Tigers’ sloppy defense starting to irk Gardenhire

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Bradenton, Fla. — Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire made it clear from the start that he will not abide sloppy defensive play and the Tigers again slopped it up pretty good here Thursday in a 8-3 exhibition loss to the Pirates.

Both teams did. Seven errors were registered, three by the Tigers, and several other mental gaffs that were not.

“They always get me irritated, even in spring training — I don’t separate,” Gardenhire said. “I don’t like the ball flying around. I know you are going to miss some balls and boot some plays, but when we start throwing it around, rushing, instead of just getting the ball, throwing it in and keeping things where they’re at. We keep trying to fling it at people. And that irritates me.

“That’s not controlling the baseball. The game is starting to control us.”

One play in particular drew Gardenhire’s ire.

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In the fifth inning, the Pirates had a runner on first. Pitcher Joe Jimenez snared a ground ball back through the box and made a good throw to the bag at second. Both shortstop Pete Kozma and second baseman Dixon Machado were at the bag and neither caught the ball. Each thought the other had it and the ball rolled into center field.

“The pitcher and shortstop pointed at each other before the play,” Gardenhire said. “The ball was hit up the middle and the second baseman broke to the bag. That’s what put him there. The pitcher threw it right between them and they both looked at each other.

“It’s a weird play because the second baseman had to break for the ball up the middle. They knew the coverage, we saw them give it. Just both got to the bag at the same time.”

Gardenhire said it was on Kozma to call Machado off and take command of the play at second.

“They just kind of did the dance,” he said. “Even though the play was different, we have to be able to adjust and make it. It’s got to be vocal, ‘I got it! I got it!’ It’s two guys who have to learn to play together.

“We will get there.”

Compounding the problem, center fielder Leonys Martin picked up the ball and tried to throw the runner out at third. That allowed the hitter to advance to second base. Instead of a first-and-third situation where a double play could end the inning, there were two runners in scoring position.

“It’s a work in progress, we knew that,” Gardenhire said. “There’s a lot of people we haven’t seen out here, people who are trying to impress and they get too excited. Our goal is to get them to where they understand: Keep things to a minimum. Keep double plays in order and don’t try to be superman.

“They are working at it.”

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Zimmermann thrives

Starter Jordan Zimmermann, all things considered, had a very positive outing Thursday. His fastball command, especially on the inner half against right-handed hitters, was good. His slider was as good as it’s been all spring.

He wound up striking out five of the last nine hitters he faced.

But in the first inning, he threw two wayward sinkers to two strong right-handed hitters. Starling Marte hit one over the right field wall and out of LECOM Park and David Freese, with a man on, hit one into the Tiki Bar in right-center.

“Yeah, they were sliders that cut,” he said with a sheepish grin. “They went the wrong way.”

A cutting slider breaks flat over the heart of the plate to right-handed hitters. Not what you want.

“But I felt good other than that,” he said. “The last couple of innings I was able to throw the sinkers in and get ground balls to the infield.

The fastball was good and the slider was really good.

“I was finally able to get the depth I’ve been looking for.”

Four of his five strikeouts were on sliders — front-door sliders, ones that break late toward the back foot of right-handed hitters.

“It wasn’t the plan to throw a lot of those, but in the bullpen it felt good,” Zimmermann said. “It’s a back-door slider to lefties and a front-door slider to righties. You buzz them inside with a heater and you come back with that slider and it locks them up a little.

“I’ve always liked that pitch but I haven’t used it a lot. I wanted to give it a try.”

Zimmermann threw 57 pitches in 3.1 innings, with 37 strikes.

Mahtook pressing?

It’s been a frustrating start for left fielder Mikie Mahtook.

He got a bloop single in three at-bats, but he’s yet to get an extra-base hit this spring (19 at-bats).

“He’s a positive kid,” Gardenhire said. “I don’t want him to get frustrated with anything. He’s game-on. He makes no excuses…At times he’s trying to do too much instead of just barreling the ball. He’s trying to hit an eight-run home run with nobody on base.

“That’s where he has to calm down and learn to control the game a little bit. He’s very talented. He’s going to be fine.”

He nearly made a superb running catch on a wind-blown ball in the fourth inning. The ball, hit by right-handed hitting Francisco Cervelli, hooked from straight-away left field to the wall in left-center. Mahtook ran it down, but it bounced off the heel of his glove.

“He said he should have had the ball, that he just alligator-armed it,” Gardenhire said. “He makes no excuses for anything that happens.”

Around the horn

… Jimenez was charged with the unearned run in the fifth, but he was impressive. His fastball hit 96 mph and he got two strikeouts. “That’s a heavy ball he throws,” Gardenhire said. “We’re sitting right there (nearly behind the plate) and that’s a heavy ball. It’s got a lot of life to it. I like that big guy.”

… Catcher John Hicks threw out a pair of baserunners — Corey Dickerson trying to steal second and Cervelli trying to advance to third on a pitch in the dirt.

… The Tigers have lost six straight Grapefruit League games.