MLB Insiders: Detroit Tigers

A.J. Burnett

The Pirates open a three-game series with Detroit on Friday at PNC Park. Right-hander A.J. Burnett will pitch for the Bucs. The Tigers will counter with righty Doug Fister.

A.J. Burnett is in position to match the longest winning streak of his career. His current string of winning starts began with a victory over the Detroit Tigers.

The right-hander tries to win his seventh consecutive start Friday night when the Pittsburgh Pirates face the surging Tigers at PNC Park.

Burnett (7-2, 3.52 ERA) is 6-0 with a 2.19 ERA in eight starts - all Pittsburgh (36-32) victories - since losing at St. Louis on May 2. He's posted a 2.17 ERA while winning six straight starts for the first time since July 23-Aug. 19, 2008, with Toronto.

In his most recent outing Saturday, Burnett allowed two solo homers in 6 2-3 innings of a 9-2 win at Cleveland.

Burnett, who won seven straight starts for the Florida Marlins from July 19-Aug. 19, 2005, began his current stretch of consecutive winning decisions May 19 when he yielded a two-run homer to Prince Fielder in six innings of a 4-3 victory at Detroit. It was Pittsburgh's only win in the three-game set at Comerica Park where it totaled seven runs.

In 10 starts, including a 10-1 victory at Detroit in Game 4 of the AL division series last year, Burnett is 6-2 with a 5.47 ERA against the Tigers.

He will try to help prevent Detroit (34-35) from moving back to .500 for the first time since it was 18-18 on May 15. Quintin Berry's RBI single in the 10th inning Thursday sent the Tigers to their eighth win in 11 games, 2-1 over St. Louis.

That run leaves the third-place Tigers 2 1/2 games out of first place in the mediocre AL Central.

Doug Fister (1-3, 2.68) makes his first appearance versus Pittsburgh looking to build on his first win of 2012. Fresh off his second stint on the disabled list with a strained left side, Fister allowed three hits in six scoreless innings of a 4-1 win over Colorado on Saturday.

Fister faces a Pirates club that has won four of five overall and 10 of 12 at home to move within two games of first-place Cincinnati in the NL Central. Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones each drove in three runs while James McDonald pitched his first career complete game in Pittsburgh's 9-1 victory over Minnesota on Thursday.

Though the Pirates rank near the bottom of the majors with 239 runs, they have scored nine in three of the last five games.

It is reaching the point where Quintin Berry is becoming part of the main show, not a side show.

If the Tigers send him back to the minors, Jim Leyland and Dave Dombrowski are going to have to go with him or people will run them both out of town.

Berry, 27, got his first opportunity because the Tigers needed a scooter who could play center field with some polish and fill in for Austin Jackson, out with a bad stomach muscle, as a leadoff hitter.

Jackson returned, but Andy Dirks' sore right Achilles tendon gave Berry an opportunity to squeeze into left and right field on occasion, although he's far from a classic corner outfielder.

"The fact they keep allowing me to have an opportunity to be in critical situations is huge," Berry said after bouncing a single up the middle in the 10th inning Thursday to give Detroit a 2-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals. "I'm glad things are rolling."

Berry, hitting .315 in 26 big-league games, is performing far better in the majors than he ever did in the minors.

That would suggest that at some point he'll fall off the mountain he's on. But maybe not.

He's had some stretches in which he looks like a minor league hitter, but he seems to bounce back with something like that five-hit game he had last Sunday. Or, after striking out weakly his first two times up Thursday, scratching out that game-winning single with the bases loaded and one out in the 10th.

"I've never had a walk-off before. It was huge," he said. "I always wondered what it felt like. Jumping around and acting crazy (is what it felt like). I didn't know what to do with myself."

Catcher Alex Avila said. "Look, he isn't just a kid. He's been around. He's been in a lot of situations before. That makes a difference."

Berry is 9-for-9 stealing bases, can bunt for a hit and has amazing speed. Not as polished an outfielder as Jackson, he'd play for a lot of teams.

Perhaps teams don't have full scouting reports on Berry because, as a singles hitter who never hit much in the minors, who could take him seriously?

But it's also possible that Berry is just one of those late bloomers who just takes a half-dozen years to figure it out. Like Popeye, his mantra is, "I am what I am, and that's all that I am."

His concentration level has to be way up over what it was in the minors. He gets better pitches to hit. He's just trying to put the ball in play.

Whatever it is, it's working for now.

