Indians 3, Tigers 2: Failure to execute deflates late comeback attempt

Duane Burleson

The Indians withstood a late Tigers comeback with the help of questionable strategy by Brad Ausmus, making three early runs off Anibal Sanchez hold up for the win.

On Jackie Robinson Night at Comerica Park, the Cleveland Indians were able to outlast both the bitter cold and the Detroit Tigers, holding on late for a 3-1 victory.  After starting the season 4-0, the slumping Tigers have dropped five of their last seven games.

After allowing a first-inning run, Tribe starter Zach McAllister withstood the cold better than his opposition counterpart, holding the Tigers scoreless over his final five innings of work. McAllister would give up just one run on four hits, walking two while recording four whiffs in six innings. Closer John Axford would strand the tying run at third to earn his fifth save of the season.

Anibal Sanchez didn't find a groove until the third inning. By that time the Indians had scored three runs and Sanchez had thrown nearly 60 pitches. Sanchez was forced to leave after five innings, allowing two hits and three runs (two earned) while walking four and striking out a season-high eight. The Tigers' relief corps did their job, not allowing a run in four innings. But the relievers can't score runs. That's the offense's job.

"If my manager tells me to do something, I should be able to go out there and execute it, and I didn’t today. That's probably why we lost." -Torii Hunter on his failure to bunt

Held to five hits by five Tigers pitchers, all off the Indians scoring would come in the first 1 1/2 innings.The game winning hit was ultimately Yan Gomes' two-RBI triple in the top of the second. Gomes was the only Indian with more than one hit.

Miguel Cabrera had both of the Tigers' RBIs. He drove in a run in the first with a ground out and singled home a run in eighth. Ian Kinsler had two hits and scored a run, Alex Avila, Victor Martinez and Austin Jackson adding two hits each.

Amazingly, the Indians were able to beat the Tigers despite going 1-for-13 with runners in scoring position, not scoring a run after the second inning, and the much-derided Detroit bullpen throwing four scoreless innings. Then again, it's not so amazing the Tribe won when you consider Sanchez was unable to throw a strike in the first two innings, Torii Hunter was asked to do something he just can't do when the Tigers had their best opportunity to score, and Don Kelly is your first pinch-hitter off the bench.

The eighth-inning strategy was the main topic after the game. The Hunter bunt attempt can be criticized for several reasons, and will be. The biggest reason being Hunter can't bunt.He admitted after the loss, as the veteran right fielder  did in a similar situation last season, that he is asked to sacrifice bunt on average about once every ten years. As he did in 2013, Hunter took the blame for the loss. But you should put it on the shoulders of Brad Ausmus for asking a player to try something he's proven time and time again he doesn't have the ability to do.

During the post-game presser, Ausmus said he asked Hunter if he "was on board" with bunting. What does he expect his own player to say?  Of course Hunter is going to say he can bunt, even if he's uncomfortable attempting one.

There's also the argument if the bunt was successful, all it does is take the bat out of your best player's hands in Cabrera. When asked, Ausmus said he wasn't sure Terry Francona would walk Cabrera (come on, of course he would!) but he was confident in Martinez and Jackson coming up.

There's also the case to be made that bunting is not the best strategy when the person you are asking to lay one down is slugging .559 on the season.

You can argue semantics and strategy all you want, but in the end? The Tigers just didn't do enough to win.

-----

A cold night at Comerica began with Tigers' starter Anibal Sanchez dealing with command issues, walking the bases loaded. Of his first 16 pitches, only four found the strike zone.

Sanchez fell behind cleanup man Carlos Santana 2-1, but then the pitcher's best friend bailed him out from what looked to be a disastrous inning. Trading a run for two outs, Santana bounced into a 6-4-3 double play, Michael Bourn crossing the plate to give the Tribe a 1-0 lead.

Defense and pitching go together like peanut butter and jelly. Nick Castellanos' glove leather was a sticky as a PB & J, stranding two on base thanks to his sliding catch of Michael Brantley's foul pop (MLB.com video).

Ian Kinsler led off the bottom of the first and got himself to second base the old-fashioned way off Zach McAllister - by doubling down the left field line. Then the manufacturing started.

Toriii Hunter advanced Kinsler to third with a ground ball to short. Miguel Cabrera would knot the game at 1-all (only his second RBI in eight games) with another ground ball to short. Kinsler moving around via bouncing balls wasn't thrilling baseball, but effective.

