Tag Archives: Detroit Tigers

Do Only Certain Pitchers Get to Throw Inside? Depends on Who You Ask


Question of the day: When do unintentionally hit batters become a big problem?

For people like Tony La Russa, the answer can be “almost immediately.” Others offer a modicum of leeway  should a pitch accidentally sail.

We saw this earlier in the year, when Pirates pitchers—who have a reputation for working the inside corner—unintentionally popped a couple Diamondbacks. La Russa, never long on patience for that type of thing, questioned whether maybe pitchers who don’t have the best control should avoid trying to bust fastballs in on hitters’ hands.

This weekend saw more of the same, courtesy of Trevor Bauer. On Sunday against the Tigers, Cleveland’s right-hander knocked the helmet from the head of Ian Kinsler, in addition to plunking Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. None of the pitches looked good, but unless Bauer is extremely competent at feigning concern, neither were they intentional. (Game situation alone confirms as much. Cabrera’s HBP, in the first inning, put a runner into scoring position. Kinsler was the leadoff hitter in the third. Martinez was drilled with the bases loaded. Watch it all here.)

Perhaps it would have been easier for Detroit to tolerate had the price been less steep. Kinsler suffered dizzy spells after the game. Martinez crumpled to the ground in agony, then went 0-for-3 after choosing to stay in the game.

Bauer cringed on the mound after hitting Kinsler, and tried to apologize after the inning and again after the game. It wasn’t nearly enough.

“If you can’t command the ball inside, you’ve got to maybe not go inside,” said Tigers manager Brad Ausmus after the game, echoing La Russa in an MLB.com report. “This is the big leagues, and if you’re going to hit guys in the head and the kneecap then something’s got to give.”

What gave on Sunday was Tigers starter Derrick Norris throwing a pitch behind Rajai Davis in response to Kinsler’s beaning, at which point both benches were warned. (One thing the umps couldn’t stop was Justin Upton’s message-laden pimp-and-glacial-home-run-trot-combo in the fifth.)

So who’s right? Bauer, or any other pitcher, can’t be expected to simply give up a portion of the strike zone on the basis that he’s a bit wild on a given day. Pitching out of fear is a terrible strategy for winning ballgames.

Then again, when players are falling left and right at the hands of a pitcher who has no idea where the ball is headed, it’s understandable that flames will be fanned.

Ultimately, it’s why baseball has penalties for being wild. Walks and hit batters mean baserunners, and too many baserunners mean that a pitcher’s not long for an outing. Bauer gave up six earned runs in 5.2 innings, which isn’t so surprising considering the other details of his day. And that’s pretty much the best result that Detroit could hope for in an otherwise bleak situation.

[H/T to Uzzy]

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On the Merits of Appropriate Response, and the Response to That Response

ColeA measure of how far baseball has come—for better and worse—was on display Tuesday in Detroit. On one hand, the you-hit-my-guy-so-I’ll-hit-yours mentality so prevalent in past generations has become rare enough for modern occurrences to make a bit of a splash.

On the other hand, the instincts that players once used to automatically rationalize that kind of behavior have atrophied. Such tactics now lead to full-bore freakouts … or at least baseball’s version of them.

In the wake of one such tit-for-tat exchange with Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Detroit designated hitter Victor Martinez did the unthinkable in baseball circles—he publicly vented, going so far as to drop the “R”-word.

“I have no respect for no one on that team, including [Pirates pitcher Gerrit] Cole and their coaching staff,” he said in a Detroit Free Press account.

It started when Justin Verlander hit Starling Marte with a pitch in the fourth inning. It was clearly unintentional: a 1-2 count, a runner on first and the Tigers were losing, 3-0. Regardless, Cole—who has a history of paying attention to the Code—responded by drilling Martinez in the ribs during the very next frame.

This is what set the DH off.  “If they think that Verlander hit Marte with a 1-2 count—he was battling that at-bat—if they really think we did it on purpose, they’re playing the wrong sport,” he said.

Martinez is probably correct, even while overlooking the obvious point that Verlander’s intent likely didn’t matter. Cole appears to be a guy who embraces the old-school mentality of teammate protection, which is so outdated to have become cliché: You hit my guy so I’ll hit yours, and maybe you won’t take so many liberties with the inside corner next time. The fact that four Pirates players had been hit over the previous three games may well have factored into Cole’s decision to put his foot down.

This is not to say that Cole acted appropriately. But speaking personally as somebody who disagrees with the tactic of drilling an opponent simply to make a statement, I still have to appreciate a pitcher looking out for his guys.

