Prince Fielder was riding an 0-for-18 slump when he stepped into the box against southpaw Leyson Septimo on Wednesday night in Chicago. The Tigers were leading 3-1 in the sixth inning when Septimo was summoned to face Fielder and after seeing Donnie Veal in each of the series’ first two games, Prince must have breathed a sigh of relief. It too more time for Robin Ventura to walk to the mound to get his lefty than it did for Fielder to drive a three-run blast over the right field fence.
Max Scherzer was phenomenal once again for Detroit en route to his career-best 16th win of the season. He allowed just one run and four hits while walking no one and fanning seven over six frames on Wednesday. Though Kevin Youkilis homered twice for Chiacgo, including a three-run blast in the eighth to make things interesting, the Tigers pulled to within one game of the division lead as the two clubs wrap up the series Thursday night.
There is no doubt that Ventura has had a positive influence on his team, but there were a few times in this series so far where he has made questionable moves. The bottom of the ninth inning, with the potential tying run at the plate and two outs on Wednesday, Ventura allowed light-hitting Orlando Hudson to bat for himself against Tigers closer Jose Valverde, even though he had Dayan Viciedo and his prodigious power sitting on the bench.
Hudson, you see, came into the game with three hits in seven career at bats against Valverde. He wound up taking a called third strike to end the game. Hudson hasn’t been what anyone would consider a “good” hitter for at least a couple of seasons now and is hitting a cool .186 since being picked up by Chicago. The Padres released him because he couldn’t hit. But, Ventura must have figured that seven at bats spread out over 11 seasons were enough of a sample size to go with.
It’s true that Viciedo is 0-for-five with four strikeouts in his career versus Valverde, and also that Gordon Beckham, also on the bench and with homers in his last two games, is just 1-for-10 versus Detroit’s closer, but even with those numbers, either guy was a better choice to represent the tying run for Chicago.
When you need a guy to run into one to tie the game and potentially ward off a challenger for the playoff spot you’re currently holding, I find it tough to swallow that Ventura put his faith into a guy with 92 career home runs based on a seven at bat sample size spread over 11 years. Of course, it’s more than likely that Viciedo or even Beckham would have made the final out in the game, just as Hudson had. But despite their numbers versus this pitcher, either hitter would have put Chicago in a better position to succeed.
And, in the end, isn’t that what a manger is supposed to do?
Detroit still has work to do. Leaving the Windy City down by two games would be a large hill to climb without the benefit of another head-to-head series. The Tigers will turn to reigning AL MVP Justin Verlander on Thursday in a rematch with fellow Cy Young candidate Chris Sale. Verlander has been knocked around in two of his last three starts and seen his ERA rise from 2.50 to 2.91 in that span.
The Tigers’ season is still on the line and there is no pitcher they’d rather see on the mound in that situation.