Notes, Quotes

RHP Jacob Turner made his first major league start of the season Thursday and looked improved over the pitcher who was tagged for an 8.53 ERA over three spot starts for the Tigers last year. "He's worked on some things," manager Jim Leyland said. Turner walked five in five innings, but three were in the fifth (one intentional), when Turner gave up his only run on a sacrifice fly to right. He kept his fastball down for the most part, worked largely ahead in the count and showed good use and command of his breaking pitches. He was unable to control the running game at all last year but was quicker to the plate and gave C Alex Avila time to throw out the lone runner who tried to steal, Cardinals 2B Daniel Descalso after a leadoff walk in the fifth. "The most improvement has been in his slider and his curveball," Avila said. "He's got the stuff to be successful up here for a long, long time."

LF Quintin Berry bounced the first pitch he saw for a single through the middle of a drawn-in infield in the 10th inning Thursday to give Detroit a 2-1 victory over St. Louis. Berry was up with one out and the bases loaded via two singles plus a hit batter. "I was not in a situation where I wanted to wait too long to get a good pitch to hit," Berry said of the first walk-off hit he's had at any level of baseball. "I was looking for something I could get in the air—but that didn't happen. Luckily the ball found a hole. I'll take that."

Manager Jim Leyland said, "He's done a great job for us so far. He brings a lot to the party. He gives us an extra dimension."

C Alex Avila returned to the roster and the starting lineup Thursday and caught all 10 innings of Detroit's 2-1 victory over St. Louis. Avila threw out the only runner to tried to steal off rookie RHP Jacob Turner, who couldn't hold runners on at all last year, and went 1-for-4. "At the plate I was a little anxious," he said. "I think it was a case of wanting to do too much." Getting back to work was great, he said. "Anything's better than sitting on the couch at home." He missed the minimum 15 days due to right hamstring tightness.

RF Don Kelly suffered a left knee contusion falling into the stands after making a catch of a sacrifice fly in the fifth inning Thursday, and he left the game in the top of the eighth inning. The team said Kelly was day-to-day. He caught the fly ball in fair territory and took a couple of steps before falling into the seats where the stands jut out near the foul line.

RHP Octavio Dotel had not pitched since June 2, but in his return to action Thursday, it seemed as if he'd never been away. There was no evidence of rust from the sore right elbow that put him on the disabled list. He faced just three St. Louis batters in his three-out sixth inning and struck out two of them. Dotel came off the disabled list June 19 but had not appeared in a game since then.

1B Prince Fielder smacked a long home run to right field Thursday, one of two hits he had in Detroit's 2-1 win over St. Louis. Fielder ran the count to 3-2 against RHP Kyle Lohse, then flattened a hanging curve some 425 feet into the right field seats. Because pitchers are working him away so much, most of his hits are to center and left field in his first season with the Tigers.

C Bryan Holaday was optioned to Class AAA Toledo with regular C Alex Avila returning to the active roster. "He can catch and throw up here right now," manager Jim Leyland, a former minor league catcher, said of the departing rookie. "He's got to get more experienced with the bat. If he can hit, he'll be a regular in the majors. If not, he'll be a backup."

Holaday said as he packed to leave, "Everybody's treated me great. (Gerald) Laird and (Alex) Avila helped me. I'm thankful for the opportunity."

C Gerald Laird said Thursday he was good to go after being forced out of Wednesday night's game with cramping of the left hamstring. "He's OK," manager Jim Leyland said, "and that's where it stands."

Laird is hitting .302 in 31 games. "I'll be taking it easy for a couple of days, but I'm OK," he said.

LHP Drew Smyly made an ineffective rehab start Thursday for Class AAA Toledo. He pitched two innings, allowing three runs (two earned) on four hits, including a three-run homer. Smyly has been out since June 11 due to a blood blister on his left middle finger. If all went well with his Toledo start, the Tigers had hoped he'd return to the major league rotation Tuesday.

By The Numbers: 4—Consecutive series won by the Tigers they try to crawl back to .500 and into contention in the AL Central. Interleague play has always been a tonic for the Tigers, who have taken two of three from Cincinnati, the Chicago Cubs, Colorado and now St. Louis.

Quote To Note: "I've never had a walk-off before. It was huge. I always wondered what it felt like. Jumping around and acting crazy (is what it felt like). I didn't know what to do with myself." —LF Quintin Berry, after his one-out, bases-loaded scratch single through the middle of a drawn-in infield scored the winning run in Detroit's 10-inning, 2-1 win over St. Louis. Recommended Stories

Up Next