The top of second inning was more of the same for Sanchez. An error on Cabrera and Sanchez's fourth walk of the game gave the Indians a scoring threat.

As always, leadoff walks lead to bad things. Yan Gomes made Sanchez pay, his line drive to the scoreboard in right center cleared the bases. Sanchez would manage to pitch out of further trouble, but the Indians had retaken the lead.

"He didn't have a good feel for the ball. It was a combination of the cold and the dryness." -Ausmus on the early struggles of Anibal Sanchez

Through two innings, Sanchez's command issues had resulted in an elevated pitch count of 57 and the Indians scoring three runs on just one hit.

The Sanchez we expected to see tonight had arrived by the third. The Tigers' starter finally had an easy inning, needing just ten pitches in a 1-2-3 inning. Meanwhile, McAllister has settled in after allowing the first-inning run. He also set the side down in order in the third, maintaining the Tribe's 3-1 lead.

Sanchez was rolling by the fourth, striking out the side, making it eight consecutive Indians who had taken a seat. Sanchez had corrected course, and it was up to the Tigers' offense to do the same against McAllister. The bats would showed signs of life and make McAllister work.

Leading off, Miguel Cabrera hit a line shot to right, but Davis Murphy's sliding catch robbed him of a base hit. A patient Victor Martinez worked a full count before walking. In an excellent at-bat, Austin Jackson also worked a full count before singling on the tenth pitch he faced.

For the second straight at-bat, Castellanos hit the ball hard and came up with nothing to show for it. Bourn raced to where extra base hits to go die, in front of the right center field scoreboard, to take a hit away from the rookie.

With runners on the corners and two outs, the Tigers went where rallies go to die -- an Alex Avila at-bat. The badly scuffling catcher entered the night with a minuscule OPS of .390. His team leading strikeout total reached 16 when he swung through a shoulder-high fastball, ending the threat.

So is his name now Kalex Kavila or Klex Kvila?

Sanchez's pitch count inching toward 100 in the fifth and Evan Reed warming up in the bullpen, he found himself in another jam when Lonnie Chisenhall led off with a single and a steal of second. That's where he would remain. Sanchez struck out a pair (including the King of the Bros, Nick Swisher) before his odd night came to and end on a Jason Kipnis ground out.

Sanchez had allowed just two hits and struck out eight in five innings, getting better as his night went on. But when you combine the cold weather, a lack of command and Cabrera's fielding error, you end up with four walks, 104 pitches thrown, three runs (two earned) and an early exit.

Considering the Tribe had loaded the bases with no one out in the first and had a runner on third with no one out after two scored in the second, it could have been a far worse outing.

Reed got the call to start the sixth. Like Sanchez, Reed also struggled with his control, a hit batsman and a walk getting him into a one-out jam. After striking out Murphy, Reed got some help from Rajai Davis to end the threat. Davis was able to run down Gomes' line drive to left, leaving his feet to make the inning-ending grab.

Bottom of six, McAllister was still on the mound for the Tribe. The temperature dropping and gusty wind blowing in, Hunter showed it was going to be damn hard to hit the ball out of the park. Mid-summer, his lead-off drive to left likely ends up in the bullpen. On a frigid April night, that same hard-hit ball died short of the warning track.

Tigers still down 3-1, Reed remained in the game to start the seventh. Chisenhall greeted him with a leadoff double. Bourn's ground out advanced the runner to third. The Tigers were forced to pull the infield in with Swisher at the plate. Reed got a big out when the much-despised first baseman sent a dribbler to Castellanos for the second out, Chisenhall forced to hold.

Having dodged a bullet, manager Brad Ausmus played the matchup game. He called on rookie lefty Ian Krol to face Kipnis. The rookie did the job, retiring the dangerous Kipnis on a ground ball to strand Chisenhall at third.

"I talked to him about it before he went up. He was on board. It didn't work out that one time." -Ausmus, when asked about the failed bunt attempt

Bryan Shaw took over for McAllister in the seventh, and gave up a one-out single to Avila. After Alex Gonzalez followed up by bouncing into a inning-ending double play, the only people left claiming "Gonzalez can be the primary shortstop"  were in the Tigers' front office.

