By: Bob Wojnowski
Jim Leyland was calm. He was measured. And he was clear: If there was another way to shake up his slumbering lineup, he’d do it.
Leyland’s options are limited, as the Tigers’ hitters flail away, as Austin Jackson sits on the disabled list. Everyone obsesses about the lineup and Leyland does too, although he generally dislikes talking about it. But in a composed, logical discussion, Leyland tried to explain the limitations.
I asked him if he has to shake things up, no matter what.
“I’m gonna reverse that question — what would you do with the personnel in the lineup?” Leyland said after the Tigers were swept in Cleveland. “Would you bring up different guys? Would you send guys down? Would you hit guys different? I’m not being smart about this, but I don’t really understand what the point is when people say, do something with the lineup. If you mean change personnel, first of all, you can’t just send players out.”
Leyland was on a roll, and wanted to explain his logic. He wasn’t being confrontational at all. He wasn’t dismissive of the issue, either, with the Tigers scoring an anemic three runs or fewer in 23 of 44 games.
But with so many hitters under-performing, it’s hard to find an easy answer.
“Do something different with the lineup?” Leyland said. “We’ve been doing something different, and you get criticized for that. We moved (Brennan) Boesch out of the two hole and got credit for putting (Andy) Dirks there. Alex (Avila) wasn’t hitting so I moved him to eighth and he hit a three-run homer. There’s only so many moves you got.”
With Jackson sidelined, Leyland installed speedy rookie Quintin Berry at the leadoff spot. He was two-for-eight versus the Indians. Delmon Young was still in the fifth spot, amid sporadic signs he’s hitting a bit better, but a move there is possible.
Beyond that, Leyland is grasping — same as the fans and media.
“Berry seems to be the logical guy to lead off right now and Dirks seems logical at second,” Leyland said. “(Miguel) Cabrera and (Prince) Fielder are logical. I mean, five through nine, we haven’t done much, I can’t disagree with that. But we have switched that up. We have had Avila fifth, Boesch fifth.”
What about flip-flopping Cabrera and Fielder, putting Cabrera in the cleanup spot?
“Flip-flop them for what reason?” Leyland said. “Just do something for the sake of change? Like I said, we’ve moved guys around. But I don’t think Cabrera and Fielder hitting third and fourth has anything to do with it. The only thing flipping it would do is set it up better for the opposing team. We’d have Dirks and Fielder back to back, so when they bring in a lefty out of the bullpen, we’re sitting there with two lefties in a row. That’s a factor.”
This is what happens when half a lineup is slumping. The clutch hits are rare, which makes hitters more tense, which puts more pressure on the big guys. Leyland is trying to wait it out, because logic still suggests the Tigers will score. That’s not the answer anyone wants to hear right now, but if there’s a better one, he’s listening.