Al Avila navigating dad, VP roles amid concern for son's health

Tigers catcher, under team control next season, has sustained multiple concussions

Al Avila navigating dad, VP roles amid concern for son's health

DETROIT -- Alex Avila should be able to have a normal offseason after concussion symptoms from a couple of weeks ago subsided and followup tests came back negative. Still, there's a lingering concern within the Tigers organization for his health after at least three concussions in recent years.

One of those concerned is his father, who is also technically one of his bosses.

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"Nobody likes to see a guy get hit, whether it's your son or anybody else, even on another team," said Tigers vice president and assistant general manager Al Avila, who watched his son become a success story as an All-Star catcher in 2011, but has also watched him suffer a series of head injuries in the years since.

From the day the Tigers drafted Alex Avila in 2008, his father realized the personal and professional relationship would be a tricky one. Al Avila did not push for the Tigers to pick his son, because he knew what it would entail, and he has maintained he should stay out of front-office discussions involving his son.

Alex Avila's health, though, is one area where the organization and the family have much the same view. And while both sides believe he can and should continue playing, they're both looking at warning signs as the foul tips, backswings and plays at the plate pile up.

It's not one big incident with the younger Avila, but the accumulation of all those plays taken by themselves. Al Avila knows his son seemingly takes more foul tips than his peers, and he doesn't know how much they can do about it, except to not make it worse by playing through it whenever he feels damage.

"As far as I know, he's healthy and he's ready to go, from all the tests that they've taken on him," Al Avila said last week following Tigers president/GM Dave Dombrowski's end-of-season remarks. "He should have no issues moving forward. As far as life-threatening things or career-ending things, at this point, the doctors have given him no indication that's the case.

"It's like in football where there's a higher risk, or boxers. These have all been a lot of little hits and then, boom, one big one, and now learning that when that happens, you've got to come out and take your week off and then go back in there. You can't try to play through it. And I think if he takes that advice, which obviously he's not going to have any choice, then he should be good moving forward."

Alex Avila has been steady about his intent to keep playing while acknowledging the risk of repeated concussions. He's under team control for next season, either with a $5.4 million club option or with a third year of arbitration eligibility. Detroit has avoided arbitration with him the last couple of seasons, though last year's negotiations lasted a little while.

Dombrowski has given no indication yet whether the Tigers will pick up the option, which would give him a $1.05 million raise from this season.

"I don't know what the final decision [will be]," Dombrowski said a week ago. "We do have a young catcher, [James] McCann, that we like a lot. I think he's ready to be a big league catcher. Where that will all come into play, we'll find out over the next time period.

"With the concussion issue, I've known Alex Avila since he was about five years old, and so I worry about him as a human being when you see something like that happen. It's a tough situation because as his father sits next to me or two seats over in a game, and he tries to be professional as he can -- because he's a very professional person and he doesn't want to take it into personal situations -- I know it has to be grinding him on the inside even though he would not acknowledge that at times. It's difficult in that regard."

The foul tips, Al Avila said, aren't as difficult for him to watch as the backswings.

"I mean, when you get hit with a foul ball in the mask, how do you avoid that? People say maybe if you get low or if you move back, it's really, that's more luck than anything," he said. "And sometimes when you're catching hard-throwing pitchers, you're more apt to get hit in the mask. That's not a frustration for me because it happens in the game and it's happened to many, many catchers. We're seeing him every day, so we're kind of more geared to him getting hit.

"What really frustrates me is the backswing. I've seen too many backswings hit catchers in the head. That really frustrates me. And it's not only with Alex; it's with other catchers, too."

For that reason, Al Avila said, his son has adjusted the way he catches.

"I've actually observed him where he's catching a ball and there's a batter that he knows consistently hits him on the head, and he'll actually catch the ball and try to move the head a little bit," he said. "And really, it's something that's unbelievable, because you're trying to catch a 96-mph fastball and move out of the way."

Several veteran catchers have ended up changing positions because of it, including American League Central counterparts Joe Mauer and Carlos Santana. If the concussion pattern continues, Al Avila acknowledges his son might have to join them in getting out from behind the plate.

For now, however, that's not in the plan.

"Like the doctors told him, your biggest danger is if you get a concussion and you try to play through that concussion and then you get hit again, that's when permanent damage could occur," Al Avila said. "That's what I have emphasized to him: If you get hit and you get suspicious of a concussion, you've gotta come out of the game."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Russell leaves scouting department; Littlefield joins staff

DETROIT -- One of the hallmarks of Dave Dombrowski's tenure as Tigers president and general manager has been the continuity of his staff, keeping his inner circle of trusted advisors largely together in an era when even top evaluators often bounce around and success usually leads to bigger things for assistants. Dombrowski lost someone from his core group on Monday, but filled the void with a similarly familiar face.

Mike Russell, the longest-tenured scout on the Tigers staff, left for a new opportunity and an old friend, heading to the Arizona Diamondbacks to be a special assistant for pro scouting. He'll be replaced by former Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield, who served as Dombrowski's assistant GM with the Marlins from 1999-2001.

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Russell will serve as a special assistant to new D-backs senior vice president of baseball operations De Jon Watson, whom he has known since they worked together with the Marlins in the mid-1990s, both working under Dombrowski. Russell will help coordinate the extensive pro scouting staff the D-backs have put together.

"I'm really excited about it," Russell said. "It was nothing negative. It was just a promotion and a chance to go help a friend."

Russell's ties with Dombrowski date to 1996, when he joined the Marlins to be an area supervisor and a special assignment scout. When Dombrowski left Florida for the Tigers, Russell was one of his earliest hires, coming on board in 2002 to be a Major League scout and remaining in that role until his departure.

Russell's primary role was scouting East Division teams and players. However, he also went out on several special assignments to evaluate Tigers prospects. Russell has scouted for four World Series teams, signed seven Major League players and provided the background work that led to franchise-changing trades such as the Miguel Cabrera deal with the Marlins.

Along with assistant GM Al Avila, VP of player personnel Scott Reid and VP/special assistant David Chadd, Russell was part of the core group on the scouting side.

"Our pro scouting department was very successful in what we did," Russell said. "I'm proud of it. I'm proud to be able to say I helped Dave and played a small part."

Russell was inducted into the Professional Baseball Scouts Hall of Fame last summer. He also made his impact on the charitable side, including a donation to pay for the funeral of James Van Horn, better known for his "Eat 'Em Up Tigers" chant around Comerica Park, after Van Horn was killed in a hit-and-run accident last summer.

Russell thanked Dombrowski for the opportunity with the Tigers. He also thanked club owner Mike Ilitch, who helped Russell and his family rebuild their Florida home after Hurricane Ivan hit the Gulf Coast in 2004.

"I benefited by being a part of his organization," Russell said.

So, too, could Littlefield, who returns to his original organization a quarter-century after breaking into the scouting ranks. He began his career with the Tigers as an area scout in the late 1980s before Dombrowski hired him for his scouting staff with the Expos in 1991. He climbed the ranks in Montreal under Dan Duquette, Kevin Malone and Jim Beattie before reuniting with Dombrowski in Florida in 1998.

Littlefield left midway through the 2001 season for Pittsburgh, where he briefly hired Avila as a special assistant before Dombrowski tabbed Avila to be his top assistant with Detroit.

Littlefield's Pirates tenure was marked by unsuccessful moves such as Bryan Bullington's selection as the top Draft pick in 2002 and Rajai Davis' trade to San Francisco for Matt Morris, but Littlefield's Draft selections of Neil Walker and Andrew McCutchen helped lay a foundation for the later rebuilding that led to the Pirates becoming a contender in recent years.

Littlefield spent the past seven years with the Cubs as a special assistant and a Major League scout.

"Dave brings years of scouting and baseball experience," Dombrowski said, "and will be a solid complement to our baseball-operations department."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Tigers hope for a healthy Iglesias to start at shortstop

Tigers hope for a healthy Iglesias to start at shortstop

DETROIT -- The Tigers will go into Spring Training in 2015 with the expectation that Jose Iglesias will be ready to go when camp begins in mid-February. If he meets that expectation, he's likely to be the Tigers' starting shortstop.

If the stress fractures in his shins that forced him to miss the entire '14 season -- and half that time unable to put weight on his legs -- also lead to a slow recovery for him to full speed, however, they'll have to protect themselves. That likely leaves them with much the same roster situation they have now.

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"I don't want to anoint him without our manager and staff seeing him," Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski said during his season wrapup press conference Tuesday. "But for me, I'd be surprised if he's not, because I think he's a premium young shortstop that is outstanding from a defensive perspective that's got speed and will add something offensively."

Defensively, it's the one way the Tigers can upgrade their infield without a major shakeup to the roster. Miguel Cabrera and Ian Kinsler are set on the right side of the infield, and while Nick Castellanos ranked at the bottom among Major League third basemen by most defensive metrics, the Tigers are counting on at least some improvement with more experience and a better knowledge of how to play hitters.

The Tigers had a glimpse of Iglesias' range and glove down the stretch in '13 after Detroit acquired him at the Trade Deadline as the eventual replacement for Jhonny Peralta. His charging, barehanded grab and flick to first on a slow roller in Chicago was one of the top highlights of the season in the league. His range, especially in the hole between short and third, was a boon to then-third baseman Cabrera while he was playing through a groin tear.

Tigers officials are proceeding with the belief that he can get back to that type of play after a year off. The fact that he put up much of his play while dealing with the shin soreness, a recurring issue that dated back to his Red Sox days, suggest that it's a realistic expectation.

Because the injury is so rare among baseball players, there's little to no previous history to go on.

"First of all, the doctors tell me he'll be fine and that he'll be ready to go for Spring Training," Dombrowski said. "He's ramping up [physical activity] on a regular basis as far as any [physical] impact is concerned, and I saw video of him over a month ago where he was already playing catch and that kind of stuff. The doctors tell me he'll be fine.

"I have to see him play day in and day out in the spring and see him handle the pounding, and then I'll be real comfortable at that point. [Tigers manager] Brad [Ausmus] and his staff haven't had the advantage of having seen Iglesias play, but based on what we know of Iglesias, if he returns to the form of the past, which they tell me he will, he would be our regular shortstop. But I also have to protect ourselves, because even though we hear that from the doctors, until we see it for ourselves, we have to leave ourselves some hedge in case he's not 100 percent."

Even if he does report to camp at full strength, the Tigers will have to protect themselves until they know he can stay there. Iglesias' shin issues seemingly flared up and settled down, rather than a constant pain.

In other words, it would be difficult for the Tigers to use their other young shortstop, Eugenio Suarez, as a prospect in a trade package this winter, even if a healthy return from Iglesias would leave Suarez potentially blocked at the big league level. While Andrew Romine has shown he can handle shortstop and fill the spot for stretches, as he did down the stretch and into the postseason, he's not a potential long-term replacement.

Romine is out of Minor League options, which is partly why Detroit was able to acquire him in March after Iglesias' season-ending fate was confirmed. If the Tigers are going to keep him in the organization, they'll likely have to keep him on the big league roster as a utility infielder.

Hernan Perez, who never did get his chance as a fill-in shortstop but made the September and postseason rosters as an extra infielder and pinch-runner, is also out of options. Suarez has two options remaining.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Outfield prospect Moya slugs homer in Fall League

Orioles' righty Davies collects 7 K's over four innings in win for Glendale

Outfield prospect Moya slugs homer in Fall League

A few more games like the ones Steven Moya has been having in the Arizona Fall League, and the young right fielder just may find himself helping solve some of his big league club's problems.

The Tigers, potentially in need of outfield help -- particularly of the left-handed-hitting variety -- are surely liking what they've seen from the 23-year-old Moya, who stayed hot on Saturday night with a 2-for-4 performance for Glendale.

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Moya, who hit his first home run of the Arizona Fall League in the third inning, scored three runs in the Desert Dogs' 9-4 victory. He is batting .303 this fall, with four multi-hit games in the eight he's played.

Box score

"It feels good," said Moya, who is considered by MLB.com's Prospect Watch to be the Tigers' No. 7 prospect. "I'm not really not trying to hit home runs, but it still feels good. The first one feels really good."

Zach Davies (Orioles No. 8 prospect) -- who scattered two hits across four innings, striking out seven and walking two -- earned the victory. Glendale's Scott Schebler (Dodgers No. 9) went 3-for-3 with two runs and two RBIs, while Surprise's Jesse Winker (Reds No. 2) went 3-for-4 with a run and an RBI in the losing effort, all while improving his average in Arizona to .417.

Moya spent all 133 games of his 2014 Minor League season with the Tigers' Double-A affiliate in Erie, where he hit .276 with 33 doubles, 35 home runs and 105 RBIs. He had his first Major League stint late in the season with the Tigers, appearing in 11 games and batting .375 (3-for-8) with two strikeouts.

The strikeouts, Moya said, are something he's focusing on this fall.

"Just recognizing pitches and getting better at recognition of the strike zone is what I'm working on right now," Moya said. "Just cutting down on strikeouts. That's about it."

Moya said he's confident he can make a prolonged stay with the Tigers as early as next season, saying "for sure" he can help the big league club as soon as 2015.

If his performances against some of the game's best young talent in Arizona is any indication, he may be right.

"Everybody here is good, every pitcher is good," Moya said. "This is the best staff from every team. And it's good because everybody out there in the big leagues is good, too. So if I'm facing the best staffs here, I should be able to do it there, too."

