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Tigers hoping to solve Gray second time around

Tigers hoping to solve Gray second time around

Tigers hoping to solve Gray second time around

OAKLAND -- The Tigers thought they had prepared themselves for A's rookie Sonny Gray as well as they could before Game 2 of the American League Division Series. They weren't ready for what they witnessed in person.

"It's completely different," utility man Don Kelly said last week after Gray shut them down. "You can sit there and watch the video as much as you want and try to pick up what he's trying to do to hitters and figure things out. But then you get in the box."

ALDS

Or as Austin Jackson put it, "You go over film as much as you can, but once you get out there, you're pretty much just trying to see it and hit it."

As the Tigers prepare for Gray in Game 5 on Thursday, they now have more than scouting reports and video. They now have their own experience, frustrations and all.

"I'm not really sure we liked what we saw," manager Jim Leyland said Wednesday evening. "It was pretty good. But at least we have seen him now. It does make some difference.

"With the stuff he was featuring, it certainly does not mean we're going to be in a comfort zone, but it makes you a little more comfortable, now that you know the action on the ball, the great breaking ball that he has."

How they work off of that could be the difference in whether the Tigers can pull out an ALDS Game 5 on the road for the third consecutive year. It'll be a game of adjustments accelerated, and it's something the Tigers have done in the past.

The way the Tigers' regular-season schedule played out, it wasn't something they did a lot this year. Six different starting pitchers faced Detroit twice in a span of two weeks or less this season. Three of them were White Sox, thanks to so many second-half series between the two teams.

The one example with someone the Tigers hadn't seen before came in May. Astros young lefty Dallas Keuchel baffled Tigers hitters for four innings in relief May 2 before wearing down in a four-run rally. Two weeks later, Detroit ruined his start with a four-run second inning.

How the Tigers and Gray adjust, A's manager Bob Melvin said, is to be determined.

"That's what starting pitchers always have to do, is make adjustments," Melvin said. "They also saw him two and three times around the lineup during that game. So usually once you see a pitcher once or twice, you have an idea of what he's going to do to you, but second time around a little more so. He's able to make adjustments as well, and he has very good stuff on top of it."

In fact, Gray was tougher against the Tigers the longer he pitched. Detroit put three runners on base against him the first time through the order, then three runners the next two times through the lineup combined.

"At some point, yeah, I think we looked a little bit like we were guessing, because it was the first time we faced him," Miguel Cabrera said. "The way he threw the ball, he wasn't giving us a break to try to figure him out."

One thing Kelly mentioned about Gray last week that caught him by surprise was the cutting motion on his fastball, making a 94-mph heater seem quicker. Another factor was the arm angle at which Gray delivers from his 5-foot-11 frame.

"He's not real tall, and those guys when they throw real hard, sometimes it jumps on you," Kelly said. "And then he's got his curveball working, too. That's a pretty tough combination."

The curveball, and Gray's ability to throw it for strikes, was a big factor, Jackson mentioned.

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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