Verlander himself responded by drilling the next batter he faced, Pedro Alvarez, on the thigh—at which point both dugouts were warned.

“I think in baseball there’s always been that, if someone deserves to be thrown at, I think a lot of times when it’s done the proper way it’s over after that,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said in the Free Press. “And it’s true. If it’s done the right way, both teams at the end say, all right, it’s over.”

Was it over? Various members of the Pirates clubhouse were dismissive of Martinez’s comments (“I wasn’t aware he was the voice of reason,” said Clint Hurdle in the Free Press), and the DH was drilled again yesterday, by reliever Jared Hughes, with an 89-mph fastball, in a situation that screamed for intent: The Pirates led 9-2 in the eighth inning, Martinez isn’t exactly Billy Hamilton on the basepathes and his role as a baserunner barely registered.

Today’s game went by cleanly until the ninth, when, with Pittsburgh leading 5-3 and first base open, Tigers reliever Bruce Rondon drilled Francisco Cervelli, who had opened the scoring with a fourth-inning homer. Martinez ended things by grounding out to first.

The rest of the story remains to be seen.

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Everybody Needs Somebody, Even in the Center Field Bleachers: Victor Martinez, Chris Sale is Looking at You

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Stealing an opponent’s signs from the basepaths won’t exactly be met with a smile and warm handshake, but neither will it elicit too many bad feelings—especially if the thief knocks it off once the jig is up.

Nipping them from beyond the field of play via spyglass or binoculars, however …well, that’ll get ’em every time.

On Wednesday it sure did. Chicago’s Chris Sale appeared in every way to be convinced that something was happening beyond the center field wall at Comerica Park. During the course of the game he pointed toward center field in anger and he pantomimed binoculars from the bench and, most notably to the would-be beneficiary of allegedly stolen signs, he drilled Victor Martinez to fully express his dissatisfaction with the situation.

In the cases of hitters being drilled for perceived slights (“I don’t like how you flipped your bat after that home run”), critics of such old-school retaliation are standing on solid ground. This, though, is different. If Sale was correct, Martinez and his team were benefitting at Sale’s expense via shady and illegal practices that would otherwise be beyond discipline. Sale wasn’t talking afterward, but a well-placed fastball is the time-tested and very effective behavior-correction method of choice.

Some pertinent details: Martinez is hitting .517 with three homers in 29 career at-bats against Sale (including a .647 mark in 17 at-bats in 2013). Nobody who has faced the left-hander that much has done better. But those numbers are home and road both, and it’s a safe assumption that Martinez is not getting signs from the stands on the road, at least on a regular basis. (Oh, what a story it would be if he was.) Still, when the pitcher at the wrong end of those numbers is a perennial Cy Young contender, it’s easy to see how he might think something is up.

The thing is, Sale went 1-0 with a 1.88 ERA in two starts at Comerica Park last season, and this year struck out 10 while giving up one run in six innings in his only start there. So it’s clearly not a team-wide thing that has the guy riled. And, frankly, team-wide things are pretty much all that’s on the public record when it comes to this kind of activity.

In May, the Braves all but accused the Marlins of signaling hitters via their scoreboard. In 2011, the Yankees said that the Blue Jays were doing it from the Rogers Centre … and so did the Red Sox … and the Orioles. Whatever came of it? Not a whole lot. Even with damning evidence, when Phillies coach Mick Billmeyer was caught training binoculars on Rockies catchers in 2010, it elicited nothing more than a light warning from MLB’s home office.

And so Sale took action on his own. By the looks of it, the rest of his team was keyed to the moment, as well. From an MLB.com report:

In the first inning Wednesday, with Ian Kinsler on second and two outs, Ventura made a rare early visit to the mound. Sale threw two pitches outside of the zone and then intentionally walked Martinez.

Martinez stepped to the plate in the third with runners on first and second and two outs, and struck out swinging. On the last fastball to Martinez, catcher Tyler Flowers set up inside but the deciding pitch landed high and away. That pitch sequence followed two visits to the mound by Flowers and Sale taking a couple of looks back toward center. After the strikeout, Sale turned toward right-center field and tipped his cap. That was followed by a wave in the same general direction.

During the argument in the sixth, Sale appeared to reference Martinez’s “guy out there,” and Martinez said after the game that White Sox right fielder Avisail Garcia told his one-time teammate during the scrum that the White Sox suspected sign stealing. Sale claimed postgame Wednesday that his hat tip was to a fan who was wearing him out during his pregame bullpen session, but Sale was unavailable for comment prior to Thursday’s contest. The left-hander was excused by the team for the game for personal reasons.