Joey Nowak is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joeynowak. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Miggy may not need surgery on bone spur in ankle

Potential procedure would likely involve 4-6 weeks of recovery

Miggy may not need surgery on bone spur in ankle

DETROIT -- What looked like a second consecutive offseason surgery -- and a second consecutive injury-shortened training regimen -- for Miguel Cabrera is now less certain. At this point, it's unclear whether the Tigers slugger will need surgery to remove a bone spur in his right ankle.

"We're checking him out, from a physical perspective," team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said Tuesday. "We've already done some of the work on that, and we'll do some more this week, and then we'll determine what we're going to do beyond that. That'll be more of a doctor's decision.

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"Is it a possibility? I'd say it is a possibility. I don't know if it's going to happen or not. But is it a possibility? Sure. There's a spur in there, and people that have looked at him so far tell me that if it has to be removed, it's a relatively easy -- for them -- procedure. But I don't want to draw any conclusions yet, because he's not done with that whole process."

Cabrera dealt with a bad ankle for most of the season's second half. He seemed to play through it more effectively near season's end, earning American League Player of the Month honors for September while batting .379 (39-for-103) with eight home runs and 18 RBIs.

Even so, he was clearly slowed, and his unsuccessful effort to beat out a double-play ball during their Division Series loss to Baltimore was a reminder of it. Though his home run rate improved after the All-Star break, salvaging a 25-homer season, his doubles rate declined, despite finishing with a career-high and league-best total of 52. His ratio of extra bases taken to baserunning opportunities, while improved from his injury-hobbled 2013, did not rebound to '12 levels.

"There's no question that that ankle started to bother him at times, based upon a couple of instances, probably more sliding at more various times, in which he was affected," Dombrowski said. "But I think the difference was, where in 2013, where [the core muscle injury] hurt him all the time, in 2014 here ... it hurt him at [some] times worse than others. Because it was there, and he would do something to jar it, and it would hurt him."

If Cabrera has the surgery, he'll have plenty of time to be ready for Spring Training. A normal recovery period lasts 4-6 weeks, though a minor procedure could lead to a quicker recovery than that. The real impact would be on his offseason workouts, kind of like last winter.

Though Cabrera recovered from last year's core muscle surgery in time for a full Spring Training, he didn't have his usual workout program, which has been described by teammates, peers and trainers as intensive. That seemed to affect him as much as the recovery.

Team officials have hoped that a healthy offseason of workouts would help Cabrera recapture the power swing that helped him post back-to-back 44-homer seasons in 2012 and '13.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Tigers head into offseason looking to extend their window

Dombrowski uncertain about Scherzer's return, wants V. Martinez back

Tigers head into offseason looking to extend their window

DETROIT -- Dave Dombrowski's end-of-season press conference Tuesday came too early for his liking, he said, noting the Tigers' American League Division Series exit. However, he insisted their earliest bounce from the postseason is not the sign that it's getting late for them to contend for a World Series.

As he waits for the playoffs to end to embark on what could be the most important offseason the Tigers face since their run of American league Central titles began in 2011, he gave a rough game plan on how they will try to extend their window.

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He'd like to have sweet-swinging designated hitter Victor Martinez back, but he doesn't know how that pursuit will turn out.

He didn't close the door on Max Scherzer's Tiger tenure, but as he talked about his returning rotation as a four-man group, he sounded like a general manager who was preparing for the possibility they'll have to move on.

"I think we probably made more of an effort to sign Max earlier in the year," Dombrowski said, noting negotiations that broke off in Spring Training. "So I don't think your odds improve than what they were earlier."

He did not have an answer on whether Detroit would pick up reliever Joakim Soria's $7 million club option for 2015, but the more he talked about acquiring Soria at the July trade deadline with 2015 in mind, the more strongly he seemed to hint at an answer.

"We still have to make a final decision," he said, "but it's a situation where we look at him as being an important acquisition towards this [coming] year, also."

He talked glowingly of outfielder Torii Hunter, also about to hit the free agent market, but indicated his future in Detroit could be on hold while the Tigers work out the rest of their outfield.

"We have some real key free-agent players," Dombrowski said, "and Torii Hunter is one of them."

Dombrowski is concerned about catcher Alex Avila's long-term health, but he expects the veteran catcher to be healthy for next season as he heads into his contract year.

He needs to fix a bullpen that struggled off and on for most of the season before falling apart on the national stage in the Division Series. He wants to address a center-field situation that fell into flux after Austin Jackson's trade to Seattle. Dombrowski would like to find a left-handed hitter for what became a righty-heavy lineup, though he doesn't know what position he might use to fill that.

Add it all together, and as Dombrowski put it, "I would think that right after the World Series will be a very busy time for us."

Once the World Series ends, teams have five days to both decide on club options -- which Detroit holds on Soria and arbitration-eligible Avila -- and negotiate with its own free agents -- Martinez, Scherzer, Hunter, Joba Chamberlain, Phil Coke, Jim Johnson and others -- before those players are free to negotiate contracts with other teams.

"We have which way we're leaning," Dombrowski said of Soria, "but we're not in a spot to really say that at this time. If we pick up his option, he'll be a very important part of our bullpen. When we acquired him -- I think in his case and in David Price's case, when we acquired them -- we were looking not just at 2014, but at 2015."

Price is the most prominent of a handful of Tigers heading into their final year before free agency. Dombrowski said they have not tackled any negotiations on a long-term deal with Price.

Soria's return would almost assuredly come in a bigger, better-defined role than the amorphous situation he faced down the stretch. At different times, he was a break-the-glass option in the late innings if setup man Chamberlain or closer Joe Nathan struggled, or a seventh-inning reliever to carry leads to the two. Soria struggled mightily in his two postseason outings, but Dombrowski noted that his month on the disabled list with a left oblique strain cost him valuable time.

"The role was Soria primarily in the seventh, Joba in the eighth and Nathan in the ninth," Dombrowski said. "It worked for a little bit, but we had them together for such a short time period because of Soria's situation."

Dombrowski said Soria never expressed any frustrations in his role during the season, that he was open to various roles. That said, Dombrowski did not close the door on Soria becoming Detroit's closer if Nathan has another slow start.

"I would think [Nathan] starts as our closer going into [next season]," Dombrowski said, "but he has to perform up to the capabilities required of doing it."

The bullpen as a whole, Dombrowski said, has to improve. Some of that could come from within their system, notably with hard-throwing Bruce Rondon's return from Tommy John surgery.

"There's no question that Rondon's loss hurt us the last couple years," Dombrowski said, "and all thought processes are he'll be ready for us."

Likewise, the Tigers could have the impact left-handed hitter they want if slugging right-field prospect Steven Moya makes the jump from Double-A. Moya, who won Eastern League Player of the Year honors with 35 home runs and 105 RBIs at Double-A Erie, was a little-used September callup, but will spend the next month in the Arizona Fall League before playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic.

"I don't know if he's going to be ready next year or not," Dombrowski said. "You can hope and he may be ready, but I'm not really sure."

Scherzer's rotation spot, too, could be replaced internally if they can't re-sign him, though Dombrowski didn't rule out exploring the market. With four veteran starters under contract in Price, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello, he feels comfortable they have a core around which to build.

For all the decisions they'll face this winter, Dombrowski said, they'll still be a team centered around starting pitching.

"You have those four starting pitchers," Dombrowski said, "You have an offense that's led by [Miguel] Cabrera. You have [Ian] Kinsler back, who is a very fine player. You know you have J.D. Martinez back, who has really stepped up this year. So when you look at our overall club, it has a very good foundation of players.

"We did beat the teams in the postseason 18 out of 25 times, so it isn't that we can't play with them. We just have to play better at the right time."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Jonathan Mayo

Pipeline Perspectives: Big ceiling for Tigers' Moya

Head to head with fellow outfielder Judge, prospect has more raw power

Pipeline Perspectives: Big ceiling for Tigers' Moya

There's a good amount of subjectivity regarding baseball prospects. With the evaluation of talent being in the eye of the beholder, finding consensus is often difficult. Even Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo of MLBPipeline.com don't always see eye to eye. They discuss their viewpoints regularly in a feature called Pipeline Perspectives. Submit a topic for them to debate.

We're into the second week of Arizona Fall League action, so the sample sizes are slowly starting to grow. I was lucky enough to be out in the desert for the season's opening week and got to see some big AFL debuts.

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Speaking of big -- and of weak segues -- that's what Jim Callis and I are discussing in this week's Pipeline Perspectives. We wanted to keep things AFL-focused, as we have the previous two weeks. So we're having a giant prospect showdown.

And when we say giant, we mean it. This week's debate: Which big outfielder in the AFL, Aaron Judge of the Yankees or Steven Moya of the Tigers, do you prefer? Jim is in Judge's corner while I'm advocating for Moya.

This clearly isn't a "long and short of it" debate. Both are gigantic young men, with the 6-foot-6 Moya edged slighty by the 6-foot-7 Judge. Really, this is about high ceiling vs. high floor.

In no way am I questioning Judge's stock as a prospect. I like the former first-round pick quite a bit and think he'll be big leaguer. But Moya's raw power, albeit risky, is just too much for me to walk away from.

This isn't just batting practice power, though Moya is the type of player others stop what they're doing just to watch him take batting practice. His 2014 breakout season showed the power plays in games and at the upper levels of the Minors. Moya's 35 home runs were good for fourth in all of the Minor Leagues, trailing only Kris Bryant, Joey Gallo and Matt Olson, the last of whom is also in the AFL this season. Moya's 105 RBIs were fifth overall and he also led the Double-A Eastern League with his .555 slugging percentage. The Puerto Rican born outfielder was rewarded with a callup to the big leagues, where he went 3-for-8 in his September debut.

Moya is far from perfect, and I'm sure that's what Jim is going to point out. In 2014, he struck out 161 times and only drew 23 walks. A 7-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio isn't going to cut it long term at the Major League level. I get that. But so does Moya, who said that is something he's particularly trying to work on in the AFL.

Working on and improving plate discipline and pitch selection can be two different things and there's no doubt Moya has a ways to go in order to hit enough to tap into that prodigious raw power consistently in the future. But you have to keep in mind he's a little behind developmentally because of injuries. Moya had Tommy John surgery in the summer of 2012, so he played in just 59 games that season and only 93 in '13. He's still plenty young, having turned 23 in August. According to baseball-reference, he was 2.7 years younger than the average position player in the Eastern League.

I like Moya enough that I don't feel the need to disparage Judge at all. Judge had a solid first full season of pro ball, although he was 22 for the season and didn't make it out of A ball (I don't blame him for that, but I don't quite understand why the Yankees didn't start him in Tampa and get him to Double-A). He was 0.5 years above the league average in the South Atlantic League and just 0.6 years younger in the Florida State League.

Judge wins the plate discipline contest. He drew 89 walks for a .419 on-base percentage, which helped offset his K rate (25.3 in the FSL). Moya's strikeout rate was 29.3, higher, but not as alarmingly higher as perhaps you thought. Overall, the numbers look like this:

Judge: .308/.419/.486, 17 HR, 1 SB
Moya: .276/.306/.555, 35 HR, 16 SB

Judge hit .283/.411/.482 once he got promoted. Again, I think Judge is going to hit. And he's going to have some power. His floor is pretty high, meaning he's more likely to reach his potential than Moya.

But there's more ceiling to Moya. It's tougher to reach, even at his height, but if he can get there, he has the chance to make 35 homers an annual norm. Judge might be the safer bet. But you know what they say about betting on the longer odds. The payoff can be so much more substantial.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com and writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMayoB3 on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Torii taking Tigers' direction into consideration

Outfielder mulling retirement, but will weigh Detroit's potential interest

Torii taking Tigers' direction into consideration

DETROIT -- If the Tigers want Torii Hunter back for 2015, he wants to play another year. If Detroit doesn't want him back, then he might have a decision to make on whether he wants to keep playing.

"If the Tigers want me back, we will work that out hopefully," Hunter told MLB.com in a text message. "Other than that, I'm still thinking about my situation."

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That thought process could last another few weeks.

The situation has changed little from a week ago, after the Tigers were swept out of the postseason by the Orioles in the American League Division Series. That was the first time Hunter had mentioned retirement as a serious consideration, noting he was physically and mentally tired.

Hunter is up for free agency, having just completed the two-year deal he signed to join the Tigers shortly after Detroit's World Series trip ended in 2012. Before he signed, he had scouted potential destinations, looking for his best chance to add a World Series ring to his standout career, and approached the Tigers to gauge their interest.

His tumble over the short right-field fence at Fenway Park, barely missing David Ortiz's game-tying grand slam in Game 2, became the lingering image of the Tigers' loss in last year's AL Championship Series. Detroit's AL Division Series exit this year was quieter, including Hunter's 2-for-10 performance at the plate.

Torii on falling into bullpen

Now, he's waiting for a sense of direction from the Tigers, who have exclusive rights to try to work out a new deal until five days after the end of the World Series. Hunter can talk with other teams once the World Series ends, but cannot exchange salary proposals until that five-day period is over.

Depending on what Hunter decides, that last part might be moot.

"I don't know," Hunter said. "I'm going to let my mind and body heal for about four weeks."

Until and unless he hears from the Tigers, Hunter plans to spend his fall as a football parent, traveling to watch his kids. Torii Jr. is an emerging redshirt freshman wide receiver at Notre Dame. Another son, Monshadrik "Money" Hunter, is a sophomore defensive back at Arkansas State.

