Blogs > Out of Left Field

A sometimes-irreverent look at Detroit's Boys of Summer, the Tigers, as they try to defend their back-to-back American League Central titles.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Tigers will add useful 'handful' Saturday, including Alburquerque

Rather than bring up a ton of players when the rosters expand Saturday, the Tigers will only bring up those who can help.

“I think we got the people who will serve a purpose,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “There will be nobody that’s called up just to watch a big-league game.”

In addition to Avisail Garcia, the Tigers noted Friday that among the “handful” of players they’ll call up to flesh out the roster this weekend will be reliever Al Alburquerque, who’s missed the entire season to date, after offseason elbow surgery.

Since the Tigers optioned him to Triple-A Toledo after his rehabilitation assignment ran out, Alburquerque won’t be eligible to be added to the active roster until Sunday, 10 days after his option.

But he’ll be useful to a bullpen that’s had its warts.

“Well, it’s like making a big trade acquisition to me. He is throwing the ball very well. All reports are he’s throwing the ball like he did last year at this time,” Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski said. “It’s not like I’m sitting back saying that he needs to reach that point with the injury rehab and the build-back time, he is throwing his fastball consistently mid-90s up and his good slider. So he’s a big addition for us.”

Other than that, the Tigers remained mum on the remainder of the additions, although bringing up Toledo catcher Bryan Holaday has been a foregone conclusion for weeks. The rest were supposed to be notified after the completion of Friday’s games.

But Leyland has been adamant that he doesn’t like his locker room cluttered up with extra bodies, and he doesn’t see a lot of use in adding players who are just in the big leagues to soak in the atmosphere.

At least not in the situation the Tigers are in now.

Leyland has had a different attitude in years when he’s piloted a team that was out of contention.

“We had conversations, just to get them acclimated a little bit, but that’s when we were about 20 games out. That made it a little different scenario. We want the people we’re calling up to have a purpose. They all do,” the manager said.

“Yeah, I think there’s some value to it, if you can work them out in a major league stadium, get them used to the environment of it. Yeah, I think there’s some value to it. But I wouldn’t want to do it in the situation we’re in, because the stakes are too high right now. That’ when I was in Pittsburgh, and we were out of it, and we brought up a few kids, just to work them out, get a better look at them, get a better feel for them, get to know them a little bit, going into the next year’s camp. Maybe one of them or so might make the team, stuff like that.

“But not at this point, not with our situation. We’re not going to do that.”

Tigers DFA then trade Jeff Baker, call up Avisail Garcia

The Tigers just aren’t very good against left-handed pitchers.

In the hopes of fixing an issue that they’ve already patched over twice, the organization designated utility man Jeff Baker for assignment, and recalled youngster Avisail Garcia from Double-A Erie.

The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Garcia was hitting .312 with the Seawolves, and .333 against lefties. Acquired from the Cubs in a waiver trade on Aug. 5 for two players to be named later, Baker had just seven hits in 15 games, posting a .200 average with next to no power.

Later in the evening, Baker was traded to the Braves for a player to be named later.

“It’s what I talk about all the time: If you fish in a lake for two weeks, and you don’t get a bite, try a different lake,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said, noting that it’s a talented kid they’re bringing up, one of the best all-around tools guys in the organization in his opinion.

“It wasn’t Baker’s fault, because I know Baker’s a better hitter than he showed here. The track record shows that. But, for whatever reason, it wasn’t working, and we’ve got this kid that is a multi-purpose player, really — not as far as versatility position-wise, but he can run, he can throw, he’s supposed to be a terrific outfielder, he’s got power — so we’re going to try him. Why not?

“I like stuff like that. I’m kind of excited. He might come up and not do anything, he might come up and really give us a jolt. Who knows? You never know how that’s going to work out.

“But he’s a talented kid. I’m going to put him in there. Why not?”

Leyland was hoping that Garcia would make it to Comerica in time to get some swings in before Friday’s series opener against the White Sox, but even if he doesn’t get acclimated to the surroundings until Saturday, he’ll likely be in the lineup for the next two games, as Chicago starts lefties Francisco Liriano and Chris Sale.

“I’m going to play him. ... That’s what we’re bringing him for,” Leyland said, admitting he’d use the versatile youngster as a defensive replacement, if the situation dictated. “I wanna see how he looks. If he’s swinging the bat real good, who knows? If he’s hot, I might play him more.”

The move was made before the rosters expand on Saturday so that Garcia would be eligible to be on the postseason roster, should the Tigers make the playoffs. The team will still have the flexibility of adding one more player to the roster, replacing the spot held by Victor Martinez, whose spot on the 60-day disabled list can be turned into an extra spot on the postseason roster for any player brought in after Sept. 1.

Originally signed as a 16-year-old non-drafted free agent out of Venezuela, the Tigers had considered moving Garcia up at the beginning of August, but instead chose to try acquiring a veteran like Baker by way of trade.

“We thought that he’d hit better for us. It hasn’t worked for us so far. We really reached the point where we were looking for him to provide some offense against left-handed pitching and he really hasn’t provided very much. He has in the past and he may in the future but right now we’re down to 32 games in the season so we’re kind of looking at the immediacy of this,” said Tigers presdient and general manager Dave Dombrowski.

“We talked to a lot of our people about (Garcia). He’s had a very fine year. ... People felt he’s ready to come up and help us. He’s had that extra month. We actually talked about it the first of August, but he’s had the extra month of development time and he’s continued to play well. So we think he’s ready to come up and help us.”


Report: Avisail Garcia among Sept. call-ups

The Tigers have put a moratorium on talking about their Sept. 1 call-ups, but reports are bound to come out eventually.

One came out Friday afternoon, from Carlos Rios (@rioscaribes on Twitter) that the Tigers were calling up right-handed hitting outfielder Avisail Garcia from Double-A Erie.

Erie teammate Tyler Clark later tweeted "Good luck brother." Jason Beck of MLB.com confirmed it with sources in Erie.

The 21-year-old Garcia was hitting .312 in 55 games at Erie, with six home runs, three triples and nine doubles. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Tigers lunch-hour live chat, edition 1

As the playoffs (hopefully) get closer, I'll be doing a weekly live chat.

For the first two weeks, starting Aug. 29, it'll be on Thursdays; after that, it'll switch to Tuesdays (to try to avoid day games). Each edition will be at 12:30 p.m.

Have your questions ready. I'll answer as many as I can, as honestly as I can.

Castellanos will head to Arizona Fall League

Clearly, the Tigers would like to give prized prospect Nick Castellanos some more time to be comfortable with the transition from the left side of the infield to the right side of the outfield.

With that in mind, it was no surprise that Castellanos' name was among those included when the lists of players headed to Arizona Fall League was released Wednesday. The 20-year-old Castellanos, who's hitting just .154 over his last 10 games for Double-A Erie, will be joined by six other members of the Tigers minor league system in the AFL. All seven players will be members of the Mesa Solar Sox roster.

The other players headed to the AFL from the Detroit Tigers include: pitchers Matt Hoffman, Michael Morrison, Luke Putkonen, and Tyler Clark; catcher James McCann; first baseman Aaron Westlake.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Smyly will stick around, fill in for Fister if needed, bullpen if not

There was a question of whether or not Drew Smyly’s spot start in place of Doug Fister on Saturday could be part of a short visit for the rookie, especially since Fister’s injured groin seems to be healing up.

