The Detroit Tigers’ opening weekend was a bit of a dud.
Baseball is a sport that shouldn’t often be played in March in northern climates, and we saw why. Twice rain forced postponements, including on the originally scheduled Opening Day, Thursday. And while some of the games were dramatic, you’d be hard pressed to call them great games.
First-pitch temperatures for the series were 39, 36 and 40 degrees. Pitchers appeared to struggle even more than expected, and the play was not nearly as crisp as the temperatures.
Judging by attendance figures, including a Sunday opener with the lowest announced attendance since 2006 and a nightcap before a nearly empty Comerica Park, the fans do not want to pay good money to be miserable and watch bad baseball.
Beyond that, the ones who came out on Opening Day thought they had made a great memory when JaCoby Jones appeared to drive in Nick Castellanos for the game-winning run, only for the officiating crew in New York City to overrule the call on the field and force the teams to keep playing.
If you can’t come up with a definitive answer in two minutes, don’t overturn the call on the field. It’s that’s simple Bad baseball is bad enough; to be swept in the first series because of a bad replay call only adds to the misery index.
Knowing you can only know so much from the opening series, here are three takeaways from the first three games of the year:
You can look at the box score and declare Jordan Zimmermann didn’t pitch that great on Opening Day. After all he gave up four runs in six innings — not even a quality start.
But a few things should give hope he’ll put together a better season this year than in his prior two disappointing years since joining the Tigers.
The main thing to like is that his use of the slider appeared to be working well. He used it early against the Pirates to rack up a couple strikeouts and keep them off balance. They hit him a bit more when he got away from the pitch deeper in the game.
The other thing to like was the eight strikeout to one walk ratio. It might not have paid off fully in game one, but if he can keep it up — and he struck out 18 while walking three during 18 innings of spring training — he’ll post a solid season.
Fulmer was on the wrong end of a 1-0 shutout in his first start, but pitched an efficient eight innings — tossing just 90 pitches. The lone run came when he issued a walk to the first batter he faced and allowed a double to the third one.
While there were no gaudy strikeout figures to gawk at, Fulmer put together exactly the kind of game he’s been known to do, and gave his bullpen some much needed rest while doing it.
Given there are so many question marks at the back end of the rotation, the Tigers need a little certainty at the front.
With Pittsburgh and Detroit tied at 6 in the opening game of the season, new manager Ron Gardenhire called on his closer, Shane Greene, to pitch in the ninth inning. This isn’t actually that unusual. The “book” says that a manager should use his closer in the top of the ninth inning in a tie game at home, but save him until he has the lead on the road.
It didn’t work out: Greene allowed a triple, two singles, and three runs without making it out of the inning. Still, it was the right move.
What Gardenhire did Sunday afternoon was a bit more unexpected. Losing 1-0, he again called on his closer to keep it a one-run game and give his team a chance to come back for the win.
It didn’t work that time either, though for different reasons. Green kept the Pirates off the scoreboard, but Detroit’s listless offense failed to score a run.
Throughout the first three games the use of the Tigers’ bullpen has been interesting. Because the Tigers spent so much of their first series trailing, and weather forced a double-header Sunday, it’s hard to make much sense about how most of the relievers will be used, beyond Buck Farmer appearing to take the expected long relief role and Greene playing closer.
But it appears Drew VerHagen will make appearances a little earlier in games, while it’s unclear who, if anyone, should be considered a setup man.
Beside that, there will likely be a lot of shuffling of the ’pen throughout the year.
Given the relief crew gave up nine runs in 14 innings, that’s probably for the best. A porous bullpen is going to make winning all the harder.
The Tigers are going to lose a lot of games this year. That will not come as a shock to anyone who watches them, nor will it come as one to the people who play for them.
What will make the losing more palatable is a happy and healthy Miguel Cabrera slapping balls into the outfield stands.
So far, so good.
Cabrera had a pair of hits, a double, and drove in two runs in his first game of the year. Sunday, he went 0-for-4 in the first game of the double header but rallied to 3-for-4 with two doubles and an opposite-field home run in the nightcap. After the first series he’s batting .357 with .438 on-base percentage and .786 slugging. He looks like he’s having fun.
That’s one of the best-case scenarios you could realistically ask for with this team, and one that will get fans out to the park.
Once it gets a little warmer, anyway.
Kurt Mensching can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.