20 year-old shortstop prospect and Venezuelan native Eugenio (I believe it’s pronounced ay-oo-HEY-nee-oh) Suarez wasn’t considered a top-tier prospect coming into the year by most, only finding himself ranked by those who dug deeper into the system, but he did end up with a #16 ranking by Motor City Bengals and a #39 spot by TigsTown($) (earning Paul Wezner’s nod for breakout minor leaguer of the year).
But Suarez has acquitted himself well so far in his first year in a full-season league. He’s split the shortstop and second base duties with Brandon Loy (with Suarez getting the majority of the starts at shortstop), and is one of only two players that have played in all 19 Whitecaps games this season (Aaron Westlake being the other).
No one was satisfied with Austin Jackson’s .317 on-base percentage from 2011. That wasn’t going to cut it from the player charged with setting the table for sluggers like Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, and Prince Fielder. The obvious flaw in his game was the strikeout rate which ballooned from an already high 25.2% in his rookie year to 27.3% in last year’s sophomore campaign. The prevailing thought was that reducing the whiff rate would increase the number of balls he put in play which would, in turn, allow him to use his speed to get on base with more regularity.
His offseason work with hitting coach Lloyd McClendon has been well documented. The big change was the elimination of the high leg kick. It was said that the new approach to hitting would help him reduce his strikeout totals as it would give him a better ‘two strike approach’, but I’m not really sure that’s been the case as of yet (or, at least, that’s not the whole story).
Jackson’s K-rate is currently the lowest it’s ever been, but the 23.6% mark isn’t all that much lower than his 26% career rate. But the real story behind Austin’s early season success can be found elsewhere.
You can still hear Peter Gammons after Grady Little failed to lift Pedro Martinez before the eighth inning of Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS.
“Why not just use your bullpen?”
Pedro Martinez and the Boston Red Sox had a 5-2 lead heading into the bottom of the eighth inning. Martinez was due to face New York’s 2-3-4 hitters for the fourth time that game. Martinez was able to induce a pop fly to Nick Johnson to begin the inning, but four batters later, after a single and three doubles, the lead had evaporated. The Sox would lose the game, and the chance to break the curse of the Bambino on Aaron Boone’s solo home run in the 11th inning.
Obviously one game in April is not Game Seven of the ALCS, and the Kansas City Royals are not the 2003 Yankees, but this anecdote should always serve as a warning to managers who insist on keeping their starter on the mound late in a game*.
*Not that one anecdote should ever cause us to conclude anything. It’s just an anecdote, no more, no less.
I knew it would be fun to surf around the headlines after Drew Smyly’s first major league start yesterday. His final line of 4 IP, 4 K, 3 BB, 1 HBP, 1 HR, 1 ER was sure to cause a divide amongst writers and fans.
If you look at the final ERA line, 2.25, then you’ve got to be pleased with what he did. We even have James Schmehl of MLive saying that Smyly impressed, and that he “passed with flying colors”. But his peripheral numbers don’t support that statement.
I much more agreed with the Detroit News’ headline today which read “Tigers’ sturdy bullpen bails out Drew Smyly”. Don’t get me wrong, I think we saw some good things from Smyly in his first outing, namely four strikeouts in four innings, but he was fortunate to exit the game with only the lone run scoring against him. Not necessarily fortunate in a BABIP sense, that was a reasonable .273 for the game, but fortunate from a sequencing perspective.
Quintin Berry and Eric Patterson each reached base four times as the Mud Hens erupted for seven runs. Brad Eldred homered twice and Ryan Strieby doubled twice in the effort as well.
On the pitching side of things, Drew Smyly got touched up in 1.2 innings of work. He walked two and allowed three runs while only striking out one before being lifted for Brooks Brown. Austin Wood had trouble out of the bullpen as well. He allowed two runs in one inning and didn't record a strikeout. Fu-Te Ni also allowed a run in two innings of work.
Erie 12, Altoona 1 -- AA
The SeaWolves only got one home run -- off the bat of Jordan Lennerton -- but they still broke out for 12 runs. Rob Brantly and Corey Jones each doubled twice, and Rawley Bishop and Jamie Johnson each also came away with a pair of hits.
Jared Wesson got the start for Erie and went five innings and only allowed the single run. He struck out three. Ryan Robowski and Robbie Weinhardt each provided two scoreless innings in relief.
Lakeland 5, Tampa 2 -- A+
The Flying Tigers also joined the offensive onslaught. Tyler Collins recorded three hits, and Nick Castellanos, Avisail Garcia, and Dixon Machado each recorded two. Only James McCann failed to reach base.
Starting pitcher Brian Flynn went 6.2 scoreless innings with three strikeouts and only four hits allowed (no walks). Zach Samuels recorded the save with a perfect ninth inning.
West Michigan 5, Dayton 4 (11 innings)
West Michigan finally got in the win column in their third attempt. Dean Green homered, and Aaron Westlake and Brandon Loy both doubled, but the hit king of the evening was catcher Patrick Leyland, son of Tigers' manager Jim Leyland, who made his Midwest League debut with a 3-4 effort, driving in one run.
Kyle Ryan gave up four runs (three earned) in six innings of work, but Jade Todd (1 IP), Nicholas Avila (2 IP), and Tyler White (2 IP) didn't allow any runs to score in relief.
Matt Snyder is the editor of The Tigers Den. He can be reached on Twitter @snyder_matthew. no comments
The highlight of the afternoon was the home runs. First it was Miguel Cabrera in the first inning with a blas that also scored Austin Jackson, then Prince Fieler and Alex Avila each went the opposite way for homers in the fourth inning. And then there was the feat that we all hope to see many times this year: Cabrera and Fielder going back-to-back in the fifth.
But altough the Dynamic Duo will get most of the attention (and they deserve it) the offense wasn't all about them. Austin Jackson got on base three times with a double and two walks. He'll be the catalyst this season if he can get on base with frequency (and through two games his OBP is .600). Delmon Young and Andy Dirks also chipped in a pair of singles each.
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We all knew the streak would eventually end. Jose Valverde, the All-Star closer who was a perfect 49-for-49 in save opportunities a season ago blew his first chance of the season on Thursday.
I wasn’t necessarily a fan of the Tigers picking up the $9 million team option on Valverde’s contract for this season (I’m a big believer that you don’t pay for saves), so watching the Somewhat Smaller Potato labor on the hill while Justin Verlander’s lead evaporated got under my skin a little bit. I got over my annoyance as soon as Austin Jackson’s ground ball skipped through the infield but, upon reflection, I really shouldn’t have been all that annoyed in the first place.