While Fister said his round of playing catch on Saturday “was a positive,” head trainer Kevin Rand was equally optimistic, shooting for the pitcher to take a full bullpen session while the Tigers are in Kansas City.

“Absolutely. Optimistic because today was a real good day for us,” Rand said Saturday. “We’ve got some steps yet to take but by the same token, I think he was very encouraged by how things went today.”

That would put Fister in line to make his next scheduled start on this coming Saturday. With Smyly representing essentially an ‘extra’ starter, there were thoughts that he could be headed back to Toledo in exchange for an additional reliever.

Not so.

“It’s simple arithmetic. It’s not hard to figure out. You’ve got Smyly for protection if Fister’s not ready, and if Fister’s ready, then Smyly by that time can fall into the bullpen, as a long guy,” manager Jim Leyland said. “So it’s pretty simple math.”

It can’t have hurt that Smyly, making his first big-league appearance since hurting his side on July 6, was lights out against the Angels Saturday. He went six innings, giving up just one earned run on four hits, despite a less-than-airtight defense behind him.

“Nah, he pitched so good last night, we’re sending him to Disney World. Yeah, he’ll be here,” Leyland joked

“I thought Drew Smyly won the game for us (Saturday) night. I thought we put him in a bad situation a couple times. He really pitched good (Saturday) night. We got him in a couple tough spots, and ... damn, he saved our ass. He pitched out of it. That could’ve been disaster. I was really impressed with him. I thought he did a helluva job.”

As for Smyly, who has only pitched out of the bullpen as a pro during spring training, he’s up for the new challenge, if needed.

“If they want me to be here and think that I can help the team out, help the team win down the stretch, that’s a big honor in my eyes,” Smyly said Sunday morning. “Any way I can help, you know? If I start here or there or throw an inning out of the bullpen or long relief, whatever they have planned for me, I’m just happy to be here to be a part of it.”

The Tigers are minus a long reliever, having sent Duane Below down to Triple-A to get innings, then sending his replacement, Luke Putkonen, down as well, to open the spot to bring Smyly up.

It will be a change for Smyly to have to speed up his warm-ups in the pen, but it’s not something he thinks he can’t handle.

“Obviously, you’ve got to have a more aggressive mindset, but it’s just getting your arm ready to go fast enough to where you know you can go in and compete to get an out that fast. When you’re a starter, you can long toss and warm up and throw as many pitches as you want in the bullpen. When you come into the game, I guess you’ve just got to get it going a little faster,” he said.

“I can get warm pretty quick. If I was in the bullpen, I don’t think it would be any problem for me. I mean, if I was in the bullpen in the major leagues, I don’t think it would take me long to get ready to go out and throw.”

Cabrera gets day off to rest sore ankle, Tigers win anyway

Managers don’t get paid the big bucks to make out the lineup card on a daily basis.

They get paid well to make out the lineup on those rare days when you need to sit down a star struggling with an injury, like Jim Leyland did Sunday, noting before the game “What’s best for Miguel Cabrera is best for our team.”

For the first time this year, the Tigers lineup came out, and it did not have Cabrera in it. The slugger will get essentially two days of rest for his sore right ankle, with Monday’s off day.

“You gotta think like they’re going to give you some days off,” said Cabrera, who’s rarely spent a game in the role of cheerleader. “It was a perfect time. That way, I can be ready for Kansas City.”

Considering his sore ankles, the rest was a welcome, much-needed commodity, hopefully allowing him to be ready to play the field for the series against the Royals, starting Tuesday.

“I’m pretty confident that Miguel will play third base in the Kansas City series. I’m pretty confident. Can I etch that in stone? No, I can’t. But I’m pretty confident he’ll play third base,” Leyland said after the game, which the Tigers won, 5-2, without their big slugger. “I think this did wonders for him, and it had nothing to do with the fact that we won the game. Nobody’s going to say anything about this now because we won the game. Had we not won the game, there would have been people who would have said, ‘How can you not at least DH him in a pennant race two games back?’ ... I didn’t sleep last night. I talked to a lot of people and made a couple calls last night. I talked to my coaches all day. But you know, at the end of the day when I talked to Cabrera, I knew the best thing to do was to rest him today no matter what the outcome of this game was today.

“That’s what managing is.”

Sunday was a rare day off for Cabrera, the first he’s had after starting all 126 games so far this season, and the final 42 of last season, including the playoffs.

His 161 games played last year (he started all but two) were tied for the most in the American League, and behind only Prince Fielder’s 162 in all of baseball.

“It’s a definite double-take, because you haven’t seen it all year, without Miggy in the three-hole,” starting pitcher Max Scherzer said of walking past the lineup, and not seeing Cabrera’s name.

“That’s just shows you, just a credit to how tough a player he is. I guarantee you, look at his body — he’s got bruises all over his body, and he’s still going out there, and fighting through it, and playing through it, playing a demanding position at third base, and hitting in the three-hole. He’s an absolute warrior, when it comes to playing every single game.”

Cabrera’s last game day completely off was Aug. 25, 2011, when he missed the final game of the Tampa Bay series for the birth of his third child. The last time you’ve seen Cabrera in uniform, in the park, but not ever in the game dates back to the end of the 2010 season.

But the Tigers pulled off a win anyway, getting homers from Delmon Young and Prince Fielder, and a two-hit, one-RBI game from Andy Dirks, who stepped into Cabrera’s spot in the third slot in the batting order.

“That was the goal. The goal was to win today and keep him off his foot and give him a break,” catcher Gerald Laird said. “The guy’s been huge all year, that’s all we can do for our best hitter. It was a nice win, we didn’t have to use him. He got some treatment today and hopefully he starts to feel better.”

The everyday third baseman for the Tigers had spent the previous two games at designated hitter after coming out of Thursday’s game in the second inning, when his sore right ankle would no longer allow him to play the field.
The everyday third baseman for the Tigers had spent the previous two games at designated hitter after coming out of Thursday’s game in the second inning, when his sore right ankle would no longer allow him to play the field.

And it’s obvious that the ankle has been hurting him.

He has dropped to third (.324) in the AL batting race, going 6-for-22 (.273) on the home stand, and 2-for-15 (.133) since Monday.

Sunday’s day off should help Cabrera’s physical well-being, but it probably also helped the mental well-being of the Tigers, to know that they could come together and win in his absence.

“Obviously, we were able to give him a blow today, and still get a win. That was a big thing for this team, for the team morale, to have him out of the lineup and still get a win,” Scherzer said. “That’s a credit to us, as a whole.”

“I was really proud. I found something out about our guys today, I think. I thought it was really good. I think they knew with the big guy out of there some guys really stepped up and responded. I’m really proud of that.”



Saturday, August 25, 2012

Miggy still clearly bothered by sore ankles, at DH again Saturday


As encouraging as the prognosis was before Friday’s game, the visual evidence was just as discouraging during it.

While Miguel Cabrera, hobbled by a recently sore right ankle to match his already beat-up left ankle, provided all of the Tigers’ runs in a 2-1 loss with a solo home run, it was clear that he was hurting, concerning his manager.

