Monday Morning Manager: dead arms, V-Mart to the rescue and Justin Verlander, Silver Slugger

Stephen Dunn

It's just not a new week of Tigers baseball without Monday Morning Manager, at a website near you!

Monday Morning Manager is a series that Greg Eno has been writing since 2009 on his personal blogs. It's a look back at the previous Tigers week and a look ahead at the current week. This season, he brings the series, featuring his alter ego "MMM", to Bless You Boys, every Monday morning.

Last Week: 2-3

This week: CLE (4/15-17); LA Angels (4/18-20)

So, What Happened?

The Tigers aren't ready for warm weather yet. They seem to perform better when the thermometer barely touches 50 degrees.

Southern California's warmth and sun, while seemingly perfect baseball-playing weather in April, didn't do much for the Motor City Kitties last week, as they dropped three of five games in Los Angeles and San Diego. Each loss stung in its own unique way.

It was a week of dead arms and blown saves and stone cold superstar bats (well, one in particular). A week of firsts, too.

The Tigers split a series in LA the hard way, and dropped two of three in San Diego to a Padres team whose bats woke up in time to welcome the visitors from Detroit.

Nick Castellanos slammed his first career MLB homer---in front of his dad, to boot---Justin Verlander finally got his chance to break up a no-hitter (he gathered his first two base hits after an 0-for-26 start), but despite that happy stuff, Tigers fans ended the week fretting about Miggy Cabrera's cold start and Joe Nathan's "dead" arm.

Max Scherzer, last year's Cy Young Award winner and he of 21 wins in 2013, has zero Ws so far in 2014.

Hero of the Week

Good thing that manager Brad Ausmus found a way to get Victor Martinez's bat into the lineup while the Tigers made their first foray into interleague play on the road.

V-Mart, who caught and played first base during the week, saved the Tigers' bacon twice---although one of those occasions only provided temporary salvation.

MMM is naming Martinez the HotW for his late-inning fireworks in Chavez Ravine against the Dodgers.

On Tuesday, V-Mart singled off Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen in the ninth inning, driving in Ian Kinsler to tie the game, 2-2. The Tigers lost in the 10th, but Victor's single against one of the game's best closers was clutch.

The very next night, after Joe Nathan and his "dead arm" (his words, which shook up the Internet like a snow globe) surrendered a three-run lead in the ninth, it was Martinez again to the rescue, and again he victimized Jansen.

V-Mart crushed a solo homer in the 10th inning and the Tigers won, 7-6, salvaging a split in Los Angeles. It was, by far, the biggest hit of the young season for Detroit. Had the Tigers lost that game after being in control, it would not have been good.

Ausmus, ever the master of the understatement, said afterward that if the Tigers lost, it would have "stung a little."

Ya think?

Honorable mentions: Verlander (first win of 2014, first base hits of life); Rajai Davis (he got on base a lot as the Tigers' interleague/road lead-off hitter); Ian Krol (the lefty reliever got some big outs on the trip); Drew Smyly (MMM shudders to think where the Tigers would have been without Drew in 2013, and he kept the Dodgers at bay for three innings on Tuesday).

Goat of the Week

MMM won't bow to the pressure and pick the low-hanging fruit that is Nathan and his not living arm.

It's not something that MMM relishes, but where was Miggy Cabrera last week?

Yes, even superstars are allowed to have slumps, but aside from an RBI double on Saturday in San Diego, Cabrera was AWOL.

New MMM readers will discover that GotW has no room for sentiment. This is a cold, heartless section of MMM. It's shamelessly a "What have you done for me lately" kind of thing.

Hence Cabrera as Goat.

Miggy, to his credit, identified some mechanical problems with his swing and is working on it. But the results last week are the results: 2-for-20 with one RBI and five strikeouts (one in each game last week).

Cabrera came to the plate often with runners on base, but his bat was a limp noodle all week.

For the season, Miggy is 9/40 with a .225/.279 BA and OBP.

