The defending World Champion Detroit Tigers, who had such an uncomplicated year in 1984 (lots of pitching; good hitting; strong defense; almost no key injuries) are suddenly finding it isn't as easy the second time around. For one thing, the Tigers haven't been hitting or scoring as many runs as they did last year. For another, they haven't shown the same team aggressiveness that was evident in 1984, when they opened by winning 35 of their first 40 games and led the American League East from wire to wire. Since it's still early and the Tigers, at 13-9, are right behind Baltimore and Toronto in their division,nobody in the Detroit organization is pushing any panic buttons. But don't think that Sparky Anderson, who was quoted recently as saying that he has already had to manage harder than he did all last year, isn't concerned.
No manager likes it when his two best pitchers (in this case Jack Morris and Dan Petry) are beaten in successive starts. Anderson has also discovered that he lost some of his maneuverability, first when free agent Ruppert Jones was allowed to get away to the California Angels, and later when both Dave Bergman and Nelson Simmons were put on the club's disabled list, probably until June 1.
The Tigers' bench, which seemed to meet every challenge head-on last season, produced just one RBI in the team's first 14 games this year. Playing rookie second baseman Chris Pittaro at third base hasn't worked out all that well, either. Although Pittaro has hit, he still doesn't have his timing in the field (four errors in his first 15 chances) and has also been a little tentative, with runners on base, in deciding whether to try for the double play or get the safe out at first.
Obviously Pittaro would be better at second base, where his throws would be shorter. But as long as Detroit all-star Lou Whitaker isn't willing to move from second to third, Chris is going to have to learn to live with all those chest-high missiles and blazing short hops that often handcuff third basemen.
The Tigers also lost a chance to add to one of baseball's most unusual records recently when the trailing Milwaukee Brewers rallied to beat them in the ninth. Detroit, going back to the start of the 1984 season, had won 113 consecutive games in which they had led going into the final inning.
Pitcher Fernando Valenzuela of the Los Angeles Dodgers, whose base pay is still calculated partly on his ability to draw an extra 5,000 to 10,000 fans on days when he works, has left even today's galloping inflation far back in the dust. In just four years Valenzuela has gone from a $40,500 contract as a rookie to his present one-year $1.1 million deal. Fernando's next contract will undoubtedly be a long-term one, since by 1987 he would be eligible for free agency and the Dodgers want to avoid that possibility. Valenzuela had an off year in 1984, when he was 12-17, but then he didn't get much support. On 13 occasions when he pitched, the Dodgers were either shut out or produced just one run. His teammates often didn't play that well in the field behind him either.
This year, a rejuvenated Valenzuela established a major league record by starting the season without allowing an earned run for 412/3 innings, breaking a mark set by Hooks Wiltse in 1912. Despite pitching brilliantly, however, his record is only 3-3 due to the team's low run production. In his three setbacks, the Dodgers scored only two runs. The hardest to accept may have been a 1-0 loss to the San Diego Padres on April 28, when Tony Gwynn belted a game-winning, ninth-inning homer for the first earned run off Fernando this season.