Bengal Beat: Reviewing week #2 for Tigers

Rick Porcello had one of the best starts of his career on Sunday against the White Sox in Chicago.

It was a strange first full week for the Tigers, with balks, blown leads, Batters Box Gate, and the return of Brandon Inge.

Overview: 2-1 vs. Rays, 1-2 vs. White Sox, 3-3 for the week and 6-3 on the season, 1st place
Tampa is going to be one of the best teams in the American League all season and the Tigers took two of three from the visiting Rays. But it wasn’t easy. The first game showed that the Tigers offense can grind out at-bats and throw runs on the board late to pull away. Most promising was Rick Porcello’s performance in the opener. He looked poised and in control much of the game.

Poor JV, he was absolutely dynamite for eight innings in Wednesday’s game against the Rays. He had his great curveball and it looked like he would roll to a shutout, since he entered the 9th having thrown just 81 pitches. That’s when the fur started flying. A couple of singles later and he was in a hole, first-and-third. Leyland stuck with him, but Verlander ran out of gas. A 2-0 lead ended up a wrenching 4-2 Tiger loss. I have some opinions on the circumstances of this game and they speak to some fundamental changes that have occurred in baseball in the last 15-20 years:

1. I’d rather Smoky let his ace finish out games, especially when they’re still close. You’d rather have your best pitcher get the final outs than Papa Grande, even as good as Papa Grande was last season.

2. When a pitcher has low pitch count, why not let him pitch the 9th? Some managers automatically yank their starter just because the scoreboard has flipped to a nine. Why? A day of rest for your bullpen is very valuable over the course of a 162-game season.

3. Pitchers today are raised in systems that pamper their arms. Starting at the low levels of pro ball, teams have starters on pitch counts. By the time a starter is in the majors he’s used to having someone looking over his shoulder as he gets close to 90 pitches. So, as great as JV is, he has not been groomed to finish games. The Detroit righty has only completed 14 game sin his career (in more than 200 starts). As much as I admire managers who will let their big horse finish a game, unless the pitcher is given that opportunity frequently (Leyland should have let JV do it in the season opener), the pitcher probably won’t learn how to finish games. It was obvious by his body language that Verlander was pumped up when he took the mound in the 9th. I think if he was used to being in the game in the 9th, he’d be more relaxed and wouldn’t fall apart like he did against the Rays.

4. I understand why teams pamper pitchers – they are huge investments. But the ironic thing is that pitchers get hurt more often today than at any time in baseball history. As Tigers great Mickey Lolich has said, “The more you pitch, the stronger your arm gets.” That from a guy who routinely threw 125+ pitches per start, often as many as 145-150. If an organization decided to extend their pitchers starting early, teaching them how to pitch to situations and last linger into the contest, they could have a better pitching staff. It’s easier to find 4-5 good pitchers than it is to find 9-10 good pitchers. Big league teams are now paying middle relievers and setup men and closers a ton of money because they’re afraid to let their best pitchers (starters) go into the 8th and 9th. Most teams (Tigers included) carry 12 pitchers on their roster! It’s a silly way to use your resources. History has shown that when pitchers are allowed to build their arms and pitch out of jams themselves, they are better. Nolan Ryan and Don Sutton and Jim Palmer and Steve Carlton and on on – they pitched for more than 20 years and were hard throwers. In the 1960s and 1970s every team had 2-3 guys who completed at least 60% of their starts, chewed up innings, and rarely got hurt. Jack Morris was one of the last to have a career like that. I blame JV’s loss on Wednesday to the fact that he hasn’t been allowed to finish games enough. Any time he or another starter is allowed to toe the rubber in the 9th, it’s a big deal. It shouldn’t be.

Overall, a 6-3 record after three series is just fine, thank you. The Tigers have some things to work on, but the wins are still coming and they are the class of their division.

Thoughts on Tiger starters in Week #2
JV is JV, and after two starts it appears he can have as good a season in ’12 as he did last year. I’ve already covered Porcello a little, and he looked great in his first start. Let’s talk about Mad Max. How is it that a major league pitcher can have his delivery so screwed up in one start and get it back on track the next? I am beginning to think that Scherzer is not cerebral enough to be a consistent pitcher in this league. In his first start he looked silly out there, and the Tigers admitted that Max was landing incorrectly which forced him to pitch “uphill”. In his start against the ChiSox on Friday, Max was solid and his delivery was fine. But why can’t he be more consistent? As we see with JV and Doug Fister, a lot of pitching is concentration. You can have great stuff, but if you don’t concentrate on your delivery and technique, you will never be a star. You might have a few good starts here and there, but you’ll also get rocked every now and again. That describes the career so far of Max Scherzer. The coaching staff needs to work on his concentration (and maybe his commitment?). Until then, we’ll get “Up and Down Max”.

Drew Smyly made his big league debut on Thursday and he handled himself well after a very rocky first inning where he loaded the bases with nobody out. ultimately he survived into the 5th inning and allowed just one run. That’s just fine for a #5 starter. Adam Wilk looked just as good on Saturday against the White Sox before being hit on the pitching shoulder by a line drive from Price Fielder (are you kidding me?)

The Good
We’re still pretty happy with Austin Jackson, who was leading the AL in batting through the first week and a half of the season. It was also nice to see Brennan Boesch break out with some key hits on his birthday on Thursday against the Rays. Porcello is looking great and may actually be taking the step forward I talked about in my season preview. How about G-Money, Gerald Laird doing his thing?

Kids, who says you don’t need geometry when you grow up?
On Friday the 13th in Chicago you just knew something weird would happen. It didn’t take long. Three batters into the game, Miguel Cabrera informed the home plate umpire that the batters’ box was in the wrong place. Using his bat and geometric principles, Cabby showed that the White Sox grounds crew had placed the box too far forward. It was changed while the home crowd booed the Tiger slugger. Reports are that Brandon Inge looked at it too, and thought the box was too close to Toledo.

The Bad
Will someone put a calendar on Ryan Raburn’s locker that has every month torn out but July? Once again Raburn is off to a dreadful start, he just can’t seem to hit in April and May. Maybe it’s the weather, but it would be nice to have RR on track. Despite some poor plays in the field in week #1, he’s been ok overall with the glove. Lord knows the Tigs have enough offense to offset his poor start, but if he could pick it up it makes the bottom of the order even more punishing.

I already talked about Scherzer, who despite looking great in his second start, worries the hell out of me. And speaking of worries, does anyone ever feel good when you see Daniel Schlereth come into the ballgame? Not sure why Leyland was using Schlereth in relief in JV’s game against the Rays. I just don’t see how Schlereth is still a big league pitcher. Are left-handed relievers that scarce? He poured gasoline on the fire on Saturday against the ChiSox too.

Lastly, Miggy is in an 0-for-18 slide, believe it or not.

This week: @ Royals for three games and back home for four against the Rangers.