For the fourth consecutive season of manager Brad Ausmus’ tenure, the Detroit Tigers have gotten off the blocks in a hurry. With four series under their belts, the Tigers have yet to lose one, and stand at 8-4, ahead of the surprising Minnesota Twins by one game. The Tigers are also tied for the best record in the American League with the Houston Astros. These are all good things, and none better than getting the early jump on the Cleveland Indians. But of course, we’ve seen this before.
The problem in most of those seasons has been the inevitable corrections that come in late April and May. Just last season we saw the Tigers’ hot start fizzle in the second half of April, and fade from memory during a brutal nine-game losing streak in May. The Tigers aren’t going to play .667 ball the rest of the way, and that’s fine. What can’t happen, is to let the good start slip away to the point where they have to start all over again in June.
Fortunately, there are still reinforcements on the way. J.D. Martinez appears to be close to rejoining the team in Tampa this week, though he won’t be ready to play in the series. Martinez has ramped up to running at 75 percent of his body weight on an anti-gravity treadmill, very close to the 80 percent threshold at which point he could start practicing on the field again. Unfortunately, hopes on an early return are probably unreasonable, as Martinez has still experienced soreness in his foot after the treadmill sessions. Until he can run without any discomfort, the Tigers won’t let him resume full baseball activities. He is, however, scheduled to rejoin the team in batting practice on Tuesday.
The addition of Martinez’s bat isn’t the only thing the Tigers have to look forward to. Blaine Hardy will again be eligible for a call-up for the Tampa series. Beyond him, Joe Jimenez has torched Triple-A hitters since his demotion. His return will be a welcome sight for Tigers’ fans, assuming the team wises up and gets him back in the majors where he belongs as soon as possible. Having some real talent available to add into the mix may be just the thing to stave off their May blues as the excitement of the first few weeks gives way to the grind of the long regular season.
If Justin Verlander is tipping, it’s the Indians who continue to eat
Amidst Verlander’s disastrous Saturday start against the Indians, in which they hammered him for nine runs and three home runs, were concerns from Verlander and the Tigers that he may be tipping his pitches. Considering Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd’s dominant 12 innings with less stuff in their two starts, the idea that the Indians had the Tigers’ signs seems highly unlikely. Still the Tigers aren’t the first to suspect the Indians of sign stealing. With the advent of video review personnel studying the game in slow motion for each team, it’s probably surprising we don’t hear more about it.
These sign stealing accusations are BS. Execute your pitches better, Tigers. pic.twitter.com/EiKyvVdKQj— Bless You Boys (@blessyouboys) April 16, 2017
Still, I’ve never quite understood why teams take such offense at the suggestion that they’re getting signs. “Stealing” seems the wrong word for something that isn’t against the rules and has been practiced throughout the game’s history. Hitters such as Carlos Santana and Lonnie Chisenhall have both faced Verlander for years, and have tagged him for a lot of home runs. Poor location, combined with good left-handed hitting, is the problem here. Either way, signs don’t get stolen. They’re given away by incautious teams.
The pleasures of nepotism
No we’re no talking about politics. Alex Avila is off to a fine start in his second tour of duty with the Detroit Tigers. The fanbase will probably always be split on him, though the bizarre anger some fans have for a guy who was a very solid catcher for the team for years is pretty asinine. However, we’ve seen what Avila still brings to the table. He draws a lot of walks, crushes the occasional baseball when he connects, and handles his duties behind the plate with a lot of veteran savvy and well-honed technique.
Daniel Norris credited Avila for guiding him through his Friday win against the Indians in which he had zero fastball command to work with. He also continued to refer to Avila as George Clooney. On Sunday, beyond the offensive fireworks, Avila helped Matt Boyd work through an extremely dangerous Indians’ lineup without a put-away pitch. Trust your catchers, kids.
Now, this offense outburst isn’t going to continue. Avila will no doubt continue to strike out and walk a lot, and occasionally add some extra-base power into the mix. He also adds a ton of big game experience, which is plenty good for a backup catcher. Maybe the pressure to not make his father look bad here is pushing him. Either way, it’s nice to have him back.
Alex Avila has a 100% hard hit percentage so far this year.— Jeff Roberts (@EyeOnTigers) April 16, 2017
Alex Avila is hitting .700 (7x10) in five games with two doubles, two home runs and four walks. @Tigers— George Sipple (@GeorgeSipple) April 16, 2017
Around the league
The Houston Astros are out to a hot start so far, as many predicted. They’ve already had several dramatic home runs. Leadoff hitter George Springer has four leadoff home runs on the season. They embarked on an epic comeback against the A’s on Saturday after being no-hit by Sean Manaea for five innings. They’re also, wisely, working to sign star shortstop Carlos Correa to a long-term deal. On the other side of the coin, the Seattle Mariners got off to a rough start, and at 5-8 are trying to collect themselves. So are the Toronto Blue Jays, who are 2-10, and may have worn out their welcome as contenders.
Zach Britton, perhaps the most dominant closer in the game for the Orioles last year, has been shut down for 10 days with forearm soreness. Not good. On a more fun note, Bartolo Colon made his first start for the Atlanta Braves, and dominated. How does he do it?
Rookie J.T. Riddle had a memorable first home run on Sunday, as he walked it off against the Mets. It was the Marlins second walkoff victory of the series. The win put the surprising Marlins into a tie for first place with the Washington Nationals in the NL East. Not to fear though, the Mets are still just a half game back.
The walkoffs were actually quite plentiful this weekend!
Joaquin Benoit on to close this one out...oof.