The Tigers' bullpen was holding up their part of the bargain. Al Alburquerque's 1-2-3 seventh made it three scoreless inning for the relievers.

Top of eight, setup man Cody Allen took the mound and was immediately betrayed by his defense. He induced a pop fly to short right center off the bat of Davis. But Kipnis was unable to make the play, the ball glancing off the side of his glove for an error.

Chisinhall was playing back at third, so Kinsler laid one down. It was a tad too hard, giving a charging Chisinhall a shot at making the play. Kinsler was called safe on a bang-bang play, but Tribe skipper Terry Francona challenged the call. Replay was inconclusive. Correctly, there was not enough evidence to overturn.

As we've seen in the past, bunting just isn't something Hunter can do. It's not in his arsenal. So Ausmus made the questionable decision to put Hunter in a position to fail, calling for a bunt. To no one's surprise, Hunter did not get the ball down. With the count 0-2, he proceeded to bounce into a double play.

Davis standing on third, Cabrera salvaged something out of what had been a two-on, no-one-out situation, hitting an RBI single to left. Martinez extended the inning when his ground ball snuck through the right side to beat the shift, Cabrera stopping at second.

Two on and two out, the #AustinJacksonStrikesOut hash tag became appropriate when Austin Jackson struck out swinging to end the inning.

Joba Chamberlain answered the bullpen phone, and got ninth-inning duty. He allowed a one-out single, but a double play kept the Indians from causing trouble.

Bottom of nine, the Tigers were still down by the same score since the top of the second, 3-1. Indians closer John Axford took over, getting the first out without incident.

Earlier in the night, Avila was being trolled mightily after his 16th strikeout of the season. With one out in the ninth, he was being cheered as his liner into the right center gap got past Bourn, Avila chugging all the way to third base. It was scored a double and E-8, but the result was the tying run on third with one out.

The Tigers' lack of bench depth then reared its ugly head when Don Kelly was called on to pinch hit for Gonzalez. Axford would strike out Kelly swinging on a nasty breaking ball which dived out of the zone.

Two out, Davis bounced out to short, leaving the game-tying run on third.

Game over. Your final score is Indians 3, Tigers 2.

How to best sum up the loss?

Just one of those nights.

In game two, the Tribe sends 24-year-old right-hander Danny Salazar (0-1, 6.75 ERA) to the mound. The Tigers were originally going to give Drew Smyly his first start. Tuesday's postponement has bumped Smyly to the weekend. In order to keep him on regular rest, Justin Verlander (1-1, 2.57) will get Thursday's starting assignment.

Salazar's last start was remarkable -- the first eight White Sox batters he faced either struck out or hit a home run. He would ultimately strike out ten in just 3 2/3 innings, the most by any pitcher in less than four innings since 1900. But a wild Salazar also threw 93 pitches and served up two home runs, allowing six hits and five runs in a loss to the White Sox.

Verlander beat the Padres last Saturday to earn his first win of the season (and his first two career big league hits). But the Tigers' ace has overcome his usual April slow starts and has been solid in the early going. Verlander has allowed just two earned runs in each of his three starts, covering 21 innings total.

First pitch at what should be a chilly Comerica Park is set for 1:08 PM.

WIN PROBABILITY GRAPH:


Source: FanGraphs

BULLETS:

This is the usual response to the Tigers' talking up their ancient shortstop, Alex Gonzalez, who entered tonight's game with a .532 OPS while playing well below average defense:

Despite the fan base being nor at all impressed with Gonzalez, Brad Ausmus was still trying to sell the 37-year old as a starting shortstop:

"I know he’s scuffled at times, defensively, but he’s also a much better defender than what we’ve seen. I think in that sense, I’m being a little more patient. Andrew needs to play as well."

FSD quote of the night happened in the fourth inning while Rod Allen was talking about .130 hitting Alex Avila:

"They're going to pitch around him a lot."

Avila proceeded to strike out with a runner on third.

Tonight was the second straight game where one the Tigers' big three starting pitchers was forced to exit after five innings thanks to an elevated pitch count. Max Scherzer needed 104 pitches to get through five on Sunday. Sanchez did the same tonight. Both struggled to get through the second, then started striking out the opposition in bunches. Scherzer had ten, Sanchez eight.

