DETROIT -- Justin Verlander wasn't the only former Cy Young Award winner in Detroit who needed to change things early this season. Max Scherzer didn't need an overhaul, but he needed to know how to use his stuff better.
His last four starts have shown the benefit of a tweaked approach.
"I've really tried to be more aggressive towards the plate with all my pitches, actually all four of them," Scherzer said after eight innings of one-run ball to beat the Rays Thursday night, "not trying to get around them and make them come out of the zone laterally. I'm trying to come right at the zone, at the knees or down at the plate, down below the zone, and attacking that area.
"That's stuff we've been working on -- I'd say the past three starts, not worrying about trying to generate a swing and miss per se by making it go away, but really trying to drive it through the zone and then drive it underneath. That's the stuff I feel like after that Kansas City start, I really identified. That's what I'm doing a better job at now, those 0-2, 1-2 counts of executing pitches the way I want to."
Scherzer gave up 10 runs on 10 hits in four-plus innings against the Royals on June 17. He has allowed just four runs on 15 hits over 21 innings in three starts since then, walking four and striking out 28. He has pounded the strike zone in each of those outings for 70-plus strikes, including 75 strikes out of 106 pitches Thursday. That matched Drew Smyly for the best strike ratio by a Tiger for an outing of that many pitches this season, according to baseball-reference.com; Smyly had the exact same number of pitches and strikes against the Royals on June 18.
V-Mart leaves game with irritation of sore back
DETROIT -- Victor Martinez's return to the Tigers' lineup lasted just a game and a half. His absence this time could linger into next week.
One night after homering in his return from a sore back, Martinez left Friday's game against the Rays after three at-bats when he aggravated the injury. The soreness is centered on his right side, he said, and originated from a swing he took last Sunday in Houston.
Martinez is expected to miss Saturday's middle game of this series, and seemed pessimistic about his chances for Sunday as well.
"I don't know," Martinez said. "The way I'm feeling right now, I don't see it happening."
With a day off on Monday, Martinez could take three days of rest before returning for Tuesday's series opener against the Dodgers.
Martinez had returned to action Thursday and homered off Rays lefty Erik Bedard, quieting any lingering concern over his status. Ausmus said Friday that the switch-hitting Martinez felt better swinging right-handed than left-handed, but said later that Martinez had reported improvement from both sides.
Friday's matchup against Rays righty Alex Cobb put his status to the test. So did Cobb's fourth-inning pitch that hit Martinez in the back of his right leg, leaving him hobbling to first base. He stayed in the game and rounded the bases to score on a Torii Hunter groundout, then added an RBI single off Cobb two innings later.
The pitch had nothing to do with the injury, Martinez said. The swing he put on the RBI single, however, aggravated it.
"One swing," he said. "That's all it takes."
When Martinez's DH spot came back around in the eighth inning, however, Rajai Davis pinch-hit.
The Tigers face right-hander Chris Archer on Saturday before a nationally televised Sunday night matchup against left-hander David Price. If Martinez can't go, Davis would likely re-enter the starting lineup, leaving J.D. Martinez or Hunter to move to DH.
Krol begins rehab assignment at Class A
DETROIT -- Ian Krol began his road back to the Tigers' bullpen Friday night by pitching an inning of relief for Class A West Michigan to begin a Minor League rehab assignment.
Krol, who went on the 15-day disabled list two weeks ago with what he described as a "dead arm" but which the Tigers classified as left shoulder inflammation, pitched a perfect seventh inning with a strikeout for the Whitecaps at Fort Wayne.
As long as Krol's arm feels fine Saturday, the plan calls for him to pitch another inning for West Michigan on Sunday, also at Fort Wayne. If he feels healthy after that, he'll return to Detroit, where he'll likely be activated from the DL in time for Tuesday's series opener against the Dodgers at Comerica Park.
Dombrowski not bothered by Astros leaks
DETROIT -- While reactions have been varied from Major League general managers over the leak of internal trade discussions from the Houston Astros front office, Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski did not seem particularly bothered.
"[Astros GM] Jeff [Luhnow] was great. He apologized ahead of time before it came out," Dombrowski said. "It's one of those things that happens. I'm sure they didn't want it to come out."
The leaked discussions, which showed up on an internet forum and later were published on Deadspin, included some notes on the Tigers-Astros trade talks leading up to the Jose Veras trade last July. The only major piece of information, that the Astros were apparently interested in trading for Nick Castellanos, was not a major revelation. Dombrowski has said for a couple years that Castellanos' name came up in the intial stages of many trade talks they've had.
Asked if he was surprised something like that could happen, Dombrowski shrugged.
"That's how life is," he said." Your computer could get hacked. It happens all the time. You do the best you can."
Jackson settling back into leadoff spot
DETROIT -- The return of Austin Jackson atop the batting order saw him post back-to-back multi-hit games for just the third time this year. His four-strikeout performance Friday quieted talk of him of him heating up as a leadoff hitter.
"He had a rough game today," manager Brad Ausmus said afterwards. "The last couple games, he swung the bat real well. Obviously tonight wasn't one of his better games."
Before the game, Jackson insisted he isn't doing anything different at the top of the lineup from what he would've been doing if he was still hitting further down.
He's had some mechanical tweaks, he said, notably with the long-running leg kick/toe tap he does as a timing mechanism. However, he said, he'd be doing that no matter where he's hitting in the lineup.
"I don't think it's changed anything," Jackson said of the move back up the lineup. "My approach is the same as it's always been, just trying to do what leadoff hitters are supposed to do and try to get on base."
Friday marked Jackson's fifth game in six days batting leadoff after not leading off in a single game this season before that.
Jackson entered Friday with five hits and three runs scored over his previous two games. With Jackson leading off, meanwhile, Ian Kinsler has moved down to the second spot, where he plated Jackson with a first-inning homer Thursday night.
"I like Austin up there. He sees a lot of pitches," Kinsler said. "He's swinging the bat really well right now. We seem to turn the lineup over a lot better right now. It seems like the lineup's clicking pretty well."
That was the patient approach Jackson seemingly took when he was leading off in past years, at least in his first at-bats, sometimes to his detriment. Ironic, then, that his ratio of pitches per plate appearance is at a career high of 4.2 this season, and nearly a third of his strikes have been called ones, according to baseball-reference.com. Part of that, however, arguably comes from pitchers throwing him more pitches outside the strike zone.
• Miguel Cabrera reiterated Friday that he has not given Jose Bautista an answer about the Home Run Derby, preferring to wait and see whether teammate Victor Martinez makes the team.
• The Tigers announced four more deals in their batch of international prospect signings, all of them Venezuelan teenagers. Right-handed pitchers Renauldo Lopez, Jesus Rodriguez and Javier Villarreal joined catcher Johandry Cortez in joining the Tigers' organization. The new signings boost the crop of players from this year's signing period to nine.