Notes: Big spots hurting Granderson

Notes: Big spots hurting Granderson

DETROIT -- Grady Sizemore moved from leadoff man to run producer. The Tigers aren't anywhere close to doing that with Curtis Granderson just yet.

It was fitting that Cleveland moved Sizemore from first to third in the order during its stretch of five games in 10 days against Detroit, since Sizemore and Granderson have earned so many comparisons over the last couple of seasons. But this is one move that does not have a parallel -- at least not yet.

While Granderson has emerged as one of baseball's better all-around leadoff hitters and sits within earshot of a historic season of 20 homers, 20 doubles, 20 triples and 20 stolen bases, his next step is to improve his approaches in non-leadoff situations, none more so than with runners in scoring position. He took a big step Friday.

Out of Granderson's 4-for-29 slump entering Friday's game, seven of those plate appearances came with runners in scoring position, during which he went 0-for-6 with a walk. One out was a stellar catch from Cleveland's Franklin Gutierrez in right field to start an inning-ending double play, but another was a strikeout against Rafael Perez on Thursday afternoon with two runners on.

He had been 0-for-18 with runners in scoring position in August before Friday, then he turned out two triples with runners in scoring position, driving in three runs and setting himself up for a run scored.

It's not exactly a big part of his role, but it's a part of his development.

"He's obviously been struggling against righties and lefties," manager Jim Leyland said Friday afternoon, "but I think the biggest thing with him is the next step. When you talk about young players, that's what it's about, and he's still a young player. His next step is learning how to relax and concentrate in RBI situations. But that takes time.

"There's a knack to learning how to knock in runs. He's going through that process right now."

More than relaxation and concentration, Leyland said, it's "realizing that the pitcher is in the hole, not you. It's really something that's hard to teach."

The example Leyland used was Barry Bonds, who batted .161 with runners in scoring position in his first full Major League season under Leyland in Pittsburgh in 1987. He improved to .266 his next year, then .377 in his first MVP season of 1990.

Granderson said it's a balancing act, trying to keep the same overall approach at the plate while still focusing on doing what's required in the situation, whether it involves advancing a runner with a ground ball to the right side or lofting a sacrifice fly into the outfield to score a run.

"As hard as you want to focus on that task at hand," Granderson said, "the thing I think you need to do is continue to take the same approach that you have with runners not on. Usually when guys aren't on, you see a lot of guys' averages tend to be higher."

That focus, Granderson thinks, can work against a hitter if it overrides his general approach. He agrees that it's his next step.

"I think it's that and not panicking, not trying to do too much in those situations," Granderson said. "Watching those guys [who produce], everything looks similar. They're not trying to get the big home run. It just happens. That's going to come in time, being patient and trusting the work that I've done. I think a lot of that's going to help.

"It's thinking and not thinking at the same time."

What you see is what you get: Though Joel Zumaya is believed to be healthy after returning from surgery on his right middle finger, that doesn't mean he's at full strength.

"His arm strength's not totally there yet," Leyland said, "but we knew that. He doesn't know if his arm strength will be there the rest of the year. It might be, it might not."

Zumaya wasn't available Friday after throwing parts of two innings on Thursday afternoon, and he said his arm felt tender. It's still healthy, but he said it's not as strong as it would normally be at this time of year had he been pitching for a while.

That explains the fastball, which topped out around 99 mph last week during his rehab stint for Triple-A Toledo but was around 97 mph on Thursday.

"Yesterday was a big, big eye-opener for me," Zumaya said on Friday. "I wanted to beat that team so bad. To do what I did, it got a little wild out there. I wasn't under control, and things fell apart."

It's a stark difference for those used to watching the radar gun whenever Zumaya is on the mound, but it's something to which he believes he can adjust.

"I know I can do it, because I did it all four of my Minor League years as a starter," Zumaya said. "I was hitting my spots [then]. I was in and out. I have to pitch a little differently. And I know I can get these guys out, because they're all expecting me to come in and blow them away. They're going to be way up there. So if I can command my offspeed and throw my offspeed over, that's when that 95 will look like 100 to them."

The same goes for his curveball, which was a big focus for him during Spring Training when he was still healthy.

Even if Zumaya isn't hitting 100, Leyland said, "I'll take my chances."

Miner difference: Though Leyland said on Thursday that he understood why Zach Miner was upset at his demotion to Toledo after Thursday's game, he cautioned that Miner has work to do to improve his game, whether Miner believes he deserves to be up or not. He likes Miner a lot, but as he put it, he wasn't "setting the world on fire."

"I think Zach Miner is a big league pitcher," Leyland said, "but I think he's got to make some adjustments if he's going to be as good as he can be."

Much of that involves attacking the strike zone instead of nibbling at it.

"He's got to go after hitters more and stop worrying about the bats," Leyland said. "He's got to go after hitters more and use his pitches and have more confidence in his sinker. Guys can like that or not, but that's what I see in him."

Coming up: Jeremy Bonderman (10-6, 4.65) will try to stop his winless streak at seven starts when he takes on the Yankees opposite Chien-Ming Wang (14-6, 4.10) on Saturday in the second game of the series. Game time is 7:05 p.m. ET.

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