5/14/2014 7:10 P.M. ET
Ausmus: Defensive shifts have gone 'overboard'
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
BALTIMORE -- Brad Ausmus took over the Tigers' managerial job last fall with a plan to incorporate some new strategies into the team's game plan, including a defensive coordinator to help coordinate infield shifts. But even Ausmus thinks the recent trends towards shifting have gone too far.
Much like football teams copying a winning offense, Ausmus expects the trend to eventually be countered.
"I think it's probably gone overboard," Ausmus said. "Like a lot of things in baseball, it tends to become an extreme. If a team does it, then three teams do it, then everyone does it, then a few teams start doing it more and I think in baseball, it gets out of hand."
After Alex Avila's ground-ball single against the shift started the Tigers' ninth-inning comeback Wednesday night, the manager might have a point. Ausmus didn't use it as an example, but he has acknowledged for the past couple weeks that Avila would need some opposite-field singles to counter the trend. He has even encouraged Avila to potentially bunt against it.
In the ninth inning of a one-run game, Avila didn't show bunt, but he didn't have to.
"I don't know if he has been trying to hit it that way or not," Ausmus said Wednesday morning, "but it is the risk of the shift. You're trying to play on the hitter's tendencies, and the vast majority of the time, a guy like Alex is going to end up hitting the ball from the shortstop to the right-field line. But it does leave a large void on the left side of the infield if he happens to be late on a pitch or if he tries to hit a pitch that way."
That leads to the question of situational shifting, depending on the score of the game and the inning, as well as the hitter involved.
"I think you have to take account what the score is," Ausmus said. "With guys like [Red Sox DH David Ortiz], you're not really concerned about them necessarily trying to beat the shift with the bunt, although he has done it before. But you have to take that into account with the score."
Yet as shifting has gained popularity, Ausmus said, it has become less situational and more of a general philosophy. It's being used too often in his opinion, and it's bound to shift back once hitters start countering it with regularity.
"There's such a big void, I think players will eventually bunt or hit the ball the other way," Ausmus said. "I think teams will start taking the score into account, especially in the last three innings of a game, and the risk of allowing an easy baserunner. When you have a lead, the last thing you want to do is allow the other team to have baserunners."
The Tigers, for their part, have used more shifts under Ausmus than they ever did under former manager Jim Leyland. The vast majority of the shifts, though, have been to move the third baseman into short right field against pull-heavy left-handed hitters. Even then, it hasn't been a blanket philosophy.
More of defensive coordinator's Matt Martin's work has been subtle, working with infield coach Omar Vizquel to move the shortstop or second baseman a few feet in either direction. It doesn't draw much attention until Andrew Romine or Ian Kinsler is in position to field a hard-hit ball up the middle or in the hole.
Putkonen may rejoin Tigers after rehab appearance
BALTIMORE -- Luke Putkonen might make one more rehab appearance for Triple-A Toledo before rejoining the Tigers bullpen, manager Brad Ausmus said Wednesday.
Tigers officials were planning to discuss the possibility on Wednesday after Putkonen gave up three singles and a grand slam in his second inning of work for Toledo on Tuesday night.
Mud Hens manager Larry Parrish told the Toledo Blade there was some issue with Putkonen's stuff.
"I didn't think he had the pop on his fastball, the movement," Parrish told The Blade's John Wagner. "There were also some things we don't want to talk about, but that we might be able to help him with."
Putkonen made three rehab appearances over the past week between Toledo and Class A West Michigan. He went on the 15-day disabled list a few weeks ago with right elbow inflammation.
The Tigers aren't in desperate need of relief depth just yet, thanks to a string of solid starts. They'll have about 2 1/2 weeks of games following Thursday's off-day in Boston, which could eventually set up the need for a long reliever.
No discipline handed out to umpire Nauert
BALTIMORE -- Umpire Paul Nauert will not face discipline from Major League Baseball after a review of Monday's benches-clearing incident between the Tigers and Orioles, an MLB spokesperson confirmed Wednesday.
The matter with Nauert is closed, according to the spokesperson. After Justin Verlander's fastball behind Nelson Cruz later on Wednesday, it appears the matter is settled between the two teams as well.
