Leyland: 'If Raburn doesn't help us against left-handers, then we got issues'
Or maybe not.
In the seemingly interminable — and yet futile — search to fill out a lineup with enough right-handed hitters to succeed against left-handed starters this season, Tigers manager Jim Leyland has struggled mightily with decisions to plug in some of his struggling right-handed hitters in the lineup.
If it seems like it’s a set up for failure, you might be correct. Sometimes the “right” choice sure doesn’t seem like the right one.
Thursday’s lineup decision was no different: Play the struggling Ryan Raburn or hot-hitting lefty Quintin Berry against Minnesota’s left-handed starter, Scott Diamond.
“Normally it’s like clockwork, normally I can write it down the night before right after the game. Raburn’s struggled so bad last night, so that made it a little more difficult,” Leyland said before Thursday’s game. “I tossed this around until five minutes ago, I wasn’t sure what to do, that sounds like the manager doesn’t know what he’s doing, I know what I’m doing but its just that I slept on it and I thought about it last night.”
How did it come to this? While Raburn had hit .289 since returning from a stint at Triple-A to get his hitting woes figured out, his 0-for-4 night Wednesday dropped his average back to .176. Raburn hasn’t been over the Mendoza line since the second game of the season.
In some ways, the Tigers are built this way. Wasn’t it just yesterday (or maybe the year before last) when the complaints about the Tigers’ offense was that it was TOO left-handed?
Not anymore. Three of the six available outfielders — Berry, Brennan Boesch and Don Kelly — are left-handed. When he’s healthy, so is Andy Dirks.
That doesn’t leave a whole lot of options.
For a team that is 9-13 against lefties coming into Thursday’s contest — the second in a string of five games where the Tigers will face a lefty starter — that foreshadows a lot of tough calls.
“In our case, it’s not a big deal right now. We only have three extra guys and one of them is a catcher, so you know you don’t have many choices. That’s where it starts, so I had a choice, I had to toss and turn with it today whether to play Berry or Raburn and I ended up playing Raburn,” Leyland said. “The thought process is, if Raburn doesn’t help us against left-handers, then we got issues, so you give him the benefit of the doubt to see if you can maybe get him going a little bit.”
Raburn isn’t the only right-handed hitter in the Tigers lineup who’s scuffling.
Jhonny Peralta is hitting .257 with 24 RBI. He hit .312 with 50 RBI in the first half last year, earning himself a spot on the American League All-Star team.
Delmon Young, who had 32 RBI in his 40 regular-season games with the Tigers after his August trade acquisition last, has 31 in 74 games so far this season.
“Peralta, Young and Raburn gotta do something against left-handed pitching. It’s that simple,” Leyland said. “It’s that simple, Jhonny Peralta, Delmon Young and Ryan Raburn gotta do something against left-handed pitchers, it’s that simple.”
Peralta’s going to play more games than not, given his position.
Young is going to either DH or play occasionally in left, but he’ll play more games than not, as well.
That leaves the decision — until Dirks comes back — down to Raburn or Berry.
While Berry gives the Tigers an element they don’t have enough of — speed — he’s not going to be able to play every single game.
“He has played almost every game since he’s been up here (38 of a possible 40) and he’s not that big, strong, of a guy, he’s been very good but it doesn’t hurt to get him outta there for a day or two. Plus, with Raburn, we need him to do something, it’s simple. So that’s basically your choices, you know, you’re not going to play Donny Kelly against a lefty, you’re not going to play Alex and the only other lefty is Berry so that was the only question,” Leyland said.
“I’m kinda playing the string out right now, to see if Raburn is going to do something.”
Here are the lineups for Thursday's game:
MINNESOTA TWINS (35-46)
Denard Span, CF (L)
Ben Revere, RF (L)
Joe Mauer, DH (L)
Ryan Doumit, C (S)
Justin Morneau, 1B (L)
Trevor Plouffe, 3B (R)
Darin Mastroianni, LF (R)
Brian Dozier, SS (R)
Jamey Carroll, 2B (R)
DETROIT TIGERS (40-42)
Austin Jackson, CF (R)
Ryan Raburn, LF (R)
Miguel Cabrera, 3B (R)
Prince Fielder, 1B (L)
Delmon Young, DH (R)
Jhonny Peralta, SS (R)
Brennan Boesch, RF (L)
Gerald Laird, C (R)
Ramon Santiago, 2B (S)