It was clear the Tigers needed the offense to wake up after the last homestand. The Delmon Young incident didn't help, but the the Tigers were much improved offensively in the the first two games of the series. Brad Eldred made good on his first start as a Tiger, chipping in with two hits including a triple in his first at bat. Yes, Raul Ibanez played the liner into a triple, but who's counting?
Eldred was nearing rock star status in Toledo for his Chris Shelton-like start in April. Eldred hit 13 homers in 20 games and was hitting .388. Danny Worth who played with Eldred for much of April in Toledo said he hadn't seen anything like it. "It was like Prince Fielder in spring training, everyone couldn't wait to see him hit," Worth said. "Even when he swung and missed, the crowd would ooh and ahh."
Eldred will get a chance to fill the DH role for as long as he hits.
Andy Dirks meanwhile subbed for Young in left field in the second game and took advantage of his opportunity, drilling a three-run homer off Freddy Garcia in the first inning. The Tigers would go on to win 7-5 as Drew Smyly earned his first big league win.
Perhaps the biggest development was Austin Jackson's bat in the first two games. The Tigers center fielder and table-setter showed some life going 5-8 with four runs scored before C.C. Sabathia slowed him down in the finale.
Hitting coach Lloyd McClendon summed it up best when he said, "Getting Jackson on base is important because Boesch will see better pitches." With Boesch and Jackson clicking, Cabrera and Fielder become better run producers.
Don't read much into Prince Fielder's lack of power numbers to this point. The Prince hit just his third homer of the season in the series finale, but Jim Leyland is not worried. "They are staying away from him" Leyland said. "He's not hooking those pitches for outs. He's taking what they are giving him. He's gotten some huge hits for us, he's not just a power hitter."
The second deck shot he tomahawked against Sabathia was encouraging.
I also had a chance to talk with Jim Kaat who was in town broadcasting the first game for the MLB Network and we chatted about Justin Verlander's evolution. Kaat was impressed with Justin's ability to learn how to pitch and not just throw it as hard as he can.
"When I have been asked to work with pitchers in spring training, I try to find the guys that throw in the mid 90's and tell them to pitch a couple of innings at 88 MPH," he said "You learn how to pitch instead of just throwing it by people."
That in a nutshell is what Verlander has done.