CHICAGO -- Bryan Holaday's go-ahead bunt single Tuesday night wasn't just a rarity for a backup catcher. It was rare for anybody in a Tigers uniform.
According to research from Elias Sports Bureau, Holaday's go-ahead RBI was the first by a Tigers player on a bunt of any kind, single or sacrifice, in the ninth inning or later since June 4, 2000. That one, too, took place in Chicago, though on the other side of town.
Former Tigers utility great Shane Halter plated the Tigers' winning run that day at Wrigley Field, where he laid down a bunt single to third with two outs in the 12th inning to score Bobby Higginson. He put down the bunt against former Tigers pitcher Todd Van Poppel.
Halter, of course, had a more historic feat at the end of that season, when he played all nine positions Oct. 1 against the Twins at the Metrodome. He remains the last Tiger to do that in a game.
Top Tigers prospect Ray to start vs. Astros
CHICAGO -- The Tigers acquired prospect Robbie Ray in last fall's Doug Fister trade with an eye toward their rotation of the future. With Anibal Sanchez on the disabled list, Detroit in need of a spot starter and Ray tearing up batting orders at Triple-A Toledo, the future is coming a little sooner than expected.
The Tigers made official what had been suspected for the past few days, announcing Ray as their scheduled starter for Tuesday's game against the Astros at Comerica Park. That's the day they'll finally need a fifth starter again after going more than a week without one thanks to off-days, rainouts and the Sanchez injury.
The 22-year-old left-hander will make his Major League debut a year after he was pitching in High Class A ball in the Nationals' system. He had 11 starts at the Double-A level when Detroit acquired him as the prospect centerpiece in the much-scrutinized Fister trade.
The Tigers made an aggressive promotion with Ray by putting him at Triple-A Toledo to open this season. After five starts for the Mud Hens, he has handled International League hitters far beyond his age.
Ray picked up his third win of the season Tuesday with five shutout innings and five strikeouts, extending his scoreless streak to 16 1/3 innings over his last three outings. He fell two outs shy of a shutout April 23, allowing four hits and a walk with seven strikeouts against a talented Indianapolis squad that includes Pirates prospect Gregory Polanco.
Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said Wednesday that Ray will pitch one inning for Toledo on Friday, giving him one final bit of preparation on his normal turn while not tiring him out ahead of his start three days later.
"He's pitched very well for them his last few starts," Ausmus said. "He's been outstanding. And with Sanchez down, we need someone to fill his slot and hopefully do it well.
"He's still learning, and he's certainly not a finished product, even now. We think he's got the stuff to be able to get big-league hitters out, but he's definitely still in the learning process as a pitcher."
The Astros entered Wednesday batting about 40 points higher against left-handers (.235) than righties (.195), but for a low batting average nonetheless. As opponents go, it's a relatively good setup for a young pitcher to break into the big leagues.
If all goes well and the Tigers don't have another rainout beforehand, Ray would presumably get one more start against the Twins at Comerica Park on May 11. Sanchez is eligible to come off the disabled list the next day.
Coincidentally, Ray will make his Major League debut the day before Fister makes his Nationals debut. Fister opened the season on the disabled list with a right lat strain.
The Tigers will need to make roster moves to fit Ray on both the 25- and 40-man rosters. Most likely, they'll take care of the 25-man roster by dropping their bullpen back to seven relievers. The 40-man move is more complicated, since they've already put Bruce Rondon, Jose Iglesias and Andy Dirks on the 60-day DL.
V-Mart sees game as contact sport
CHICAGO -- There is no K in Victor Martinez. There aren't very many in his stat line, either.
He went eight games and 37 plate appearances between strikeouts before finally swinging and missing at a Ronald Belisario pitch in his final time up Tuesday night. If that's not impressive enough for a Major League cleanup hitter, it's not even his longest streak of the season. He went 10 games and 40 plate appearances between strikeouts from April 2-18.
Granted, it's early, but Martinez entered Wednesday's series finale against the White Sox poised to end April as the toughest batter to fan in the American League, with just three strikeouts over 89 plate appearances. Only Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons, with three strikeouts spread out over 91 plate appearances, had a better rate in the Majors.
It could be written off as a small sample size if not for Martinez being the second-toughest hitter to strike out in the American League last year, fanning 62 times in 668 plate appearances, trailing only Alberto Callaspo. He was also the second-toughest in the AL to fan in 2011, the year before his season-ending knee injury.
It's not just strike three Martinez has been avoiding. He has swung and missed on just 7.5 percent of his swings on the season entering Wednesday, the best rate in baseball. He missed on just 10.5 percent of his swings in 2013, the fourth-lowest rate in the AL, and 9.3 percent of his swings in '11, also fourth-best.
Tigers manager Brad Ausmus has only been around to watch this season's swings, but even he has been in awe.
"I've never seen a hitter like Victor," Ausmus said. "His focus is on every single pitch. He does not give a pitch away. His focus is there every single pitch, and he's trying to get the barrel to the ball. It's amazing. He'll spoil a pitcher's pitch with the best of them."