Notes: Miggy vs. the shift, Burrows on debut

July 28th, 2020

DETROIT -- Ron Gardenhire was in a joking mood when asked again about the infield shift the Royals employed against on Monday night.

“Well, what are they going to do if he bunts?” the manager said of his 37-year-old designated hitter.

Theoretically, it’s an interesting question. The Royals lined up all four of their infielders on the outfield grass when Cabrera came up to bat with nobody on base. It was a first-time alignment against Cabrera, who saw infield shifts of any sort in just two percent of his plate appearances last year and 8.6 percent in 2018.

Tigers second baseman Jonathan Schoop remembers shifting into left field once in his career with a right-handed hitter at the plate. But he had never seen anything like this.

“That’s the first time I’ve seen the infielders in the grass,” Schoop said.

The strategy, as first-year Royals manager Mike Matheny explained, involves having two strong-arm defenders on the left side of the infield in third baseman Maikel Franco and shortstop Adalberto Mondesi.

Even with a routine ground ball to the left side, the Royals believe their infielders would have time to charge the ball and throw out Cabrera, whose career-low sprint speed of 22.9 feet/second so far this season ranks in the bottom three percent of Major League hitters according to Statcast.

Still, if Cabrera laid down a bunt that got past the pitcher, he should still be able to reach base. However, such a strategy seems unlikely. When the question came up Monday night, Gardenhire pretended he didn’t hear it.

Gardenhire would rather see Cabrera try to hit the ball through or over the shift than in front of it.

“It looked like to us you had more room for hits with that, they were so spread out,” he said.

Still, Gardenhire admitted, “You never know, could make for entertainment.”

Cabrera entered Tuesday’s game against the Royals with better metrics than his stats would suggest. Despite going 2-for-14, his 50 percent hard-hit rate ranks in the top 10 percent of big league hitters. His average exit velocity of 90.9 mph is up from last year’s 90.3 mark, though still down from previous rates during his prime years.

Cabrera is still getting fastballs with just over half the pitches he sees, similar to past seasons. His percentage of breaking balls is slightly up at just under 35 percent. Reds reliever Michael Lorenzen challenged him with fastballs last weekend in Cincinnati, and he answered with a home run and a walk after fouling off several fastballs up to 101 mph.

Burrows treasures debut
gave up three runs on three hits over 2 1/3 innings in his Major League debut Monday, including two home runs, but he gained an experience he’ll never forget, reaching the big leagues after exactly 100 appearances in the Tigers’ farm system.

“It was an incredible feeling,” Burrows said. “It was a huge relief. I’ve been wanting this for my whole life. It’s great to do it in Detroit. The results weren’t great, but I was so happy I made my debut, and I can only get better from now.”

Burrows was the first of four consecutive top picks the Tigers used on pitching. Though Casey Mize, Matt Manning and Alex Faedo overshadowed him at times, the 2015 first-rounder Burrows still showed promise, eventually settling into a bullpen role in Spring Training and into Summer Camp.

His lesson out of his debut: “Mistakes get hit. You have to be more consistent. The mistakes that I’ve made have been homers. I’ve learned that you have to pitch down in the zone. You can’t pitch over the plate.”

“I feel good. Everything’s coming out great. It’s just location now.”

An empty Comerica Park meant Burrows’ family couldn’t watch his debut in person. However, they’re in town visiting, so they were able to watch from their hotel and see him afterwards.

Norris nearing return?
threw 50-60 pitches on Monday at the club’s alternate training site in Toledo, Gardenhire said. Norris, who opened the season on the injured list after spending most of Summer Camp in COVID-19 protocol, was cleared to join Tigers camp for workouts last week.

Norris will make at least one more outing in Toledo. Gardenhire said the team has had discussions on whether he could be activated after that.

Quick hits
, Wednesday’s originally scheduled starter, underwent an MRI exam on his strained right forearm. There’s no timetable for his return.

• Asked for an update on Tigers top prospect from Toledo, Gardenhire smiled.

“He’s fine,” Gardenhire said. “He’s doing great, yeah. I’m not allowed to talk about him. I get in trouble every time I do.”