Verlander's pitch was a 1-0 fastball to Cruz with one out in the fourth inning following a Chris Davis walk. Cruz briefly stood in front of home plate and subtly made a gesture towards Verlander, but stopped at that. Home plate umpire John Tumpane issued warnings to both dugouts, prompting an argument from O's manager Buck Showalter.
"I'm just trying to figure out the consistency of it," Showalter said. "You get one pitch and they read intent on Bud, and you get one pitch that's completely obvious that there's intent there, so why did you issue a warning and not eject him?"
Verlander said the pitch "just slipped."
Manager Brad Ausmus dismissed the matter.
"As skilled as pitchers are at this level, balls get away from pitchers," Ausmus said. "It's as simple as that, just like I'm sure the ball got away from Bud Norris."
Norris was ejected from Monday's game after hitting Torii Hunter with a fastball in the ribs, two pitches after Ian Kinsler hit a two-run home run to open a 4-1 lead.
Verlander and Cruz have a history as well, dating back to the 2011 American League Championship Series. Cruz, then with the Texas Rangers, homered off a 100-mph fastball from Verlander and seemingly celebrated.
Joe Torre, Major League Baseball's executive vice president of on-field operations, talked with Nauert on Wednesday morning. Torre spent Tuesday reviewing the incident, including Nauert's contact with his right hand on Hunter's face as he tried to calm down the Tigers outfielder.
The situation presented an interesting scenario on the perception of umpires coming into contact with players. The still photo of Nauert's hand on Hunter's face made it look like a slap, but both the replay and Hunter's comments suggested it was much softer than that.
Hunter spoke up in support of Nauert on Tuesday, saying the contact didn't warrant an investigation.
"That doesn't make sense," Hunter said. "I mean, he was just trying to get me to calm down."
The review, both of players' behavior and the umpires involved, was standard operating procedure after that kind of incident. With the investigation now closed, neither Norris nor Hunter is expected to be disciplined.
V-Mart makes Tigers history with long homer
BALTIMORE -- Victor Martinez's home run Tuesday night was just the second by a Tigers player to land on Baltimore's Eutaw Street beyond right field. The other Tiger to do it was another catcher turned designated hitter.
Mickey Tettleton hit one off former superprospect Ben McDonald on April 20, 1992, early in the inaugural season of Camden Yards. It was the last in a string of back-to-back-to-back home runs, following Alan Trammell and Cecil Fielder.
Martinez's blast Tuesday night came on the heels of Miguel Cabrera's go-ahead homer, giving the Tigers their first set of consecutive home runs this season. Martinez and Omar Infante hit back-to-back homers last Sept. 24 against the Twins at Target Field.
ESPN Stats and Info measured Tuesday's home run at 403 feet.
Miller improves on slider, picks up first win
BALTIMORE -- Justin Miller will always remember his first Major League win Tuesday night for the Miguel Cabrera heroics that set it up. He'd also like to remember it as the day he got his slider back, if he can keep it up.
Miller got the call from manager Brad Ausmus with a 1-0 deficit and held it there through the seventh and eighth innings, allowing one hit, ahead of Cabrera's go-ahead home run in the ninth. Just as important, his pitches were nastier, from a harder fastball to a sharper slider he'd been struggling mightily to throw for quality strikes.
"I thought his slider was tighter," Ausmus said. "He's been working on that. I think that was his best outing, clearly his best outing since he's been here."
The slider was a huge pitch for Miller before Tommy John surgery two years back. After some tinkering and some tips from teammates, he hopes he has found it.
"I've been working with Joe [Nathan] the last four or five days, talking with Joba [Chamberlain] too," he said, "just talking about their grips and their mindset and how they go about throwing it."
The adjustment put some extra velocity on his slider, averaging 83-84 mph according to brooksbaseball.net. It had been averaging 81.3 mph this season, according to Fangraphs.
"It had better break to it, and I got better swings on it," Miller said. "It was awesome."
Miller had given up runs in each of his previous three outings. He hadn't gone scoreless in one since April 23.