All smiles despite a heavily-taped ankle before the game — even playfully offering questioners a bite of his pregame nachos — Cabrera was clearly grimacing on his home run trot, and just as clearly laboring to make it to second on his earlier double.

That begs the obvious question of when he’ll be available to play third base again, after spending Friday night at designated hitter. It won’t be Saturday, as he was in the lineup at DH again.

“I go by the medical team’s suggestion. I talked to Kevin (Rand, the head trainer) at 11 o’clock this morning about Cabrera. He checked everything, he double-checked everything. You do what you have to do,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said after posting the lineup Saturday. “It was pretty obvious last night, I didn’t expect — I was hoping for today, before the game yesterday. But after seeing him last night, I was not surprised that we’d have to DH him tonight.

“I doubt very much Cabrera will play third base before Kansas City (Tuesday), after talking to trainers today.”

The ankles — one of which (the left) has been pounded by numerous foul balls in recent weeks, followed by a twist of the right ankle when he stepped across the plate in batting practice earlier this week — haven’t yet cost Cabrera a start.

And they don’t appear to have limited his power any.

“Oh, yeah. That’s Miguel. That’s what he does,” Prince Fielder joked of the hobbling home-run hitter. “Kind of used to it.”

But it was clear that he was not running the bases at anywhere near his optimum level.

“I was worried about because I was talking, I never take Miguel Cabrera out of a game but I’d have probably had to tonight to pinch run real late. I never do that because I just don’t want him out of there in any game, really, unless it’s a lopsided situation. But I probably would have had to run for him tonight the way when he hit the double, it looked like he was scuffling a little bit,” Leyland said after Friday’s game.

“I think he thought it was going to be an easy double at first. It was a little tough for him and then he had to accelerate a little bit. I did cringe a little bit but I wasn’t so worried abut the slide, I could just see, I made my plans right then, if this gets late in the game, eighth, ninth inning, something like that, I’m probably going to have to run for him. I just don’t like to take those kind of guys out of the game ever, no matter what the situation is.”

And he’s not any closer to ready to play the field than he was Thursday, when the Tigers manager and training staff had to come check him out — and pull him out — in the second inning.

That hasn’t changed significantly.

Nor will it, unless the ankle gets worse.

“Unless it was to the point that it was affecting his swing, as well as his running, and then you wouldn’t play him at all,” Leyland said. “Didn’t seem to affect him too much last night — he hit three balls right on the screws, one of them over the fence, one of them down the left-field line, and one of them that would’ve went over the fence if the wind hadn’t been blowing in.”

Friday, August 24, 2012

One pitch costs Porcello for second straight start

For a guy that gives up a ton of hits, you’d think one or two wouldn’t stick out like they do.

For Rick Porcello, who leads all of Major League Baseball with 186 hits allowed, there have been two hits — no, make that two PITCHES — that have made the difference between him winning and losing.

In his last start, it was a fastball low and away that Baltimore’s Chris Davis turned into a three-run, seventh-inning home run in a 3-2 loss for the Tigers.

Friday night, it was a hanging slider that Howie Kendrick drilled to left-center field, bringing in the only two runs the Angels would need in a 2-1 win.

“Obviously, it turned out to be a little bit of a mistake,” Porcello said, admitting that he couldn’t remember back-to-back games he’d pitched that hinged on so slim a margin.

“I think there’s been times where it’s been one or two pitches that have either gone my way or haven’t gone my way, but I don’t think that late in the game. When you get sixth, seventh inning, you’ve gotta have your best stuff. That’s the time when you’ve gotta find something within yourself to execute those pitches. Obviously both outings, my past two outings, it’s been late in the game like that we’ve been getting hurt. I get into that situation again, I gotta dig down deep and make a better pitch.”

Normally a ground-ball pitcher who relies sometimes almost solely on his sinker to get outs, Porcello had his slider and change-up working against the fastball-happy Angels Friday night, getting four strikeouts to go along with eight ground-ball outs through the first five innings.

He’d get into trouble in the sixth, plunking Torii Hunter after a Maicer Izturis leadoff single, but — following a strikeout of Kendrys Morales — looked like he had gotten himself out of the jam when he got a slow-rolling ground ball to third off the bat of Mark Trumbo.

But Hunter’s aggressive slide into the bag at second forced a bad throw from second baseman Omar Infante, breaking up the double play chance, and keeping the inning alive for Kendrick.

“He got down on Omar pretty good,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “That’s just good baserunning, that’s a veteran player that still runs good and plays the game right, plays the game hard and he got down there and broke it up.”

“It’s the little things. Yesterday, we win because Delmon beats out a double play. That’s the way the game is. You play hard, and little things like that, sometimes you overlook, are huge,” Alex Avila said.

Porcello didn’t blame Infante, but rather himself.

“It was a tough turn. He came in hot, and it’s tough for anybody to stand in there, when you’ve got these guys sliding into you like that,” Porcello said, “so it’s one of those where, if you get the double play, it’s nice, but I’ve got to keep pitching, and not think about that.”

He didn’t.

After getting a called strike on a slider, and a second strike when Kendrick offered a bunt attempt at a 91-mph four-seam fastball, Porcello hung an 0-2 slider that Kendrick drilled to the gap in left-center, bringing in Izturis from third and Trumbo all the way from first, making it a 2-0 game.

Porcello would be done after the fateful sixth inning, the second start in a row the Tigers have failed to score while he’s in the game. Coming in to Friday’s start, Porcello’s run support average of 4.92 ranked tied for 19th-most in MLB.

He insisted that didn’t put any more pressure on him, as a guy who’s going to give up hits.

“No. That’s baseball. Their guy pitched very well tonight, obviously, and that’s just part of the game. I’ve got to go out there and, regardless of whether we put up 10 or put up two, I’ve gotta go out there and pitch and get guys out,” Porcello said, admitting the improved control of his breaking stuff was a silver lining. “That’s a good sign, obviously, but end results not what we want.”

Smyly's been here before, won't be too excited

When he takes the mound for Saturday’s start against the Angels, it’s not like Drew Smyly will be overawed.

He has been here before.

“I feel at home in the locker room but I haven’t been out on the mound since July 6th. It’s been almost two months. It’s going to be fun to go back out there,” said the rookie left-hander.

“I’m not going to be overly (excited) ... I’ve got 15 starts up here. I know what to expect, I know how to go about it. I get excited, nervous for any game. It’s just fun going out and pitching in front of 40,000 people, especially when it’s late in the season when every one counts. It’s just fun. I’m glad I’m part of it.”

Smyly is filling in for Doug Fister, who is missing his scheduled turn in the rotation because of a groin strain. The Tigers will have to make a roster move after Friday’s game to clear a spot for Smyly, who has been on the roster at Triple-A Toledo since coming off the disabled list in late July.

Unless the move is to place Fister on the 15-day disabled list, it’s unclear how long Smyly will be needed by the parent club. [UPDATE: RHP Luke Putkonen was optioned out after the game to clear room, leaving Fister on the active roster for now.]

“I’m glad they have trust in me. I hope I can go out and help the team, contribute however they need me, when they call on me,” Smyly said.

