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Behind Enemy Lines: Q&A with Bless You Boys

Detroit Tigers v Cleveland Indians
Daniel Norris
Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images

The Tigers return to Tropicana Field tonight, and to get the lowdown on the situation, I exchanged questions with Ashley MacLennan at Bless You Boys.

So, uh, what on earth is going on in the outfield?

Assuming you mean centerfield, the Tigers have actually be surprisingly pleased with the addition of rookie JaCoby Jones to the lineup. He was sort of a surprise out of spring training because the team had no viable long term solution in center after trading Cameron Maybin early in the offseason. It seemed likely Detroit would be platooning Tyler Collins and Mikie Mahtook (you’ve heard of him right?) in center. Then JaCoby just showed up late in spring and kind of blew everyone away. He’s been sharing CF duty with Andrew Romine and the pair of them have actually been doing pretty well.

As for Collins and Mahtook, they’ve started sharing right field duties and while both are serviceable neither of them will be a long term guy in that position.

Will we see J.D. Martinez this series? How is Mikie Mahtook treating you?

J.D. is still on the DL. He’s been taking live batting practice but I think it’ll still be a couple more weeks before he’s permanently back with the team. I would expect to see him start a rehab stint soon, and if all goes well he should be back on the team by early May. Please, God, let all go well. The Tigers have really missed that bat.

Mahtook has been a surprisingly fun addition to the team. I wouldn’t call him a good player, as his current batting average can attest, but he’s got a really easy charm in post-game pressers and he seems to be a natural fit with the bench from a personality point of view. He will probably take periodic reps in different outfield positions later in the season, but he won’t ever be a starting position guy for the team. That said, he’s nice. I like him.

Are the Tigers a good team on defense? They rank ahead of the Rays so far this season!

The Tigers have been pretty solid defensively so far this season. In the last game against Cleveland this weekend they turned three different double plays. Unlike the Rays where a lot of the excitement and flash comes in the outfield thanks to earthbound superhero Kevin Kiermaier doing insanely cool sh*t in center, the Tigers really shine on the infield. Nicholas Castellanos is “okay” at third base, but the real excitement is watching Jose Iglesias and Ian Kinsler. Those two turn double-plays and make catches that are so beautiful it should be a mandatory training video for rookie infielders to watch.

Should I be more afraid of Ian Kinsler or is Castellanos as the biggest threat in the line up?

Can I say Alex Avila? For a backup catcher with limited plate appearance, the dude is mashing this year. He’s .700/.786/1.500 over 14 plate appearances. Chances are good he’s going to show up in at least one of the games and his plate discipline, while frustratingly quiet for some, is really finely tuned. Plus he’s been hitting insanely well this year so far, and when he’s not hitting, he’s taking walks.

Numbers-wise Castellanos and Kinsler are neck-and-neck this season, which makes having them in the 1-2 spots of the lineup all the more dangerous. Long-term Kinsler will always be the more dangerous guy to face, but this season Castellanos has shown something new. He’s leaner, he’s fitter, and he’s running. Give the guy a chance to take an extra bag and he’ll do it. Might have something to do with how far he unbuttons his jersey. Or changing his name from Nick to Nicholas in spring training. Whatever it is, it’s sure working for him and for the team.

Glancing around, I don't see Anibal Sanchez anywhere, and we won't see Matthew Boyd this series, but he's climbed up to second in your rotation (which I’m sure is a scheduling thing). Who is this kid, and how has he bumped Sanchez from the rotation?

If you keep glancing you might just end up seeing Sanchez on a bus home if things continue the way they’ve been going so far this year.

The Tigers started spring training with three giant question marks in their pitching staff: Mark Lowe, Mike Pelfrey, and Anibal Sanchez. All three had been legitimate disasters in the previous season, but there was a lot of payroll tied up in their contracts so obviously Al Avila wanted to see if he could make them work. Pelfrey and Lowe just showed more of the same over the spring and the decision to cut them was easy. Tigers ate their contracts and sent them home. Sanchez on the other hand made a super minor arm adjustment and suddenly went on a tear of scoreless innings. He was sensational in the latter half of spring and legitimately saved his job.

Boyd, however, was lights out the best option for the fifth starter job. He had one walk all spring. ONE. Some thought Sanchez might still get that role, but Anibal ended up in the pen, and Boyd got the starter job.

Now Sanchez has started to fall apart again and almost everyone thinks it’s just a matter of time before he’s cut for good. If you guys see him come in in relief, congrats, you’re going to score some runs.

Boyd has been kicking around the Tigers system for a while now as one of those spot starters they would bring up when someone was injured. He was never exactly mind-blowing, but his work this spring was totally amazing. He’s definitely the number five guy, not the number two, but I don’t see him going anywhere any time soon.

Cleveland Indians v Detroit Tigers
Michael Fulmer
Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

The real kids are clearly Fulmer and Norris, both are 24 years old. Do they have the typical learning curve of young pitchers? What will be their undoing against the Rays?

Fulmer and Norris are both excellent and exciting young pitchers. Fulmer won the Rookie of the Year award last year, and regardless of what the Yankees might tell you, he deserved it. He had an absolutely brilliant first season. Norris is just enchanting. He lives in a van and takes portraits. He’s this unique and delightful Renaissance man.

At this early point in the season they’ve both gotten off to decent but somewhat shaky starts. They’re collecting wins but not as cleanly as they could be. Both of them are throwing heat but being too aggressive with it, so if the Rays just watch for poorly located fastballs they might get lucky. That said, these guys are both excellent pitchers so there will be a lot of give and take between them and the batters.

Pitch framing from James McCann might also factor as something that helps the Rays. He’s still pretty young and needs to work on his framing a lot. His communication with the pitching staff isn’t 100% yet, and it has led to some very frustrating displays at the plate.

Does K-Rod wear No. 57 because that's how old he is?

No, but he might wear it because of how many saves he’s going to blow this year.

Honestly, the entire Tigers bullpen is a giant hot mess right now. Games that shouldn’t be even remotely close thanks to strong starting pitching are coming down to one run wins. Alex Wilson has been fairly consistent, but Anibal Sanchez and Kyle Ryan who are meant to be the long relief guys have been abysmal. Shane Greene isn’t doing much better, which could be in part because he can’t feel his fingers, and K-Rod, well… He’s going full Jose Valverde (former saves leader crashes and burns the next season), and that’s going to lead to an epidemic of hard drinking and smoking in Detroit.

Which bullpen loses this series?

Given how things have been going, the Tigers will muddle through, but the pen will make it very, very ugly first.