Has the offense gone to Torii's kid's graduation already?
The Tigers have dropped two in a row to the Pirates in two close games that could obviously have been in the win column for the Detroit Nine with a better performance offensively. The Tigers have scored in precisely one inning in their last 20 offensive frames.
On Tuesday it seemed a free wheeling hack-tastic approach did the club in as they allowed Jeanmar Gomez to work efficiently by offering at seemingly everything. Gomez was rarely in bad hitter's counts and the results showed. Andrew McCutchen's center-field defense also kept the Tigers in check when they did manage to square a ball up.
Wednesday against A.J. Burnett the Tigers were able to get one big inning from Burnett when Dirks hit a gap double and Cabrera launched a bomb deep to right. Don Kelly did show some patience drawing 3 walks in front of the pitcher's slot but the Tigers couldn't break through in the early innings when they had two runners on a couple of times. This allowed the game to stay close for the Pirates to get their one big inning against Anibal Sanchez. A frame that looked harmless enough suddenly exploded in Sanchez' lap in the blink of an eye. The Tigers offense then went down in rather quiet fashion against the Pirates "Shark Tank" bullpen to end the game with only Victor Martinez lashing a double ... er, long single ... to mount any threat.
On Thursday the Tigers face Jeff Locke in the series finale' against Doug Fister. Locke is solid enough. He's not an intimidating guy on the surface. He has a modest 6.0 K/9 and a BB/9 of 3.8. The thing fueling his sterling 2.45 ERA is a highly unsustainable Left On-Base Percentage (LOB%) of 84.1 percent. Very few can stay in that stratosphere very long ... regression is lurking for Mr. Locke. Does it start tonight? Only if the Tigers offense shows up and works some counts into their favor consistently.
Torii Hunter's elbow looked pretty painful.
Hunter was in visible pain after getting smoked by a Bryan Morris heater on the left elbow. He managed to play another half-inning before getting pulled. Post-game twitter feeds were noting that X-rays were negative but that the pain was significant.
With Hunter's two-day sojourn to his son's high school graduation looming, it now appears that worrying about the need to be gone may be a moot point. Hunter's elbow may be bad enough where he would have been on the shelf this weekend anyway.
I'm mostly in favor of Hunter going to the event for his son. It's not the end of the world. Hunter must know that it's a little out of the ordinary since he was quoted as hoping the fans will forgive him. Don't worry, Torii. They will ... if you hit upon returning! Actually they will either way. He seems like a hard fellow to be mad at long term even you wonder why he's leaving the club for this family moment.
This would be a lot more of an issue if the Tigers were going to an NL park this weekend where the odds of them needing an extended bench to pinch-hit for pitchers on Friday and Saturday would have been obvious. But going back to an AL park makes going into both games with 24 men on the roster a lot easier for Jim Leyland to massage his way through.
I do wonder if Hunter was in enough pain after getting drilled that his mind was still scrambling to catch up with the game when he was unable to advance on a wild pitch with Cabrera batting. He reacted very slowly even if he was screened possibly by the umpire. As the inning played out, Hunter was then wiped off the bases when Cabrera tapped into a double play. If Hunter is on second, as he probably should have been, the Tigers would be looking at Cabrera (who may have been pitched differently with a man on second so the bouncer to short isn't guaranteed to happen), Fielder, and Peralta having a crack at driving him in and the inning has a different tenor altogether.
Proven Closer Mayhem
Huston Street allowed his seventh homer on the year last night in just over 20-innings of work.
Joel Hanrahan is on the shelf with a bum arm after pitching poorly early on.
Chris Perez is on the DL in Cleveland.
Rafael Betancourt is fighting groin issues.
The list could go on of Closers having issues. Fernando Rodney and Jim Johnson were money in the bank last year. This year? Highly flammable. You just can't predict the ones not named "Mariano".
Meanwhile...Jose Valverde does his dance and surprises many.
Dealing for Closers in trade is a risky proposition at best. I am very glad David Dombrowski resisted, at least to this point, to deal Rick Porcello for a "proven closer". They are just too volatile. Develop your own or sign one on the cheap.
The state of Porcello
Pitcher-wins are stat that gets derided in many saber-friendly discussions. In Porcello's case on Tuesday night (and Gomez' for that matter) the pitcher-win, or lack thereof, does fail to note how great his outing was against Pittsburgh. He was highly efficient and mowed down Pirates throughout his rousing 8-inning stint.
This continued a solid run of starts for Porcello. His outing against the Rangers helped save the Tigers from a 4-game sweep and two quality starts preceded that one. Only a bad inning against the Twins with a poorly located pitch to Josh Willingham has spoiled his record of late. (the Tigers won that game versus Twins anyhow)
Porcello's career high in strikeouts against the Bucs raised his K/9 to a career high rate of 7.06. His BB/9 also sits at a career low of 1.76 with his ground ball rate continues the trend by sitting at a career high 55.7%. Porcello is doing this with a new repertoire for all intents and purposes. He's throwing the curve as has been well chronicled everywhere instead of the slider. However it's the uptick in his change-up's effectiveness that seems to be taking things in a great direction for him as well. Fangraphs' Jeff Sullivan did a nice job on Wednesday talking about his change-up being a weapon right now against right-handed batters. Looking at the stats, he is throwing his fastball a bit less than other years in favor of the change-up while the slider percentage from the past has shifted almost completely to his curveball. The slider remains in limited quantities right now.
Count me as someone who was very dubious about Porcello's great spring training this season. I was not one to say he had "turned a corner" based on his Lakeland success. Don't confuse this however...I was also adamantly opposed to dealing Porcello for a relief pitcher or bat to merely platoon with Andy Dirks. You don't trade young starting pitching that has shown it can take the ball 30+ times a year for a reliever or for a platoon bat to take 250 at-bats. Not a lot of value in that trade considering how you can find relief pitching in numerous other ways and we saw that an email exchange unearthed Matt Tuisasosopo. But stats in the spring don't move the needle for me when they are accrued against the wildly varying competition one can face in the Grapefruit League.
The regular season is a different matter. Porcello is now facing batters who are trying to win games, not get work in during March. This counts. The stats we ticked off a moment ago are starting to have meaning. Yes, his ERA sits an unsightly 5.29 but we all saw the crazy inning in Anaheim. You can't "not count" it but you can factor in what that odd inning did to his ERA right now and adjust our thoughts accordingly.
It's only 9 starts and one relief appearance, so I'm still reluctant to say "Porcello has arrived"...but it's getting closer to that time. The career best peripheral stats aren't all luck. He's doing it differently than in the past. This has some promise. If you look at his FIP and xFIP you also see career bests or near bests. His FIP sits at 3.92 (he was at 3.91 last year) and his xFIP is a very encouraging 3.15. In FIP we trust? Let's hope.