Detroit — It went largely unnoticed, but rookie Victor Reyes made a heady base-running play in the bottom of the eighth inning Tuesday night to give the Tigers an insurance run in their 4-2 win over the Orioles.
He was inserted into the game as a pinch-runner for Victor Martinez and was on third base with two outs. Dixon Machado was at the plate. Orioles pitcher Mychal Givens bounced a pitch that got through catcher Caleb Joseph.
Go back to a game the Orioles played against the Yankees on April 6. Givens was pitching and Joseph was catching. Yankees Didi Gregorius tried to score from third on a similar wild pitch.
Givens blocked the plate. Gregorius, sliding head first, tried to go around him and was tagged out.
Forward to Tuesday. Reyes, who never hesitated, bolted for the plate, slid feet-first and kicked away Givens’ attempt at blocking the plate.
Reyes, who doesn’t speak English, nodded in the affirmative when asked if he knew Givens’ tendencies to block the plate.
“Any time a pitcher covers the plate, you want to go foot first,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “And if they try to block it, they pay the penalty.”
That said, the feet-first slide has become nearly extinct these days, even on plays at the plate.
“The old rule of thumb isn’t to slide head first at home, because of the dangers with the shoulders and hands,” said Tigers’ quality control coach Joe Vavra, who spent a lot of time working on the running game and sliding drills during spring training. “But with replay out there now, it’s become more of a normal thing to do. Everybody is more comfortable with it.
“They can feel home plate better and you can avoid some of the contact.”
Vavra said the Tigers primarily teach the head-first slide. Attempts to discourage players from sliding head first at the plate are often ignored.
“We are still old-school enough to think the head-first slide is still dangerous,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s not something we want to teach, but it’s a comfortability thing where everybody knows how to go head first.”
So, if they slide head first at second and third, it becomes instinct to slide head first into home.
“Let’s wind the clock back; there wouldn’t have been any head first slides 10 years ago,” he said. “It was all feet-first. But the problem with feet-first, everyone picks up their leg. A base is two and a half inches off the ground and home plate is flat.
“On a base you’ve got a heel to touch. At home plate you don’t. You go up and over it and you get a lot of replays with that feet-first slide.”
Which makes Reyes’ foot-first slide all the more impressive. This is a 22-year-old who until this year hadn’t played above Double-A, resorting to an old-school style slide to secure a key run late in the game.
“I think it was kind of a spontaneous thing,” Vavra said. “The pitcher was coming in to cover and you don’t know what he’s going to do. It could be a catastrophe. There could be a collision. But in that case, I think he saw and opening before the pitcher got set and went for it.”
REST MIGGY ON ROAD
Miguel Cabrera, who celebrated his 35th birthday Wednesday, was back in the lineup and playing first base after his back stiffened late in the game Tuesday.
Gardenhire thought about using him to DH, but Cabrera said he prefers to play the field — saying moving around helps keep the back loose. Which begs the question: If Cabrera doesn’t DH, how will Gardenhire get him days off?
Preferably, when the team is on the road.
“He’s going to have days off,” Gardenhire said. “As we go along and the games pile up and it starts to grind on, he’s going to have to have them. But I am going to try not to give him days off at home.
“Our fans want to see him play here. For me, a guy like Cabrera, if you are going to give him a day, you do it on the road because our fans deserve to see him play. They pay money to come watch him.”
That’s how Gardenhire operated with his veteran players in Minnesota – rest days mostly came on the road.
“I kind of think that’s the right way to do it,” he said.
AROUND THE HORN
Cabrera usually celebrates his birthday in style. In games he’s played on his birthday, entering Wednesday, he’s hit .380 (19 for 50) with two home runs, five doubles and 13 RBIs. He had a home run in Wednesday's 6-5 victory.
…Going back to April 2, Tigers relievers before Wednesday had posted an American League-best 2.23 ERA (10 runs in 40.1 innings) and limited opponents to a .201 batting average.
ORIOLES AT TIGERS
First pitch: 1:10 Thursday, Comerica Park, Detroit
* RHP Alex Cobb (0-1, 17.18), Orioles: Manager Buck Showalter has already had to tinker with his rotation. Struggling Chris Tillman was pushed back a couple of days, and slotted Cobb in. Cobb, coming off Tommy John surgery and an abbreviated spring training, admitted he didn’t feel ready for his Orioles debut (a 10-3 loss).
* RHP Jordan Zimmermann (0-0, 8.18), Tigers: This will be his first start since taking a line drive off his jaw in Cleveland April 11. Miraculously, he sustained nothing more than a bruise and his between-starts program was not interrupted at all.