Tigers manager Jim Leyland had a plan: even with his team facing elimination in Game 5 against the Rangers, Leyland said Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde were off limits and that he wanted to get through the game with Justin Verlander and left-hander Phil Coke going the distance.
Which is exactly what happened in a 7-5 victory. Leyland rode Verlander for 7 1/3 innings, allowing him to throw 133 pitches before Nelson Cruz’s two-run homer knocked him out of the game. Coke took over after that and allowed one run before getting his fifth and final out to finish the Rangers.
It looked like Leyland’s intention to stay with Coke could backfire in a big way. After two quick outs to start the ninth in a 7-4 game, Josh Hamilton doubled. The Rangers, of course, follow Hamilton with four straight right-handed hitters, each arguably more dangerous than the last: Michael Young, Adrian Beltre, Mike Napoli and Nelson Cruz.
Leyland had his third-best right-handed reliever up in the pen in Ryan Perry. He also had starter Brad Penny up as sort of a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency option.
Leyland, though, opted to keep going with the lefty, even after Young singled in Hamilton and Beltre walked with two outs. Fortunately for the Tigers, it turned out just fine, as Napoli grounded out to end the game with the tying run on. Cruz, the hottest hitter in either lineup, was left on deck and awaiting Game 6.
Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis has been diagnosed with a strained rotator cuff in his right shoulder, MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian reports. Kipnis has received a cortisone shot and will be shut down from throwing for the next four to five days.
There’s a lot of spring left, so it’s perfectly sensible for the Indians to play it safe with their star player. The club already had Kipnis on a shoulder strengthening program.
Kipnis, 29, helped the Indians to the playoffs after batting .275/.343/.469 with 23 home runs, 92 RBI, 91 runs scored, and 15 stolen bases in 688 plate appearances during the regular season last year. He then helped the Indians reach Game 7 of the World Series against the Cubs, where they were eventually stopped, as he provided a .741 OPS including four homers and eight RBI in 15 playoff games.
According to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Cardinals are keeping an eye on outfield prospect Luis Robert. The 19-year-old left his native Cuba last November and is expected to command interest from multiple MLB teams as he approaches free agency. Goold adds that the Cardinals sent scouts to evaluate Robert’s workouts in the Dominican Republic as recently as last week.
There’s still a good chance that the club won’t get a shot at signing him; as Craig mentioned last month, it seems likely that Major League Baseball won’t declare Robert a free agent until after June 15. By July 2, the new Collective Bargaining Agreement’s policies on international bonuses will go into effect, handcuffing teams with the maximum penalty for bonuses to a $300,000 signing figure for any available international prospect. It’s designed to effectively take away those teams’ abilities to sign additional international talent, and the Cardinals have already spent a reported $9.35 million in bonuses on Venezuelan outfielder Victor Garcia, Cuban outfielders Jonatan Machado and Randy Arozarena and Cuban right-hander Johan Oviedo.
Until the cutoff in mid-June, the Cardinals are likely to continue actively scouting other international talent, including Robert. MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez quotes an anonymous National League scouting director who describes Robert as the No. 2 talent behind Japanese wunderkind Shohei Otani. The 19-year-old hit .286/.319/.397 with a .716 OPS during a 16-game run in the Canadian-American League in 2016, following up an impressive three-year tenure with the Ciego de Avila in the Cuban National Series from 2013-2015.