“There’s no such thing as momentum in this game,” Jim Leyland said after the Tigers’ loss against the Royals on April 12, but Tigers fans have to be pleased with the team’s quick start.
They handled business within their division, winning two of their three opening series against Central Division opponents (Kansas City Royals, Cleveland Indians and the Royals again) before hitting the road for an 11-game road trip. The main concern for Leyland early on? Getting his pitchers deeper into ball games…
Quality wins, not quality starts – “We’ve got to pitch deeper and give our bullpen a rest,” Rick Porcello said. “They can’t come out and pick the ball up in the sixth (inning) every game. The starters have to pitch deeper and give those guys a break.”
In the first nine games of the season not a single Tigers’ starting pitcher made it into the 7th inning. Worse, in only three of those starts did a starter even make it into the sixth. Their heavy reliance on the bullpen is a bad sign and one that Jim Leyland hopes his staff can quickly reverse.
“Got to get quicker outs earlier in the game. We had 20-35 pitches in the first inning and that’s usually not good for anyone,” Leyland said after Porcello’s first loss of the year. “That seems kind of contagious around baseball right now, not just here.”
One thing he identified as a must: pitchers throwing first pitch strikes. Porcello (1-1) struggled in his first two starts, giving up a combined 15 hits over 11 innings and agreed with Leyland.
“I never really got to that point where I was consistently throwing first pitch strikes, but days like that are going to happen,” Porcello said after the home opener. “I just tried to battle through as best I could. I’d love to go out there and throw 9-10 pitches every inning, but realistically that’s not going to happen every time out.”
Comeback kids – Detroit trailed in five of their first six victories and erased deficits of five runs or more twice. Last year the Tigers only had 10 victories when trailing after six innings, this season they already have four.
Detroit hitters are getting to relievers late in games and Brandon Inge has an idea why.
“It’s similar to teams we’ve had in the past, but more scrappy,” Inge said. “That’s important. I remember running across teams like Minnesota and Anaheim. Where they’re going to bunt, slap the ball a little bit, run around and we’ve got the bombers in the middle in the lineup. It makes for a good combination.”
Rounding the bases
• First: Austin Jackson made his major league debut starting in center field for the Tigers. Last time that happened? 1939, when Barney McCosky did it.
• Second: Improved defense? Check. In the first eight games the Tigers turned an American League leading 13 double plays.
• Third: Johnny Damon picked up his 1,000 career RBI on a fifth inning double against the Royals on April 14.
• Home: The Tigers home opener drew 45,010 fans to Comerica Park, the second largest crowd in team history and largest home opening crowd ever.