“Yeah, I feel great. I’m ready to go. My side hasn’t bothered me since I went to Triple-A, my arm’s still good. ... I just haven’t been able to get as many innings as I would like, but everything’s good.”

Some of that by plan, some not.

In his first couple of starts back from an intercostal strain in his right side, he was given a pitch limit. Then, of course, his third outing was cut short by the much-publicized ejection and suspension for plunking a batter after former Tigers second baseman Will Rhymes hit a home run.

His current Tigers teammates were teasing him about the incident when Smyly showed up in the locker room Friday afternoon.

Don’t be afraid to pitch inside, someone told Smyly.

“Never am,” he responded.

The rookie will certainly need to be aggressive when facing what’s almost sure to be a lineup filled entirely with right-handed hitters.

The first one he faces will be a rookie-on-rookie matchup against MVP frontrunner Mike Trout, who came into the series with a 19-point lead on the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera in the American League batting race (.345 to .326), and tops in the AL in Runs (99), stolen bases (41) and slugging percentage (.601).

“He’s a great hitter. He’s had an unbelievable year so far. I’m looking forward to the challenge,” Smyly said. “They’ve got a really good lineup and a lot of righties so it’s going to be tough.”

Add pair of (semi) familiar names among MLB drug suspensions

There have been a rash of big names suspended under Major League Baseball's drug policy in the past two weeks, guys like All-Star Game MVP Melky Cabrera and Bartolo Colon.

Add a couple of familiar names from the recent past of the Tigers, as well.

In a press release from MLB Friday afternoon, announcing the 50-game suspensions of three minor league players, two of them should at least be somewhat recognizable to Tigers fans.

The first was current Tigers minor leaguer Darren (D.J.) Driggers, a 22nd-round pick in this year's draft out of Middle Georgia College. The outfielder, who was a member of the Gulf Coast League Tigers, was suspended for use of the anabolic steroid Drostanolone.

The other name was former Tigers pitcher David Pauley (above right), who was suspended for his second violation with "a drug of abuse." Acquired along with Doug Fister in last year's deadline trade, Pauley was released by the Tigers in March, and spent time with both Toronto and the Angels this year, but was in the Seattle minor league system at the time of his suspension.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland went on record earlier this week with how he feels about those caught using performance enhancing drugs.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Austin Jackson does not dive ... well, sometimes


Austin Jackson does not dive.

This has become a truism as solid as any other about the young center fielder’s superb defensive game: rarely does it include aerobatics.

Austin Jackson will run gappers down in all corners of Comerica Park’s spacious center field. He’ll pull balls back over the fence. He’ll throw out an occasional runner.

But he does ... not ... dive.

“I haven’t dove too many times,” Jackson admitted. “I probably could count on one hand the number of times I’ve dove.”

That fistful of occurrences includes one more time, as Jackson made maybe the defensive highlight of the season with his horizontal-to-the-ground catch in the 10th inning of Thursday’s 3-2 win over the Blue Jays, robbing Anthony Gose of what appeared to be a no-doubt gapper.

“I was more surprised that he caught it, because I thought he had no chance. He was shaded so far to left-center. I mean, that ball was more right-center. I’ve seen him dive a couple of times, but you’re right, he never has to dive for anything, because he’s always catching up to it,” Alex Avila said. “But in the case where he needed to, he timed it perfectly.”

With the score tied 2-2 in the 10th inning, the Jays got a leadoff single from Jeff Mathis, and bunted him over into scoring position. Gose hit a rocket off Tigers reliever Octavio Dotel that took off in the direction of the auxiliary scoreboard, and Jackson appeared to be pulled in the wrong direction.

“I thought there was no chance. ... I said, ‘Oh, my God, that’s in the gap,’” manager Jim Leyland said.

“I knew I had to get on my horses. I had him shaded over in the opposite field, and he was able to turn on it, and I knew I had to get on my horses a little bit,” Jackson admitted. “It was one of those situations where, if it drops, he was going to score, so it’s better to just attempt to make the catch, just leave your feet right there.”

Jackson sprinted nearly 30 yards to track it down, snaring the ball just above ground level. The ball would bounce as he impacted the turf, but never left his glove.

“All of the sudden, it was like a blur – he was there,” Leyland said.

“I thought off the bat, it was going to go in for a hit, and we were going to be down one,” Avila said. “And then he just kind of came out of nowhere into my frame of vision, and just made a heck of a catch.”



The best he’s made, though?

There are differing opinions.

“No,” Avila said without hesitation. “I mean, that was good, but he’s ran some down farther in the gaps. I’ve seen him make some better catches than that, but big catches in big moments, that’s really all that matters. You could make a catch like that when it’s 8-0, and nobody’s going to talk about it.”

His manager disagrees.

“That was, to me, he’s made some great ones since he’s been here. That’s one of the best ones I’ve ever seen him make,” Leyland said. “To me, that’s one of the best catches he’s made, probably because of the situation.”

Alburquerque comes off DL, optioned to Toledo

The clock was ticking on Al Alburquerque's injury rehab stint, so the Tigers bought some more time for the right-handed reliever Thursday.

Alburquerque was recalled from his rehab stint, reinstated from the 60-day disabled list — where he'd been for most of the regular season, after offseason elbow surgery — and optioned him to Toledo, allowing him to continue to his comeback. He's gone 1-0 with 2.70 ERA in five appearances (6.2 IP), striking out 10 and walking three.

To make room for him on the 40-man roster, the Tigers placed right-handed starter Thad Weber on waivers. He was claimed by the San Diego Padres.

"Will truly miss all of my coaches and teammates here in this organization. Relationships were built for a lifetime here," Weber tweeted after the move was announced. "Thanks to the fans in Detroit for being great in my short time there. The D is a special place, and I hope to make it back soon."

Miggy leaves game with sore ankle

Miguel Cabrera came out of Thursday afternoon’s game with right ankle soreness, but Jim Leyland’s not going to do anything silly to get him back in the lineup if it’s not right.

“I don’t know, the trainers didn’t seem too concerned. I saw Miggy after the game and he didn’t seem too concerned,” Leyland said. “But one thing about Miggy: If he can play, he’ll play, and I’m not going to do anything stupid.”

The slugger appeared to be limping when he hit the first-base bag, running out a fly ball in the first inning. Two batters into the second, the training staff and manager Jim Leyland came out to check on the third baseman, and removed him from the game.

Cabrera has been nursing a sore left ankle that’s been struck by foul tips several in recent weeks, but this was different.

“It’s where he stepped on the plate the other day and slipped. And he kind of aggravated it,” Leyland said.

He had not missed a start yet this season, and came into Thursday’s game, leading Major League Baseball with 105 RBI, 52 multi-hit games, 281 total bases, second in the big leagues in slugging percentage (.584) and second in the American League in batting (.326).

“Look at the lineups, look at them all over baseball. Guys get days off. If you have to give a guy a day off — I mean, I’m not going to put a guy out there that’s hurt, that can’t perform. If it means give him a day, if it means give him two days, you give it to him. You give it until the kid’s right. I’m not going to. If he’s playing in a lot of pain, I don’t want to do that. So we’ll just have to figure out another way to go about it.”

Smyly will start Saturday in Fister's spot

Doug Fister's strained groin will not allow him to make his scheduled start, forcing the Tigers to turn to rookie Drew Smyly to fill in.