The Tigers' front office has been pretty much quiet since season's end. Team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski is expected to hold his usual end-of-season interview session with reporters at some point this week, later than normal but earlier than he hoped this year.

Manager Brad Ausmus raved over the final weeks of the season about Hunter's impact in the clubhouse and at the plate, where he enjoyed a late-season rejuvenation. Hunter finished with a .286 average, 33 doubles, 17 home runs and 83 RBIs, virtually duplicating his run production from last year despite fewer plate appearances and an 18-point drop in batting average. His .765 OPS was a 35-point downgrade from last year but matched his 2011 rate.

Hunter will turn 40 years old next July, reaching an age when regular outfielders are a rarity. Ichiro Suzuki played 128 games in the outfield this season at age 40, starting 94 games, but saw his batting opportunities drop to 385 plate appearances. Raul Ibanez started 98 games in the Mariners' outfield in 2013, turning 41 years old midway through.

Hunter had 586 plate appearances this season, the 11th-highest total for an outfielder age 38 or older in the expansion era (since 1961).

The Tigers have a slugging right-field prospect on the way in Steven Moya, who tore up Eastern League pitching at Double-A Erie. He could bypass Triple-A Toledo and contend for a roster spot next spring, but his ascension isn't guaranteed. A right-field platoon with Moya and a right-handed-hitting outfielder, such as Hunter or current center fielder Rajai Davis, could become the Tigers' approach if they want to push Moya to the big leagues in 2015.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Moya continues hot stretch in AFL

Shortstop goes 3-for-4 with double, stolen base in Glendale win

Moya continues hot stretch in AFL

Entering Tuesday, Glendale hadn't won in a week. Since its victory on Opening Day in the Arizona Fall League last Tuesday against Mesa, it had endured a rainout, a three-game losing streak and a tie after 11 innings against Peoria on Monday.

Glendale snapped out of its doldrums Tuesday night, combining solid pitching with an explosive offense to rout Peoria, 9-0.

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Shortstop Tim Anderson, the White Sox No. 2 prospect, said it felt good to get back in the win column.

"Getting around the guys and getting to know them, they all are great guys," he said. "We're coming together and growing as a team."

Anderson, ranked No. 82 on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects list, went 3-for-4 with a double, two runs and a stolen base. He is hitting .375/.412/.438 with two stolen bases in five games this fall.

Anderson was the 17th overall pick in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft and is completing his first full professional season in the AFL. Despite spending two months on the disabled list after he was hit by a pitch and broke his right wrist in June, he reached Double-A Birmingham and hit .301/.327/.481 in 83 games across three levels during the regular season.

Tuesday, Anderson batted second for the Desert Dogs and helped them jump out to an early lead. Glendale scored a run in the first and added two more in the third before breaking the game open with six runs in the seventh.

The Desert Dogs did all of their damage with two outs in the seventh, sending 10 batters to the plate and pounding out five hits. The biggest blow belonged to right fielder Steven Moya, who cleared the bases with a three-run triple off right-hander Zach Cooper.

"Everybody was locked in at the plate," said Anderson, who singled and scored in the inning. "Everybody was seeing the ball real good."

Moya, the Tigers' No. 7 prospect, finished the game 2-for-5 with a run and four RBIs. Designated hitter Corey Seager, the Dodgers' No. 1 prospect and No. 13 on the Top 100, went 1-for-4 with a double, a walk, a run and an RBI.

Working with a lead from the start Tuesday, the Desert Dogs pitching staff effectively silenced the Javelinas bats, holding them to three hits -- all singles. Right-hander Matt Magill started for Glendale and threw three hitless innings. He struck out three batters, walked two and threw 44 pitches.

Magill has held opponents to two unearned runs on two hits in 5 2/3 innings over two appearances this fall.

"He came out and competed," Anderson said. "He has a strong arm and he did great."

Right-hander Tyler Wagner relieved Magill to start the fourth, but the no-hitter soon ended. But Wagner, the Brewers' No. 14 prospect, and four other relievers combined for six scoreless innings to complete the shutout.

Left fielder Jordan Smith went 2-for-3 to lead Peoria's offense. Catcher Cody Stanley collected the Javelinas other hit.

After their slow start to the season, Anderson and the Desert Dogs are hoping for more wins like Tuesday's. But for players in the AFL, development remains the primary goal. Anderson said he's working on his defense this fall, as well as trying to take as many quality at-bats as he can.

A week into the fall, Anderson said he has been impressed by the quality of the players in the league.

"It's great competition," Anderson said. "There are a lot of great pitchers. It's very competitive."

Teddy Cahill is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @tedcahill. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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MLB.com Columnist

Bernie Pleskoff

Lobstein a solid choice for rotation or 'pen

After contributing down the stretch, lefty could fit in variety of roles for Tigers

Lobstein a solid choice for rotation or 'pen

It would be difficult to know for sure that the Detroit Tigers had counted on lefty Kyle Lobstein offering starting pitching support this season. It would be easy to understand if Detroit planned on using left-handed starter Robbie Ray if rotation help was needed. The Tigers traded quality right-handed starter Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals for the promising Ray in the offseason.

As things sometimes happen in baseball, not all plans come to fruition. Ray scuffled some in his trials with Detroit. When an injury to Anibal Sanchez required help in the rotation, Lobstein stepped up and gave his team a lift.

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At the age of 25, the lanky 6-foot-3, 200-pound Lobstein made his debut for the Tigers on Aug. 23. He pitched in some important games for the club during its successful drive for the American League Central title.

Lobstein was selected by the Tampa Bay Rays from Coconino High School in Flagstaff, Ariz., in the second round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft. He played parts of four seasons for the Rays before being left unprotected prior to the December 2012 Rule 5 Draft. The Mets selected Lobstein at the Winter Meetings and immediately traded him to the Tigers for cash considerations. In order to keep Lobstein, the Tigers traded catcher Curt Casali to the Rays to retain his rights.

Prior to being summoned by the Tigers this season, Lobstein had an average Minor League career, accumulating a 52-48 record, starting 144 of 146 games in which he pitched. He threw 811 1/3 innings, with a 3.77 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP.

Lobstein is not a strikeout pitcher. He pitches to contact and doesn't overpower hitters. His velocity has not really increased since being selected by the Rays. He remains more a finesse-type lefty as opposed to being a power pitcher. He throws both a two-seam and four-seam fastball and generally sits at 89 mph with both of those pitches. His four-seam fastball and 84-mph slider is a combination of pitches he uses with frequency. He also throws a changeup and curveball to round out a complete repertoire designed to offer movement on his pitches and changes in balance as opposed to velocity differential. His secondary pitches are good enough for him to use at any count.

Lobstein has good mechanics and has the ability to repeat his delivery from pitch to pitch. He has a high three-quarter delivery and uses the entire strike zone as his targets. His good control and solid command of all his pitches are true assets. Throughout his career he has yielded three walks a game. He is fairly hittable when he gets too much of the plate. That results in him being in the stretch position quite often. But he does have the ability to pitch himself out of trouble, making a good pitch at the right time with men on base.

Basically, what we see of Lobstein at this point is generally what we will get in the future -- not much upside remains. There is little risk in giving him the ball in any role on the pitching staff. In fact, there are some scouts and front office personnel who feel Lobstein profiles best pitching out of the bullpen. Following his acquisition from the Rays, there was some thought the Tigers would use him in that manner, adding another lefty in the bullpen to go along with pitchers like Phil Coke and Ian Krol. Lobstein is tough against left-handed hitters, as big league lefties hovered around a .200 batting average against him this season. Right-handed hitters didn't knock the cover off the ball, either, as they hit in the range of .240. He was mature and consistent.

Lobstein made a contribution pitching in the team's rotation, but I can see him pitching either in the rotation or in a relief role. Being durable, Lobstein has the ability to eat innings and give his team a chance to win and make himself a viable pitching option.

Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Moya debuts with a flourish in Arizona Fall League

Moya debuts with a flourish in Arizona Fall League

DETROIT -- While the Tigers were packing up and heading home this week, their season having ended far too soon for their liking in the American League Division Series, their best hope for internal improvement in 2015 was opening his next season with a flourish.

And if towering slugger Steven Moya is going to have a chance to make the jump to Detroit next year, his Arizona Fall League campaign will likely play a role in bridging the developmental gap.

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The Tigers' recent contributions in the AFL have varied from younger prospects to older guys. They've sometimes sent young players to winter ball for shorter stints rather than six extra weeks of work in Arizona.

This year, their crop of winter ball candidates is small. Their top representative in Arizona, however, is big. After Moya posted his much-anticipated breakout season with 35 home runs, 33 doubles, 105 RBIs and 16 stolen bases for Double-A Erie, the Tigers are extending the learning process for him.

Moya, the Tigers' No. 7 prospect as ranked by MLB.com, opened his Arizona Fall League campaign Tuesday with three hits, including a two-run double, for the Glendale Desert Dogs and manager Lance Parrish in a 9-3 win over Mesa. After a rare Arizona rainout Wednesday, Moya had three more hits Thursday against Surprise, including another double and a stolen base.

In both games, the left-handed-batting Moya had a hit off a lefty. Tuesday's lefty-lefty hit was a line-drive double to right off Nationals prospect Matt Grace, who had retired him twice in as many meetings during the Eastern League season, including an inning-ending strikeout with a runner on third June 11. Thursday's hit was a single off Robby Scott, whose fastball Moya took deep in June for a tape-measure walkoff homer that landed across the street from Jerry Uht Park.

Contrary to expectation, Moya held his own against lefties for Erie, batting .262 (49-for-187) with 13 home runs, nine doubles, six walks and 56 strikeouts.

If Moya is going to challenge for a big league spot out of Spring Training, then six weeks in the AFL could be huge for his development. With bigger rosters and shortened workloads for pitchers, Moya is going to find himself in tougher matchups.

The goal of sending Moya to Arizona, Tigers player development director Dave Owen said Friday, was to get him more at-bats and a higher level of competition. They're also hoping the additional at-bats give the 23-year-old more looks at different pitches, and a chance to improve his plate discipline.

By contrast, fellow Tigers outfield prospect Daniel Fields headed out to Arizona to make up for at-bats he lost while sidelined at Triple-A Toledo with a broken hand. He had been a candidate to play last offseason before a wrist injury forced him to spend most of last winter rehabbing.

Fields made his AFL debut Thursday with a solo home run, picking up where he left off over the final days of the Triple-A season.

The only other Tigers position prospect in the AFL is middle infielder Domingo Leyba, who just turned 19 years old last month and split last season between short-season Class A Connecticut and low Class A West Michigan.

The pitching prospects in Arizona are another mix of high- and low-level prospects, topped by left-hander Robbie Ray, who was scheduled to make his first AFL start Friday night. Ray made a half-dozen big league starts in 2014, going 1-4 with an 8.16 ERA. His extra work, Owen said, is meant to give him a chance to work on his pitching mix, including a slider team officials are encouraging him to throw as a breaking pitch over his curveball.

Sinkerballing reliever Chad Smith made 10 appearances in the Majors in a fast rise up the Tigers' developmental ladder early in the year. With high damage in Detroit as well as Toledo, however, the 25-year-old right-hander is getting more work to try to refine his command and get consistent movement on his sinker.

The other two Tigers pitchers at Glendale are both right-handed relievers out of West Michigan. Zach Reininger had solid numbers with the Whitecaps, going 4-4 with a 2.54 ERA, 42 hits and 58 strikeouts over 56 2/3 innings. Joe Mantiply went 6-3 with a 2.40 ERA at West Michigan, allowing 57 hits over 71 1/3 innings with 76 strikeouts, before getting a late audition at Erie.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Tigers facing decisions to remain title contender

Scherzer, V-Mart set to become top pitcher, hitter in free agency

Tigers facing decisions to remain title contender

DETROIT -- The crisp fall winds feel a little chillier across Michigan with the Tigers' postseason run over sooner than expected. The miserable Midwestern winter is now on countdown. The Tigers, however, will spend the offseason trying to keep their window open.

Detroit entered this season privately admitting that last year was probably its best chance at the World Series title it's been chasing for close to a decade now. The challenge ahead for team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski and his talent evaluators is to make sure 2014 wasn't the club's last good chance.

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It's going to be tricky. The Tigers a team built to win now, but they're an aging team that started a youth infusion last year. One player noted what many have said in the past: It's a team that could use more athleticism.

At the same time, it's a team that's going to have a struggle to keep its core as close to intact as it can. There's a realistic possibility Max Scherzer and Victor Martinez end up being the top free-agent pitcher and hitter, respectively. They were the top pitcher and hitter for the Tigers this year.

Add in Torii Hunter, who drew praise from manager Brad Ausmus over the past month for his clubhouse presence and on-field ability, and the Tigers have some serious decisions ahead.

"We've been battling over the last few years [alongside] each other," Scherzer said after Sunday's season-ending loss to the Orioles in Game 3 of the American League Division Series. "My teammates have been unbelievable. And for this season to come to an end the way it did, just always leaves you with a sour taste in your mouth. But hopefully there's a way we can continue to keep playing together."

And that's before another round of arbitration cases adds another bump to the payroll.

Put it together, the Tigers are trying to hold onto as much as they can at a time when the rest of the AL Central is improving with younger, cost-controlled talent. The days of looking head and shoulders above the division are over. The challenge is just starting.