Perhaps one day he’ll talk about what was tipping him off, and the possibility exists that it was all just an elaborate ruse to throw at Martinez simply because the hitter’s protracted success against him finally got under his skin. Either way, evidence suggests merely that Martinez is just a very good hitter who likes the kind of stuff Sale throws.

Hell, he’s hitting .556 in 18 career at-bats against Colby Lewis, and Lewis hasn’t even bothered to drill him once.


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On Successful Homecomings and Misread Grins: The Tale of the Trying Smile, by Ian Kinsler

GrinslerAh, respect. She is a vexing mistress.

Ian Kinsler, reluctantly departed from his career-long home in Arlington after an off-season trade with Detroit, returned for the first time yesterday as a member of the visiting team. He promptly took former Rangers teammate Colby Lewis deep.

And what did he do? He gave a little wave to his pals in the Rangers dugout. He couldn’t suppress a smile as he went around the bases. There was no animosity here; this was friendly stuff—a we’re-in-different-uniforms-but-I-still-like-you-mooks moment. To everybody, it seems, but Lewis. (Watch it here.)

Give the pitcher some leeway—he had just put his team in a first-inning hole and ended up taking the loss with a mediocre outing, and now boasts a 5.94 ERA on the season after missing all of last year due to elbow and hip injuries. His team has as many wins as the Astros. He deserves to be frustrated. But to take that personally? (If anybody possibly could, it would be Rangers GM Jon Daniels. But Lewis?)

“I guess ‘disappointed’ is the best word to describe it,” the pitcher said after the game in an MLive report.

There are lots of legitimate gripes in baseball about improper displays of respect, which can be dealt with in any number of time-tested ways. Lewis obviously wants other players, particularly those he knows personally, to be sensitive to his struggles. But Kinsler himself described the trip to Arlington as “my return home” (which was more than metaphor: his house and family are still there), and talked after the game about being “lucky enough to square one up.” If he lacks any respect for Lewis, he did a pretty good job of hiding it.

There was no showboating here, nothing intended to call extra attention to Kinsler. It was just a guy soaking in a moment. Lewis should have let him have it.


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1973: Billy Goes to Bat for his Boys

Billy MartinResearch for my next book, about the OaklandA’s dynasty of the 1970s, to be published by Houghton Mifflin in 2015, has turned up boundless examples of unwritten rules from that bygone era. The latest is from September 5, 1973, and has to do the Detroit Tigers. The topic is ostensibly cheating, but, if we take it at face value, actually concerns managers protecting their players. From the Associated Press:

Billy Martin claims he lied about the incident which led to his being fired as manager of the Detroit Tigers.

Martin says he never told pitchers Joe Coleman and Fred Scherman it to throw spitballs in a game last week against Cleveland.

Coleman and catcher Duke Sims, meanwhile, also say Martin didn’t order spitters thrown.

“They had gotten together with Duke Sims in the dugout and decided to prove to the umpires that they (umpires) didn’t know what a spitter was,” Martin told one reporter. “The first I knew about it was when I saw Coleman wetting his fingers on the mound.”

“Once that happened I had to stand behind my players,” he continued. “I knew they’d be fined or suspended for what they had done, and I couldn’t let that happen. I needed them to pitch.”

Martin told newsmen after last Thursday’s 3-0 loss to the Indians’ alleged spitball specialist Gaylord Perry that he had ordered the illegal pitches to bring controversy “to a head.”

“I’m admitting it,” he said then. “We threw spitters tonight. Obvious spitters. On purpose.”

He said it was at his order.

Friday, Martin was suspended by American League President Joe Cronin, who said the action was taken “for directing your pitchers to throw illegal pitches and publicly stating that you have done so.”

Sunday, Martin was fired by Jim Campell, Tigers general manager, who said the spitball incident wasn’t the sole reason but the final straw in a long line of incidents leading to the sacking.

Bonus fun: Figure out how Martin created controversy with his 1972 baseball card, above!

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A Tale of Spit and Run

Al KalineResearch for my next book, about the Oakland A’s dynasty of the 1970s, to be published by Houghton Mifflin in 2015, has turned up boundless examples of unwritten rules from that bygone era. The latest installment, from May 14, 1966:

Nobody threatens retaliation, but it is on record that Alvin Dark hung the label of “bush” on Al Kaline.