"Obviously, he does not feel well enough to pitch Saturday, so we’re pitching Smyly," said manager Jim Leyland,  who will employ a pitcher making a spot start for the 11th time this season.  "We’ll have to do some juggling again, but we’ve been doing that for most of the year, so that’s really nothing new."

Smyly, who hasn't pitched for the Tigers since July 6, it's a chance to rejoin the rotation he'd been a par of for the majority of the season. A second stint on the disabled list, this time with an intercostal strain in his side, took Smyly out of the rotation in early July. He was sent to Toledo after the Tigers acquired Anibal Sanchez from the Marlins on July 24.

"Can't wait to be back in the D!!" Smyly tweeted Thursday morning. Smyly was 4-3 with a 4.42 ERA in 15 starts for the Tigers this season.

Fister has also spent two stints on the disabled list this season, but it's unclear if the current injury, a mild to moderate strain of his right groin, will put him on the shelf a third time. The Tigers will have to make some sort of roster move to clear space for Smyly's recall.

Trainer Kevin Rand said Wednesday that the status of the injury had not changed since Sunday.

Fister originally felt the strain in his groin near the start of his warm-ups prior to Sunday's start, and tried to pitch through the discomfort.




Avila guns out Vizquel to end the game

There are difficult tasks, then there are darned near impossible ones.

Like being the catcher who has the unenviable task of trying to throw a would-be base-stealer with Detroit Tigers closer Jose Valverde on the mound.

In his career, catchers have only been able to stop 17 percent of runners with Valverde on the mound. And it’s been even harder lately for Tigers catchers, who’d seen 17 straight attempts end up in a successful stolen base, dating back to last season.

All 11 runners to attempt it this year had been safe.

That streak ended Wednesday night, when Alex Avila gunned out Omar Vizquel to end the game, sealing a 3-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays. [VIDEO OF THE PLAY]

“He had a huge jump. When Jose is on the mound, and a guy takes off, I just try to get rid of it as soon as possible,” Avila said. “I try to put up a perfect throw because I know that a perfect throw is the only way I’m going to get a guy with him. I just released it quick enough.”

The last time they stopped one was July 10, 2011, a span of 85 appearances for the closer, when Avila got Kansas City’s Eric Hosmer trying to swipe third in a one-run game.

When Toronto manager John Farrell pinch hit the 45-year-old Vizquel for Adeiny Hechavarria with two outs in the ninth inning of a one-run game Wednesday night, you probably had to figure that, if the veteran got on, he was going to be running.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland knew another try was coming Wednesday, too.

“I thought he probably would. It didn’t surprise me. Was I sure? No,” said the manager, who knew his counterpart would push as much as he could, as short-handed as the Jays’ offense has been. “To me, I really thought John Farrell showed a lot of (guts) sending him. It didn’t work, so what? That’s their style. They know Valverde’s slow. They thought they could make it. I give them a helluva lot of credit. I’m sure some people in Toronto are probably questioning it, but I’ll tell you what, I give them a lot of credit. I’m not sure I would’ve done it. Not sure I’d have the (guts) to do it, but he showed me something. That’s how they play.”

Nor was Avila, who had the unenviable task of trying to throw out Vizquel.

“Vizquel has burned us a lot in the past. That’s why he probably pinch-hit on us. The fact that he’s much older than most the guys is a credit to him and how great of an athlete he is,” said the catcher, admitting most jumps runners get on Valverde’s slow delivery are pretty sizable. “That’s pretty much where it is all the time. That’s the thing. Normally, he doesn’t have to worry about that from what he has to do. That’s his thing. He’s not concerned about the runners on base. If he gets the hitters out, he’s doing a good job.”

This time, Avila helped out the process by making the perfect throw to nab Vizquel.

That can be an incredibly hard task for a catcher, though, when he’s getting next to no help from the pitcher holding a runner.

“It’s not a very good feeling,” said Leyland, himself a former minor league catcher. “As a catcher, you have peripheral vision ... you can see if a guy got a good jump or not, and truthfully, as a catcher, you know whether you can throw the guy out or not, in most cases. ... For the most part, as a catcher, I could always tell ‘I got this guy, if I just make a good throw.’ Or, this guy got a helluva jump, so I’m probably in trouble.

“You just tell. You can smell it.”

Here Avila talks about Wednesday's play:


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Smyly remains trump card if Fister can't go Saturday

When your rotation may or may not have taken another blow, it’s handy to have an ace in the hole.

Well, OK. Perhaps not an ace, but at least a face card. A Smyly face card, if you’ll pardon the pun.

With uncertainty surrounding Doug Fister’s availability for his start on Saturday, thanks to a balky groin, the Tigers were keeping rookie Drew Smyly as a possible trump card. The organization had the Toledo Mud Hens cut Smyly’s start in the second game of Tuesday’s double header short after just one inning, meaning he’d be available if needed on Saturday.

“That would be true,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said Wednesday afternoon.

So Smyly won’t pitch again before Saturday, just in case? “I would say that’s probably true,” Leyland concurred. “Well, we’ll just wait on Fister.”

Leyland said Fister’s groin felt “better” Wednesday, but head trainer Kevin Rand wasn’t as optimistic.

“I’d say still pretty much the same. There’s still some soreness there. We’re going to treat him multiple times again today. He’s going to go out and play catch. But it’ll be just catch. We’re not ready to put him up on the mound,” Rand said, noting that they’d changed treatments from icing to heat.

“We’re aggressive but we’ve got to be smart aggressive. There’s still some soreness in there, still pretty tender. So we’ve got to be smart with it.”

Fister struggled through his last start on Sunday, after first feeling the groin strain during his warm-up session in the bullpen. He has already spent a total of six and a half weeks on the disabled list this season, both stints dealing with a strain in his side.

After starting the season as the team’s fifth starter, Smyly went on the disabled list for the second time on July 14, this time with an intercostal strain. Ten days later, the Tigers acquired veteran Anibal Sanchez from Miami to take his spot in the rotation. Smyly was sent to Toledo, where he’s gotten five starts, going 0-1 with a 4.50 ERA, striking out 21 and walking four in 14 innings of work.

If Smyly does indeed have to fill in, it will be the 11th time the Tigers have had to employ a spot starter in the rotation this season. Adam Wilk, Casey Crosby and Jacob Turner all got three starts each, while Duane Below made one start.

Can Leyland remember a season where he’s made more rotation changes?

“Oh, I’m sure I have, but that stuff all sounds like excuses. I just don’t like that. It is what it is. Here we are. It’s August whatever-it-is, and we’ve got 40 games to go, and we’re in the hunt. We want to do something about it, we’ve got to play three games better than the White Sox, between now and the next 40 days. I think that’s the only way to look at it,” the manager said.

“Doesn’t matter. You can’t change anything that’s happened up to this point. So you just go forward.

“Simple. Gotta win enough games from the first game until the end of the season.”

Leyland unsurprised by, unsympathetic to PED users

Exactly week after the MVP of the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, San Francisco Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera, was suspended 50 games for the use of the banned substance testosterone, he was joined Wednesday by Oakland A’s pitcher Bartolo Colon.

