Opposite dugout: Sleepy bats a factor in Tigers’ slow start

tigers-logo.jpgManager: Ron Gardenhire (1st year)

Record: 4-9

Last 10 games: 4-6

Who to watch: 1B Miguel Cabrera (.245/.309/.367, 3 doubles), 2B Dixon Machado (7 doubles, 8 RBIs), 3B Jeimer Candelario (4 doubles, 1 HR), RF Nicholas Castellanos (.302/.362/.415, 2 triples), RHP Jordan Zimmermann (0-0, 8.18 ERA), RHP Shane Greene (3.86 ERA, 2 saves)

Season series vs. Orioles: First meeting (4-3 in 2017)

Pitching probables:

April 17: RHP Andrew Cashner (1-1) vs. LHP Francisco Liriano (1-1), 6:40 p.m., MASN2
April 18: RHP Kevin Gausman (1-1) vs. LHP Matthew Boyd (0-1), 6:40 p.m., MASN2
April 19: RHP Alex Cobb (0-1) vs. RHP Jordan Zimmermann (0-0), 1:10 p.m., MASN

Inside the Tigers:

The 2010 American League Manager of the Year is back at the helm of a big league club for the first time since 2014, when he was fired after 13 seasons as skipper of the Twins. Ron Gardenhire’s new club has been sluggish out of the gate this year, and has lost five straight following a three-game win streak. However, its starting pitchers - particularly the lefties the Orioles will face tonight and tomorrow - are showing signs of promise. The Tigers staff comes into this series well rested following yesterday’s off-day and a lost weekend in which hideous weather threw scheduling into turmoil all over the majors. But if the club is to have any hope of challenging the Indians and Twins in the American League Central, the bats must get going.

First baseman Miguel Cabrera tops that list. Consistently among the best hitters in the bigs since he came up with the Marlins in 2003, Cabrera fell to Earth last year with a slash line of .249/.329/.399. Even though he leads the team in RBIs with nine, the 35-year-old has not yet recaptured his swagger. A change of scenery seemed to agree with third baseman Jeimer Candelario when he came to the Tigers at last season’s non-waiver trade deadline. After playing sparingly for the Cubs over parts of two seasons, Candelario hit .330 for the Tigers over 106 plate appearances in 2017. For the young 2018 season, however, he’s slashing a meager .200/.290/.364. Veteran shortstop José Iglesias has an even deeper hole to climb out of, going just 4-for-39 to start the year. Second baseman Dixon Machado has so far hit for a slash line of .234/.265/.383, but already has seven doubles in 47 at-bats. Veteran designated hitter Victor Martinez (.263/.341/.368) is on a pace to collect 99 RBIs in 2018, provided the 39-year-old switch-hitter can stay off the disabled list. Center fielder Leonys Martin (.271/.352/.396) is new to Detroit, having signed with the Tigers in his first year as a free agent after stints with the Rangers, Mariners and Cubs. Right fielder Nicholas Castellanos, now entering his fifth full season with the Tigers, has been among the club’s most consistent hitters.

Coming off an unremarkable term as a half-season rental with the eventual champion Houston Astros, lefty Francisco Liriano (1-1, 2.13 ERA) has been up to the task of keeping the Tigers in games in his first two starts of 2018. He gets the start in tonight’s game. Giving up four hits and a single run over 6 2/3 innings on April 2, Liriano secured the win against the Royals. A week later in Cleveland, he gave up just three hits while striking out four and walking three over six innings, but took the loss when the Tigers could only muster two hits off Corey Kluber. With no wins to show for his 1.38 ERA, southpaw Matthew Boyd, who starts Wednesday, looks like the early favorite to become the Tigers’ designated hard-luck loser this year. Boyd allowed one run over six innings in taking a loss against the Royals April 3. He gave up just one run on a solo homer while going seven innings in Cleveland on April 10. Righty Jordan Zimmermann’s ERA has been climbing since the longtime National signed with the Tigers as a free agent following the 2015 season. His last start was particularly ugly, but not because he allowed base runners. Indeed, Zimmermann had thrown just six pitches, five of them for strikes, when Cleveland’s Jason Kipnis hit the seventh offering for a line drive that struck Zimmermann in the face, forcing the pitcher out of the April 11 game. Zimmermann, who had previously sustained a broken jaw from a line drive, climbs back onto the horse Thursday afternoon.

The Tigers bullpen has taken its lumps in 2018, with right-handers Alex Wilson (0-2, 7.00 ERA) and Buck Farmer (0-1, 10.80 ERA) and lefty Daniel Norris (0.1, 7.11 ERA) all getting knocked around. On the other hand, the Tigers have been able to rely on righties Drew VerHagen (0-0, 2.35 ERA) and Joe Jiménez (1-0, 0.00 ERA over seven appearances). Closer Shane Greene has pitched in five games so far this season, and converted both save opportunities he’s had, both against the White Sox.

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