BALTIMORE -- The good news for Tigers shortstop Andrew Romine was that he got an infield single out of his solidly struck ground ball Sunday afternoon. The bad news was what else it struck.
"We're getting closer to what we want," Romine said Monday afternoon. "Obviously, it takes time. Just finding holes is the next thing, and trying not to hit my own players."
After watching his hard-hit grounder hit Austin Jackson's left foot Sunday, Romine had to chuckle about it.
"It was funny, because I was like, 'I finally hit one hard today ... and I hit my own player."
Romine did get credited with an infield single, with Jackson retired on the basepaths. It left Romine at 2-for-14 for the week, though that came after a three-hit Sunday afternoon at Kansas City to end the last road trip.
He's batting .226 (14-for-62) with a double, two RBIs, eight walks and 16 strikeouts, good for a .556 OPS. Romine realizes that it's his defense that's going to determine his future, but he also isn't ignoring his offense, working with hitting coach Wally Joyner and assistant Darnell Coles on making more solid contact.
"It's little tiny tweaks here and there," Romine said. "Nothing major. I'm not a guy who's going to go up and try to hit home runs or anything. Square it up, find a hole, try to get it through the infield, try to get some in the gaps. Maybe as I get more comfortable and things start to get a little bit better on the timing, I can try to do a little bit more, but we're not changing much, little tweaks."
His manager, Brad Ausmus, isn't particularly concerned.
"He really hasn't changed dramatically," Ausmus said. "He still seems to find his way on base usually at least once a game, mixes in hits here and there. The important thing is that he's playing defense."
Romine fully grasps that, and has for a long time.
"My dad [former Major Leaguer Kevin Romine] used to make fun of me," Romine said. "He'd say, 'You're probably one of the only kids that I know who likes to take more ground balls than take more swings.'"
Anibal throws sim game, on track for Sunday
BALTIMORE -- The forecast here for Tuesday looked bad enough that the Tigers moved Anibal Sanchez's simulated game up a day. The forecast for Sanchez's return to the Tigers' rotation is looking clearer for Sunday night in Boston.
Sanchez threw 60 pitches to Tigers hitters over four simulated innings, or a quartet of 15-pitch innings, and felt fine.
"I was able to work on all my pitches, my mechanics," Sanchez said later Monday. "Everything is pretty good right now. I don't have anything [that's an issue]. I don't feel any kind of soreness in my fingers."
The blister on Sanchez's right middle finger has long since gone, and the skin has regrown, so there wasn't really much question about his readiness on that front. The session was meant more to get him back used to facing hitters again in game-like situations without a rehab start.
"His stuff looked good," manager Brad Ausmus said. "Everything was thumbs-up. We'll wait and see how he feels tomorrow."
Sanchez said he has no question he'll feel fine on Tuesday. He said he remains on track to pitch Sunday night against the Red Sox at Fenway Park. It would be his first start in three weeks after a blister busted open on his right middle finger in the third inning at Minnesota on April 26.
Ausmus would not directly answer whether Sanchez would replace Robbie Ray, the starting prospect who has delivered two standout starts in Sanchez's place, but he left the distinct impression that's the likely option.
One option he did dismiss was putting Ray in the bullpen full time, though he said he could use Ray later on this week in a relief spot if they're in a pinch.
"I think he needs to pitch as a starting pitcher," Ausmus said. "He needs to learn and grow."
Prospect Knebel makes Triple-A debut
BALTIMORE -- Tigers top relief prospect Corey Knebel made his Triple-A debut for Toledo on Monday afternoon, allowing an inherited runner to score but allowing no hits or walks in the eighth inning of an eventual walk-off win over Rochester.
Knebel, the supplemental first-round pick from last year's First-Year Player Draft, was promoted from Double-A Erie on Sunday after just 11 appearances. He replaced starter Duane Below on Monday with runners on first and second and nobody out before a sac bunt and a sac fly brought the tying run home. Knebel also hit a batter and gave up a double steal, but he escaped with a Wilkin Ramirez flyout to center field.
Knebel averaged 94-95 mph on his fastball, according to John Wagner of the Toledo Blade, with a quality curveball mixed in.
The Mud Hens won in the bottom of the ninth on a Brandon Douglas single.
Knebel's potential ascension in the big leagues has been a much-speculated topic since the early season struggles of Detroit's bullpen. The Tigers have indicated more of a patient approach with him.
Ausmus talks spin rate when discussing Ray
BALTIMORE -- Tigers manager Brad Ausmus bristles at the stereotype that he's a sabermetrics manager, though he will take advanced metrics into consideration when he's making his moves. On Monday, however, he might well have been the first Tigers manager to mention spin rate.
Yes, Ausmus mentioned the rate at which a pitch spins, in reference to one possible reason why hitters have seemingly struggled to track Robbie Ray's fastball.
"They do this whole spin-rate thing now, where [they measure] the number of revolutions the ball takes before it planes out," Ausmus said. "He might have a high spin rate."
The higher the spin rate, the theory goes, the more the fastball will retain its trajectory and velocity without dropping much in either. It's something hitters and catchers could notice when they're playing, Ausmus said, but now it's measurable through specialized radar guns.
It's something he became familiar with while with the Padres.
"It's interesting," Ausmus said. "I don't know if you could scout a guy just based on spin rate. Some sinkerballs are lower spin-rate guys."
The low spin rate would create more sink.
"I don't know how much you could use it as a scouting tool," Ausmus said.