They’re the fourth and fifth players suspended under the big-league drug policy this season, making 81 players in all of baseball who’ve been caught for performance-enhancing drugs this season.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland wouldn’t agree that it’s sad to see, however.

“No. It is what it is. There are rules. Obviously, they broke the rules. Let the system take its course,” he said. “It’s hard for me to feel sorry for anybody in that situation.”

Isn’t it a blemish on the game, though?

“No, I think it’s a blemish for them. They didn’t honor the system. The system is there. There’s nothing wrong with the system. They didn’t honor the system. The blemish is theirs, not the system’s,” he said. “That’s the way I look at it. I don’t feel sorry for anybody doing that stuff when you’ve been told. I mean, what do you want? What’s not self-explanatory about it?”

VIDEO: Max Scherzer not all that impressed with strikeout numbers

Max Scherzer’s fifth-inning strikeout of Toronto's Anthony Gose in Tuesday's game matched his career high of 184, set in 2010, but it took him 176 fewer batters faced and 41 1/3 fewer innings thrown to get there.

It was Scherzer’s 14th start this season with eight or more strikeouts, allowing him to reclaim the Major League lead in punchouts (186), leapfrogging the Mets’ R.A. Dickey (181) and teammate Justin Verlander (180).

So how impressed is the right-hander with his strikeout totals this season? Meh.

Notsomuch.


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Tigers have weird night with the bases loaded

Having lost nine in a row, Ricky Romero was in a very giving mood Tuesday, handing out a career-high eight walks, loading the bases in half of his six innings of work.

Problem was, the Tigers weren’t all that eager to take advantage of those free chances and golden opportunities: Detroit went 1-for-4 with two walks in six bases-loaded plate appearances when Romero was in the game.

That’s right. Just one hit.

Delmon Young walked with the bases loaded in the first to force in the game’s first run. Omar Infante did the same in the second. Funny part is, those two are among the least-walked hitters in the majors.

A third run would score when Romero got Miguel Cabrera to ground into a double play in the second.

When Romero got into a bases-loaded jam again in the sixth, Austin Jackson would ground into a fielder’s choice at home. One batter later, Infante hit one to first that David Cooper got no one out on, making it 4-1, and knocking Romero out of the game. Originally ruled a fielder’s choice, it was later changed to an infield hit, the only base hit by the Tigers.

His relief, Brad Lincoln, would face two more bases-loaded situations in the sixth, getting Cabrera out on a sacrifice fly (making it 5-1) and Jhonny Peralta on an inning-ending foul fly.

In eight bases-loaded plate appearances through six innings: Two walks, one fielder’s choice, one double play, one fly out, one foul fly, one sacrifice fly ... and one infield hit. All five runs scored on a bases-loaded chance, only one on a hit, and only one on a ball that left the infield.

Fister had groin 'situation' during Sunday's start; unclear if he'll make next start

Doug Fister felt something in his groin while he was three pitches into his warm up for Sunday's start.

Now, it's unclear if he'll make his next start.

"You know, I can’t guess that. It’s tight today, so we’re treating it as we need to, and we’re going to kind of play it by ear. ... It’s still in one of those stages where it’s still tight, but I haven’t tried to stress it at all yet, so we’re just trying to take it slow," said Fister, who's already spent two stints on the disabled list with an unrelated injury, a pulled muscle in his side.

"It’s just another negative, and we’ve gotta stay positive."

Fister had an MRI, and will test the groin — which has felt about the same since he initially noticed the discomfort Sunday — when he throws his normal between-start side session.

"Oh, yeah. We’ll go out there, play catch, even get off the mound, go as far as we feel it can, and just play it by ear," Fister said. "It’s still in one of those stages where it’s still tight, but I haven’t tried to stress it at all yet, so we’re just trying to take it slow."

If everything pans out, Fister is scheduled to pitch Saturday's game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. If not, the Tigers may need a minor-leaguer to make a spot start. Drew Smyly, the most logical candidate, last pitched for the Mud Hens on Aug. 17, and is due to make Wednesday's start at Columbus. [Updated: Smyly started the second game of Tuesday's double header vs. Columbus, but threw just one inning, leaving him available for the start Saturday, if needed. ]

Despite the discomfort, Fister went ahead with Sunday's start, but it was pretty obvious to anyone watching that the 3 2/3-inning stint — in which he gave up seven as earned runs, as many as he'd given up in his previous five starts combined — was abnormal.

"He was just out of whack. He wasn't good. He just struggled pretty much. You could see he wasn't quite right. Just one of those days," manager Jim Leyland said afterward, admitting that, given Fister's injury history this year, it was a concern right off the bat. "Yeah, sure. But we’ll just have to wait and see what goes on. His side’s alright. Nothing wrong with his side at all."

But there were signs of something more serious than just "lack of execution," whether it be walking the No. 9 hitter, or matching his season high in walks, or even just the facial expressions of all involved after the game Sunday.

"Right before first inning, I felt it a little. Didn’t get any worse throughout the game, it was just a matter of tight and sore, but nothing that was alarming at the time. ... It’s just on of those things where you don’t really think about it, you just try to go through whatever you have to do to go through, and to pitch," said Fister, noting that he thought the strain, on his right leg, was "nothing too major."

"It doesn’t effect pitching off the rubber at all. That was the thing, why I was able to continue to pitch, and be able to get through it."

Fister tried his best not to let on that anything was amiss.

"He said he was alright, obviously. We checked in in the second inning and he was alright. That’s one of those Catch-22s, you know? So, we’ll just to wait and see how that plays out," Leyland said Tuesday, quickly ending speculation about Fister's availability for his next start. "I would assume so, but we’re wasting time right now. Fister has a groin issue. We will have a pitcher whether it’ll be Fister or somebody else for the next start. Period."

Raburn headed to rehab assignment in Toledo

Sidelined since the start of August with a sprained thumb, Ryan Raburn is now on the mend, headed to Triple-A Toledo Wednesday to start an injury rehabilitation assignment, the Tigers announced Tuesday morning.

That could put him in line to rejoin the team when rosters expand in two weeks.

Even should he, however, it's uncertain what role he'd have. Raburn started just five (and played in only nine) of 19 possible games between the All-Star break and the end of July.

Two of his three appearances after the July 24 acquisition of everyday second baseman Omar Infante were in a pinch-hitting capacity. Even that role might now be gone, considering the waiver trade that brought Jeff Baker to the Tigers to provide pop off the bench against left-handed starters — the role that Raburn was expected to fill.

For the season, Raburn was hitting .172 with 14 doubles and 12 RBI, and with an OPS (on-base percentage, plus slugging percentage) of .483.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Baker finds a home in the lineup against LHP

For once in his life, Jeff Baker appears to have found himself a home: In the starting lineup for the next few games, at least.

The army brat, who bounced around homes (and even continents) as a youngster, and has bounced around from position to position as a professional utility player in the Major League Baseball, may start every game in the upcoming series against the Toronto Blue Jays.

In each of the three games, Toronto is slated to send a left-handed pitcher to the mound, finishing off a streak of five straight games against lefty starters.

“Baker’s probably happy,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said this weekend, tongue-in-cheek. “He’ll get a chance to get some consecutive at-bats for a while, with all the lefties we’re seeing now, obviously. That’ll be good for him. I’m sure he’ll be tickled.”

