ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Jim Leyland shuffled the deck this week and came up with a winning hand. Finally.
The Tigers manager has watched his club scuffle through the first month of the season in the topsy-turvy AL Central.
There were four late-inning collapses and going up against CC Sabathia and the New York Yankees on Tuesday, the Tigers were sitting on seven consecutive defeats.
No Tigers team had lost eight straight under Leyland in his six seasons in Detroit. So, Leyland retooled the batting order. Presto. Change-O.
Detroit reeled off 4-2, 4-0, and 6-3 wins over New York, with Magglio Ordonez being replaced by new No. 3 hitter, Brennan Boesch in the last two.
Midway through the game Tuesday, Ordonez’s average had dropped below .150. In Ordonez’s five at-bats that followed, he had four hits, including a two-run homer.
Leyland knew it was just a matter of time.
“I’m on record saying if he doesn’t hit, I’m an idiot — a lot of people think I am, anyway,” Leyland said after Ordonez’s blast helped power the Tigers to the 4-0 win on Wednesday.
The Tigers called up Scott Sizemore and his .408 average from Toledo, sliding him between Ordonez and Austin Jackson and his .188 average.
In his first at-bat, Sizemore followed Jackson’s leadoff double with one of his own. “It sparked us a little bit,” Leyland said of Sizemore, who came to the plate in the ninth still looking up at a scoreboard that read: BA 1.000.
That wasn’t going to last. But Leyland hopes the recovery from a sub-.250 club batting average in April will last.
The Tigers send No. 5 starter Phil Coke out to pitch in the series opener Friday against Jesse Litsch. The best pitching matchup could be Saturday when Justin Verlander goes against Toronto’s Ricky Romero. The Tigers’ Achilles heel was expected to be pitching — and it has been spotty. So Max Scherzer has been a pleasant surprise and, in this series finale, could become the first Tigers starter to go 5-0 since Jeremy Bonderman in 2007.
The Tigers likely have lost hard-throwing but injury-prone reliever Joel Zumaya for the season. He is to undergo elbow surgery next week. It’s an unfortunate situation for someone regarded as one of baseball’s best young relievers when he broke into the major leagues in 2006. Zumaya’s 6-3 record, 1.94 ERA and 97 strikeouts over 831/3 innings played a major role in Detroit’s surprise run to the World Series that year.
Since then he has had a ruptured tendon in his right middle finger in 2007, a damaged AC joint that required reconstructive surgery that winter, a stress fracture in his shoulder in 2008 and 2009, and the elbow injury last year. Now this. For the Tigers, it has been a difficult start.