Six days earlier, Kenny Rogers made his season debut, shut out the Braves for six innings and later said he didn't feel very comfortable on the mound. As for his comfort level after six innings of one-run ball in Thursday's 5-2 win over the Rangers at Comerica Park, well, he's getting there.
"It's a good start, but it's only a start," he said. "I've still got work to do and a lot of improvement to make."
He felt fresher and a little more comfortable than he did at Atlanta, where he sounded almost like someone who had put up a loss rather than someone who had helped put up a shutout. The sinker had more life this time around, he said, and the stomach had fewer jitters.
The opponent had more runs, but not nearly enough.
"He's kind of freaky, really," manager Jim Leyland said. "To be out that long and be able to locate, pick both sides of the plate apart, that's not easy to do."
Gary Sheffield's ability to run the bases this season hasn't exactly been humdrum, either, but more on that later.
The last time Rogers had given up a run, the Tigers lost the American League Central. He took the loss in extra innings of Detroit's regular-season finale in 2006, then went on to pitch 23 scoreless innings in the postseason.
Tack on last Friday's performance and five more scoreless innings Thursday, and he was up to 34. In this case, it took some work. After retiring the first eight Rangers he faced over three scoreless innings, he kept his streak alive after Ian Kinsler's leadoff double in the fourth by not allowing the ball out of the infield. With Kinsler on third and one out, Rogers induced slugger Sammy Sosa to chase an offspeed pitch outside for a comebacker to prevent a play at the plate. Marlon Byrd popped up the next pitch to first base.
Another leadoff double, this one from Kenny Lofton, finally led to a run off Rogers in the sixth. Back-to-back fly balls to center from Kinsler and Michael Young brought Lofton around to score.
Those were two of the five popouts in his performance. Everything else was either on the ground (10 outs) or a strikeout (three).
While Rogers continues to work his way back to midseason form, Sheffield was trying to work past his pregame frustrations. A call with Bob Watson, Major League Baseball's vice president of on-field operations, over his suspension from last month's ejection in Cleveland lingered in his mind as he stepped to the plate in the first inning and continued after that.
"I admit, I was upset," Sheffield said. "I wasn't really focused my first couple at-bats. I was angry."
Usually, an angry Sheffield is the most dangerous, and he took out his frustrations at the plate with a two-run homer in the seventh. But his most impressive work didn't even involve a swing.
While he was still likely simmering over the suspension, he drew a walk off Kevin Millwood leading off the bottom of the fourth. After Magglio Ordonez singled him over to second, Sheffield stole third to put himself in position for a potential sacrifice fly. It was his 10th stolen base of the year, matching his highest total since 2003, and his second time this year stealing third.
Millwood struck out Ivan Rodriguez on a high fastball to take away the sac fly, but his first pitch to Sean Casey bounced in the dirt and got away from catcher Gerald Laird. Sheffield took off almost as soon as the pitch bounced and crossed home plate easily, opening the scoring.
"I'm always anticipating the ball in the dirt," Sheffield said. "I saw as soon as he threw it that it was going in the dirt. Even if [Laird] hadn't lost it, I thought I would've had a shot."
That's the type of baserunning instinct Leyland likes to see out of Sheffield. Leyland knew he was getting a smart baserunner when the Tigers traded for Sheffield in November, but he has translated it into aggressiveness. The only players in the Majors 35 or older with more steals are longtime speedsters Kenny Lofton (16) and Dave Roberts (13).
"This guy's a total player," Leyland said of Sheffield. "There's not many guys on our team, probably hardly any, who would've scored on that ball."
The other runs came from Carlos Guillen, whose two-run single in the fifth extended his streak of driving in a run to 11 straight games. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he's one game shy of matching the franchise record set by Mickey Cochrane in 1934 and matched by Rudy York in 1940.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less