Tigers' sign-stealing paranoia a factor in longer games

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Tigers pitcher Michael Fulmer, left, has expressed concern this season that teams were stealing signs when he was on the mound.

Detroit – The pitcher stares in for the sign from the catcher. He continues his stare as the catcher runs through one sequence of signs, then another. The batter eventually steps out. The catcher starts the sequence of signs again. The pitcher steps off the mound and motions the catcher out to the mound to deliver the pitch selection verbally.

You’ve seen this scene play out across Major League Baseball this season, especially when there is a runner on second base. It’s not unique to the Tigers; it only seems like it. The Tigers continue to lead baseball averaging three hours and 18 minutes per game.

They played a nine-inning game in Boston Sunday night that lasted 4:06. The nine-inning loss to the Diamonbacks Tuesday lasted 3:48.

These games, many times, are extended in length by the increasing paranoia of the defending team that the runner on second base is stealing the catcher’s signs.

“The multiple signs (by the catcher) is a complete reaction to base runners stealing signs and tipping off the hitter,” manager Brad Ausmus said before Wednesday's game. “We don’t know that it happens every time. But we are at the point now where we’ve seen it enough, we assume everyone does it.

“And if using multiple signs is going to improve our chances of beating that team, I don’t care how long the game takes.”

Justin Verlander and Michael Fulmer have both expressed concern this season that either their signs were being spied on or they were tipping their pitches some other way. It has become a regular practice around baseball for catchers to use a multiple-sign sequence when there is a runner on second base.

Tigers spin wheels while starting rotation scuffles

All of which has slows the pace of play considerably.

“If there is a real problem with it, tell them to stop stealing signs at second base,” Ausmus said.

Ausmus was asked if the multiple signs, the step-offs and the mound visits could have a detrimental impact on his pitchers.

“You want them to have a rhythm, but if there is any question, I’d rather the pitcher and catcher discuss it rather than have something go backwards,” Ausmus said. “I think the trips to the mound are a very small piece of it.”

Buck stuck

After throwing 13 straight scoreless innings over his first two starts with the Tigers, Buck Farmer was tagged for six runs and nine hits in 2.1 innings Tuesday.

“Tough,” Farmer said. “Just have to battle through it.”

He had a little tough luck in the two-run first inning. Two of the five hits he allowed never left the infield. One, by Chris Owings, was a two-out, RBI bunt single. But after striking out the side in the second, he gave up two-run home runs in the third to Paul Goldschmidt and Brandon Drury.

“My fastball was flat and nothing was down (in the zone) the entire night,” Farmer said. “You can’t exactly pitch there. Nothing was at the knees or below. Wasn’t good. I didn’t do my job.”

He fell back on an old bad habit. His body was drifting out toward the plate too quickly in his delivery, and his arm couldn’t catch up. The pitches were staying on a flat plane high in the zone. It’s an issue he’s dealt with for a long time and one he can usually correct quickly.

“The last two starts, if I threw one or two pitches doing that, I made the adjustment,” Farmer said. “This time, I didn’t do what I needed to do. I couldn’t make the adjustment. But I’ve got a new day in five days.”

No worries

Miguel Cabrera entered Wednesday's game without a home run in his last 95 plate appearances. His last homer came on May 20. But he has five hits in his last 13 at-bats, including a pair of doubles Tuesday.

“Every year we have this discussion about Cabrera,” Ausmus said. “Is Miggy getting older? Is he struggling? I told you the last two years and his turnaround the last two years speaks for itself. Last year he ended up having an unbelievable last two months; he and Justin Upton carried us.

“I am not worried about Miguel Cabrera at all.”

Cabrera is hitting .272 with five home runs and 29 RBIs.

“Even one of the greatest hitters on the planet struggles at times,” Ausmus said. “It’s a little more surprising when a guy like Miggy struggles for a longer period of time. But it’s certainly not unheard of.

“I wish I could struggle and hit .270.”

Around the horn

Right-hander Anibal Sanchez (hamstring) returned to the mound at Triple-A Toledo Wednesday night.

…Outfielder Jim Adduci (oblique) could start taking batting practice with the team this weekend. That, and tracking fly balls in the outfield, will be the last hurdles before he goes on a rehab stint at Toledo.

…How hot has shortstop Jose Iglesias been? Over the last 17 games, he hit .406 with 12 runs, six doubles, a home run and nine RBIs. He raised his average from .195 to .267 entering the game Wednesday.

Twitter: @cmccosky