Thursday, April 4, 2013

Random Thoughts on the Opening Series

Back in my introduction to this site, I said that I would probably not write about each individual game because there are times where I can't think of much to say about a particular game. That's been true to some extent over the last two games. Generally, when I write about a single game, I like to cover starting pitching, bullpen, and offense, and I don't feel like I had enough to say about each of those areas to merit a post for each of the last two games. However, I do have some thoughts and observations about aspects of the last two games, both from specific points and from general trends.

It's early, but the Tigers have got to get more innings out of their starting pitchers. They're going to kill their bullpen if they don't. Granted, Justin Verlander would have gone at least one more inning had it not been his first start (and really cold to boot), but he's the type of pitcher who should not be approaching the 100-pitch mark in the fifth inning. The same goes for Anibal Sanchez (although to be fair, he was done in by a lengthy first inning but was more efficient after that). Rick Porcello did a good enough job for what is reasonably expected of him (although what is interesting is that for all the talk about how he needs to improve against lefties, the big blows were from right-handed batters), but I think he can still manage six innings a start from now on.

My thoughts on the bullpen are a bit more extensive (Though I don't have a whole lot to say on Jose Valverde. I don't have a problem with a minor league contract as long as they don't bring him up just because, or displace someone who shouldn't be displaced). They got themselves in trouble yesterday with leadoff walks, even though those walks scored on both occasions with other pitchers on the mound. There was a lot of discussion about Phil Coke being left in the game to face righties. I can't really say if I thought that was a good idea or not, but I honestly feel like everyone on the Tigers pitching staff should be able to handle a switch-hitter who hit .216 in the big leagues with almost no power. Escobar hit the ball to the wall not because Coke is left-handed, but because it was a bad pitch. I think the reason he was left in there was because the next two hitters were a switch-hitting rookie who had not gotten a hit yet, and the lefty Joe Mauer. I will say that on the same day, both Chris Perez and Fernando Rodney blew saves and I don't think there was nearly as much discussion about them.

On a related note, three games is way, WAY too few to give up on anyone in the bullpen. Phil Coke, Drew Smyly, and Brayan Villarreal (who yesterday had a very similar outing to that of Al Alburquerque on Opening Day but didn't really get the same credit for it, for some reason) have had rough outings, but that's not an indication of anything beyond that, especially since none of them have gotten the chance to redeem themselves yet. Villarreal's outing was particularly strange. I'm not even sure I want to call it a meltdown, though the boxscore would indicate one. And I have seen a major meltdown from him before. It was in Toledo near the end of the 2011 season, and it resulted in him giving up seven runs in two innings (as a reliever, in case you were curious). This did not remind me of that outing at all. In that outing, there was quite a bit of wildness and a lot of hard contact (capped off by a grand slam from Pedro Alvarez that was one of the hardest-hit balls I have ever seen). Today's outing really wasn't like that. I think Justin Morneau battling him for eleven pitches and coaxing a walk kind of put him out of whack, but throughout most of the inning it seemed like he was so tantalizingly close to getting out of it with little to no damage (though I do think maybe the corner infielders need to start thinking about guarding the line while he's pitching, because hitters have snuck ground-ball doubles just fair down the line for two outings in a row now). He wasn't hit hard except for the ball hit by Parmalee that Prince Fielder misplayed, and the Hicks single (and by that point I think he was out of gas, because his velocity was down). Usually when he gets himself too amped up, there's at least one wild pitch or passed ball, but that didn't happen until Alburquerque came in to pitch (to tell you the truth, I honestly thought Alburquerque would and should have been brought in for the entire 8th inning because Villarreal pitched yesterday). The other thing I thought of was an outing that Bruce Rondon had in winter ball where he gave up five runs in two-thirds of an inning. The opposing team made harder contact in that outing, too. Suffice it to say that both of them are much better than that. And then you have Drew Smyly, who definitely had his issues on Monday, but you generally wouldn't classify it as a meltdown because he was only charged with two runs. And yet, in some way I almost describe it as the opposite sense that I got from Villarreal's outing. Where I felt like Villarreal was tantalizingly close to getting himself out of trouble and couldn't do it, Smyly was tantalizingly close to having the whole thing blow up on him but somehow didn't (with some help from Alburquerque). But again, I know he's much better than that. They are both young pitchers who are still learning how to pitch in the big leagues. I know Jim Leyland is sometimes reluctant to use young pitchers in high-priority situations if they mess up once, but given the fact that Smyly and Villarreal are both important keys to the future of the Tigers, I do hope he does not lose faith in them.

I really don't have a sense of what's happening with the offense so far, other than to state the obvious by saying it needs to get better. Last year, I observed that the Tigers were actually pretty good against hard-throwing pitchers (particularly righties) who threw lots of fastballs. They struggled against the "art of pitching" types, guys who spot their fastball on the corner and thow lots of breaking balls. I really wouldn't categorize any of the Twins' starters in this series as "art of pitching" types. They weren't hard-throwers, either, but something they were doing stumped all the hitters. Some of it could be from unfamiliarity (since all three starters were in the National League up until now), but we won't know that until they face them again. You do get into the debate about whether it was the pitcher making good pitches or the hitter taking bad swings. I learned from a former catcher that one way to determine whether it's good pitching or bad hitting is to watch the catcher and see where he is set up and how much he has to move his glove to catch the pitches. If the pitcher is consistently hitting his spots, then there's a good chance that it's good pitching and you tip your cap. If the catcher is constantly having to move around, then the pitcher is missing with his location and it's probably bad hitting. Unfortunately, I keep forgetting to do this during games and I will have this serve as a reminder to keep an eye on that in the next series.

I'd like to cover one more thing before I end this post. I am not so fortunate as to be able to attend the Tigers' home opener, but some of you will, and I just ask a small favor of you guys. Please behave yourselves and be polite. I know a lot of people will boo the Yankees because they're the Yankees and that's fine (although it's not something I do), but please don't boo your own players, especially when we're only three games into the season. At least, don't do it at the home opener. I remember cringing so many times in years past when that happened (and there were occasions where those fans ended up looking monumentally foolish for doing so, such as with Brandon Lyon in 2009). I can't think of any obvious candidates off the top of my head, but I've been surprised before (and not in a good way). I know that we Tigers fans are wonderful people (albeit a bit kneejerk and jaded), and I would very much like the rest of the country to know that, so I humbly request that you all put on a good show tomorrow.

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