Bottom of the sixth, Victor Martinez showed how to beat the shift. Martinez casually rifled a line drive right through the now-empty shortstop position. It was a beautiful piece of hitting. Unfortunately, the Tigers were unable to capitalize.

Martinez_double_4-16-14_medium

Funny how history repeats itself. This is what I wrote last May when the Tigers lost to the Indians, and a failed Hunter bunt attempt played a large part:

Hunter has spent the majority of his career as a middle of the order hitter, and bunting isn't one of his skills. Hunter could not lay a bunt down, ultimately bouncing into a rally killing 1-6-3 double play. It was a brutal at bat for Hunter, not helped at all by what he was asked to do. When asked, Leyland refused to second guess himself about the failed bunt.

But ever the pro, Hunter shouldered the blame, saying he had a job to do and he didn't get it done. But I have a hard time holding his feet to the fire over something he is asked to do little more than once a decade.

If I change "Leyland" to "Ausmus" and the type of double play, I could have used it in tonight's recap.

THREE ROARS:

Miguel Cabrera: Still not swinging as he's capable (.641 OPS), but he came through with the Tigers' only two RBIs on the night.

Victor Martinez: Reached base three times with two singles and a walk. The veteran DH is hitting .316/.357/.500 on the season.

Ian Kinsler: Two hits, scored a run and continues to out-hit Prince Fielder (Kinsler's .319 /.347/.468  to Fielder's .175/.266/.281).

BONUS ROAR:

The bullpen: Reed, Krol, Alburquerque and Chamberlain combined to hold the Indians scoreless over the final four innings.

THREE HISSES:

Alex Gonzalez: Now hitting .185/.214/.259 after another hitless game. At least he made the routine plays on defense. Small favors...

Torii Hunter: Not a good game at the plate. Hunter's 0-for-4 night included hitting into a double play with two on and one one out in the eighth.

Brad Asumus: There's plenty of blame to go around, the loss falls more on a flaccid offense than questionable strategy. But I have to give a manager a hiss when he puts players in a position to fail.  Ausmus is getting second guessed for his moves in this game, deservedly.

ROLL CALL:

Total comments 754
Total commenters 53
Commenter list Arvay7, BadCompany22, Bent82, BigAl, DJ Screw, Designated for Assignment, Fielder'sChoice, Flying J, GWilson, JWurm, J_the_Man, Jack Beckman, Jacob30, Joaquin on Sunshine, Keith-Allen, Kurt Mensching, MSUDersh, MayoSmith's ghost, MotorCityCat, NCDee, Naysayer N San Diego, RealityIsOptionable, Rob Rogacki, SanDiegoMick, SpartanBoiler, Sturgeon Slaw, Thorpac, Tigerdog1, Verlanderful, ZWC11, adam.sanders.6661, aelix, ahtrap, bobrob2004, brunokm, dishnet34, dominator039, draykov44, josejose50, kland83, knucklescarbone, lithium, loswr86, markcal, mrsunshine, ottisfranklin, rbbaker, seanheyboer, stevenyc, subic sailor, supernova9, swish330, texastigerfan
Story URLs http://www.blessyouboys.com/2014/4/16/5619958/game-11-tigers-vs-indians-7-08-p-mhttp://www.blessyouboys.com/2014/4/16/5622770/game-11-overflow

TOP TEN COMMENTERS:

# Commenter # Comments
1 texastigerfan 98
2 JWurm 71
3 MSUDersh 43
4 dishnet34 43
5 Fielder'sChoice 39
6 stevenyc 35
7 ahtrap 34
8 Joaquin on Sunshine 26
9 knucklescarbone 24
10 Verlanderful 24

TOP RECS:

# Recs Commenter Comment Link
4 Joaquin on Sunshine Sanchez has about as many control issues as Kesha after the third time she brushed her teeth with a bottle of jack
3 stevenyc KCP has 30 points... there's your offense
2 NCDee Rally matzoh!
2 Jacob30 Are you going to tell me Back to the Future 2 is wrong?
2 SpartanBoiler [no title]
2 Arvay7 x

GAME TEN PLAYER OF THE GAME:

The Tigers had few standouts in Sunday's 5-1 loss to the Padres, but Rajai Davis' solid performance gave him the PotG win. The speedy left fielder reached base three times, extended his hitting streak to seven games and made a nice catch to take away an extra base hit.

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