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View From the Other Side: Tigers questions for Rob Rogacki of Bless You Boys

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Detroit Tigers Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

We start a 3-game series with the Tigers tonight.

The Tigers are 26-30, 1 game better than the Blue Jays. They are 8th in the AL in scoring (4.29 runs per game, Jays are two spots up at 4.57). And 9th best in runs allowed per game (4.59, two spots better than the Jays at 5.02).

I sent off some questions to Rob Rogacki manager of Bless You Boys, SB Nation’s Tigers’ site. Rob did a great job with the answers.

I have to start out by asking about a couple of old friends: How are Matt Boyd and Daniel Norris doing?

As many Blue Jays fans feared, the Tigers received a future No. 2 starter and a borderline rotation arm in that midseason trade back in 2015. However, not many expected that Matt Boyd would be the one pitching like the top-end starter. Boyd has made a number of changes to his overall profile in the past year, including a lower arm slot, a seemingly intentional drop in fastball velocity, and the reinvention of his slider (with the help of new pitching coach Chris Bosio). That slider, in particular, is the reason why he has a 3.00 ERA and 3.48 FIP in 57 innings this season.

Norris, on the other hand, hasn’t been able to lock down a rotation spot. He had a chance to do so this year, but couldn’t beat out veteran Mike Fiers in spring training. However, it turns out Norris was dealing with a longstanding groin issue that he recently had surgery to correct. He is currently on the 60-day DL, and probably won’t return until August at the earliest.

I see Miguel Cabrera is on the DL, what’s going on with him, when is he likely to be back? His contract runs to he’s 40. What do you expect from him as he ages? He’s was going pretty good before the injury.

Miguel Cabrera should be back soon, possibly even this weekend. His official injury is listed as a hamstring strain, but he has been dealing with chronic back issues over the past few seasons. He has been healthy so far in 2018 (hence the good numbers), but it’s anyone’s guess as to how long he will be able to produce at that level. The team seems more willing to place him on the disabled list than in the past, which might actually help; 120 games of a healthy Cabrera is better than 150 of a gimpy one.

You guys get the first pick in the draft. Who are the Tigers going to pick?

The Tigers are going to take Casey Mize, a righthander from Auburn. Mize quickly established himself as the top prospect in the class, and his status has not wavered throughout the spring. There were some recent rumors that the Tigers might look elsewhere, but I feel like those were just a feeble (and failed) attempt to create leverage in bonus negotiations with Mize. He will probably set a record for the highest signing bonus in the current draft era, and should move very quickly through the Tigers farm system.

The Tigers are second in the AL Central, even at 6 games under .500. I don’t suppose we could work out a deal to change divisions with you? How do you see them finishing? Can they get back to .500 or better?

The Central looks bad now (and has long been an easier test than the AL East), but I can’t see Cleveland scuffling like this for too much longer. They won 102 games last year, and actually underperformed that number according to their pythagorean win-loss record. They have started slow in recent years as well, finding their stride during the summer as they pull away from the rest of the division. Their schedule also gets much easier from here on out.

But yes, the rest of the division is pretty bad. Detroit could honestly finish in second place and it wouldn’t surprise me -- I thought they were the third-best team in the Central prior to this season -- but I have a hard time seeing them return to .500. For as easy as Cleveland’s schedule gets now, the Tigers have a rough slate ahead. They have not yet played Houston or Boston, and still have series against New York, Los Angeles, St. Louis, the Cubs, and Milwaukee remaining.

Can you give us a quick scouting report of the starting pitchers we are likely to see?

Jays fans might recognize the name Blaine Hardy, but if they do, they were paying close attention. Hardy was a solid reliever for the Tigers from 2014 to 2016, but struggled in a handful of innings after an early season shoulder injury last year. He started the 2018 season in the minors, where he absolutely dominated (0.74 ERA in 24 1/3 innings). He has since moved up to Detroit’s rotation, where he has continued to pitch well. His fastball tops out in the high 80s, but he too has been throwing a slider more often to great effect.

I mentioned Boyd already, but his performance this year deserves a second look. Boyd has discovered an uncanny ability to generate weak contact, including a lot of lazy fly balls that Detroit’s improved outfield has been able to run down. He has struggled with his command a bit lately, but has otherwise gotten away with a fastball that barely scrapes 90 mph by throwing his slider a ton.

Then there’s Michael Fulmer. The ace of the Tigers’ staff has been anything but recently, as his ERA is up to 4.60 on the year. He looked like his usual self early on, but has given up 20 runs in his last 25 1/3 innings. His fastball command has been the biggest issue; opponents are hitting .320 on his two-seamer this year compared to a more respectable .266 last year.

Who is your favorite Tiger to watch?

This year’s Tigers team has been surprisingly fun to watch, and a big part of that has been outfielder JaCoby Jones. The Tigers acquired Jones from the Pirates at the trade deadline in 2015, but his first taste of the big leagues in 2016 and 2017 did not go well. He has the raw athleticism that teams covet, but poor pitch recognition and plate discipline prevent him from tapping into his plus raw power. When he does drive a pitch into the gap, he has the speed to easily turn doubles into triples. He’s also a very good defender. Jones generally plays like his hair is on fire, which is enjoyable to watch even if he has been scuffling lately.

I‘ve wanted to ask for a few years now, what’s the story behind the name “Bless You Boys”?

Our namesake goes all the way back to the late 1970s and early ‘80s, when local sportscaster Al Ackerman would use the term “Bless you, boys” after a Tigers win, a rare occurrence in those days. The 1984 team embraced it as a rallying cry of sorts on their way to the fourth (and most recent) World Series title in franchise history.

Here’s a longer version of the story if you’re interested.

Thanks Rob.