04/18/2013 4:48 PM ET
Fundamentals pay dividends on final play
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
SEATTLE -- On some morning during the dog days of every Spring Training, without fail, Tigers manager Jim Leyland will bring his team on the field before batting practice at Joker Marchant Stadium. The sole purpose will be to practice relay throws and cutoffs.
The play that ended Wednesday's 14-inning duel is the example why.
"That's one you work on every year in Spring Training," Leyland said. "It's a pretty good fundamental play."
The end result came down to catcher Brayan Pena absorbing a collision with Justin Smoak, but it took a process to get him the ball in time to even have a play.
From the moment Torii Hunter chased down Dustin Ackley's liner in the right-field corner, the process was on. While second baseman Omar Infante readied for the throw, first baseman Prince Fielder hustled to be in the right spot to back him up.
"That was tough," Hunter said, "because we were playing them in the gap, playing them deep. When Ackley hit the ball, I knew I had to get over there and just get it in. I felt like they were just going to send him regardless, so I grabbed it and really didn't even take a step, just threw the ball just to get it in."
Hunter didn't have a chance to worry about the perfect throw, which made Fielder's positioning as important as Infante.
"We just executed a play," Leyland said. "The first guy goes out and if you miss the first guy, the trailer's there. Prince was right where he was supposed to be, turned and made the throw."
The throw was wide, but to the third-base side, which allowed Pena to field it and turn to brace for the collision.
The tricky part, Pena said, was keeping his eye on the ball coming in while trying to avoid being distracted by the runner coming into his view.
Pena said his focus was on blocking Justin Smoak's path to the plate as much as possible. He learned his lesson on that play during his previous stop with the Royals, when then-Ranger Mike Napoli slid under his tag attempt.
"That was exactly the same play," Pena said. "The throw came from the first baseman, so I was blindsided. When I was ready to block home plate, he slid under. I was making sure that didn't happen to me this time. I was just trying to go and catch the baseball and look for the runner as soon as possible. That was what I didn't do last time."
What impressed Leyland beyond the execution, he said, was the celebration. Despite an 0-for-6, five-strikeout performance, Fielder not only made an impact play on defense, but he celebrated like he had just hit a home run.
"He was as happy as anybody," Leyland said. "He had a tough night, but he wound up having a great night, because he won us a ballgame with that play."
Leyland in favor of rule against collisions at plate
SEATTLE -- The topic of home-plate collisions is a sensitive one, and something Tigers manager and former Minor League catcher Jim Leyland hasn't discussed much out of hesitation for stoking the debate. After Brayan Pena's game-ending impact from Justin Smoak, however, Leyland waded into it.
Leyland, who serves on Major League Baseball's Special Committee for On-Field Matters, said Thursday morning officials are debating a rule that would have players slide at home plate in those situations.
"That's one of those other controversial things they're talking about maybe changing, where guys have got to slide," Leyland said. "I'm hoping it happens."
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny and Giants manager Bruce Bochy have both expressed strong support for a rules change, having seen their All-Star catchers take hard hits at the plate.
There are a lot of variables that go into such a play, Leyland cautioned, such as throws like Wednesday's that send the catcher up the third-base line and into the runner. That makes a set rule difficult to write, let alone enforce.
"That's why this hasn't been ironed out," Leyland said. "There's going to be some technicalities."
Pena, for his part, said after the game he felt fine, though he admitted he felt woozy for a few moments immediately after the hit. He was on the early bus back to Safeco Field on Thursday morning, and gave a thumbs-up sign when asked how he was feeling.
Leyland debated greeting him with a prank.
"I wanted to post my lineup with Pena catching," Leyland said with a smile, "but I didn't have the heart."
Scherzer matched King Felix pitch-by-pitch
SEATTLE -- Like Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer doesn't like to say he's pitching against another team's ace. He didn't have to face Felix Hernandez face-to-face Wednesday night, that was the hitters' job.
Yet he knew going in that he was going to have to match Hernandez to give his team a chance. He pulled it off by delivering much the same repertoire that makes Hernandez so nasty.
"I was able to start getting all three pitches to work," Scherzer said. "Fastball, slider, changeup, I was able to start throwing them for strikes and then start moving them out of the zone. That gave [catcher Brayan] Pena some flexibility to get creative in the pitch-calling. He did a great job back there, what pitch to throw in what situation. We got in a good rhythm, a good roll and I was able to put together a good outing to keep us competitive in that game."
Unlike some other outings by Tigers starters this year, Scherzer was able to maintain that rhythm in large part because Hernandez was so nasty. With little time in the dugout between innings, Scherzer was able to get just enough time to rest up, but not enough time to fall out of his mechanics.
Tigers players and coaches were still raving on Thursday morning about Hernandez. Manager Jim Leyland went so far as to say that's the best he has seen King Felix against his team, a thought hitting coach Lloyd McClendon seconded.
Infante looking comfortable on double-play throws
SEATTLE -- The way Omar Infante has handled second base this year, it seems like years ago that Tigers infield coach Rafael Belliard was putting in extra work with him to improve his throws on double plays. In reality, it was only last September.
Two highlight double plays on Wednesday night show the difference. The second one, in which Infante went deep into the hole to field Raul Ibanez's ninth-inning grounder and fired a strike to Jhonny Peralta, was the highlight of the two.
"Terrific double play," manager Jim Leyland said.
Yet the other one, in which Infante sprinted across the bag to take Miguel Cabrera's throw on Justin Smoak's grounder in the seventh inning, might have been the more impressive. Those were the plays that troubled him last summer. His throw to first not only went across his body but against his momentum, and he still had plenty of it to reach Prince Fielder.
Plays like that put a smile on Belliard's face. They also enhance the perception that Infante makes throws on the move with ease compared with standing still.
Infante helped turn six double plays in 12 starts this season entering Thursday. Just as important, he's errorless so far after making nine errors in 61 games at second down the stretch in Detroit last season.
• Major League Baseball will review the scoring decision that gave Brendan Ryan an error on Victor Martinez's sharp one-hopper leading off the fifth inning Wednesday night.
• Though Octavio Dotel didn't retire either of the two batters he faced in the ninth inning Wednesday night, Leyland took consolation in the fact that he didn't have any more issues with his elbow.
"In my opinion, Dotel looked good for one reason: He was healthy," Leyland said. "And if he's healthy, stuff will work itself out."