The Tigers lost their Grapefruit League home opener to the Toronto Blue Jays today, 10-3. Left-handed pitcher Ryan Robowski took the loss after allowing a grand slam to utility man Lance Zawadski in the top of the 6th inning, making the score 7-3 at the time. Somebody for the Blue Jays was the winning pitcher. I don't care about the score.
More importantly, the Tigers' projected Opening Day lineup started strong, scoring two runs off of Blue Jays starter Brandon Morrow in the top of the first inning. Torii Hunter hit an opposite field double, then later scored on the first Prince Fielder bat flip home run (video here) of the season. Victor Martinez looked sharp, hitting an opposite field single on a fastball on the outer half of the plate.
Elsewhere, Austin Jackson hit a couple of sharp fly balls to the warning track in his first two at bats. The leg kick is still nonexistent. Miguel Cabrera picked up where he left off, hitting a solo home run in the 3rd inning. He hit the ball sharply in his other at bats as well. Jhonny Peralta, Alex Avila, and Omar Infante also added base hits. Peralta's slimmer physique hasn't changed all aspects of his game though, as he was thrown out trying to go from first to third in the top of the 2nd.
Starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez looked sharp, setting down the Blue Jays in order in the top of the first inning. He allowed three hits in the second inning, but was bailed out by a baserunning gaffe by Blue Jays outfielder Moises Sierra. Sierra tried to go from first to third on a single to center field, but Jackson threw him out easily. Adam Lind had already rounded third, but did not cross the plate before Sierra was tagged out, keeping the Blue Jays scoreless through two innings.
The Blue Jays offense woke up later on, scoring eight runs off of relief pitchers Shawn Hill, Robowski, and Melvin Mercedes. Mercedes is the only pitcher in that trio who has a reasonable chance of making the 25-man roster, but he left a meatball out over the plate to Ryan Goins, who promptly deposited it into the right field stands for a home run. Mercedes struggled through his inning of work, allowing another base hit to Mike McCoy, before settling down to get through the frame.
The biggest story of the day for Tigers fans, however, will be the Spring Training debut of Bruce Rondon. There was not a radar gun available on the Blue Jays' TV broadcast, but Rondon's fastball was popping catcher Alex Avila's mitt in a way we haven't heard since Joel Zumaya was a healthy member of the Tigers bullpen. Rondon's inning went as follows:
- Pop out in foul territory by Maicer Izturis
- Walked Brett Lawrie on four pitches
- Double by Adam Lind on a fastball left out over the plate
- J.P. Arencibia strikes out swinging
- Josh Thole strikes out swinging
While this could easily be mistaken for a Jose Valverde save situation circa 2011, I was impressed with what we saw from Rondon. For one, he only featured his fastball in the inning. I didn't see any changeups or sliders from Rondon to any of the five batters he faced. His command was definitely lacking, especially early on. Izturis bailed him out with a bad swing during his at bat, though Rondon did start Izturis in an 0-2 hole. Rondon's command improved somewhat during the latter half of the inning, and both of his punch-out pitches were unhittable fastballs on the outside corner. Alex Avila agreed:
Alex Avila on Bruce Rondon: "There were some fastballs that I did not see and ended up in my glove. I don't know how."— Jason Beck (@beckjason) February 23, 2013
For the first time seeing Rondon pitch, I came away impressed. We will probably have plenty of Valverde-like situations in 2013 -- especially if his command on his off-speed pitches is as bad as advertised -- but Rondon's arm is for real.
- Daniel Fields made a couple of nice catches in center field after replacing Jackson. Hopefully he can put together a good season and move back into the good graces of scouts and prospect hounds alike.
- Victor Martinez looks like he hasn't missed a beat. He showed great plate discipline during a two-out walk in the fifth inning. He did pop up to center in his second at bat, but the ball was dropped by Blue Jays centerfielder Anthony Gose.
- Blue Jays outfielders ran into each other on multiple occasions, including a scary collision between McCoy and Ryan Langerhans in the 7th inning.
- Duane Below also pitched a scoreless 8th inning. It's curious that he made it into the game so late, but maybe that's because he wasn't originally scheduled to pitch (according to Jason Beck).
- Jim Leyland was spotted signing baseballs for fans less than 30 seconds after the game ended, so I don't think he's too concerned about the loss.
So, in closing, this is about as promising of a 10-3 loss as you get in baseball. For those who missed the live action, MLB Network will replay the game later this evening. The Tigers are back in action tomorrow against the Philadelphia Phillies at 1:00 p.m. from Lakeland.