Tigers return to advertised form
Martinezes lead the way with 10 RBIs
NEW YORK -- Late Saturday night, questions were being asked about the apparent disappearance of the Detroit Tigers offense.
But on a sunny Sunday afternoon in the Bronx, what once was lost was rediscovered, in a very large way.
Sunday, the Tigers got 10 RBIs from persons named Martinez -- four from Victor and six from J.D., who had three home runs. The Tigers, who had suffered through a 14-3 loss the night before, turned the tables on the Yankees in a 12-4 victory.
The Tigers had lost 17 of their last 25 games coming into this one. They had lost the last four in a row. They had been held to two or fewer runs in 28 games this season. They were merely eighth in the AL in runs scored.
But on Sunday, you saw the Tigers as advertised. This looked like the team that has won four straight AL Central titles. Those clubs were characterized by strong starting pitching -- Anibal Sanchez provided that Sunday -- and a truly imposing lineup.
This lineup had not been imposing lately, but Sunday it was back at its best level, against a heralded pitcher, Masahiro Tanaka.
Saturday, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus had predicted that the offense would return to a higher level. Nobody said anything about 12 runs, but even during a slump, Ausmus remained completely confident in his lineup. Why?
"The vast majority of these guys are veterans, they're professionals, they know that it's a 162-game season, there are ebbs and flows, there are crappy periods and times that you can't do anything wrong," Ausmus said. "If [we] can get through those downslides and keep a positive attitude, I think we'll be in great shape, especially with the talent we have."
"You just keep throwing them out there, when you've got names like [Miguel] Cabrera, [Victor] Martinez, [J.D.] Martinez, [Yoenis] Cespedes, [Ian] Kinsler, you know what their track record is, and you keep sending them out there."
The Tigers needed a turning point, a spark, a change of direction -- and Victor Martinez gave them that with a two-out, two-run homer in the first.
"That's big for us," said third baseman Andrew Romine, who also had a home run and appears to be hitting his way into increased playing time. "That got us started and to come from a guy who hasn't been here for part of the season, that's huge. We know that we'll be able to jump on his back and he'll be able to carry us."
Victor Martinez was playing in just his third game after a stay on the disabled list with knee inflammation. He had a terrific season in 2014, finishing second in the AL MVP balloting. There is no overstating how important his return could be for the Tigers. His production would help, and as a switch-hitter he gives a predominantly right-handed lineup a more balanced nature. The Tigers were doubly encouraged Sunday, not only with his three-hit day, but because he was turning on the ball while hitting from the left side.
"If Victor swings the bat with any semblance of what he did a year ago, that definitely adds depth, that's protection for Miguel," Ausmus said. "That's a left-handed bat, which we're short of. I think all those things are plusses for us.
"It's good to have that presence, that left-handed bat, that run-producing ability back in the lineup. Quite frankly, we could use [catcher] Alex Avila, as well, another left-handed bat.
"Then you have [Anthony] Gose, [Victor] Martinez, Alex Avila, Romine if you throw him in there, then you'd have some left-handed bats, the kind of bats that could protect us from the types of pitchers that we've had trouble with this year, pitchers that are getting double-play balls, sinker-slider type guys have given us trouble with the absence of Martinez and Avila, and as a result we've had trouble scoring runs at times. I think having those guys back, in addition to having Gose and Romine playing, will give us a little bit of protection against those types of pitchers."
Avila is out with a knee injury but is getting closer to a rehab assignment.
After Victor Martinez put the Tigers on the board Sunday, J.D. Martinez hit a two-run homer. He hit his second off Tanaka, a solo shot in the fifth, then hit a three-run, opposite field blast off reliever Danny Burawa in the sixth.
He had never had a multi-homer game in the Majors, but Sunday he hit three.
"J.D.'s got a ton of power," Ausmus said. "Outside of Miggy, he's got the most power on this team."
What was the key to hitting against the usually difficult Tanaka?
"As clichéd as it sounds, you've got to get him up," J.D. Martinez said. "He's got some great stuff when he's down in the zone."
Before Sunday this weekend had been a bust for the Tigers. They had served as victims as Alex Rodriguez recorded his 3,000th hit. And then they had lost by 11 runs. "We've been getting our heads kicked in the last couple of games," was the way J.D. Martinez put it.
But Sunday, with a two-Martinez punch, hitting up and down the lineup and solid pitching, the Tigers looked the way the Tigers were supposed to look, which was, of course, very good.