Those left-handed pitchers, who now own an 18-18 record against the Tigers after Sunday’s loss, are exactly who Baker was expected to face when he was acquired in trade from the Chicago Cubs two weeks ago.

More than likely, he’ll be in right field for those games, too, although he can play both of the corner outfield positions, both of the corner infield positions, and second base.

It doesn’t really matter to him where, although he realizes that the chances of him playing first or third anytime soon are next to none.

“I don’t think I have those tools that Prince (Fielder) and Miguel (Cabrera) have, but it’s definitely fun to be able to try and contribute in a lineup that’s got as much firepower as they do and two of the best hitters in the American League — if not all of baseball,” Baker said.

“I knew what the thing was, utility infielder, and corner outfield was what I was told. Like I said, I don’t really care where I play. It’s about trying to give the guys a lift that day, and when you’re in there for a starter that’s getting a day off, or in this case, if you’re out there platooning in the outfield, you’re just ready to go. I don’t really care to be honest with you.”

It won’t be the first time he’s bounced around.

Born in Bad Kissingen, West Germany, into a military family, Baker found out early what it meant to move around, as his father, now-retired U.S. Army Lt. Colonel Larry Baker, was sent from posting to posting until finally settling down for an assignment at the Pentagon when Baker was high school aged.

And he’s bounced around from position to position in the pros, too, originally drafted out of Clemson as a third baseman, but has made all but 57 of his 300-plus career starts at other spots on the diamond. Almost half have been at second base, a position the Tigers now have held down full-time by Omar Infante.

That leaves the corner outfield spots as the most likely openings, and the vast majority of his action has been in right field.

“The thing about the utility position is you kind of get comfortable with whatever you’re playing most, and for me, gosh, I came up a third baseman, and I think third is probably the position I’ve played the least in the big leagues,” he said. “I don’t really have like one spot that you’re most comfortable with, but for me, I’ve been on the right side of the diamond, so you get kind of used to seeing the ball come off the bat. But wherever you’re at, as long as you’re out there, it’s about competing. You just go from there.”

And he’s happy to get a chance with a contender, even if it means stretches like this, where he’s in the lineup regularly, are few and far between.

“I’m not one of those guys — I’m not real big on personal statistics and the whole nine yards,” he said. “I’ve always just wanted to play on a winner, and I’m getting an opportunity to do that here. I don’t care what my role is. As long as you’re on the team, and contributing.”

Baker has had three hits, including a pair of doubles, and three RBI in his 16 at-bats since joining the Tigers. He had an RBI double in the first inning of Sunday's game, making it 5-0 at the time.

Double plays kill rallies; Tigers take over MLB lead in GIDP

If it seems like the Tigers have taken themselves out of more rallies by hitting into a double play than any other team in baseball: You’re right.

Detroit entered Sunday’s game tied with Minnesota for the most double plays grounded into in Major League Baseball (115), and added two more to the tally in the 7-5 loss to the Orioles.

It’s a product of a couple of things:

Yes, it does mean that the Tigers have more baserunners than almost anyone else. They were tied with Texas for the best on-base percentage in the American League (.338) coming into play Sunday, giving them more opportunities when a double play could happen. And they still have the third-most runners left on base (847).

But double plays don’t magically make themselves, and there’s no cause-effect relationship between having more baserunners and having them erased by a double play.

For a team that produces far less than one ground ball for every fly ball (0.86 ratio, right at the MLB average), it sure seems like a disproportionate number of them go right to an infielder, hit hard enough for them to turn two. Minnesota, by contrast, has a 1.03 ratio, highest in baseball.

“We hit a lot of balls hard, and we don’t run all that well, in some cases. We run hard,” manager Jim Leyland said. “But that’s all part of it.”

The penchant for hitting into double plays was costly as the Tigers tried to rally against Orioles starter Wei-Yen Chen and the Baltimore bullpen Sunday. But Prince Fielder hit into a pair of inning-ending twin killings — one in the second and one in the seventh.

The latter ended the Tigers’ last gasp, a rally that was aided when O’s second baseman Omar Quintannilla dropped what should have been a double play ball off the bat of Omar Infante, trying to get the handle to make the throw to first. He’d get another chance six pitches later, after Miguel Cabrera struck out, and Fielder sent a slow-roller toward second base.

“That’s just part of the game. You can’t expect guys to do it all the time, every time. That’s not fair, to expect that,” Leyland said.

“We felt pretty good late, with first and second, Miggy up. We caught a little break there, when the second baseman didn’t handle the throw. But like I said, it’s not fair to expect them to do it every single time, every day. It’s not going to happen. You can’t expect that.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Alburquerque checked out by Tigers docs after elbow soreness

Al Alburquerque may be back with the team soon.

That team, however, is the Toledo Mud Hens, not the Detroit Tigers.

The relief pitcher’s return from offseason elbow surgery hit a temporary snag after his last rehabilitation outing in Triple-A Toledo, pain in his elbow prompting his Saturday visit to Comerica Park to see the team doctor.

After throwing 45 pitches in 2 2/3 innings — the first time in eight rehab appearances he’d gone two innings or longer — Wednesday on the road against the Syracuse Chiefs, “today I didn’t feel really good,” Alburquerque said.

“The doctor wanted to see me to see if everything was going to be OK,” last year’s rookie sensation said Sunday in the Tigers locker room, when he stopped into visit.

“He saw me today and tell me everything OK. ... Just inflammation. Tight. He wanted to see me and see if everything would be alright. I told the trainer to see what happened.”

That’s a good sign for Alburquerque, who’s trying to come all the way back from a non-displaced stress fracture in the elbow of his throwing arm that required a screw to be inserted in the break. Dr. James Andrews performed the surgical procedure on Dec. 15.

"It was more of a precautionary visit. ... Everything was normal, everything looks fine. His range of motion’s good, his strength’s good. He’s progressing well," said Tigers head trainer Kevin Rand, noting that type of soreness is normal for a guy coming back from Alburquerque's type of injury. "Yeah, absolutely. But you know what? Sometimes the guy needs to be reassured of that, too. So our thinking was, definitely bring him in, and just have the doc take a look at him. It reassured him."

Named the Tigers Rookie of the Year for 2011 by the Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association, Alburquerque was 6-1 with a 1.87 ERA, leading all American League relievers with a .142 batting average against, 13.92 strikeouts per nine innings, and 4.36 hits allowed per nine innings.

He’ll fly to Allentown, Pa., to rejoin the Mud Hens, who are facing the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs in a weekend series. 

His appearance in the Tigers clubhouse did give trade acquisition Jeff Baker a chance to introduce himself to the guy he was traded for in 2009, when Baker was with the Rockies and Alburquerque was in the Cubs organization. Upon arriving in Detroit, Baker admitted that former teammates had teased him about "being traded for a city." 

"Yeah, I said hi," Baker laughed.

Umpires collaborate on call; pair of Orioles ejected for objecting


Friday’s game between the Orioles and Tigers had a little bit of everything — monumental home runs and defensive plays.

The most bizarre play of the evening, though, was an overturn of the original call on the field to start the fifth inning, a sequence of events that resulted in the ejection of Orioles manager Buck Showalter and first baseman Mark Reynolds.