It was Dark’s first visit to Tiger Stadium as Kansas City manager. Kaline was on first with two out in the eighth and Detroit leading by nine runs. Kaline took off and stole second base on pitcher John Wyatt.

“Do you all steal when you’re nine runs ahead?” Dark asked a reporter in the clubhouse. “That was pretty bush. I heard about this fellow (Kaline) for years and years. What if he broke his leg? Detroit might finish sixth.”

Kaline’s explanation was that he was showing up Wyatt for being shown up himself.

“Wyatt threw me a spitball,” said Al. “I don’t mind if it means the game. But he was way behind. Normally I wouldn’t have done it. But when I had the chance to steal, I took off.”

Manager Charlie Dressen said Kaline did the right thing.

“I always say when you have 13 runs, get 14,” declared Charlie. “Let Dark say something to me if he doesn’t like it.”

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You Lookin’ at Me?: Staring Contest Goes Awry in Detroit

Balfour - MartinezVictor Martinez looked at Grant Balfour during the ninth inning of yesterday’s ALCS Game 3. Apparently he didn’t do it correctly.

Balfour began jawing. Martinez jawed back. They exchanged at least 16 letters’ worth of four-letter words. Dugouts emptied. Angry hops behind phalanxes of teammates were hopped. Then Balfour got back to his job, got three quick outs, and sealed Oakland’s 6-3 victory.

Balfour is fiery. Also, Australian. He does a lot of spectacularly accented shouting on the mound, usually toward nobody in particular. It does, however, further his goal of being as intimidating as possible.

Martinez was having none of it. After fouling off a 1-2 pitch, he stared down the pitcher while adjusting his batting gloves. Upping the ante, Balfour impolitely told him to knock it off. Martinez responded in kind. According to videotape evidence, each thinks the other is a “bitch.” (Watch a bleeped version here.)

“Fuck that,” Martinez said to reporters after the game. “Not even the greatest closer, that’s Mariano [Rivera], tells you stuff like that. I’m not a rookie that he’s going to come in and say little shit like that.”

Balfour’s intimidation jab, it seems, was successfully parried. (It’s easy to say that Balfour is now in Martinez’s head, putting the hitter at future disadvantage, but it would be just as easy to say that Martinez did the same thing in reverse. )

The moment calls to mind one of the least plausible mound charges in history, mostly because it came from a guy widely considered to be among the best human beings to wear a baseball uniform. It was 2001, and in a game between the Royals and Tigers, Mike Sweeney caught everybody by surprise by going out of his squeaky-clean character to charge pitcher Jeff Weaver.

His reason: Weaver, he said, “said something I didn’t like.”

(Weaver’s insult came in response to Sweeney’s request that the rosin bag be moved to a different spot on the mound.)

Sweeney tackled Weaver, punches were thrown and the game was delayed for 12 minutes.

“It’s something I’ve never done before and it’s something I’m not proud of. But I had to do it,” Sweeney said later. “Weaver is a talented young pitcher, but I’d like to see him respect the game more. Tonight, what he did was uncalled for and I did what I did.”

The lesson: Don’t mess with a man’s respect.

Another incident had a more lasting impact. In 1931, the White Sox were playing an exhibition game against a Houston club from the Texas League, whose 20-year-old pitcher, reported Sport Magazine (and re-reported in David Gallen’s book, The Baseball Chronicles), would not stop talking to the hitters.

“Well, lookee, now watta we got here?,” he said. “Jes’ keep that ol’ bat on the shoulder, fellah. I’m a gonna breeze this here one right across the middle. Now don’t get the catcher fussed up by swingin’ at it. Jes’ save yer strength and watch ‘er go by.”

Irate White Sox manager Owen Bush called out to his hitter.

“What’s going on out there?,” he yelled. “You’re supposed to be a major-leaguer. You’re letting that dizzy kid make a fool outa ya!”

That “dizzy kid” was named Jay Hanna Dean. The next season he would win 18 games for the St. Louis Cardinals en route to a Hall of Fame career. And Bush’s inadvertent nickname stuck; the right-hander’s given name was quickly lost to history.

As for Balfour, he insisted that there were no prior problems with Martinez. He even went so far as to indicate there wasn’t even a present problem.

“It’s all good,” he said in an MLB.com report. “I’m cool with it, bro. Hey, he’s a great competitor. He’s a great hitter. I like a little fire and obviously he does, too. It makes for a bit of fun, right?”

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Filed under Grant Balfour, Intimidation, Victor Martinez