MMM is sure that Cabrera has had similar 40 at-bat stretches in his dynamic (and still young) career, but they always look worse coming out of the gate.

Under the Microscope

It's tempting for MMM to give Cabrera the double whammy of Goat and being put under the scope because of his slower than molasses start, but variety is the spice of life.

So let's scrutinize Phil Coke, shall we?

We were told in spring training that we were going to get New Coke, because of some work Phil was doing as soon as pitchers and catchers reported to Lakeland.

Turns out we are left with Classic Coke, and unlike the soft drink, that ain't a good thing.

Continuing to be a lefty who can't get left-handed batters out, Coke served up the game-winning hit on Tuesday in LA to Carl Crawford (yes, the ball was misplayed by Rajai Davis in LF, but it was yet another terrific swing by a lefty hitter off Coke).

On Sunday in San Diego, Coke had a clean inning of work, but another left-handed hitter drilled a baseball off him. It was caught deep in the gap by Austin Jackson.

MMM is placing Coke UtM because of the death watch on his Tigers career that is beginning to take on Ryan Raburn-like qualities.

According to the fan base, every Coke appearance might be and should be his last wearing the Old English D. With every well-hit ball by a lefty swinger off Coke, sports talk radio's phone lines and Twitter blow up.

The Phil Coke Death Watch is in full swing, just 10 games into the new season. For that reason, MMM is putting Coke UtM. Stay tuned.

Upcoming: Indians and Angels

Last year, the Tigers, to the Indians, were like that bully that keeps one hand on the victim's forehead and just out of arm's reach while the Indians flail away with arms that are just a tad too short.

Detroit won 15 of 19 games against the Tribe in 2013. While that domination is not likely to be repeated this year, it's safe to say that Cleveland is playing Little Brother to the Tigers until the Indians can prove otherwise.

The Indians' bats have been working, but as usual, their pitching has been suspect.

Cleveland is 6-7 and their runs scored is 61 while they've surrendered 63. That pretty much tells the story. The Indians are both winning and losing games big.

The Tigers will see Zach McAllister on Tuesday at Comerica Park. It will be Zach's third start of the year, and he's off to a good start (1-0, 2.31 ERA, 11 K in 11.2 IP). But in three starts against Detroit in 2013, McAllister had a 9.00 ERA in 12 innings.

Also throwing for the Indians: Danny Salazar (Wednesday; 6.75 ERA) and Carlos Carrasco (Thursday; 7.84 ERA).

Offensively, David Murphy, nee of Texas (MMM always felt like Murphy was a Tigers killer) leads the Tribe with 11 RBI. The Indians' so-called big guns are firing blanks now: Jason Kipnis (.234 BA); Asdrubal Cabrera (.188); Carlos Santana (.186); and Nick Swisher (.185) are all under-achieving.

Tigers probables vs. Indians: Anibal Sanchez, Smyly (first start of season), Verlander (moved up a slot so Ausmus can get JV against the Tribe).

The Angels come to CoPa for a weekend series, and the big story there is the loss of Josh Hamilton for 6-8 weeks with a dislocated thumb, suffered while sliding into first base last week.

This is a crushing blow, because Hamilton, whose focus and conditioning coming into the season were top drawer, had gotten off to a sizzling start. For once, it seemed, Angels fans were going to see what a trio of Hamilton, Mike Trout and Albert Pujols could do when firing on all cylinders. Well, not for 6-8 weeks, the fans won't.

The Angels are 6-6. Trout, naturally, leads the team in BA (.320), HR (4), OBP (.382) and hits (16). So far, 3B David Freese, who came over from the Cardinals, is 6-for-39.

Oh, and there's a Raul Ibanez sighting! And he leads the Angels with 12 RBI.

The Tigers will have to face righty Garrett Richards over the weekend, sadly. MMM says sadly, because Richards has a miniscule 0.75 ERA so far. He is slated to pitch on Sunday, if he goes on Tuesday as expected.

Tigers probables vs. Angels: Rick Porcello, Max Scherzer, Sanchez.

That's all for this week's MMM. See you next week!

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