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Gardenhire defends Tigers' aggressive base running, though results are mixed

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Ron Gardenhire

Cleveland – The Tigers had already blown a 7-1 lead in Pittsburgh Wednesday night and were trailing by a run in the seventh inning. When Nick Castellanos ripped a single into the gap in left center with one out, it was just their second hit since the third inning.

Castellanos was thinking double right out of the box, wanting to get into scoring position for Niko Goodrum, who had a two-run double earlier in the game. But Pirates strong-armed center fielder Starling Marte thwarted the plan, throwing Castellanos out with a perfect throw to second base.

Aggressive play or ill-advised play?

“Aggressive play,” manager Ron Gardenhire said before the game here Friday. “If he makes it, it’s a really good play. If he doesn’t, we can all sit here and say he shouldn’t have done it. That guy can really throw.

“But those are the things we talk about, trying to push the envelope and get runners in scoring position.”

The Tigers had two runners thrown out on the bases and two others caught stealing in the two-game set in Pittsburgh. They’ve had 24 runners thrown out on the bases this season (and 11 more caught stealing) – that’s the third most in the American League.

They’ve had 10 runners thrown out at second, seven thrown out at third and seven thrown out at home.

Conversely, they have successfully taken an extra base 70 times – a 41 percent success rate, which is the league average.

It doesn’t seem like a healthy risk-reward ratio for the Tigers, but at this stage in the rebuild, in this stage of the Gardenhire era, that’s not the point. It’s more about establishing a mindset and creating a culture.

“We definitely have to be an aggressive baseball team,” Gardenhire said. “We don’t score enough runs just by standing there and hitting. We just don’t. So, you have to take the good with the bad. We have to try these things, it’s the only way we’ll even come close to surviving.

“We just don’t hit enough to drive them in, so we have to try to manufacture some things.”

He’s not wrong about that. The Tigers rank last in the American League in runs, home runs and RBIs, and are second to last in batting average and on-base percentage. Playing station to station isn’t an option right now.

“We are going to try to run, try to move runners, try to put guys in motion and maybe we can get a team out of position,” Gardenhire said. “We have to play that way.”

About those balks

Matthew Boyd leads the American League with four pickoffs. But in each of his last two starts before Friday, he’s been called for a balk, which has chafed Gardenhire more than a little.

Matthew Boyd

“Some pitchers do it and get away with it and some pitchers don’t,” Gardenhire said. “But once you get one called, it goes right through the league and all the umpires know – ‘That guy’s got a balk move.’ And now he’s going to get hammered every time.

“Before that, it never got called.”

Boyd was first called for a balk against the Twins on June 7. Gardenhire was ejected for protesting the call. Five days later in Omaha, Joe West called another balk on Boyd. Expect that to be an issue on Friday, too, since the Indians have stolen nine bases against the Tigers this season and they will be challenging Boyd.

“These guys (the Indians) are very intelligent baseball players,” Gardenhire said. “And they got Sandy Alomar over there (first base coach) and he’s really good. He’s a former catcher and he reads things pretty good.

“They play the game aggressively like that and we are still trying to figure out how to stop things like that.”

Around the horn

Shortstop Jordy Mercer is expected to begin a rehab assignment Saturday at Toledo. He’s on his second stint on the injured list with a right quad strain.

…The Tigers agreed to terms with two more draft picks Friday -- shortstop Ryan Kreidler (fourth round) and right-handed pitcher Zack Hess (seventh round). They have now signed 29 of their 40 picks, including eight of their first 10 picks.

…Right-hander Beau Burrows, the Tigers’ No. 6-rated prospect, was assigned to Double-A Erie to make what is effectively his second rehab start since returning from a shoulder injury.

Tigers at Indians

First pitch: 4:10 p.m., Saturday

TV/Radio: FS1/97.1 FM


RHP Spencer Turnbull (3-6, 3.27), Tigers: This will be Turnbull’s second straight start against the Indians, who tagged him for a season-high six earned runs and 10 hits in five innings on Sunday. The patient Indians’ hitters didn’t chase his slider or curveball, and put a lot of good swings on his fastball. Interesting to see how he adjusts.

RHP Mike Clevinger (1-1, 2.70), Indians: Been a rough season for him. He missed more than two months with a back strain, and then in his first start back on Monday, he seemed to twist his left ankle coming off the mound. He stayed in the game and X-rays were negative. This will be just his fourth start of the year.

Twitter @cmccosky