Mutka: Lloyd McClendon, Tigers thrive in depressed Detroit
By John Mutka Post-Tribune senior correspondent email@example.com September 16, 2013 9:58PM
Austin Jackson, Lloyd McClendon
Updated: October 18, 2013 6:24AM
Detroit may be economically depressed, but city bankruptcy hasn’t impacted the robust Tigers.
While more than half of the major league franchises, Cubs and Sox included, have shown significant declines in attendance, the Tigers are averaging nearly 38,000 at Comerica Park.
On pace to surpass 3 million for the second year in a row, they were also well represented by Tiger tourists in their final visit to “The Cell” last week. That’s no surprise to Lloyd McClendon.
“Everywhere we go they’re there,” said the Tigers’ hitting coach, “It’s fun to watch. They’re very supportive and very knowledgeable.”
Comfortably lodged in first place, the Tigers are zeroing in on their third straight division title. Kansas City and Cleveland hung around longer than expected, but can’t be taken seriously.
“They’ve certainly improved quite a bit,” McClendon conceded.
The Royals have been particularly stubborn, having won nine of their first 16 meetings. The Tigers owe a debt of gratitude to the White Sox, who have rolled over in 19 of their last 27 meetings.
Acquiring pitcher Anibal Sanchez from the penny-pinching Marlins practically guaranteed an extended season. Down the stretch he’s been Detroit’s hottest pitcher. Eight straight victories have boosted his record to 14-7 and reduced his ERA to a rotation best 2.50. That makes him one of five on the staff with at least a dozen victories.
They’re on cruise control despite so-so pitching from Justin Verlander, who has tailed off just two years removed from American League Cy Young and MVP honors. Only 13-11, his ERA is up and his velocity is down. Reportedly, he’s lost more than a mile-per-hour on his fastball.
McClendon stubbornly defends the still imposing right-hander, who is closing in on his seventh straight 200-inning season.
“His numbers are there,” the Gary native said. “We just have to give him more run support.”
The American League Central leaders rank first in hitting, second in runs and fourth in homers, so I don’t buy that argument.
Detroit has shown resiliency, winning 63 percent of its games since July despite the 50-game suspension of shortstop Jhonny Peralta. He’s not eligible until the final series of the regular season, but has become expendable since Jose Iglesias came over from the Red Sox, who picked up Jake Peavy from the White Sox in a three-way deal.
Iglesias was somewhat of a mystery to McClendon, who had never seen him play other than a four-game series with Boston. The talented rookie wasted no time making an impression.
Through his first 35 games with the Tigers he batted .304 and led all American League newcomers in hitting going into last weekend. McClendon is even more enthused about his golden glove.
“Probably the best shortstop in the league ... quick hands ... he’s been a pleasant surprise,” he said.
In that complicated deal the White Sox acquired Avisail Garcia from the Tigers, who reluctantly parted with the gifted outfielder.
“He’s a tremendous talent and should have a long, successful career,” McClendon said, “but we needed a shortstop and the Sox gave up a good pitcher. It was a win-win situation for all three teams.”
Along with Omar Infante, who leads all American League second basemen in hitting, the Tigers are stocked with ideal table-setters for Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder.
Cabrera, who is battling Baltimore’s Chad Davis for MVP honors, leads the league in hitting and RBI. Despite abdominal issues, the powerful slugger was named player of the month for the fourth time.
Some might suggest the league’s greatest right-handed hitter since the prime of Frank Thomas doesn’t need coaching, but Cabrera acknowledges McClendon’s contributions.
“He won my support early,” Cabrera said. “Believe me, he’s helped. He’s always well-prepared and is a sound hitting coach.”
Stacking Cabrera and Fielder back-to-back is enough to give any pitcher sleepless nights. Fielder has packed a few pounds onto his 5-foot-11, 275-pound frame and his home run numbers may be declining, but the dreadlocked first baseman has topped 100 RBI for the sixth time.
Victor Martinez, who sat out the entire 2012 with a major left knee injury, has rebounded nicely to complete a murderous 3-4-5 offensive combo.