If you didn't see this one coming, you were either living comfortably under a rock, or you just weren't paying attention.
When the Detroit Tigers optioned Ryan Raburn to Triple-A Toledo after Tuesday's game in Boston, it couldn't have been a shock to anyone involved — even Raburn.
"Not a punishment, just have to get him going," Leyland told reporters (including the Detroit News' Tom Gage
) after the move was announced. The corresponding move will be announced Wednesday, but MLB.com's Jason Beck said Leyland indicated it would not be a second baseman
, meaning the Tigers would go with Ramon Santiago and Danny Worth. [Update: The Tigers purchased the contract of catcher Omir Santos.]
It's not that any of those second base options are great. Worth is hitting .182 with no extra-base hits in 14 games, while Santiago is hitting .203 (and slugging just .257) in 36 games.
But both were doing better than Raburn, a guy who has often seemed to battle confidence issues.
A notoriously slow starter — with a career .214 first-half batting average, as opposed to .300 in the second half — Raburn was even more cold than normal to start the 2012 season. And that was despite a searing hot start to spring training, where he started hitting nearly .400, then dipped to .268 by the end of the spring, but had six home runs and 19 RBI.
Nearly two months into the regular season, he was hitting just .146 (a full 113 points below his career average) with one home run and seven RBI.
The Tigers just couldn't continue to keep waiting for him.
"I thought Ryan was coming out of it there in Chicago with the three-run homer and everything, but it hasn’t happened yet," Leyland said during the team's last homestand, when he was hoping Raburn's first homer of the season — a three-run shot in a come-from-behind win in Chicago — was a signal of better things to come. "So you want to wait a little bit."
But it didn't get better.
In seven games since that lone homer — broken up by a three-game stint on the bereavement list after the death of his grandmother last week — Raburn has gone 2-for-24 (.083) with 10 strikeouts. His 0-for-4, three-strikeout performance in the No. 2-hole in the lineup, which put him third on the team in punch-outs, may have been the last straw.
They couldn't wait any longer.
“It’s something I didn’t want to think would happen, but the way I’ve been swinging, I hadn’t gotten the job done,” Raburn told the Detroit Free Press.
"So it was inevitable to help the team and help me to go down there and get it going," he continued.
The Tigers will take full advantage of Raburn's one remaining minor league option — something that he would have been able to decline later this summer, once he'd reached five years in the big leagues — to send him down to Toledo, where he can work on both his hitting and his confidence. And they'll hope he can get both back for a second-half stretch drive that they hope gets them headed toward the playoffs again.
Leyland has maintained that, of his second base options, Raburn was the one who could do the most damage when he hit the ball. He's averaged 15 home runs and 52 RBI over the last three seasons (Santiago has never had more than the seven HRs and 35 RBI he had in 2009), while playing both infield and outfield, a versatility that the other two competitors can only match by the fact that they play shortstop, and he does not.
If Raburn gets back to hitting up to his ability, he'll be an asset to the Tigers, whether it's as a starter at second, or a swingman on both the infield and outfield. He's just not helping them right now.
And that was obvious to everyone.