Tigers staying focused on the task at hand

It certainly hasn’t taken Torii Hunter long to endear himself to Detroit Tigers fans.

As if producing a .391 batting average at his No. 2 spot in the order through the season’s first five games wasn’t enough, Hunter put the icing on the cake in this early baseball season Saturday afternoon.

It began with a former Tiger. Brennan Boesch, now a member of the New York Yankees, ripped off a triple when he blasted a long fly ball deep into Hunter’s position in right field. It was ruled a triple, but Hunter knew he should have caught it.

“The ball Boesch hit looked like it was over the fence, and it blew back in away from me,” Hunter told the Detroit Free Press. “I was really upset (not to catch it). I was excited to make up for it.”

Did he ever.

Catcher Francisco Cervelli came up next for the Yankees and hit a fly ball right to Hunter. Boesch ran toward home on a sacrifice fly attempt, but Hunter made the catch and threw Boesch out at home plate standing up, as Alex Avila held on.

The new Tigers’ right fielder threw out the old one.

I was one of those slightly miffed that Boesch wasn’t retained and his triple was a reason why. He had a knack for coming up with big hits but Hunter is quickly putting memories of Boesch in the past. The ageless Hunter was 3-for-5 Saturday, part of a 17-hit shellacking of the Yankees.

Everyone but Ramon Santiago, still hitless in this young season, got a hit, including Andy Dirks. Dirks came into the game on an 0-11 start and struck out his first two times at the plate.

He ended up with two hits and a sacrifice fly for two RBIs.

Miguel Cabrera, who before the game was honored for winning the triple crown and for being the best third baseman in the American League, was 4-for-4 with a walk and an RBI, becoming the first Tiger since Bobby Higginson in 2004 to drive in a run in Detroit’s first five games of the season. Also with a three-hit day was Austin Jackson who is a safe bet to hit .300 again this season. In fact, it’s entirely possible that 1-4 in Detroit’s batting order will all hit .300 or above, making them a nightmare for any opposing pitcher.

Max Scherzer was also in the zone Saturday. He notably did not take part in the pre-game ceremony where the Tigers were given their AL Championship rings, wanting to stay focused on the task at hand. He became the first Tigers pitcher this season to make it to the sixth inning, an important distinction given the overworked bullpen. He was mostly solid, striking out seven, but unraveled to start the sixth as he walked back to back batters and was pulled in favor of Al Alburquerque.

That didn’t go too well either. Alburquerque gave up hits to Lyle Overbay and Travis Hafner and walked Vernon Wells and Cervelli as the Yankees scored three runs in the inning, cutting Detroit’s lead to 5-4.

That was as close as New York came though. Darren Downs and Joaquin Benoit shut it down from there, Benoit earning his first save of the season, and it was never in doubt.

Detroit’s bullpen has been shaky throughout its first six games but it hasn’t been nearly as bad as the Yankees, coming into Sunday’s game with a 7.40 ERA, among the worst in the majors. Expect some stability as Detroit’s starting pitching goes longer into games as the season rolls on. The lack of a consistent closer will continue to be a concern though. Some teams have fared well with a closer by committee approach, however it’s more the exception than the norm. That’s why, as much as I hate to admit it, the Valverde signing was a solid move the more that I think about it.

For one, there’s no risk. Valverde was signed to a minor league deal and in general manager Dave Dombrowski’s own words, he said it would not be a prolonged experiment. Either Valverde will show the Tigers that he can pitch or he will be released. If he can help this team, great. If not, what does it cost Detroit? Nothing.

Will the fans turn on him? I doubt it. Some might boo him, but I think more will root for him to succeed and give him a chance, should he be called up to the team. Remember, he’s only one season removed from going perfect in save opportunities. Whatever he had is still in him. I believe his problems are mostly mental, which can be tricky to correct and determine. He’s here though, like it or not. Might as well keep an open mind about it and see what comes of it.