10/17/2013 8:51 P.M. ET
Bullpen usage different in postseason play
By Jason Beck and Bobby Nightengale / MLB.com
DETROIT -- The Tigers spent most of the regular season using their bullpen for specific innings. If a reliever entered the game to start the seventh, there's a good chance he'd get an opportunity to finish the inning if he retired his first and second batter.
Postseason bullpen usage is different, especially against a lineup that matches up well. The American League Championship Series has brought out a batter-for-batter matchup strategy from manager Jim Leyland, taking a page from his longtime friend Tony La Russa.
The inning it involves changes, but it usually involves the middle of the Red Sox order. Phil Coke, Al Alburquerque and Drew Smyly teamed up to handle the seventh inning in Game 4. Jose Veras, Coke and Alburquerque retired the same spots in the lineup in the ninth inning of Game 3.
The Game 2 mixing and matching, of course, drew plenty of attention once the Red Sox loaded the bases and emptied them on David Ortiz's grand slam off Joaquin Benoit, the fourth pitcher of the inning.
"When it's late in the game, every out is important," Coke said. "Your preparation doesn't change whether it's one guy or not. I mean, there was more than one time last postseason I was ready to get lifted and I stayed in."
That 2012 postseason, of course, was the time Coke became a closer for the ALCS against a lefty-heavy Yankees lineup.
Leyland makes small tweak to Game 5 lineup
DETROIT -- Jim Leyland couldn't stop tinkering with his Tigers lineup. This time, however, the manager's tweak was small.
Omar Infante and Alex Avila flipped spots in the batting order for Game 5 of the American League Championship Series against the Red Sox on Thursday night, giving Leyland a right-handed hitter to place behind Jhonny Peralta in the lineup against Boston left-hander Jon Lester. Other than that, Leyland kept the unorthodox batting order from Game 4 that earned him kudos for shaking up his offense, even though he continues to downplay the significance.
"I don't think the lineup was a big factor at all," Leyland said. "I think that our mission was accomplished. [Austin] Jackson, by his own admission, said it relaxed him a little bit. That's what the mission of that lineup change was all about. So from that standpoint, it helped, but it still doesn't mean it had anything to do with Torii Hunter getting a big hit and knocking in two runs. The credit still goes to those players that produced.
"I don't want to make it sound like we won the game because I made out some fantastic lineup. I don't think that had anything to do with it. I think in one player's case, it relaxed him a little bit, and it helped us win a game."
The lineup could undergo at least another change for Game 6 Saturday at Fenway Park (4:30 p.m. ET on FOX, unless the National League Championship is over, in which case Game 6 will be at 8 p.m.), depending on what Leyland decides to do with Jose Iglesias. He started Peralta when Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander started Games 2 and 3.
Leyland said he hasn't made up his mind yet, but he's leaning towards starting Iglesias behind Scherzer on Saturday. The lack of production from Detroit's left fielders might well play a role in that.
Leyland not concerned about Prince's production
DETROIT -- Prince Fielder entered Game 5 of the American League Championship Series on Thursday night with one extra-base hit, a double, in his 8-for-33 postseason performance. He has gone without an RBI for 16 postseason games since the opener of last year's ALCS, a drought that ranks 16th longest in Major League history. He has gone homerless since Game 4 of last year's AL Division Series in Oakland.
Fielder has hit in the postseason. He just hasn't hit like his normal self. His manager, however, came to his defense on Thursday.
"I think that people are looking for faults, but he's actually gotten some hits in this series, and really hasn't swung the bat all that bad," said Jim Leyland.
"I think a lot of people, when they think of Prince, they think of home runs, and he doesn't have a home run. But we've never asked Prince to hit home runs. We just want Prince to produce. That's what we got him for, and that's what he's done since he's been here."
One factor Leyland cited was Miguel Cabrera's limited mobility with his groin injury, slowing him on the basepaths. With his ability to take an extra base severely limited, Leyland said, it takes more to drive him in for a run.
Iglesias knows Red Sox are dangerous on bases
DETROIT -- Besides making his usual dazzling plays in the infield with his glove, Tigers shortstop Jose Iglesias has been aggressive with his arm to make plays.
In the third inning of Game 4 of the American League Championship Series on Wednesday night, Boston's Jacoby Ellsbury drilled a ball off the right-field wall, and thought about stretching his single into a double. While he wasn't far off the base, Iglesias fired the ball back to first on the relay and nearly threw Ellsbury out as he retreated back to the bag.
The downside to Iglesias' aggressiveness would be his errant throw on an infield single in the ninth inning of Game 2, which the Red Sox turned into the winning run on a walk-off single. However, with the speed of Boston, Iglesias doesn't want to take any chances with runners on base.
"I'm just trying to make some plays for my team," Iglesias said. "Little things when you can turn a double play is big. They are pretty good. We don't want those guys on base. They run pretty good, they're really good baserunners. So we just try to turn double plays as much as possible."
Iglesias also respects that the Red Sox are trying to make additional defensive plays of their own. Shane Victorino fielded a sharp single by Iglesias in right field during Game 4 and fired the ball to first base, though Iglesias was hustling down the line.
It's nothing new for Victorino, who tried to throw out Miguel Cabrera at first base on a couple of singles to right field in their series at Comerica Park in June.
"You never know with Shane," Iglesias said. "He's a pretty talented player. It was a good try. He tried to make a play for his team. He did what he's supposed to do."
Smyly getting good results against Ortiz
DETROIT -- Drew Smyly entered this American League Championship Series as the Tigers' lefty reliever without the strong history against Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, who was 3-for-4 with a home run off the young southpaw. There's still some potential meetings left, but in two chances, Smyly has bucked the trend.
After retiring Ortiz on a fly ball to center in the eighth inning of Game 1, Smyly got another chance in the seventh inning of Game 4, this time with a runner on, a run already in and a Red Sox rally building.
Smyly mixed sinkers and fastballs and fell behind, but escaped with a groundout to second base.
If there's a specific strategy, Smyly is not letting on, but he did suggest a small sample sizes.
"I think it's just executing," Smyly said. "I faced him one game, I strike him out his first at-bat, then he gets three hits in a row off me. I don't know. He's a great hitter. I try to make my pitches. If he hits it, he hits it. If I execute, hopefully I get him out. That's all there is to it."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. Bobby Nightengale is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.