Arbitration-eligible: RHP Al Alburquerque, C Alex Avila, OF Andy Dirks, IF/OF Don Kelly, OF J.D. Martinez, RHP Rick Porcello, RHP David Price

Free agents: RHP Joba Chamberlain, LHP Phil Coke, RHP Joel Hanrahan, OF Hunter, RHP Jim Johnson, 1B/DH Victor Martinez, RHP Scherzer, RHP Joakim Soria ($7 million club option with a $500,000 buyout)

Rotation: There are worse fallback plans than a rotation fronted by David Price, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and Porcello. Still, for a team that has built a division dynasty around a dominant rotation, losing Scherzer would leave a gaping hole with no clear answer within their system. While Kyle Lobstein was a September savior filling in for an injured Sanchez, counting on him to keep it up for a full season is another matter. If Scherzer leaves, Dombrowski could end up mitigating his losses by signing a free-agent starter on a smaller contract.

Bullpen: The Tigers rebuilt their 'pen last offseason and ended up with worse results than 2013, when instability at closer marked their season. Their 2014 frustrations suggest another overhaul is in order, but it might be more subtle. Closer Joe Nathan, who put up enough zeros late in the season that he was the least of Detroit's relief problems, is under contract for $10 million next year. There's a $7 million club option on Soria, and declining it would mean the Tigers traded two top prospects for 15 games of Soria, including two shaky postseason appearances. Bruce Rondon, whose season-ending Tommy John surgery played a big factor in Detroit's bullpen struggles, is on track to be ready in Spring Training. The best opportunity for change is in lefty relief, where Andrew Miller -- the shutdown southpaw who came back to haunt the Tigers in October for not acquiring him in July -- is up for free agency.

Catcher: Contractually, the Tigers have one more season of Avila before he's up for free agency, backup Bryan Holaday under control, and well-regarded prospect James McCann on the cusp of the big leagues. That's the setup for not just a solid lefty-righty platoon, but a veteran-rookie mentoring between Avila and McCann. However, Avila's three concussions this year present not just long-term questions, but immediate issues. Avila intends to keep playing, but the Tigers have to be prepared to lose him for stretches, if not longer, if he continues to take foul tips off his mask and helmet.

First base: Though Miguel Cabrera's drop in power raised concerns about age, his second-half resurgence sparked optimism that a full offseason under his normal workout routine -- something he didn't have last winter while recovering from core muscle surgery, and should have this winter despite a bone spur in his right ankle -- will set up a bounceback to his 2011-13 numbers. Eight of his 25 home runs happened in September, as did 10 of his AL-best and career-high 52 doubles. Another 40-homer season might be a stretch, but a .320 season with 30 homers and a .900-something OPS would do just fine.

Second base: The fact that the Tigers experimented with high-rising second-base prospect Devon Travis in center field in August at Double-A Erie before he required core muscle surgery spoke wonders about Ian Kinsler's future. At age 32, Kinsler led all AL second basemen in Defensive Runs Saved, ranked second in Ultimate Zone Rating, and led all AL players at all positions in total plays. For someone who seemed headed for a position change with Texas before his trade to Detroit last fall, it was redemption. Those numbers might not be sustainable, depending in no small part on the pitching staff in front of him, but he's the defensive cornerstone of the Tigers' infield at this point.

Shortstop: Jose Iglesias' stress fractures in his shins left a crushing void in the infield last year. His healthy return would be just as big of a boost. The Tigers say he's on track to be at full speed for Spring Training, but with such an unusual injury, it's difficult to assume a return to normal. That makes it difficult for Detroit to consider trading rookie Eugenio Suarez, who made highlight plays during his on-the-job training but suffered some lapses on routine grounders. Still, if Iglesias is healthy, this is his job to lose.

Third base: The offensive numbers were encouraging for Nick Castellanos in his rookie season. The defensive metrics, however, were sub-par -- league-worst, to be exact -- between too little range and too many mistakes on throws. The Tigers believe a full offseason to focus on the hot corner, plus an inventory of knowledge on hitters tendencies, should help improve the numbers.

Outfield: If the Tigers are going to make upgrades in their lineup, this is the most likely area. While J.D. Martinez has gone from Minor-League signee to long-term fixture in left, the other two outfield spots are relatively up in the air. Rajai Davis played in 134 games, nine shy of his career high, and more than the Tigers planned on using him. They could use him in center or right, but will likely mix him in with other talent, perhaps a young center fielder if they can find one on the trade market. The one spot where Detroit could upgrade from within is in right field, where slugging prospect Steven Moya could earn a chance to bypass Triple-A Toledo after batting .276 this season for Double-A Erie with 33 doubles, 35 home runs, 105 RBIs and 16 stolen bases. Hunter could still play into the mix here on a short-term deal.

Designated hitter: The Tigers are expected to make a major push to keep Victor Martinez, even if it takes a three-year deal. However, this is an area where Detroit has to strike a balance between winning now and worrying about the long-term. If injuries continue to hamper Cabrera, then the DH spot will eventually have to be an option as he creeps further into his 30s. If the Tigers lose Martinez, they could fill the spot with Hunter on a short-term deal or look at other free agents. They've seen enough of Nelson Cruz to know he can hit at Comerica Park, and hit in October.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Rough ALDS caps Tigers' roller-coaster year

Detroit started season with Majors' best record, but had some rocky periods

Rough ALDS caps Tigers' roller-coaster year

DETROIT -- The Tigers' rule of the American League Central continued, now at four consecutive division titles.

The Tigers' search for a World Series title continued as well, now at 30 years since the team's magical 1984 season.

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At some point down the road, maybe soon, when age, attrition or the market has had its say on the core of this team and playoff baseball is no longer a given, there will be an appreciation for the former. As the Tigers sit and watch the rest of the postseason unfold without them, having been swept out of the Division Series, it was hard not to linger on the latter.

Time will tell how history views this era of Tigers teams, hinging in large part on how many more years they can contend and whether they can win a World Series.

The 2014 Tigers had their clear flaws. Some, like a shaky bullpen and inefficient defense, sounded familiar. Some, like an inconsistent starting rotation and a bench without an impact offensive threat, were new developments.

At their best, the Tigers could compete with anybody. At their worst, they could find ways to lose. The same team that won six in a row on the road at Baltimore and Boston to cap a Major League-best 27-12 start, then went to Cleveland and lost three straight to begin a 9-20 stretch.

The same Tigers that outplayed the Royals all season, winning 13 out of 19, and went 10-3 combined against the A's and O's, went 19-19 against the White Sox and Twins, the bottom two teams in the division.

"This season was the worst roller-coaster I've ever been on in my life," Torii Hunter said. "I've never been a part of anything like that -- not with the Twins, not with the Angels, not even last year."

Hunter couldn't put his finger on why, but he wasn't the only one who felt that way. It was a wild enough ride that Max Scherzer believed a division title at the end was a credit.

"At the end of the day, we found a way to win the division," he said. "Even among all the ups and downs that we had, we beat a very, very good team in the Kansas City Royals to win the division."

When they clinched the division on the final day, it felt like the ride was headed upward entering a postseason full of teams that got hot when it counted. Instead, the Division Series was a downswing.

"It was our time to shine here in the postseason -- that's what we've done in the past," Scherzer said. "We thought we had a great team to be able to win this American League Division Series. …

"That's frustrating for everybody in this clubhouse. We didn't want this season to end. We know how much talent's here."

In the end, Victor Martinez said, it comes down to the talent -- not the first-year manager, Brad Ausmus, whose pitching moves and in-game strategies were critiqued.

"It's our fault," Martinez said. "I always say it's easy to blame one guy, but [Ausmus has] nothing to do with it. Actually, he did a great job for his first time managing. Brad did a great job. We are the ones who go out there and play to try to win ballgames. We didn't do our job."

Record: 90-72, first in American League Central.

Defining moment: The Tigers headed to Kansas City for the next-to-last weekend of the season a mere half-game up on the Royals in the division race and looking vulnerable. They dominated K.C. in the opener, taking a 10-1 win behind 7 1/3 strong innings from Justin Verlander, then getting seven more strong innings from Scherzer, outpitching James Shields for a 3-2 win the next day. The Royals took the series finale, but their opportunity to take the division had essentially slipped.

What went right: Scherzer followed up his Cy Young campaign with an 18-win season that arguably saw him become a better pitcher, posting 252 strikeouts while showing a better mix of pitches than the fastball-slider tendencies of his younger days. … Victor Martinez turned in a career season at age 35, crossing the 30-homer mark for the first time, leading the league with a .974 OPS, and providing some of the toughest at-bats in the Majors this season. … Rick Porcello not only made a borderline All-Star case with his breakout first half, but looked like the kind of pitcher people hoped he'd become when the Tigers drafted him out of high school in 2007 and put him in their rotation two years later. … Joba Chamberlain, signed to a low-risk one-year deal in the offseason, became a solid setup man, partly filling the void left by a season-ending injury to Bruce Rondon. In the process, Chamberlain enjoyed a career rebirth after a rough exit from the Yankees.

What went wrong: The season hadn't even started when Spring Training injuries cost the Tigers three young talents who were expected to play significant roles. Defensive wizard shortstop Jose Iglesias (stress fractures in both shins) and fastball-firing setup man Rondon (Tommy John surgery) both were lost for the year, while outfielder Andy Dirks compounded his back surgery with a left hamstring strain while on a late-season rehab assignment. All three positions suffered as a result. … In part because of Rondon's absence, the Tigers' bullpen makeover backfired, both with closer Joe Nathan's struggles and with heavy use of Chamberlain, Al Alburquerque and Ian Krol. … Miguel Cabrera's season wasn't a disappointment by the end, but a slow return to full strength from core muscle surgery and a bone spur in an ankle left him searching for his old power until the stretch run. He still hit .313 -- a down year by the standards of a three-time defending batting champion, but a great year for many -- and led the league with 52 doubles. … The Tigers were caught short on starting pitching depth in their farm system once Anibal Sanchez had a pair of stints on the disabled list and weather postponements led to two August doubleheaders, eventually leading to Buck Farmer and Kyle Ryan making Major League starts.

Biggest surprise: The Tigers signed J.D. Martinez in the final week of Spring Training, two days after the Astros released him, to provide a power-hitting option at Triple-A Toledo. He ended up becoming the power-hitting protection the Tigers needed in the middle of their order after Cabrera and Victor Martinez. He would've ranked in the AL's top five in slugging percentage and Top 10 in OPS if he had enough at-bats to qualify. He still ended up with 30 doubles, 23 home runs and 76 RBIs in just 441 at-bats.

Hitter of the year: For the first time in six years, it's not Cabrera. Victor Martinez's incredible season was that good, outproducing Cabrera in nearly every major category. The beauty, however, is in the metrics and the ratios. Martinez spent most of the year with almost as many home runs (eventually 32) as strikeouts (42). He has almost as many hits (eight) on 0-2 pitches as strikeouts (nine), four of them home runs. He had an 18-to-4 walk-to-strikeout ratio on full counts.

Pitcher of the year: Scherzer didn't have the numbers for a Cy Young repeat, but he had a better season from a pure pitching standpoint than last year. He also had the highest Wins Above Replacement on the team, and it wasn't particularly close.

Rookie of the year:The Tigers had a lot of them, but the rookie that was up the whole time was the one who made the biggest impact. Nick Castellanos had his growing pains, especially in the field after a year and a half away from third base, but he finished with respectable offensive numbers (.259 average, 31 doubles, 11 homers, 66 RBIs, .700 OPS) and a line-drive approach that should pay off long term.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Stars of tomorrow ready to shine as '14 AFL season begins

Stars of tomorrow ready to shine as '14 AFL season begins

Over its 23-year history, the Arizona Fall League has developed a reputation as a finishing school for baseball's top prospects. This year, once again, many of the game's best young players will gather in the desert, hoping to prove themselves in the same league that helped catapult Derek Jeter, Dustin Pedroia and Mike Trout to stardom.

When the AFL opens play Tuesday, the concentration of talent will again be readily apparent. Two of the three Opening Day games feature premium pitching matchups, and the third game is highlighted by two of the best shortstops in the Minor Leagues.

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The action begins at 3:35 p.m. ET when Peoria and right-hander Kyle Zimmer, the Royals' No. 2 prospect, visits Surprise and right-hander Taijuan Walker, whose last start was a complete game for the Mariners in the midst of their pennant race.

At the same time Tuesday afternoon, Glendale and shortstop Corey Seager, the Dodgers' No. 1 prospect, will host Mesa and shortstop Addison Russell, the Cubs' No. 2 prospect. The day ends with another pitchers' duel, as right-hander Tyler Glasnow, the Pirates' No. 1 prospect, will take the mound for Scottsdale at 9:35 p.m. ET at Salt River, facing right-hander Archie Bradley, the D-backs' No. 1 prospect.

Games with that level of talent are commonplace in the AFL, where 23 players ranked on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects list will play this season.

For the second year in a row, Byron Buxton, baseball's top ranked prospect, is among the top prospects playing in the desert this fall. Last year, the Twins' No. 1 prospect hit .212/.288/.404 in 12 games as a 19-year-old for Glendale. This year, he will be playing for Salt River as he tries to make up for lost time after missing most of the regular season due to injuries.

Buxton played in just 31 games during the regular season. A wrist injury he suffered during Spring Training delayed his start to the season and continued to hamper him throughout the first half with Class A Advanced Fort Myers. Then, in his first game after being promoted to Double-A New Britain in August, he suffered a concussion in a harrowing outfield collision and was sidelined for the final three weeks of the season.

