Detroit -- The names are not nearly as formidable but the 2019 Tigers are putting up strikeout totals on par with the days of Verlander, Scherzer and Price.
Even better, actually.
Tigers pitchers have struck out 81 batters through 72 innings, the most of the Comerica Park era by six when Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello, Doug Fister and Drew Smyly made up the rotation in 2012, the last World Series season.
The first 19 years of the Tigers ballpark had Detroit setting down an average of 52.3 batters on strikes over the first eight games.
The pitching has been the catalyst for a surprising 5-3 start to what has been projected to be a long season by those outside of the Tigers clubhouse. Not so much inside.
“I thought we were going to be good starting, but I didn’t know we were going to start this hot,” catcher Grayson Greiner said. “As far as strikeouts and us getting deep into games and giving us a chance to win, it’s really all you can ask for as a teammate is your starting pitcher giving you a chance to win, and we’ve done that I think every game this year.”
Along with the pitching staff, manager Ron Gardenhire credited pitching coach Rick Anderson and the analytics staff headed by Jay Sartori, the senior director of baseball analytics and operations for the game plans.
“We have some guys that can throw the ball and we’re making pitches and we’ve got good pitch plans,” Gardenhire said. “We set up our pitch plans and our analytic department does a really nice job.”
Rookie Spencer Turnbull struck out a career-high 10 batters on Thursday in a 5-4 win against Kansas City in the home opener. That was one day after Matthew Boyd struck out a career-high 13 in a win against the Yankees.
Turnbull and Boyd were the first Tigers starters to notch consecutive double-digit strikeout outings since Rick Porcello and Anibal Sanchez in August 2014 against Colorado.
Lefty Matt Moore will pitch Saturday against the Royals, looking to keep things going.
“It gives you a lot of confidence going out there the next day seeing the guy before you do his business, work deep in the game and give us a real good chance to win it,” Moore said after Thursday’s win.
Moore added it started with a tone-setting performance from Jordan Zimmermann on Opening Day in Toronto, throwing seven innings of one-hit ball in a 2-0 win on March 28.
Zimmermann said he’s more comfortable this year with Greiner, who has caught six games this season after appearing in his first 30 games as a big-league catcher last season.
“He just didn’t really know a lot of the pitchers (last season) and what they offer,” Zimmermann said. “Just having him in spring training for the whole spring of throwing to him, he got to know me much better on the mound and know what I like to do and my tendencies. He learned what other guys like to do as well.”
Zimmermann and Greiner said there were too many times the pitcher was shaking off the catcher last season, and those are times when the 11-year veteran right-hander said he gets into trouble.
“Last year, I would catch one of every three or four days and didn’t have that connection you establish,” Greiner said. “So far this year, not just (Zimmermann), but everyone on the pitching staff, we’re on a little bit better page and that keeps the flow of the game up, doesn’t slow the game down.
“They get on the bump, they’re attacking hitters, and we have a good idea of what we want to do.”
As Gardenhire points out, baseball is going through a strikeout boom. Strategy dictates hitters look for solid contact more than two-strike protection in an effort to hit the long ball, as opposed to just putting the ball in play. The boom may finally hit Detroit as the numbers have lagged since the last local boom, which coincided with the booms Verlander, Scherzer and Sanchez put into the catcher’s mitt during a team-record season of 1,428 strikeouts in 2013.
Nine of the last 10 MLB seasons have set record strikeout rates, including 22.3 percent last year.
The long haul will play out as it will, but performances like Thursday by a rookie mowing down hitters in his fifth major-league start provide some hope.
“They’re off to a good start, and with the talent and experience we have, I think we’ll do a good job of continuing forward,” Greiner said.
The Tigers are second in MLB in strikeouts (not including Friday’s games):
1. Toronto, 87 strikeouts (74.0 IP)
2. Detroit, 81 (72.0)
3. Milwaukee, 77 (63.0)
4. Houston, 75 (58.0)
T5. Oakland, 74 (93.0)
T5. N.Y. Mets, 74 (62.1)
T7. N.Y. Yankees, 70 (63.0)
T7. Tampa Bay, 70 (65.0)
Tigers pitchers have 81 strikeouts. Here is the breakdown:
Matthew Boyd, 23 strikeouts (11.1 IP)
Spencer Turnbull, 15 (11.0)
Jordan Zimmermann, 10 (13.2)
Matt Moore, 6 (7.0)
Joe Jimenez, 5 (4.0)
Tyson Ross, 4 (5.0)
Buck Farmer, 4 (2.2)
Blaine Hardy, 4 (4.2)
Shane Greene, 3 (5.0)
Reed Garrett, 3 (2.1)
Daniel Stumpf, 2 (1.1)
Victor Alcantara, 2 (1.2)
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.