5/21/2014 1:31 A.M. ET
Tigers pitchers helping keep baserunners at bay
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
CLEVELAND -- Brad Ausmus began his first Spring Training as Tigers manager preaching an emphasis on baserunning. His push for his team to run the bases better gained a lot of attention. His push for pitchers to hold baserunners better did not.
So far, the latter is producing better results as well -- not league leading, but easily enough to make a difference. The Tigers entered Tuesday's game against the Indians having thrown out 34.1 percent of would-be basestealers, seventh best in the Majors and fourth best in the American League.
By comparison, Detroit produced an 18.5 percent caught-stealing rate last year, worst in the AL and second-worst in the Majors. The Tigers haven't topped 30 percent over a full season since 2010, Alex Avila's first full season in the big leagues.
Avila hasn't made any adjustments from last season. The major change came from Tigers pitchers.
"It's been a major focus for us," Rick Porcello said, "because last year, as a pitching staff, we didn't do a very good job holding runners on. Max [Scherzer] and Doug [Fister] were very good at it, but the rest of us did not do a good job. And a lot of times, the runners steal off the pitcher and not off the catcher.
"That was one of the first things I remember Brad talking with us about as a group."
The emphasis, Porcello said, wasn't so much about holding runners or picking them off. The focus shifted to becoming less predictable for baserunners to detect a pattern and time their jump. Pitchers began to hold the ball longer before delivering a pitch, then shorter some other times, and changing the timing on slide steps and pickoffs.
"Me, personally, it's been a big focus," Porcello said, "because it's so important for me to keep the guy at first and keep the double play in order. We've devoted more time to getting better at it this year."
By doing that, the pitchers have given Avila more of a fighting chance.
"When you throw out baserunners, it's not just because the catcher makes a good throw," Avila said. "It's because the pitcher holds them on to where they can't get a good jump. When the catcher does make a good throw, he has a chance to get them out. It's a two-way street."
Ausmus: Drew never serious option for Tigers
CLEVELAND -- The Stephen Drew countdown ended about two weeks early, before the Tigers or any team besides the Red Sox could get involved. The way manager Brad Ausmus characterized the situation, Drew never became a serious consideration for Detroit.
After several weeks of waiting for the right situation, Drew found it with his old club, signing a one-year deal with Boston on Tuesday. By re-signing, Drew didn't require a Draft pick as compensation. The Tigers would have had to give up their first-round pick, 23rd overall, to sign him anytime before the start of the First-Year Player Draft on June 5.
The idea, Ausmus said, never progressed far.
"I know it's been talked about a lot [publicly]," Ausmus said, "but it really hasn't been discussed internally."
Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said the team never made an offer for Drew.
Part of that could have been timing. The June 5 date gave the Tigers a natural buffer zone to let their own situation play out.
The other, and more pressing, factor is defense. While Tigers shortstops have struggled mightily at the plate, producing a .470 OPS that ranks last among Major League teams at the position, they've done their job in the field. It was defense that the Tigers prioritized at the spot since Jose Iglesias went on the disabled list.
Defensively, Ausmus said he's satisfied.
"You take it into account," Ausmus said of offense, "but when you have a defender like that at a premium defensive position, there's a little slack cut."
How long that slack is provided remains to be seen. Andrew Romine had Tuesday off after his 0-for-17 streak dropped his average for the season to .179. It stood at .250 on May 4 before he went 2-for-30. Danny Worth, who usually starts against left-handed pitchers, started Tuesday against righty Trevor Bauer, carrying a .250 (6-for-24) average.
Whenever Dombrowski has talked about shortstop, he has indicated that their first options are internal. Coincidence or not, they shuffled their shortstop prospects Tuesday night, promoting slick-fielding Eugenio Suarez from Double-A Erie to Triple-A Toledo.
Suarez ended Tuesday batting .284 with an .850 OPS, including a 13-for-35 stretch over his last 10 games. He made an impression on Tigers officials in Spring Training once Iglesias fell to injury, but the Tigers wanted to get him more seasoning before even considering the big leagues.
Barring a midseason trade, certainly a possibility considering the Tigers' track record, Suarez would be the most likely option if Detroit decided to make a change.
V-Mart showing power, disciplined swing
CLEVELAND -- Victor Martinez headed into Tuesday's game against the Indians with more home runs (11) than strikeouts (nine), putting himself on pace to become just the second 30-homer hitter in the last 50 years to post more homers than strikeouts. But there are ratios to show why.
Surprisingly, it's not only about refusing to chase pitches out of the strike zone. It's about staying alive on the pitches he does chase.
According to Fangraphs, Martinez has actually swung at pitches outside the strike zone at a higher rate this year than last, up from 32.7 percent to 33.4 percent. When he does, however, he makes contact at an alarmingly high rate, connecting on 88.2 percent of the pitches. That's the highest rate of any season in his career.
Only Oakland's Alberto Callaspo (89.8 percent) has made contact on a higher percent of swings at pitches outside the zone. Only Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki (93.9 percent) and Martinez's teammate, Ian Kinsler (92.9 percent), entered Tuesday having made contact on a higher percentage of swings overall than Martinez (92.3 percent).
Comerica Park to feature Motor City Wheels race
CLEVELAND -- Hoping to follow the path of Milwaukee's sausage races and the Nationals' racing presidents, the Tigers will join the ranks of teams with on-field mascot races Thursday when they debut the Motor City Wheels race.
The races, to take place in the middle of the third inning, will put people in mascot costumes reflecting three famous cars from Chevrolet's past. One is a 1957 Bel Air, named "Bella Air." Another is "Corey Vette," a 1958 Corvette. "Petey Pickup" is a 1954 Chevy pickup truck.
The races will take place during every Tigers home game, weather permitting.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.