Now healthy again, Buxton will be one of the most-watched players in the AFL. But his is far from the only storyline to watch over the next six weeks.

Making up for lost time
Like Buxton, several other players are headed to Arizona to make up for time they lost to injury during the regular season. Others who are taking advantage of the extra developmental time include outfielder Jesse Winker, the Reds' No. 2 prospect, and shortstop Tim Anderson, the White Sox's No. 2 prospect.

Many of the starting pitchers in the AFL are there because injuries prevented them from reaching their innings caps during the regular season. Bradley, Glasnow, Zimmer and Walker all spent part of this season on the disabled list, as did right-handers C.J. Edwards, the Cubs' No. 5 prospect, and Roberto Osuna, the Blue Jays' No. 5 prospect.

Recent Draft picks
Last year, just four months after he was selected second overall in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft, the Cubs sent third baseman Kris Bryant to the AFL. He hit .364/.457/.727 with six home runs in 20 games. He was named MVP and helped Mesa to the league championship game. That performance helped serve as a springboard for his historic '14 season, when he hit 43 home runs and reached Triple-A.

It is unlikely any player will be able to repeat Bryant's spectacular performance this season. But three members of the '14 Draft class will play in the AFL, led by shortstop Trea Turner, the Padres' No. 5 prospect. He was selected 13th overall in June and hit .323/.406/.448 with five home runs and 23 stolen bases in 69 games between short-season Eugene and Class A Fort Wayne.

In addition to the small group of '14 draftees, several members of the '13 Draft class will play in the AFL. Right-hander Mark Appel, the first overall pick last year, headlines the group. The Astros' No. 2 prospect had a rocky start to his first full professional season, but pitched much better after his promotion to Double-A Corpus Christi in July. He will try to build on that progress while pitching with Salt River this fall, where he joins Bradley and Buxton to form one of the most star-studded rosters in the league.

Pace of play
Major League Baseball announced last week a set of experimental rules designed to speed up the pace of play would be used in the AFL this year.

• A hitter must keep one foot inside the batter's box throughout his plate appearance, unless one of a few exceptions, such as a foul ball, occurs.

• Intentional walks will be called for by the manager and the batter will automatically take first base.

• There will be a maximum break of two minutes, five seconds between innings, with hitters required to be in the batter's box by the one-minute, 45-second mark. If either team doesn't comply, a ball or strike will be assessed accordingly.

• There will be a maximum of two minutes, 30 seconds allowed for pitching changes, including those that occur during an inning break. A ball will be called if a team takes too long.

• Each team will be permitted three "timeout" conferences covering any meeting involving pitchers and catchers, managers, coaches and batters. Timeouts during pitching changes and those that result from an injury or other emergency will not be counted toward the limit. Additionally, at Salt River home games, a 20-second pitch clock will be used. Those games will also include instant replay, as MLB continues to study potential modifications to the review system.

The experimental pace of play initiatives continue the AFL's tradition of being a testing lab for MLB's potential rule changes. Last year, the instant replay system was debuted in the AFL.

Defensive moves
Position changes often happen in a less-competitive environment than the AFL, but the league gives players who are moving around the diamond another chance to get experience.

This year, Josh Bell, the Pirates' No. 3 prospect, will be the most prominent player learning a new position. He has exclusively played the outfield in the Minor Leagues, but the Pirates already have a star-studded trio of young outfielders in the big leagues. So, this fall, Bell will try out first base, where he began taking ground balls during the regular season.

Although Peter O'Brien, the D-backs' No. 7 prospect, won't be changing positions when he catches for Salt River this fall, his progress defensively will be closely watched by evaluators. The 24-year old was a catcher in college, but has played four positions since the Yankees drafted him in the second round in '12.

The D-backs acquired O'Brien at the non-waiver Trade Deadline in exchange for Martin Prado, but injuries limited him to four games with his new club. The D-backs are sending him to the AFL as a catcher, and how he performs behind the plate over the next six weeks could inform his ultimate defensive home.

No matter where O'Brien ends up defensively, his offensive prowess gives him a chance to reach the Major Leagues. He hit 34 home runs in 106 games this season, ranking fifth among Minor Leaguers.

MLB.com's Top Prospects in AFL
1. Byron Buxton, OF, Twins
4. Francisco Lindor, SS, Indians
5. Addison Russell, SS, Cubs
9. Archie Bradley, RHP, D-backs
13. Corey Seager, SS, Dodgers
16. Tyler Glasnow, RHP, Pirates
29. Josh Bell, 1B, Pirates
38. Raul Mondesi, SS, Royals
40. Jesse Winker, OF, Reds
41. Mark Appel, RHP, Astros
47. Kyle Zimmer, RHP, Royals
49. D.J. Peterson, 3B, Mariners
53. C.J. Edwards, RHP, Cubs
60. Brandon Nimmo, OF, Mets
71. Hunter Renfroe, OF, Padres
82. Tim Anderson, SS, White Sox
84. Nick Williams, OF, Rangers
85. Daniel Robertson, SS, A's
86. Hunter Dozier, 3B, Royals
87. Miguel Almonte, RHP, Royals
88. Dalton Pompey, OF, Blue Jays
96. Trea Turner, SS, Padres
98. Matt Olson, 1B, A's

Teddy Cahill is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @tedcahill. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

No relief: Bullpen struggles sink Tigers and Dodgers

Loaded lineups and great starters not enough to overcome biggest weakness

No relief: Bullpen struggles sink Tigers and Dodgers

The Tigers lined up three former American League Cy Young Award winners -- Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and David Price -- in their AL Division Series starting rotation. What do they have to show for it? A first-round exit, having been swept by the Orioles.

The Dodgers turned to expected National League Cy Young Award and MVP Award winner Clayton Kershaw in Games 1 and 4 of their NL Division Series against the Cardinals. Both times, Kershaw was close to dominant for the first six innings before having the game unravel.

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Managers Brad Ausmus of the Tigers and Don Mattingly of the Dodgers both were politically correct in the moments after their clubs were eliminated, but the undermining of those two high-priced teams was a bullpen that couldn't provide relief.

Over the course of a 162-game regular season, the fatal flaws of a pitching staff can be masked. But in a short series in the postseason, there is no margin of error.

The Dodgers and Tigers can attest to that.

It wasn't because they had tight purse strings.

The Dodgers set a Major League record with a $235 million payroll, ending the Yankees' 15-year reign as the biggest spenders in the big leagues. The Tigers ranked fifth at $162 million.

Both teams have marquee players. The Dodgers have the 1-2 rotation punch of Kershaw and Zack Greinke, both of whom have Cy Young Awards on their resumes, and a lineup with the veteran bats of Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez, and the potential of Yaisel Puig.

The Tigers have those three Cy Young Award winners, plus a threatening lineup with the bats of Ian Kinsler, Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez sitting in the top five spots in the order

There was, however, little relief in sight, and it was costly to both in their bids for a World Series championship, which the Tigers haven't celebrated since 1984 and the Dodgers haven't won since 1988.

The Tigers ranked 27th in baseball with a 4.29 regular-season ERA for their bullpen, and the Dodgers were No. 22 at 3.80. And it didn't get any better in the postseason. Tigers relievers were a combined 0-1 with a 19.29 ERA (10 earned runs in 4 2/3 innings) while they were swept by the Orioles. The Dodgers bullpen had a 6.48 ERA, converting one of two save opportunities in four games against the Cardinals.

Big deal?

Well take a look at the four teams that are still playing -- the Orioles and Royals in the ALCS and the Cardinals and Giants in the NLCS.

The Giants (fifth, 3.01), Orioles (sixth, 3.10) and Royals (10th, 3.30) all ranked among the top 10 teams in bullpen ERA during the regular season. The Cardinals were 17th at 3.62. And all four had late-inning success in the Division Series, combining to convert 12 of 14 save opportunities.

In a game where starting pitchers averaged fewer than six innings per start in the regular season, the value of a strong bullpen cannot be ignored.

Tigers president, CEO and general manager Dave Dombrowski knows that all too well. His team has won four consecutive division titles, but he has advanced to the World Series only once, when his club was swept by the Giants in 2012. Dombrowski has been willing to shuffle the deck among his relievers each year, but hasn't yet found a winning hand.

In the past year, he signed free-agent closer Joe Nathan and setup man Joba Chamberlain, and he made the in-season acquisition of former All-Star closer Joakim Soria to reinforce the late-inning corps. He took a shot on Jim Johnson, who had 51 and 50 saves in back-to-back seasons in Baltimore but struggled so much earlier in the season that he was released by Oakland despite his $10 million salary. And Dombrowski gambled $1 million on a comeback by Joel Hanrahan that did not work out.

Setup man Al Alburquerque had a 2.51 ERA, and rookie Blaine Hardy had a 2.54 ERA, the only Tiger relievers with more than five appearances with an ERA of 3.50 or lower.

The Dodgers had three reliable relievers -- closer Kenley Jansen (2.76), J.P. Howell (2.39) and Brandon League (2.57), but no other regular bullpen member with at least 25 appearances had an ERA below 4.00.

The Dodgers' only significant relief investment last offseason was a $9 million deal to keep former star Giants closer Brian Wilson, who, in his effort to overcome career-threatening arm injuries, compiled a 4.66 ERA in 48 1/3 innings over 61 appearances. He faced only three batters (retiring one) in the NL Division Series.

Mattingly's concern about the ability to get the game from his starter to his closer was underscored in both of Kershaw's starts. Kershaw took a 6-2 lead into the seventh inning of Game 1, but he gave up six runs in the seventh inning and finally was pulled after left-handed-hitting Matt Carpenter's bases-loaded double.

Working on short rest in Game 4, Kershaw had a 2-0 lead after 97 pitches and six innings. He was back on the mound in the seventh but never got another out, giving up a three-run home run to left-handed-hitting Matt Adams before the bullpen got the call.

There was never any relief in sight for the Tigers or Dodgers.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Write 'em Cowboy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Let's all mourn the loss of Joba Chamberlain's beard

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Let's all mourn the loss of Joba Chamberlain's beard

Friends and loved ones,

Today we are gathered here to mourn the loss of that most splendid and wonderful specimen, that glorious and magnificent symbol of American identity: Joba Chamberlain's beard.

Continue Reading on Cut4

Offseason changes may break up Tigers' core

Scherzer, Hunter, V-Mart part of group with uncertain futures

Offseason changes may break up Tigers' core

DETROIT -- The crushed looks on the faces in the Tigers' clubhouse showed the emotion of a season that ended too soon. That part was obvious.

Go beyond the shock and disappointment of the American League Division Series sweep to the Orioles, capped by Sunday's 2-1 loss, and there's the underlying question whether this could be the end of an era.

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The Tigers have won four consecutive division titles behind a core that included Max Scherzer in the rotation and Victor Martinez in the heart of the lineup. They've taken back-to-back postseason runs with Torii Hunter in the corner of the outfield and the heart of the clubhouse.

All of them are free agents. So, too, is setup man Joba Chamberlain and left-hander Phil Coke. Newly-acquired reliever Joakim Soria could be, too, if the Tigers don't pick up his contract option for next season.

  Date   Matchup/Result Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 2   BAL 12, DET 3 video
Gm 2 Oct. 3   BAL 7, DET 6 video
Gm 3 Oct. 5   BAL 2, DET 1 video

Detroit has dealt with changing faces and shifting plans in the past, never bigger than last year with the retirement of Jim Leyland and the trades of Prince Fielder and Doug Fister. This winter, however, could strike at the heart.

This is why runs like what the Tigers have done for four years -- really, what they've done since 2006, with only one losing season in nine years -- are so rare. Even for a team that has spent big to contend -- Detroit's payroll neared $170 million after Trade Deadline trades for Soria and David Price -- this could be a bit much.

As some of the Tigers began to pack up their gear, the sense was impossible to avoid, that they could have a different group in there when they open their 2015 season against the Twins on April 6.

"It can be difficult at times to see friends come and go," said catcher Alex Avila, who enters a contract year next season. "That's part of the game, and it's the reality of the situation. You have to be able to deal with it on a yearly basis and sometimes during the year.

"We'll find out how it'll unfold this offseason and figure from there. That's always the case every single year. It [stinks] sometimes, but that's the reality."

Martinez and Scherzer could end up as the top hitter and pitcher on the free-agent market, even with Martinez's age and his status as a regular designated hitter and occasional first baseman. In a season where impact offense was hard to find, evidenced by the scarcity of deals for hitters at the July Trade Deadline, Martinez hits the market coming off the best season of his career.

Martinez hit .335 with a league-best .974 OPS, 32 homers and 103 RBIs. He has hit well enough to open the real possibility of a long-term contract with his 36th birthday coming in December.

"I wasn't really thinking about that, you know," Martinez said. "My teammates and myself have a lot of work to do. Unfortunately, we couldn't get it done. Now we'll see what happens. It's time to go home, spend time with the kids and see what happens."

The Tigers are among those teams who know about offense being hard to find. They're expected to make a major push to try to keep Martinez.

Asked if he wants to return to Detroit, Martinez said, "They know. They know. So we'll see what happens."

Scherzer's contract has been an off-and-on story since last offseason. It became a distraction in Spring Training when the Tigers announced he had declined a long-term contract offer, later reported to be six years for $144 million. Talks broke off then, but the two sides agreed to revisit his situation at season's end.

Here it is, sooner than expected.

