KANSAS CITY -- The play looked like a highlight from another era. Tigers catcher James McCann jumped out of his crouch to take a high fastball from reliever Buck Farmer as Royals outfielder Brian Goodwin took off from first base.It was a pitchout. In today's game, it's a strategic dinosaur.
KANSAS CITY -- The play looked like a highlight from another era. Tigers catcher James McCann jumped out of his crouch to take a high fastball from reliever Buck Farmer as Royals outfielder Brian Goodwin took off from first base.
It was a pitchout. In today's game, it's a strategic dinosaur. But on Tuesday night, it worked, with Niko Goodrum tagging Goodwin as he slid into second.
"[Bench coach] Steve Liddle called the pitchout," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We just kind of smelled that thing out."
Though coaches and catchers can sense a baserunner aiming to take off as often now as they did in past years, it's rare for them to call for a pitchout. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the number of pitchouts across Major League Baseball has dropped from 319 in 2014 to just 116 last season. The Tigers' pitchout on Tuesday was just the 50th in the Majors this year, and the first from Detroit. It was the seventh one to result in a caught stealing, according to STATS.
Part of the drop comes from the change in the intentional walk rule, allowing teams to simply put the batter on first base without having to throw four pitchouts. But pitchout totals were dropping before that rule change last year.
The bigger reason is strategic: In the era of advanced metrics, the statistical difference a pitcher faces in different counts make them reluctant to give up a clear ball. A pitch closer to the strike zone can give the catcher a fighting chance at throwing out a runner. Moreover, a baserunner is less likely to detect it.
"Baseball has turned to modified pitchouts, rather than a catcher jumping out to a real pitchout," Gardenhire explained. "That's just a hard fastball, just off the plate, so you don't see the catcher jump up as much."
The Tigers tend to do those as well. The problem was that the pitches were close enough for the hitter to reach.
"We did it about three times, the modified pitchout, and the guys whacked it," Gardenhire said.
Thanks to a scheduling quirk, Thursday will mark the first of three off-days in an eight-day span for the Tigers following the four-day All-Star break. With that in mind, the Tigers will employ a four-man rotation for a couple turns, giving starters a chance to stay close to a regular routine.
Blaine Hardy, who started on Sunday in place of the injured Michael Fulmer, will head back to the bullpen for the next week and a half. Jordan Zimmermann, who admittedly felt rusty pitching on 13 days' rest on Tuesday, will start Sunday's series finale against the Indians on his standard four days' rest, following Mike Fiers and Francisco Liriano.
"They're routine-oriented," Gardenhire said, "and when you get them out of their routine, it gets real tough. With the day off tomorrow, then three games and another day off, it just gets all out of whack, so we're just calming it down here."
• Left-hander Daniel Norris, currently on the 60-day disabled list following groin surgery, is not close to a rehab assignment, according to general manager Al Avila. Norris has been throwing at the Tigers' Spring Training facility in Lakeland, Fla.
• Casey Mize, the No. 1 overall pick in this year's MLB Draft, will make his pro debut for the Tigers in a Gulf Coast League game in the coming days. Mize is expected to pitch about 20 innings this summer between Rookie ball and a possible assignment at Class A Advanced Lakeland or Class A West Michigan.
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.