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When hits dry up, Tigers turn to baserunning

MLB.com

SAN DIEGO -- The Tigers hadn't made solid contact on an Andrew Cashner pitch Friday night until Rajai Davis sent a line drive through the middle with one out in the sixth inning. They didn't need to make solid contact, or any contact, to get him to third.

Within five pitches, Davis had stolen two bases, and the previously focused Cashner had walked Ian Kinsler. Though Cashner regrouped to get an inning-ending double play from Miguel Cabrera, the rally became Exhibit A of what aggressive baserunning can mean to a team struggling to produce offense.

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SAN DIEGO -- The Tigers hadn't made solid contact on an Andrew Cashner pitch Friday night until Rajai Davis sent a line drive through the middle with one out in the sixth inning. They didn't need to make solid contact, or any contact, to get him to third.

Within five pitches, Davis had stolen two bases, and the previously focused Cashner had walked Ian Kinsler. Though Cashner regrouped to get an inning-ending double play from Miguel Cabrera, the rally became Exhibit A of what aggressive baserunning can mean to a team struggling to produce offense.

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It was the third time in two games that a Tigers hitter went from first to third with less than two outs without a ball put in play. Ian Kinsler did it twice Wednesday at Dodger Stadium, swiping second and third on Josh Beckett before a wild pitch and a throwing error advanced him in the seventh inning. Both times, Kinsler scored on sacrifice flies.

"I've seen a lot of good things on the bases in the first eight games," manager Brad Ausmus said Saturday. "We put an emphasis on it in Spring Training. The key is to re-emphasize, remind and make sure that we continue to have this frame of mind once we've left home plate. Force the defense to make the play; try to go the extra 90 feet on a pitch or the extra 180 feet on a batted ball."

Kinsler's steals came early in a scoreless game against a slow pitcher to home. Davis' steals came at a time when everyone expected the Tigers to try to manufacture some offense, having failed to do so for the first five innings.

"I think Jim Leyland said it to me: You know a guy's a basestealer when everyone in the stadium knows he's trying to steal a base and he still does," Ausmus said. "When he gets on base, he can change not only the way the game goes, but the pitcher's frame of mind. The pitcher's now concentrating on two things as opposed to one. When he's on base, he can be an issue for an opposing team."

That said, don't expect Davis to do so from the leadoff spot for much longer. Ausmus reiterated his plans to move Davis back toward the bottom of the order once the team returns home for American League play and the designated hitter rules next week.

"More than likely, when we get back to the American League format, he'll go back to the nine hole," Ausmus said, "because I really do prefer Miggy hitting third on a regular basis."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.

Detroit Tigers, Rajai Davis