"It's hard to even think about that right now when you have a loss like this," Scherzer said. "Whenever you get bounced out of the playoffs and the postseason, it always stings. I'm sure I'll address that as the offseason progresses, but I do hope I'm back. I love this clubhouse, love everybody in here, been to battle with these guys for five years. It would mean a lot to me."

Scherzer hits the open market at the head of a trio of front-line starters, including Boston's Jon Lester and Kansas City's James Shields. With 39 wins, 434 2/3 innings, 492 strikeouts and 12.7 Wins Above Replacement over the last two years, and his 31st birthday not until next July, Scherzer and agent Scott Boras have every reason to believe he'd be at the front of the group.

Chamberlain, signed last December on what amounted to a one-year, $3 million flyer, had an outstanding bounceback season with a bad ending, struggling down the stretch after an early pace that would've set a career high in appearances. He's interested in returning, but he might not have the choice if the Tigers opt for a bullpen makeover.

A bullpen overhaul could leave the Tigers in a tricky position with Soria, who has a $7 million club option for next season. If the Tigers declined the option, they will have traded two high-level prospects -- starter Jake Thompson and reliever Corey Knebel -- for 15 outings from Soria, including two shaky appearances in his first postseason.

Put all the situations together, add Coke, plus contract years looming for Price, Rick Porcello and others, and the situation could as big or bigger than last winter's massive transition.

They wanted to put it off until the offseason. They wanted the offseason to be later than this.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Tigers' rally falls short, season ends with ALDS sweep

J.D. Martinez has RBI in ninth; Price allows two runs over eight

Tigers' rally falls short, season ends with ALDS sweep

DETROIT -- Somewhere amid the celebration in the visiting clubhouse at Comerica Park sat a Tigers scoreboard with a picture of three jerseys on the front, marking the Tigers' three Cy Young award winners. All three had been crossed out.

Essentially, that's what the Orioles did in the American League Division Series. They didn't beat up the trio of Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and David Price, but they won three straight games started by them, capped by Sunday's 2-1 Tigers season-ending loss in Game 3.

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While Nelson Cruz got the Tigers again with a two-run homer to slug his way into history, Detroit's inability to slug Bud Norris put a historical mark on them, too. For the first time in club history, the Tigers' postseason run ended at the American League Division Series.

"It's disappointing," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "You feel like you let the fans down and you feel like you let the organization down. You feel like you let [ownership] down. So it's disappointing, no question. But there is nothing we can do about it now."

While the Orioles swept a postseason series for the first time since 1971, the Tigers lost an opening-round series for the first time since the 1987 AL Championship Series, prior to the Division Series format. They had won all four of their Division Series since 2006.

"We got beat. No other way to say it," Scherzer said. "We got outplayed in this series in every facet. It's frustrating. I know how talented this group is. I'm not trying to take anything away from what they did. They outplayed us. They're a great ballclub."

It was not only an early exit, but until the ninth inning, a quiet one. After back-to-back games in which the difference in bullpens bit the Tigers, their struggles against Norris left Baltimore's relievers with just eight outs to cover.

Alex Avila's second-inning double and Don Kelly's third-inning single were Detroit's lone hits off Norris, who was moved up from an expected Game 4 start after the Orioles won the first two games. Two walks and a strikeout-wild pitch comprised the other baserunners, and the only runner beside Avila in scoring position was erased when Kelly went on contact on a Torii Hunter grounder to short.

"Norris pitched outstanding," Ausmus said. "I don't know if our right-handers got a hit off him. To me, that was it."

On a night when Price gave the Tigers just about exactly what they needed on the pitching side, covering eight innings, it was a letdown on the offensive side. Once Cruz stepped to the plate in the sixth, it was also a setup for another crushing home run.

Actually, Cruz's drive wasn't hit that well, but the loft down the right-field line stayed inside the foul pole to score Adam Jones. It was Cruz's 16th career postseason home run, pushing him past Babe Ruth and into a tie with Carlos Beltran for ninth on the all-time list. Half of those home runs have come against the Tigers.

"I still don't understand how he hit that ball out," said Hunter, who watched the ball sail down the line.

Said Ausmus: "It was a well-placed home run, but Nelson Cruz is a pretty darn good hitter with the ability to hit the home run anywhere in the ballpark. So that happens."

The Tigers mounted one final push in the ninth off Zach Britton with back-to-back doubles from Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez. Once Bryan Holaday, who replaced an injured Avila earlier, struck out, Orioles manager Buck Showalter opted to intentionally walk Nick Castellanos and put the potential go-ahead run on base.

With the Tigers' limited bench down to Hernan Perez and Eugenio Suarez, it was a challenge to Detroit's offense. Once Perez hit into a game-ending double play, the Tigers' season -- a season with World Series expectations -- was over.

"It doesn't matter what point you lose," Scherzer said. "When you get bounced out of the playoffs, you always have aspirations on moving on to the next round and finding ways to win series. We didn't find a way to win this series. They did."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Price's impressive effort for naught in Game 3 loss

Acquired to help Tigers win title, lefty limits O's but receives no support from offense

Price's impressive effort for naught in Game 3 loss

DETROIT -- This kind of game was the reason the Tigers traded for David Price. Not only the situation and the setup, with their season on the line and the spotlight almost as bright as it can shine -- but the performance as well.

Price delivered the outing you would expect out of an ace, holding the Orioles to two runs on five hits over eight innings. It was the best starting pitching performance by any of the Tigers' Cy Young Award-winning trio all series in just about every respect. Price kept the Tigers' bullpen seated, kept the Orioles' lineup at bay and limited himself to only one costly mistake.

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  Date   Matchup/Result Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 2   BAL 12, DET 3 video
Gm 2 Oct. 3   BAL 7, DET 6 video
Gm 3 Oct. 5   BAL 2, DET 1 video

But it wasn't enough. The Orioles beat the Tigers, 2-1, in Game 3 of the American League Division Series on Sunday and ended Detroit's season. Price would have preferred to see himself stumble instead of watching his team fall.

"It's always good to be able to step up in these big games. I've definitely been on the other end, where I haven't pitched so well in very big games. It's good," Price said. "I would rather pitch like crap and us go out there and win, 12-11, or something like that."

The Tigers gave up a promising young starter in Drew Smyly, their everyday center fielder in Austin Jackson and a top prospect in shortstop Willy Adames so they could reel in Price. They did so with the World Series in mind, not a win-or-go-home Game 3 of the ALDS. This round was supposed to be one step toward a much bigger goal.

To a man, everyone in the Tigers' clubhouse afterward said they felt they had enough talent to keep playing in October. Instead, they'll head home for the winter and try again next spring, potentially with a much different cast.

"It stinks. The guys we have in this clubhouse, we definitely feel like we had a very good baseball club. Definitely good enough to be still playing right now," Price said. "It stinks, because this is the best team I've ever been on. To get knocked out in the first round, it's never fun. Hopefully everybody uses it as a little bit of motivation ... and we can get ready to do something special next year."

Price made one mistake against a player the Tigers couldn't figure out all series. Nelson Cruz, the one guy capable of beating them almost on his own, did exactly that.

The 29-year-old left-hander cruised through five innings on 69 pitches, then he lost his catcher, Alex Avila, when a foul tip to the facemask knocked him out two pitches into the sixth. Price gave up a ground-ball single to Adam Jones and left a fastball away up too high against Cruz. The Orioles' designated hitter took it the other way, using the strength that helped him lead the Majors in home runs to push it just inside the foul pole and into the first row of stands in right field.

Just like that, it was 2-0, Orioles, and Price was in line for the loss. According to Elias Sports Bureau, he became the first pitcher in Major League history to lose all of his first five postseason starts. But to be fair, though he is 0-5 with a 4.98 ERA in those starts, his teams have given him an average of two runs of offensive support.

"It was a well-placed home run, but Nelson Cruz is a pretty darn good hitter with the ability to hit the home run anywhere in the ballpark. So that happens," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "Really, the story today was a pitchers' duel between David Price and Bud Norris and the home run by Cruz. That's what it boils down to."

Of course, the larger story is that the Tigers' vaunted rotation -- seemingly an enormous advantage on paper -- left with a pair of losses and another unimpressive performance that ended in a loss. The trio of AL Cy Young Award winners became the fourth such group to lose a postseason series.

"We didn't exactly beat up on them. They did what they do and you don't match them," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "You try to stay engaged with their starters and hope you can grind 'em enough where some other situations might present themselves. They did their job."

Price has never hid the fact that he didn't want to leave the Rays at the July 31 Trade Deadline. He grew up as a baseball player in St. Petersburg, liked the clubhouse and the atmosphere and led a rotation full of potential young stars.

But Price has one more year of team control on his contract. He will be back next year, hoping the season ends with a similar setup and performance -- but a different result for his team.

"It was special. It wasn't something that I wished had happened, being traded in general. But being traded to this team and this organization, it's been a blessing," Price said. "The way the front office, all the guys in the clubhouse, all my teammates, they treated me extremely well in the clubhouse and out on that field. That's all I can ask. These guys, they work their tails off. It was good."

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Torii to give retirement serious consideration

Outfielder set to enter free agency at age 39

Torii to give retirement serious consideration

DETROIT -- Torii Hunter joined the Tigers hoping to cap his career with a World Series ring. As he sat in a dejected clubhouse, stunned by an American League Division Series sweep to the Orioles, he had to wonder if that chance was fading away.

And as he looks at free agency at age 39, he admitted that retirement is an option for him following Sunday's 2-1 loss

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"I've thought about that a lot," Hunter said. "Just talk it over with my wife. We'll see what happens."

It was the first time he referenced thinking about retirement. Hunter has said he feels good enough that he could play as many as two more years.

  Date   Matchup/Result Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 2   BAL 12, DET 3 video
Gm 2 Oct. 3   BAL 7, DET 6 video
Gm 3 Oct. 5   BAL 2, DET 1 video

Physically, he said, he feels fine, well younger than his age. Mentally, he said, he's tired from the grind of a season he called a roller coaster.

"I've never been a part of anything like that in my life," Hunter said.

If Hunter continues playing, he would like to re-sign with the Tigers. Whether the feeling is mutual remains to be seen. He seemingly has a supporter in manager Brad Ausmus, who raved down the stretch about the impact Hunter made in the clubhouse.

The roster picture in Detroit could have a major impact. If the Tigers are going to add an offensive infusion from within, it's likely to be power-hitting prospect Steven Moya, who played right field this year at Double-A Erie.

Moya batted .276 this season for Double-A Erie with 33 doubles, 35 home runs, 105 RBIs and 16 stolen bases, all in 133 games. He had just eight at-bats with the Tigers as a September callup before heading to the Arizona Fall League, but he appears likely to head to Spring Training with a chance to compete for a job with the big club.

Then again, the Tigers could have a gaping hole at designated hitter if they're unable to re-sign Victor Martinez, also a free agent this winter.

A short-term deal could give the Tigers a way to plug a hole, or a right-handed hitter to share playing time with the left-handed-hitting Moya. On Hunter's side, it would keep him within a short drive of his son, Torii Jr., a redshirt freshman wide receiver for Notre Dame.

If Hunter retires, he'll close an 18-year career with a .279 average, 331 home runs and 1,310 RBIs.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Timely offense elusive in Tigers' quick exit

AL-leading offense generates 10 runs in three-game sweep

Timely offense elusive in Tigers' quick exit

DETROIT -- This wasn't the Division Series the Tigers envisioned for a number of reasons. Their Cy Young Award-winning trio of Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and David Price wasn't supposed to go down in order. Their American League-leading offense wasn't supposed to be starved for runs.

The Tigers didn't give themselves many chances to score Sunday, and until the ninth inning, the few chances they did have evaporated almost as quickly as they appeared thanks to a combination of baserunning mistakes, a few unique calls, a lack of production from the middle of the order and a disarmingly thin bench. Add it all together, and it amounted to a season-ending 2-1 loss to the Orioles at Comerica Park.

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Price gave the Tigers a chance to win Sunday, allowing only two runs over eight innings. Unlike the first two games, closer Joe Nathan held up the bullpen's end of the bargain with a scoreless ninth inning. But Detroit's offense came up empty, managing only two hits before the ninth inning.

"We just couldn't get any hits today," right fielder Torii Hunter said. "[Orioles starter Bud] Norris had all the pitches working."

Hunter, Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler and Nick Castellanos went a combined 0-for-13 in Game 3. As a team, the Tigers hit just .218 for the series; The middle-of-the-order trio of Cabrera, Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez were the only players with more than two hits over the three-game sweep, and they were responsible for eight of the Tigers' 10 extra-base hits.

  Date   Matchup/Result Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 2   BAL 12, DET 3 video
Gm 2 Oct. 3   BAL 7, DET 6 video
Gm 3 Oct. 5   BAL 2, DET 1 video

The offseason will be full of questions about the bullpen, which will understandably shoulder its share of the blame. But what went wrong for Detroit against Baltimore?

"Just the timely hits, at least in this series, and the pitching at the right time," catcher Alex Avila said. "It was a tough series, and basically we were fighting these last three games. Just couldn't find a way to get it done, whether it was offensively or on the mound. It's disappointing."

In the ninth inning, after J.D. Martinez doubled home Victor Martinez to cut the Orioles' lead in half, the Orioles exposed the Tigers' other weakness. With a man on second, Bryan Holaday, batting for Avila after he was forced to exit in the sixth inning because of a concussion, struck out swinging. Baltimore decided to intentionally walk Castellanos, and Tigers manager Brad Ausmus countered with Hernan Perez, pinch-hitting for Andrew Romine.

