DETROIT -- The Tigers don't do a whole lot of infield work before games. What they do, they accomplish either in early work or during batting practice. So when Tigers infield coach and longtime Major League shortstop Rafael Belliard began taking ground balls at shortstop before Game 1 of American League Division Series on Saturday, it looked odd, like he was maybe trying to keep warm.
Once he started flipping those baseballs to Omar Infante at second base, it made sense. With every defensive play magnified during the postseason, Infante received a refresher course on double plays, a facet that troubled him for part of the stretch run with a couple of wayward throws.
Belliard worked with Infante for a couple of weeks on staying back on double plays, rather than stepping into the runner and risking a takeout slide. Belliard also appeared to be working on helping Infante get rid of the ball quicker. The work seemed to pay off over the final road trip of the season, when his throws were crisper and his feet planted.
Detroit didn't turn any double plays during its 3-1 victory Saturday night, but three outs turned at second base helped minimize the pressure on Justin Verlander as he worked through the Oakland order for 11 strikeouts over seven innings. One came from Infante, who ranged into the hole on a Seth Smith grounder before lofting a throw over baserunner Josh Reddick to Jhonny Peralta to erase Reddick following his leadoff walk in the fourth inning.
Two innings earlier, Peralta went into the hole on the left side to rob Derek Norris and retire Smith at second. The look on Verlander's face when the ball was hit suggested he feared it would get through.
For the game, Verlander actually got more outs at second base (three) than he did at first (two).