Better approaches at the plate have been an in-one-ear, out-the-other proposition for the Tigers for years. Is it possible that manager Jim Leyland and hitting coach Don Slaught have finally plugged one of the ears?
A series of quality at-bats in the ninth inning Thursday helped Detroit score three runs and come from behind to defeat Oakland, 4-3.
Chris Shelton drilled an 0-2 pitch into left field for a single that cut a 3-1 deficit to 3-2. Carlos Guillen also had a solid at-bat, going from 0-2 to 2-2 before taking a pitch into right for a game-tying single. Brandon Inge was at 0-2 but worked his way to a full count, fouling off nine pitches, before drawing a bases-loaded walk on the 15th pitch of his at-bat.
Curtis Granderson walked on a 3-1 pitch with the bases loaded to force home what turned out to be the winning run.
Having good approaches behind in the count is not something Detroit hitters have done on a consistent basis for the better part of a decade.
It remains to be seen if Thursday was an indication of a change in the hitters' thinking.
REPLAY: Detroit rallied for three runs in the ninth, capped by Curtis Granderson's bases-loaded walk, and winning relief pitcher Fernando Rodney wriggled out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the bottom of the ninth Thursday to let the Tigers get out of Oakland with a 4-3 victory and two wins in the three-game series.
Rodney gave up a leadoff walk to Eric Chavez and a one-out single to Milton Bradley that put runners at the corner in the bottom of the ninth. Nick Swisher walked to load the bases, but Jason Kendall hit a one-hopper to third that forced a runner at the plate. Rodney fanned pinch hitter Adam Melhuse to end the game.
Jeremy Bonderman, staked to a 1-0 lead in the first on Magglio Ordonez's RBI double, gave up three runs to Oakland in the bottom of the first but shut the Athletics out through the seventh before turning the game over to Rodney.
--RHP Fernando Rodney worked two innings Thursday, something closers rarely do these days.
Rodney came on in the eighth with Detroit trailing 3-1, and he became the pitcher of record when the Tigers scored three runs in the top of the ninth.
He put himself in a jam with two walks and a single that loaded the bases with one out in the ninth, but he got a forceout at the plate and a game-ending strikeout to preserve his victory.
Rodney will move back into the setup role upon the return of RH closer Todd Jones this weekend in Seattle.
--RH closer Todd Jones was activated off the disabled list after Thursday's game, and the Tigers optioned RHP Chris Spurling to Triple-A Toledo. Jones has been told he'll work an inning in a non-save situation before he's moved back to his usual role.
--RF Magglio Ordonez continues to be inconsistent for Detroit.
Ordonez went the other way with a pitch in the first inning Thursday, getting an RBI double out of his hit to the gap, and he later had a single.
But Ordonez is still hitting just .263 with nine RBIs as Detroit's regular cleanup hitter.
--RHP Jeremy Bonderman settled down Thursday after a rough first inning to give Detroit a chance to come back and earn a 4-3 victory at Oakland.
The Athletics pounced on Bonderman for three first-inning runs to erase a 1-0 deficit.
Bonderman gave up just two hits over the next six innings before leaving the game after seven innings.
The last out of the seventh came on a ball hit off Bonderman's shin, but he appeared to be OK afterward.
--C Ivan Rodriguez will serve as Detroit's DH Friday night in Seattle.
Designated hitter was a role he didn't care for last season. This year he's more accepting because he understands better that he's still getting his at-bats. Rodriguez had just one hit in the series at Oakland.
Rodriguez said Wednesday he's fine with DHing this year even though he doesn't like the down time between at-bats. The challenge for him is how to stay loose between at-bats.
"That's not bad at all," he said. "I told him (manager Jim Leyland) that I want to get my at-bats. I just want to keep swinging."
--SS Carlos Guillen made his major league debut at first base Thursday.
Manager Jim Leyland had said during spring training he could envision certain situations where he'd pinch-run for 1B Chris Shelton and then be forced to put a stranger to the position at first base.
On Thursday that situation arose, and Guillen was sent over to play a spot he'd previously only played for Team Venezuela in the World Baseball Classis this spring. Guillen played exclusive at first in the competition, and that planted the seed for Leyland.
Leyland pinch-ran INF Ramon Santiago for Shelton in the ninth as the Tigers were in the process of turning a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 lead.
With no Young, that left Leyland without a first baseman, which is when he turned to Guillen.
BY THE NUMBERS: 16 -- Extra-base hits by Detroit 1B Chris Shelton in his first 23 hits of the season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You always cringe when you're a manager when that happens to a young player. He's such a respectful young man, he's such a polite kid. He doesn't want to say 'no' to anybody. I think that's where an organization steps in and protects him a little bit. He's a hot item right now. That's a lot for a kid." -- Detroit manager Jim Leyland about all the attention being paid to hot-hitting 1B Chris Shelton.