The Tigers' options weren't plentiful at that point, with Eugenio Suarez the only other option. As a team this season, the Tigers hit just .189/.231/.297 with two homers and eight RBIs in 74 pinch-hit at-bats.

"It wasn't difficult to manage the bench, because generally the lineup is the lineup," Ausmus said. "We have a pretty solid core of guys who are kind of everyday players, so there is not a lot of maneuvering that goes on."

Desperately looking for any way to put up runs behind Price, the Tigers challenged an out call at first base that ended the second inning. With Avila at third base and two outs on the board, Romine dropped a bunt toward Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop.

As Romine raced toward first, Schoop made a nice scoop and flung the ball to first baseman Steve Pearce in one motion. Pearce caught the ball almost right as Romine's outstretched right foot landed on first base while Avila was scoring from third.

First-base umpire Jim Wolf ruled Romine out, drawing Ausmus out of the dugout to challenge the call. After a two-minute and 28-second review, the call on the field stood.

"The play at first was pretty straightforward. We challenged and the umpire or umpires in New York said that the play stood," Ausmus said. "I don't know that even I agree with that even now having seen the replay."

As a result, Ausmus lost his challenge for the rest of the game, which remained scoreless.

The Tigers had another shot in the third, but Schoop and Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy made Tigers center fielder Don Kelly pay for a baserunning mistake.

Kelly led off the inning with a bloop single to left field and stole second base. Hunter then knocked a grounder to Hardy, who caught Kelly too far off second on the play. Kelly scrambled back toward the bag as Hardy made the throw to Schoop, who tagged Kelly as he put himself between the runner and second base.

Television reviews made it clear that Schoop dropped the ball on the play, so there was a split-second where Schoop was obstructing Kelly on the basepaths without having the ball in his possession. Obstruction is defined in Major League Baseball's official rules as "the act of a fielder who, while not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner."

Ausmus came out to discuss the play with the umpires, but nothing came of the conversation. Ausmus said after the game that the play was not reviewable, and he didn't think it was obstruction.

"I thought the throw brought the fielder into Donny. I don't think he was intentionally trying to block him," Ausmus said. "I think that's just where he was. And the throw came off his glove, and he tried to reach for it. ... I've seen the replay. I don't know if anything could have been done differently. I don't know if the umpires could have seen it any differently."

Hardy's throwing error on Miguel Cabrera's ensuing ground ball put runners on second and third with two outs, but Victor Martinez flied out to center to end the inning and keep the game scoreless.

The Tigers would remain scoreless until the ninth, at which point it was too little, too late to keep their season alive.

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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On foul tip off mask, Avila suffers another concussion

Tigers catcher undergoes testing, will meet with team doctor, neurologist

On foul tip off mask, Avila suffers another concussion

DETROIT -- For the fourth time this season, Tigers catcher Alex Avila left a game with concussion symptoms. This time, it happened on the postseason stage, thanks to a Steve Pearce foul tip in the sixth inning of Game 3 of the American League Division Series against the Orioles on Sunday at Comerica Park.

After Detroit's season ended with a 2-1 loss, Avila confirmed he suffered a concussion on the play. He'll have an offseason to recover now that the Tigers have been eliminated, but the long-term concerns will linger.

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"It's something that I've thought about because of the information we have now about concussions," Avila said. "At the same time, I've always felt that I've been well looked after between our trainers and our doctors. Anytime I've come back from it, I've always felt extremely comfortable that I was 100 percent ready to go. Where the danger lies is if I went back there and I continued to take blows when I wasn't ready.

"I fully expect to recover as quickly as possible from this and get back to training in the offseason and get ready for next Spring Training."

Avila took David Price's first-pitch fastball, tipped off Pearce's bat, squarely off his mask. He went to the ground and stayed there as head athletic trainer Kevin Rand rushed out of the dugout.

Avila got back up on his feet and tried to stay in the game, but after previous concussions this season -- including missing a week less than a month ago with concussion symptoms -- neither Rand nor manager Brad Ausmus wasn't going to hear his plea. Bryan Holaday entered to replace him behind the plate.

"I didn't feel fine," Avila said, "but I didn't want to come out of the game. But Kevin has a job to do. That's his job and he did what he's supposed to do, and the right thing to do."

Avila said he underwent a battery of tests, including a CT scan, MRI exam and X-rays on his neck. He'll get the results Monday and talk with team physician Dr. Michael Workings as well as a neurologist.

"I've got a little headache and some dizziness here and there, a little soreness in my jaw, stuff like that," Avila said.

Avila missed a game with concussion symptoms in June when David Ortiz's backswing hit him in the head. He took a foul tip to the mask Sept. 2 and missed four games, then missed a week in mid-September with suffering lightheadedness after taking a forearm off his head on a pickoff tag. That absence was of particular concern because of how long it lingered.

Avila has dealt with concussions in each of the last three seasons, putting long-term concerns on a career that has seen the former All-Star become a keystone behind the plate in Detroit.

"To be honest with you, sometimes when you just take a shot, it really doesn't matter what you're wearing, it's going to happen," Avila said. "Unfortunately, I've had a few concussions over the last few years. It's something that I've got to monitor and be aware of, nothing to take lightly, and something I've obviously thought about.

"It's always in the back of my mind, but I love to play this game, and I'm going to keep playing as long as I can, as long as there's no risk to my health. That's why we have the doctors. Kevin and our guys do a great job, not only keeping me on the field, but making sure that I'm not going back out there continuing to play when I shouldn't be. As long as I'm not put in harm's way when I'm vulnerable in that situation, then I should be OK."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Did you know: Orioles-Tigers, ALDS Game 3

Did you know: Orioles-Tigers, ALDS Game 3

The Orioles are heading to their first American League Championship Series since 1997 on the back of a two-run home run by Nelson Cruz and a gem from starting pitcher Bud Norris. Their performances helped seal a sweep in the AL Division Series with a 2-1 win on Sunday in Detroit, despite the Tigers rolling out Cy Young Award winners Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and David Price in the three games.

Here are some interesting stats to digest:

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• Cruz passed Babe Ruth on the all-time postseason home runs list with his sixth-inning shot. The outfielder is now tied with Carlos Beltran for ninth on the all-time list with 16 homers.

• Speaking of Cruz, the outfielder's career slugging percentage in the postseason is up to .710. He trails only Ruth and Lou Gehrig -- who slugged .744 and .731, respectively -- on the all-time list for players with a minimum of 100 plate appearances.

  Date   Matchup/Result Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 2   BAL 12, DET 3 video
Gm 2 Oct. 3   BAL 7, DET 6 video
Gm 3 Oct. 5   BAL 2, DET 1 video

• Baltimore became only the fourth team in Major League history to win three games started by opposing Cy Young Award winners in a single series. The others: the 1997 Marlins, the '98 Padres and the '99 Yankees, all of whom won against Braves starting pitchers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz.

• Price's eight-inning start was the longest postseason outing of his career. His previous came last October in the ALDS, when he allowed seven runs in seven innings to the Red Sox when he was a member of the Rays.

• In Norris' 155 career regular-season starts, he had only gone at least six innings while allowing four or fewer baserunners four times. He did that on Sunday, allowing two hits and two walks in 6 1/3 innings.

• Before Game 1 of the ALDS, Andrew Miller had only gone as long as 1 2/3 innings once since joining the O's at the Trade Deadline. In Game 3, he did that again. The lefty reliever set down five in a row, including Ian Kinsler, Torii Hunter and Miguel Cabrera in the eighth.

• Detroit cut the Orioles' two-run lead to the eventual 2-1 final with back-to-back doubles by Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez off Zach Britton. In his first season as Baltimore's closer, Britton hadn't given up multiple extra-base hits in any game. Britton only gave up seven doubles all season.

• The O's completed their first postseason sweep since beating the Athletics in four games during the 1971 ALCS. The Tigers were swept for only the third time in postseason history. The other two both came in the World Series, as they lost to the Giants in 2012 and the Cubs in 1907.

David Wilson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Oct. 5 Brad Ausmus postgame interview

Oct. 5 Brad Ausmus postgame interview

Q. How will this experience helped you to improve next year?

BRAD AUSMUS: I think every experience helps you improve, and certainly as a first‑year manager, there have been a number of things over the course of the season and certain things in the playoff that you learn from.

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I can't put my finger on any one thing, but certainly I will reflect back and there will be some things I point to that certainly I've learned from.

Q. Brad, this series didn't go the way you wanted. It went horribly wrong in a certain way. What would you do differently if you could do it all over again?

BRAD AUSMUS: I don't know that there is a ton that we would do differently. Quite frankly, I think Game 2 was probably the game that hurt us the most, obviously, having a lead going into the eighth inning.

But, again, I would have to reflect upon it to tell you what I would do differently.

Q. For a team that spent so much time in first place from April right on through the playoff season, Brad, seemed like it was a very difficult year for a team and for a town. Can you speak to that, if you shared that thought at all?

BRAD AUSMUS: It was kind of an up and down. We started hot and got extremely cold. Seemed to be a bumpy road there after The All‑star break and really we weren't even in first place, I believe, going into the last month of the season or close there to.

But the truth is the resiliency was always there and ultimately we did win the division and that was the first goal. That was the first goal.

The second goal was to win the World Series and clearly we're not going to reach that one.

Q. You said several times what you see is what you get in relation to the starting lineup and the bench. How difficult, given the injury to Rajai and some other considerations, was it just to manage the bench late in the game for you?

BRAD AUSMUS: It wasn't difficult to manage the bench because general the lineup is the lineup. We have a pretty solid core of guys who are kind of everyday players, so there is not a lot of maneuvering that goes on.

When Alex comes out of the game that limits your maneuvering even more, because Brian is basically your last line of defense. So there is not a ton of maneuvering going on. Our lineup 1 through 5 is what it is, that's not going to change.

Q. Brad, a couple things. One, what kind of explanation did you get on the play at first with Andrew Romine and the play at second with Kelly?

BRAD AUSMUS: The play at first was pretty straightforward. We challenged and the umpire or umpires in New York said that the play stood. I don't know that even I agree with that even now having seen the replay.

The play at second, it's not really a challengeable play anyway. There is some question as to whether or not Schoop fell on top of Kelly and blocked him, but it was probably more incidentally than anything else going after the ball. I don't know that anything could be done in that situation.

Q. And how did Perez become the guy that you go to late in games over Suarez?

BRAD AUSMUS: I think the nature of their swings. I think Perez is probably more prepared to hit a guy going 95, 96, 97 miles an hour. Suarez would have hit for Carrera had we gotten to that point, the next batter.

Q. Just official confirmation on Alex Avila, concussion symptoms?

BRAD AUSMUS: I haven't been in the training room yet, but that's the reason we took him out, yes.

Q. Brad, just given the hopes and the expectations you had from this team, how much of a disappointment is it for the season to end this way, not just in the Division Series, but with a sweep?

BRAD AUSMUS: It's disappointing. You feel like you let the fans down and you feel like you let the organization down. You feel like you let the Illiches down. So it's disappointing, no question. But there is nothing we can do about it now.

Q. Did it cross your mind that Buck might call for the intentional walk there? Did it surprise you?

BRAD AUSMUS: No, it didn't surprise me. Buck has been doing this a long time. I don't think he would do anything that would shock me. He would rather face the hitters coming up behind Nick Castellanos as opposed to Nick Castellanos.

Q. Down 0‑2, you needed everything to go right today. As the game progressed, did you feel like nothing was going right, including Nelson Cruz's home run that looks like it's fading and finds a front row?

BRAD AUSMUS: No, it was a close enough game that you always hold out hope. It was a well‑placed home run, but Nelson Cruz is a pretty darn good hitter with the ability to hit the home run anywhere in the ballpark. So that happens.

Really the story today was a pitchers' dual between David Price and Bud Norris and the home run by Cruz. That's what it boils down to.

Norris pitched outstanding. I don't know if our right‑handers got a hit off him. To me, that was it.

Q. Brad, proved to be a big out when Donnie got caught between second and third and got tagged out at second. You couldn't challenge that play, but did it look like obstruction to you?

BRAD AUSMUS: No, because I thought the throw brought the fielder into Donnie. I don't think he was intentionally trying to block him. I think that's just where he was. And the throw came off his glove and he tried to reach for it.

Again, I've seen the replay, I don't know if anything could have been done differently. I don't know if the umpires could have seen it any differently.

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Tigers run into out on bases; Schoop blocks second

Kelly prevented from reaching base after ball eludes infielder

Tigers run into out on bases; Schoop blocks second

DETROIT -- Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy and second baseman Jonathan Schoop made Tigers center fielder Don Kelly pay for a baserunning mistake during the third inning of Sunday's American League Division Series Game 3 at Comerica Park.

Kelly led off the inning with a bloop single to left field and stole second base. Torii Hunter then knocked a grounder to Hardy, who caught Kelly too far off second on the play. Kelly scrambled back toward the bag as Hardy made the throw to Schoop, who tagged Kelly as he put himself between the runner and second base.

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Television reviews made it clear that Schoop dropped the ball on the play, so there was a split-second where Schoop was obstructing Kelly on the basepaths without having the ball in his possession. Obstruction is defined in Major League Baseball's official rules as "the act of a fielder who, while not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner."

