly.
He has yet to run full speed, do any outfield drills except throwing and he hasn’t faced live pitching. Conceivably, if he could start playing in extended spring training games this week — where he could get as many at-bats as he could withstand — then maybe he could start a rehab assignment at Toledo the first week of May.
That would put him on track to join the team during the West Coast trip May 5-14.
Given the nature of his injury — a sprained Lisfranc ligament in his right foot — that seems optimistic; not that there is anything wrong with a little optimism, especially regarding a player as sorely missed as Martinez.
Need a Z-boost
Jordan Zimmermann may need to offer up a sacrifice of some sort to the baseball gods. He has thanked them repeatedly for his good health thus far, but going back to spring training, he has been battling some bad ju-ju during his starts.
Broken-bat hits, seeing-eye hits, swinging bunts for hits — it’s been one thing or another, including his own uncharacteristic wildness two starts ago.
He has been tagged for five runs in each of his last two starts.
Here’s what’s troubling. The average velocity on his fastball is 92-93 mph — according to Brooks Baseball — is the same as it was last April when he was mowing hitters down. And he’s throwing it 54 percent of the time.
Last April, that fastball was thrown in more precise locations and opponents hit just .200 against it. This April, opponents are hitting .241 against it — which isn’t that bad considering only 20 percent of the fastballs put in play are hard-struck.
The bigger difference — other than his spotty command — is that his secondary pitches are getting thumped — opponents are hitting .400 off his curveball and .375 off his change-up. That’s not good, but it’s a small sample. He’s only thrown 46 curveballs and 16 change-ups.
The slider is his best secondary weapon, and it’s been inconsistent at best. Last April, opponents hit .239 against it. This year, .267. Right-handers are hitting .333 against it.
Hello old friend
There is a chance, if things stay on course and if the White Sox don’t make any moves, the Tigers could do battle against their former teammate Mike Pelfrey on Friday. He took the loss Saturday in his White Sox debut, allowing two earned runs (four total) in 41/3 innings.
Pelfrey could get up to three starts while James Shields is on the disabled list.
ON DECK: MARINERS
Series: Three-game series at Comerica Park
First pitch: 7:10 Tuesday-Wednesday; 1:10, Thursday
TV/radio: Tuesday-Wednesday — FSD, 97.1; Thursday — FSD, MLBN, 97.1
Probables: Tuesday — RHP Felix Hernandez (2-1, 3.65) vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann (1-1, 5.94); Wednesday — LHP James Paxton (2-0, 1.78) vs. LHP Daniel Norris (1-1, 3.71); Thursday — RHP Hisashi Iwakuma (0-2, 5.31) vs. RHP Justin Verlander (1-2, 6.04).
Hernandez, Mariners: His strikeout-walk ratio is a league-best 20-1, but it’s been a pedestrian start for this elite right-hander. In his last start against the Marlins, his velocity was down (90-91 mph, from 93-94), which made his 87-mph change-up less effective.
Zimmermann, Tigers: Right-handers are hitting .294 against him, 50 points higher than righties have hit him in his career. The Mariners have three right-handers (Mitch Haniger, Jean Segura and Taylor Motter) who are hitting over .300 against right-handed pitching.