OAKLAND -- Jim Leyland often likes to stick with a regular lineup when he can, but the Tigers manager can sometimes be a tinkerer. When Detroit makes an offseason acquisition, Leyland inevitably sits down and starts writing out batting orders and positions to figure out a fit.
As of Wednesday evening, Leyland gave the distinct impression he's still going over potential lineups for Game 5 of the American League Division Series on Thursday vs. the A's.
"I'm really not sure what my lineup is going to be just yet," Leyland said on a conference call. "Originally, we weren't sure who was going to pitch. We were a little suspicious that we might get [Sonny] Gray, so I was fooling around with [lineups] in my room just before the call, but I don't have a lineup just yet."
Miguel Cabrera definitely will be in his usual spot, batting third and playing third, Leyland confirmed. Cabrera looked noticeably affected at third base by his lingering groin injury, leading to some speculation whether he could get a game at designated hitter.
"He will play Game 5 at third base," Leyland said.
Jhonny Peralta will also be in the lineup, Leyland confirmed. Peralta started both games at Comerica Park in left field, driving in five runs and giving Detroit's lineup a desperately-needed jolt.
Tigers hoping to solve Gray second time around
OAKLAND -- The Tigers thought they had prepared themselves for A's rookie Sonny Gray as well as they could before Game 2 of the American League Division Series. They weren't ready for what they witnessed in person.
"It's completely different," utility man Don Kelly said last week after Gray shut them down. "You can sit there and watch the video as much as you want and try to pick up what he's trying to do to hitters and figure things out. But then you get in the box."
Or as Austin Jackson put it, "You go over film as much as you can, but once you get out there, you're pretty much just trying to see it and hit it."
As the Tigers prepare for Gray in Game 5 on Thursday, they now have more than scouting reports and video. They now have their own experience, frustrations and all.
"I'm not really sure we liked what we saw," manager Jim Leyland said Wednesday evening. "It was pretty good. But at least we have seen him now. It does make some difference.
"With the stuff he was featuring, it certainly does not mean we're going to be in a comfort zone, but it makes you a little more comfortable, now that you know the action on the ball, the great breaking ball that he has."
How they work off of that could be the difference in whether the Tigers can pull out an ALDS Game 5 on the road for the third consecutive year. It'll be a game of adjustments accelerated, and it's something the Tigers have done in the past.
The way the Tigers' regular-season schedule played out, it wasn't something they did a lot this year. Six different starting pitchers faced Detroit twice in a span of two weeks or less this season. Three of them were White Sox, thanks to so many second-half series between the two teams.
The one example with someone the Tigers hadn't seen before came in May. Astros young lefty Dallas Keuchel baffled Tigers hitters for four innings in relief May 2 before wearing down in a four-run rally. Two weeks later, Detroit ruined his start with a four-run second inning.
How the Tigers and Gray adjust, A's manager Bob Melvin said, is to be determined.
"That's what starting pitchers always have to do, is make adjustments," Melvin said. "They also saw him two and three times around the lineup during that game. So usually once you see a pitcher once or twice, you have an idea of what he's going to do to you, but second time around a little more so. He's able to make adjustments as well, and he has very good stuff on top of it."
In fact, Gray was tougher against the Tigers the longer he pitched. Detroit put three runners on base against him the first time through the order, then three runners the next two times through the lineup combined.
"At some point, yeah, I think we looked a little bit like we were guessing, because it was the first time we faced him," Miguel Cabrera said. "The way he threw the ball, he wasn't giving us a break to try to figure him out."
One thing Kelly mentioned about Gray last week that caught him by surprise was the cutting motion on his fastball, making a 94-mph heater seem quicker. Another factor was the arm angle at which Gray delivers from his 5-foot-11 frame.
"He's not real tall, and those guys when they throw real hard, sometimes it jumps on you," Kelly said. "And then he's got his curveball working, too. That's a pretty tough combination."
The curveball, and Gray's ability to throw it for strikes, was a big factor, Jackson mentioned.
Leyland ready to let Verlander loose vs. A's
OAKLAND -- Don't expect Tigers manager Jim Leyland to put more starters in the bullpen for Game 5 of the American League Division Series vs. the A's. It worked in Game 4, when Max Scherzer followed Doug Fister in a tie game, but a Justin Verlander start is another story.
"I used a guy that had 22 wins last night out of the bullpen," Leyland said on a Wednesday conference call. "We were desperate. There was no tomorrow. You do what it takes. Hopefully, I'm not going out to the mound in the second inning tomorrow taking out Justin Verlander, because if I am, we're in trouble."
It was a reference to Game 4 of the Red Sox-Rays ALDS, in which Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon used nine pitchers and pulled starter Jeremy Hellickson after four outs. Had David Price been starting, Leyland said, it probably would've been different. In the case of Hellickson, however, Leyland thought Maddon handled it well.
"I thought he did a terrific job pitching his pitchers in and out," Leyland said of Maddon. "I think there was a plan to that. I think there was more to it, that he had to use a bunch of guys. I think it was smart.
"I don't think he wanted Boston to see the same pitcher very much. I think he wanted to get a guy in there and not let them go into a guy two or three times. I think he did absolutely tremendous."