  Date   Matchup/Result Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 2   BAL 12, DET 3 video
Gm 2 Oct. 3   BAL 7, DET 6 video
Gm 3 Oct. 5   BAL 2, DET 1 video

Rule 2.00 (Obstruction) Comment reads: "It is entirely up to the judgment of the umpire as to whether a fielder is in the act of fielding a ball. After a fielder has made an attempt to field a ball and missed, he can no longer be in the 'act of fielding' the ball. For example: an infielder dives at a ground ball and the ball passes him and he continues to lie on the ground and delays the progress of the runner, he very likely has obstructed the runner."

Tigers manager Brad Ausmus came out to discuss the play with the umpires, but nothing came of the conversation. Ausmus said after the game that the play was not reviewable.

Hardy's throwing error on Miguel Cabrera's ensuing ground ball put runners on second and third with two outs, but Victor Martinez flied out to center to end the inning and keep the game scoreless.

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Orioles benefit from review as Tigers denied run

On bang-bang play in the second, out call on Romine's bunt stands

Orioles benefit from review as Tigers denied run

DETROIT -- Looking to give left-hander David Price an early lead over the Orioles, the Tigers challenged an out call at first base that ended the second inning of Game 3 of the American League Division Series on Sunday afternoon at Comerica Park, but the call on the field stood.

With Tigers catcher Alex Avila at third base and two outs on the board, shortstop Andrew Romine dropped a bunt toward Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop.

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  Date   Matchup/Result Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 2   BAL 12, DET 3 video
Gm 2 Oct. 3   BAL 7, DET 6 video
Gm 3 Oct. 5   BAL 2, DET 1 video

As Romine raced toward first, Schoop made a nice scoop and flung the ball to first baseman Steve Pearce in one motion. Pearce caught the ball almost right as Romine's outstretched right foot landed on first base while Avila was scoring from third.

First-base umpire Jim Wolf ruled Romine out, drawing Tigers manager Brad Ausmus out of the dugout to challenge the call. After a two-minute, 28-second review, the call on the field stood.

"I'm not sure what they saw. I know it's a tough play," Ausmus said during a mid-game interview on the TBS broadcast. "I don't understand the reasoning for not calling Romine safe, but we'll move on."

As a result, Ausmus lost his challenge for the rest of the game, which remained scoreless.

 

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Rajai out of Tigers' starting lineup for Game 3

Rajai out of Tigers' starting lineup for Game 3

DETROIT -- What was expected to be a game-time decision on Rajai Davis did not last into batting practice on Sunday. The Tigers center fielder, who has battled a pelvic ligament strain for the past week, was not in Detroit's starting lineup for Game 3 of the American League Division Series against the Orioles at Comerica Park. The Tigers trail Baltimore in the best-of-five series, 2-0.

Utility man Don Kelly will get the start in center over Ezequiel Carrera, who replaced Davis when he left Game 2 in the fourth inning. Davis is available to pinch-hit, but in the end, manager Brad Ausmus could not count on Davis being able to play nine innings.

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"I would rather have him on the bench and be able to use him at a specified time," Ausmus said, "than have him go out there and suddenly come out of the game and not be able to use him later in a more optimal spot."

Davis spent Saturday receiving treatment on the injury, and he was optimistic he would be able to play. Ausmus left his options open, including Kelly, but said the forecast for a high temperature in the low- to mid-50s concerned him.

"Considering the weather, I just don't think it was a prudent move to put him back in there," Ausmus said.

As for Kelly over Carrera, Ausmus called it a "gut instinct."

Carrera played center when tightness forced Davis out of Game 2 in the fourth inning. The speedy Carrera had a late read on a sixth-inning line drive into center field that fell in front of him for a leadoff single.

Kelly started three games in Davis' place in center in September. He's 2-for-7 with a strikeout for his career against Orioles starter Bud Norris.

"Defensively, they're about the same," Ausmus said. "Zeke probably runs a little bit better, [but] Donnie has a little bit more experience."

That's an adjustment from last weekend, when Davis first suffered the injury. When weighing his options in center field, Ausmus ranked Carrera as the best defender, ahead of Kelly.

Kelly has a history of Division Series surprises. His first home home run at Yankee Stadium in Game 5 of the 2011 AL Division Series provided the first run in an eventual 3-2 win that sent Detroit on to the ALCS. A year later, he hit a walk-off sacrifice fly to beat Oakland in Game 2 of the ALDS.

For his career, the 34-year-old Kelly is 8-for-32 in the postseason with a home run, three RBIs and five runs scored.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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MLB.com Columnist

Anthony Castrovince

Hitting gurus: J.D.'s transformation a team effort

He's resurrected his career with help from teammates, mystery hitting coach

Hitting gurus: J.D.'s transformation a team effort

BALTIMORE -- You take previously untapped potential, sprinkle it with the wisdom of a secret sage and refine it with the recommendations of some seasoned tutors, and you have the story of J.D. Martinez's season.

Every team in baseball in this run-sapped environment is going to be looking for the next Martinez this winter. But the former waiver claim's rise to postseason prominence is a combination of special circumstances and "right place, right time" mentorship that will be difficult to duplicate.

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The Tigers' season is on life support after back-to-back losses to the Orioles in this American League Division Series. Still, that they are in this position at all is in no small part due to the 27-year-old Martinez's emergence in the heart of their order, where he's already belted two October home runs.

  Date   Matchup/Result Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 2   BAL 12, DET 3 video
Gm 2 Oct. 3   BAL 7, DET 6 video
Gm 3 Oct. 5   BAL 2, DET 1 video

"He's filled a void," manager Brad Ausmus said.

And some others helped Martinez fill voids of his own.

Like so many great stories, Martinez's has an air of mystery to it.

He missed 44 games with the Astros last season because of a wrist injury, but the blessing in disguise is that the time off gave him ample opportunity to do something he had never done before -- study video of other hitters.

"I remember being so frustrated," Martinez said. "But if that didn't happen, I wouldn't have watched the video that allowed me to open up my mind to a change."

He saw several swings he liked -- Ryan Braun's, Allen Craig's, Albert Pujols' and future teammate Miguel Cabrera's among them, according to what he told the New York Times last month -- and some conversational research uncovered a personal hitting helper that one of those guys had used.

Martinez sought this helper out, worked with him, made fundamental adjustments in his swing mechanics, and the rest is, well, present, not history.

Naturally, everybody wants to know who the so-called "secret guru" is, now that Martinez, who was claimed by the Tigers near the end of Spring Training and joined their active roster in mid-April, is MLB's biggest breakout performer of the year. But the matter only becomes more mysterious when Martinez discusses why the guy, with whom he still checks in weekly, wants to remain anonymous in this instance.

"He said it's more for me than it is for him," Martinez said. "He doesn't want me to get in trouble or anything. He said, 'Just do you.' "

Such a shroud of secrecy. But I suppose for now we'll just have to respect that Martinez's special assistant isn't trying to reap acclaim for Martinez's successes this season.

"Those are the kind of guys you want to work with," Martinez said. "The guys who don't want to stick their face out. It's that much cooler to do the opposite. It's about the work. He knows he doesn't need his face out there."

Martinez's other assistants do have their faces out there, because they surround him in this Tigers lineup.

It's become a good gag, for instance, to refer to J.D. and Victor Martinez as brothers, but there is certainly a brotherly type of relationship going on behind the scenes.

"Certain pitches he sees that I get beat on, he'll talk about what he does in those situations," J.D. said. "He'll say, 'Do you ever notice I have two different swings -- one for this kind of pitcher and one for this kind of pitcher?' Little things like that have made him an influence on me."

Cabrera has been an influence in another way. When Martinez dwells on a poor at-bat, Miggy's the one to tell him, "Forget about it" and move on, although suffice it to say Cabrera often puts that phrase quite a bit more colorfully.

The biggest in-house influence, though, has been Torii Hunter, who is the one who inspired Martinez to be more diligent in his study of opposing pitchers.

"We'll sit there and watch film together and break down pitchers, and he'll talk to me about what he's trying to do and the game plan," Martinez said. "Stuff I've never sat down and talked to anybody about."

This background scouting is essential. It's one thing, after all, to come out of nowhere in April and have a hot first half. The game's history is littered with guys who did just that, then floated back into the ether from which they had arrived. If anything, Martinez's .354/.411/.594 September slash line and his quickly established prominence in this playoff series are more impressive than the 1.035 OPS he logged over three months in the first half. Because this success has come after the league had already adjusted to him.

"I remember when I was in Houston in 2012, I started off red-hot," he said. "I was killing it and killing it. What happened was when the league made the adjustment, I didn't make the adjustment to them. I wanted to do what I thought was working. But if they're not pitching you the same way, you've got to blend to what they're doing. You can't do something with the ball if they're not presenting it to you. So I think learning that [during] that year and learning it through this team -- how [others] pitch Victor and the way Victor and Miggy will sometimes just go with stuff when they really can't do anything else -- that's kind of what I learned how to do. You can't hit a three-run homer if they're not giving you anything to hit. You've got to take your base or slap a single."

Martinez, with the help of his secret sage, made fundamental changes to his approach -- lowering his hands and closing his stance. Those changes likely would have helped him wherever he landed this season. And the Astros, who let him go because of the outfield depth they felt had buried him in their system, have to be kicking themselves for letting him get away with four years of contractual control remaining.

Still, one wonders if Martinez's season would have been this successful in another situation. On a team loaded with youth, for instance, he wouldn't have had the veteran input that has allowed him to sustain this success, or the lineup depth that has allowed him to be a piece of the bigger picture, not the focal point.

"I'm sure it helps a guy like that," said Tigers president, CEO and general manager Dave Dombrowski. "We do have a great group of players, and it's a group where everybody is comfortable around one another. A lot of that is established through your leadership, your veteran leaders. Torii, Victor and Miggy -- I don't know that it gets much better than that."

For J.D. Martinez, it doesn't. With no disrespect intended toward Detroit hitting coaches Wally Joyner and Darnell Coles -- two accomplished former big league hitters in their own right -- Martinez said there's nothing like the peer-to-peer influence at this level.

"Coaches are coaches, and players are players," he said. "It's different if a coach tells you something than if a player tells you something. It speaks more volume, to me, if a player tells you something. Especially a player I respect. That's like 10 coaches coming up to me and telling me something."

Martinez has several coaches in his corner, anonymous and otherwise. A special set of circumstances have aligned to make him one of the best stories this season.

With two big swings in this series, that story has only gotten better in October.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Oct. 5 Ausmus pregame interview

THE MODERATOR: Brad Ausmus is here. We're going to get started.

Q. Brad, just can you talk about your decision to start Donnie and did Rajai come in today and not look any better?

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BRAD AUSMUS: Raj was still a little sore, so with the cool weather, I think. Rather than having him start the game and maybe have to pull him out, I would rather be able to use him later in the game maybe, especially with their left‑handed bullpen.

So he's available. He certainly could pinch-hit, but he's still feeling it a little bit.

Q. (No microphone.)

BRAD AUSMUS: I just [had] gut instincts, decided to go with Donnie. Defensively they're about the same. Zeke probably runs a little bit better, Donnie has a little bit more experience.

Q. You have a veteran team and obviously an elimination game. If you don't win, it's over. What is the demeanor like in your clubhouse going into the game today?

BRAD AUSMUS: It's pretty much the same it is every single day. We went into Sunday's final game of the season needing to go win to clinch the division. These guys are a veteran group, so they're relaxed. They understand that they have a job to do, but they're not dreading anything.

They will be ready to play and I think you will see they handle the pressure fine.

Q. Obviously, there is a Lions game today. How does that affect home‑field advantage at all?

BRAD AUSMUS: I don't think it affects it at all. I think both stadiums will probably be packed, loud, and supporting Detroit teams!

Q. Brad, will Scherzer be an option today in relief or does he need another day at least?

BRAD AUSMUS: It would probably have to be an extra inning‑type game where we needed another arm.

Q. If Davis were to pinch‑hit and get a hit, would you consider leaving him in or would you want to run for him at this point?

BRAD AUSMUS: He's still getting treatment today, probably depends on how he feels going into the game.

Q. Brad, if there is a Game 4, you will have Rick on the mound. Seems like he was one of your only starters who didn't finish strong.

BRAD AUSMUS: He didn't have his best outings the last few times, but he's had an excellent year. And as I've said all year long, with Rick, if he's down with the sinker, he gets outs and he's effective.

I'm aware of what he's done in the last few weeks, but I'm also well aware what he's done for six months. I'm not concerned about him at all.

Q. Being a former catcher, have you had any conversations with the relievers after these first two games?

BRAD AUSMUS: Yeah, I've talked to them. I'm not going to get into the details of my conversations with them, but I've talked to them.

Q. Brad, with the extra‑inning game between the Nationals and the Giants last night, I know people brought up the game in '05 you had a pretty big role in. What were your memories of that? What were the challenges as that game went on with postseason pressure?

BRAD AUSMUS: When a game starts to get that long, other than on the pitchers that continue to come in fresh, I think on the position players, the pressure kind of wanes. It almost becomes a war of attrition, see who can outlast the other. And by the end of 18, I can guarantee you even the guys in the dugout that were cheering were exhausted.

Q. About Rick again, the extra day. I know we've had conversations about his innings and everything, do you think the extra time between starts will be beneficial?

BRAD AUSMUS: I hope so. I certainly don't think an extra day will hurt. And I hope the same thing applies to David today.

THE MODERATOR: Thanks very much.

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