4/23/2014 10:34 P.M. ET
Coke's slider remains a work in progress
By Jason Beck and Teddy Cahill / MLB.com
DETROIT -- Phil Coke flubbed up the finish on an 0-2 slider Tuesday night and turned what once had promise for a very good ninth inning into a troublesome one. He did not mess up the delivery when talking about it afterward.
"It was supposed to be away from him and I didn't get my fingers on top of the ball on the release," Coke said of his offering to Adam Dunn that became a two-run homer. "It started to get that movement that I wanted and then it came back to him at the last minute, just because I didn't get on top of the ball. If I get on top of the ball, he either fouls it off or douses it into left. I don't know. Who's to say? It didn't do what I'm supposed to do.
"It was like I threw an incidental two-seamer."
Wait, that's supposed to be an accidental two-seamer, right?
"No," Coke answered, "it was an incident, because he hit that a long way. Somebody almost died. That was an incident in the outfield seats. Seriously. I'm being totally honest, because he tattooed that ball. He really did. He's probably been itching to do that to me for a long time. Hey, he finally got me. Pitch didn't do what I wanted it to, and that's on me. But he's still a phenomenal hitter and he did exactly what he's supposed to do."
Dunn hadn't been itching to hit him, but the reaction certainly made him laugh.
"I think it's awesome," Dunn said Wednesday. "That's very witty. I don't know Phil Coke very much. I can tell you right now I like him, because that's a good one. That's one of the better ones I've heard."
As for the pitch, it's a work in progress. While Coke thought he had promise in the slider he developed late in Spring Training after talking with Ian Krol and Joba Chamberlain, he has tinkered with it some more following his struggles. He has been working on it with pitching coach Jeff Jones with mixed results.
"At times, it looks real good," manager Brad Ausmus said. "His first couple batters, he threw it a number of times and it looked really good. It's tough with a new pitch. Every once in a while, you lose the handle on it, and unfortunately against Dunn, he did."
Asked how he'll handle Coke, Ausmus took a cautious approach.
"There's got to be spots for him to pitch," Ausmus said. "I think ideally, you want to pitch him where he can be successful, and I think against a lefty is probably your best option. There are stretches where if the situation doesn't arise for him to pitch in the optimal situation, then you just have to get him in there. You can't not use him."
Tuesday's ninth inning was intended to be that situation, with an 8-3 lead and the bottom of the order coming up. Coke struck out the first two hitters before right-handed hitter Marcus Semien's double started the two-out rally.
Dunn, for one, thinks highly of Coke, not just as a quote.
"It's one of those deals where he really does have good stuff," Dunn said. "I think that a lot of times in this game, people probably overthink or put way too much pressure into things and it causes them to struggle. When you are going good, you just rear back and throw it or you swing hard and you hit it.
"Hopefully, he'll end up getting back on track. Hopefully, it's not against us."
Ausmus recalls Wrigley Field experiences
DETROIT -- On the 100th anniversary of the first game at Wrigley Field, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said he has plenty of memories of the ballpark from over the years, both fond and not so fond.
He hit his first career grand slam at Wrigley, a go-ahead drive off Kent Bottenfield on July 15, 1997, but he also keenly remembers striking out twice against Kerry Wood in his 20-strikeout game on May 6, 1998.
Though his playing days are over, Ausmus made another happy memory at Wrigley last summer. For a Cubs-Reds game, he participated in a rite of passage for baseball fans -- sitting in the outfield bleachers at Wrigley, drinking a beer and eating a hot dog.
"I love Wrigley Field," Ausmus said Wednesday. "The amenities aren't great for players. The clubhouse is small, the batting cage is in right-center, but it's fun to play there.
"I'd always wanted to sit in the bleachers."
So that's exactly what he did, taking the train to the game with family. Amid the typically rowdy bleacher bums, Ausmus was inconspicuous.
"Just blended right in," he said. "Everybody was drunk. They had no idea."
Ausmus was back in Chicago last October to interview for the Cubs managerial opening before taking the Tigers' job.
Ausmus sat with family the previous time he attended a game as a spectator as well, though he should have been in uniform. While serving out a one-game suspension with the Tigers, he sat in the stands at Yankee Stadium with relatives.
At Wrigley, sitting in the stands wasn't a punishment for Ausmus, but a treat.
"I was hoping I could get a home run ball," Ausmus deadpanned. "See if I could reach the infield [throwing it back]."
Avila looking for ways to beat defensive shifts
DETROIT -- Alex Avila has seen his share of infield shifts in recent years as opposing teams play him to pull. His three hits to different areas of the field Tuesday night aren't likely to change that approach.
"This year, for some reason, there's been a lot of shifting going on," Avila said. "That's just all the numbers and statistics and graphs, things like that. I mean, we do it."
All he can do is try to hit over it, or in the case of his low line drive into the right-field corner Tuesday, hit through it. That said, he's tempted to take what he's being given.
"There's been times I've thought about maybe trying to lay down a bunt," Avila said. "I tried it in Los Angeles [two weeks ago]. There'll be occasions if a team's shifting in certain situations, trying to lay down a bunt might not be a bad idea.
"A lot of teams are shifting, and I think you're going to see a lot of left-handed hitters maybe drop down a bunt here and there."
It's not as easy as simply slashing an opposite-field line drive, Avila said, because pitchers are usually trying to pitch into the shift, giving the hitter a pitch he can only pull.
Avila went 0-for-3 with a walk in Wednesday's 6-4 loss. He lined out to first with two runners on base in the ninth inning to end the game.
Ray tosses 8 1/3 shutout innings at Triple-A
Left-hander Robbie Ray, the Tigers' No. 2 prospect and No. 95 overall, according to MLB.com, threw 8 1/3 scoreless innings Wednesday night as Triple-A Toledo defeated Indianapolis, 2-0.
Ray, who was acquired from the Nationals in an offseason trade for Doug Fister, entered the ninth with a chance to complete his second career shutout. But a 12-pitch at-bat by Adalberto Santos that ended in a strikeout to lead off the inning upped Ray's pitch count to 107 and prompted manager Larry Parrish to go to his bullpen.
Ray finished his night with seven strikeouts. He walked one batter and allowed four hits. He silenced a lineup that included several players with big league experience, as well as the red-hot Gregory Polanco, the Pirates' top prospect.
Catcher James McCann and third baseman Mike Hessman both hit solo home runs to give Ray all the offense he needed. It was the fifth homer of the season for McCann, the Tigers' No. 9 prospect.
With the victory, Ray improved to 2-2 as a member of the Tigers organization. He has a 1.93 ERA and a 16-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 23 1/3 innings.
• Joe Nathan could be seen warming up in a hurry in the ninth inning Tuesday night as the White Sox rallied against Coke and then Joba Chamberlain. He wasn't warming when the inning began or when the White Sox put a runner on base, and Ausmus said afterward that he probably would have gotten him throwing sooner.
That said, Nathan explained, he doesn't need long to warm up in an urgent situation.
"I can get ready in eight pitches," Nathan said.
While an older arm theoretically should take longer to warm, Nathan doesn't rely on velocity the same way he used to. He also knows how to warm up better than he used to.
• The Tigers announced that they'll make up last week's postponed game against Cleveland with a day-night doubleheader on Saturday, July 19. Tickets for the postponed game will be good for the 1:05 p.m. ET contest. The originally scheduled game for that day remains at 7:05 p.m.
• Left fielder J.D. Martinez had an eventful ending to his first start at Comerica Park on Tuesday, fighting the lights to track Alexei Ramirez's game-ending line drive to left with the potential go-ahead run on deck.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. Teddy Cahill is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @tedcahill. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.