The Detroit Tigers take on the Atlanta Braves in Lake Buena Vista for their exhibition opener at 1:05 p.m. Follow along with coverage from Lynn Henning and Tom Gage.
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Jose Alvarez finally ended the Tigers’ eight-inning stretch of stinginess Friday. He was ripped for a leadoff home run in the bottom of the ninth that cut Detroit’s lead to 2-1 over the Braves. The next batter flied to the wall in left field. Alvarez was an off-season signing as a minor-league free agent. Alvarez gave up another hit before finishing a messy ninth that gave a 2-1 victory in their Grapefruit League opener.
There’s an inning to go here at Disney. But already it’s been about as crisp as a Grapefruit League opener could have gone for the Tigers. They’re shutting out the Braves, 2-0, in the ninth. A stream of pitchers, beginning with Rick Porcello, has been excellent. Their outfield defense has been outstanding, headed by a couple of kids (Tyler Collins, Daniel Fields). And the back-to-back triples by Collins and Jeff Kobernus were nice examples of good hitting and even better baserunning by Kobernus. All in all — a gratifying day for the Tigers, although there’s still an inning to play.
They hadn’t had a hit for seven innings. Which, of course, made those back-to-back triples all the more ironic as the Tigers took a 2-0 lead in the eighth. Tyler Collins led off with a drive up the right-center field alley for the first triple. Jeff Kobernus, the blazing Rule 5 draft pick, followed with a long liner to left-center that, for most batters, would have been a double. He made it to third and scored on a line-out to left by Hernan Perez.
Their no-hit string lasted into the eighth. As did a scoreless game. But one of their more impressive prospects, outfielder Tyler Collins, led off the eighth with a triple and scored on a triple by speedster Jeff Kobernus as the Tigers took a 1-0 lead in the top of the eighth. Tigers defense has helped: Collins and another prospect, Daniel Fields, have each made diving grabs on outfield drives by the Braves.
It’s the seventh inning here at Disney. Still no Tigers hits. Still no score. Darin Downs was the latest Tigers pitcher to act as if he wanted to get out of here as rapidly as possible. He got all three of his batters in the sixth. Victor Martinez led off the seventh with a line-shot off the pitcher’s glove. Another ground-out for the Tigers. Martinez, though, has hit the ball hard in two of his three at-bats, the other of which saw him hit by a pitch. Miguel Cabrera hit a near-400-foot ball to center in the sixth. But that’s been it.
Melvin Mercedes, the heavyweight rookie right-hander, had an all-but unblemished fifth inning against the Braves. He got nicked for the game’s first hit, a leadoff single by Freddie Freeman, then struck out B.J. Upton, while Freeman was thrown out on an attempted steal at second. Dan Uggla was safe on an infield single before Juan Francisco grounded out. Two hits, no runs, and still a 0-0 game after five, with the Tigers hunting their first hit.
Still no runs, and no hits, through four innings for the Tigers. Victor Martinez came close in the fourth, after Prince Fielder walked: line drive to center. Brayan Pena also lined out to second base. But neither team has gotten a base hit as the Braves arrive against Luke Putkonen in the fourth.
Luke Putkonen, who might be the leader in the clubhouse to win a long-relief job with the Tigers, handled all three Braves batters in the third: ground-out to second, strikeout (Gerald Laird), and another ground-out. Fastball 94-95. Power guy who could easily get some starts in 2013.
Luke Putkonen, who has a shot at a now-vacant long-relief role for the Tigers, is Porcello’s replacement in the bottom of the third. Still 0-0. Tigers got their first two batters on base the past two innings but perished. Quintin Berry in the second missed a bunt and struck out to set up a deep fly to left by Omar Infante that was caught, and a 3-2 ground-out by Miguel Cabrera.
A walk to Prince Fielder, Victor Martinez gets hit by a pitch in his first at-bat since 2011. Tigers with two on and nobody down for Jhonny Peralta, who first-pitch slaps a grounder to short. Double play. Brayan Pena out on a ground-out, pitcher to first. No score after 1 1/2 innings at Disney World.
Victor Martinez hadn’t batted in a big-league game in 16 months. First pitch — swing and a miss on a breaking ball. Second pitch, ball inside..Third pitch: swing and a miss on another breaking ball. Fourth serve: ball off his right thigh. He and Prince Fielder (leadoff walk) on second and first with none out in the second.
Going mostly with four-seam and two-seam fastballs, Rick Porcello was smooth in his first-inning inaugural. He got leadoff batter Andrelton Simmons on a grounder to short, took down Jason Heyward on a ground-out to Omar Infante (good play in front of the bag) and finished off Justin Upton on a liner to center.
When asked by his manager Fredi Gonzalez if he wanted to start for the Braves against the Tigers on Friday in the first exhibition game of the spring, catcher Gerald Laird replied, “Yeah, I’ll try it. But give me some earplugs because I know skipper (Jim Leyland) will be chirping at me.”
As a free agent, Laird signed a two-year contract with the Braves during the off-season, and he said “it was tough to leave. I had a blast playing there, but they weren’t going to go two with me — just another one-year contract.
“I couldn’t do that.”
But he likes the looks of the Braves and hopes their final opponent of the season will be the same as the first.
“I’m really excited about what we have here,” Laird said. “Honestly, we could be right there with (the Tigers).
“If they (the Tigers) play the same baseball they did last year, they have to be a front-runner. They’ve only gotten better in the offseason.
“I’m picking them to have a real good season and to represent the American League.”