What happened to Javier Báez?
The much-maligned shortstop, who was regularly booed for his terrible plate appearances while striking out 147 times last season, looked better at the plate — actually, almost like a new person at the plate with much better discipline — with a hard single, a walk and a strikeout in his first three at-bats against tough left-hander Shane McClanahan, the starter for the American League in last season’s All-Star Game. Granted, McClanahan’s a lefty and Baez hits lefties well. He really struggles against righties and especially against an outside slider. That’s exactly what righty reliever Jason Adam threw Báez in the seventh inning to get two whiffs. Baez at least avoided the strikeout with a hard-hit deep fly to left.
Anyone else in the lineup stand out?
Austin Meadows had a great start, going 3-for-4 with a double. But two players concern me. Miguel Cabrera doubled in the seventh off reliever Colin Poche for his 3,089th career hit, which tied Ichiro Suzuki for 23rd all-time. Milestones are nice, but it would have been better had it come when it mattered. With runners on base, Cabrera went 0-for-3. The Tigers need improvement, and fast, from first baseman Spencer Torkelson, and he didn’t show much. He went 0-for-4, grounding out each time. He at least hit the ball hard, with a 100.7 mph exit velocity on one grounder; his hard-hit balls were the story of the spring. But he didn’t exactly dominate the strike zone, which is what team president Scott Harris wants. Torkelson still chased too many bad or fringe pitches and never worked the count enough to reach even a two-ball count.
How was the pitching?
Promising — and then terrible. Starter Eduardo Rodriguez pitched well enough to give the Tigers a chance to win. He showed good command and smart strategy setting up batters. He allowed one run, on an 89 mph mistake down the middle to Jose Siri in the third, through five innings; at one point, he’d retired 11 straight batters. But he got in trouble with one out in the sixth after he walked Yandy Diaz and gave up a single to Isaac Paredes. He was pulled after 88 pitches, then reliever Jason Foley immediately gave up RBI singles to Randy Arozarena and Luke Raley. In the eighth, Wander Franco homered off rookie Mason Englert for a 4-0 lead. The Tigers’ margin for error will be so slim this season that they can’t afford a shaky bullpen and struggles from their key hitters if they hope to avoid a basement finish.
Contact Carlos Monarrez: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.