“I’m not going to get into that,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “Obviously, from where I was, the guy looked quite a ways off the bag. I don’t go out unless I think that. I’ll leave it at that.”

Rookie Manny Machado fielded Jhonny Peralta’s grounder at third, and his throw across the diamond appeared to beat the runner to the bag, but Reynolds had to stretch to field it. Peralta and first base coach Tom Brookens argued to first-base umpire Jeff Kellogg that Reynolds’ foot came off the bag.

“We just want to get the play right and that’s what we did there,” said Kellogg, who asked for help from the rest of the crew. “I went to the home plate umpire, who was coming up the line ... I knew he was going to have a look at the edge of that bag coming up the line.

Home plate umpre Timmons agreed, and the crew changed the call, prompting Reynolds to fire his glove into the ground, and Showalter to storm out of the dugout.

“From when I saw the throw coming across, I knew that the throw was going to pull the first baseman that way. And at that point, that's when I actually stopped and dropped anchor and looked for the foot,” Timmons said. “And when I saw the foot come up, the heel and the toe was on the bag. .. At the time he was going to glove the ball, when I saw the bottom of the whole foot and the foot dropped down onto the ground and I had daylight, I had him off the bag.”

Ruled a throwing error on Machado, it became irrelevant when Peralta was erased on a fielder’s choice, and the inning ended when Austin Jackson was caught stealing.

After the game, neither the ejected player nor the manager were happy, Reynolds saying, "It's almost like 'screw the Orioles' by the umpires out there."

Here are Showalter's comments from his postgame interview with MASN.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Tigers snuff out hope: VMart won't return in 2012

So you’re saying there’s no chance?

Nope. Not anymore.

All season long the Tigers were saying just the opposite, officially holding out a glimmer of hope that Victor Martinez might miraculously rehabilitate his knee injury quickly enough to somehow return for the end of this season.

Friday, they officially snuffed that hope out.

“At this point in time, we’re starting to look at 2013,” head trainer Kevin Rand said. “Obviously, he’s disappointed, because he’s worked very, very hard. But at the end of the day, we talked on Wednesday, he’s done everything in his power to give himself an opportunity to play this year. It just didn’t work.”

The determination was made in a Wednesday conference call with Martinez’s physical therapists in both Colorado, at the Steadman-Hawkins Clinic where the surgery was performed, and at home in Orlando, basically making concrete what had been known for a while: That there was simply not enough time to get VMart ready to play baseball.

For the Tigers, it’s an end to the constant speculation of when he might be ready, when he may be back. Now, there’s no longer a question.

“Victor’s rehabbing. Don’t look for Victor. We’ve said that a thousand times. Victor Martinez will not play for the Tigers in 2012, I do not think. I emphasize ‘I do not think,’ ” manager Jim Leyland said in his pregame media session, referring reporters to Rand for more details. “I think he’ll put everybody at ease about that. Then they’ll have that, once and for all, and they won’t have to keep talking about it.”

It’s a return to the disappointing prognosis the Tigers originally got when Martinez first injured the knee in January. At the tim, no one ever thought there was a chance he’d be back before next season, if then. But the better-than-expected results from the experimental surgery kept hope alive for most of the summer.

That hope started to wane when Martinez’s progress was checked in late July. The findings then were that his leg strength was unequal, too much so for him to start a running progression, or any sort of baseball activities.

The clock was ticking.

“He got to a point where we looked at it, and we felt he doesn’t have enough time. In order to put him through a running progression, and give him a chance to get into baseball-specific work, the time wasn’t there,” Rand said. “Basically, when we did the strength assessment at the end of July, and where he was at at that point in time, we felt that we were probably going to hit this point. It was a question of when. We gave it a couple of more weeks, to kind of push and see where it put him.”

Wednesday’s conference call finally ended the speculation.

Rand later spoke to a disappointed Martinez, who no longer has the carrot of a possible return in front of him. Now, they’ll slow down the pace of his rehabilitation, and look at starting his running in November, a month earlier than a player would in a normal offseason.

“You always want guys that want to push and be out there to play and that’s never been a question with Victor. When you give them that best-case scenario, you want him targeting that. That being said, if he doesn’t get to it, is he disappointed? Well, sure. Obviously, because these guys are competitive. But by the same token, you want them pushing. I’d rather have the guy pushing to try to get out there and try to play and at the end of the day, then I’ll try to push him to get there,” Rand said.

“He was disappointed, because he really busted his ass, and has really worked hard, but he also realizes, you know what, the risk isn’t worth it at this point.”

For the trainer, this wasn’t as much a setback as bowing to reality, as well as a concession that the last thing they want to do is risk further injury by pushing too hard.

“The biggest thing for me is looking at the bigger picture: The bigger picture is, we’ve got this guy signed for four years; this is his second year, and we’ve got years three and four to worry about. We want the guy ready to go and healthy,” Rand said.

“For me, as I told him from Day One, we were not going to do anything to jeopardize years three and four to try to push it to two. It just isn’t worth it to him. He’s too valuable a guy to us, too valuable a player.”

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Miggy continues to make history

In Tuesday's game, Miguel Cabrera recorded his 100th (and later 101st) RBI on the season, becoming just the third hitter in franchise history with five straight 100-RBI seasons.

Wednesday, Cabrera hit his 30th homer in the first inning of the series finale with the Twins, becoming the first player in franchise history to record five straight 30-homer seasons.

No sense waiting around when you have a chance to make history.

"He’s a superstar. That’s what he is. He’s one of those guys that’s a couple notches above most people," said Tigers manager Jim Leyland the day Cabrera hit his 300th home run. "He’s having a wonderful, wonderful career so far. Hopefully it’ll be a long career, and hopefully end up in Cooperstown."

It's not like either of those streaks came out of nowhere, either. Cabrera has recorded 100-RBI seasons in all but the first of his 10, and has 30 homers in all but two (six straight).

"If you look at his years, it’s not surprising. I hope people really take notice and realize what you’re seeing. Those are the types of players that come around and then you retire their number after," Tigers catcher Alex Avila said back in July. "People need to realize that. He’s special."

Just how rare is what he's doing?

Only Hall of Famers Harry Heilmann (1923-29) and Charlie Gehringer (1932-36) had five or more consecutive 100-RBI seasons. Only Cecil Fielder (1990-93) and Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg (1937-40) had four straight 30-homer seasons for the franchise.

League-wide?

Per research by Venezuelan sportscaster Wilmer Reina, Cabrera is the fourth player since 1901 with eight seasons of 30 homers and 100 RBI before turning 30, along with Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez and Jimmie Foxx. Cabrera joins A-Rod, Pujols, Foxx and Mel Ott with nine 100-RBI seasons before turning 30.

Like Heilmann, Gehringer and Greenberg, Ott and Foxx are Hall of Famers. Pujols is a no-brainer to join them, as is A-Rod, provided voters don't get hung up in the performance-enhancing drug controversy. You'd have to think that Cabrera's certainly on that track, especially since he's already won a home-run title (2008), an RBI title (2010) and a batting title (2011) in his first four seasons in Detroit, and is in position to make a run at any or all of the three again in his fifth.

But will he do that here? You'd have to hope so.

It will certainly make for an interesting fiscal decision for the Tigers later this decade. Cabrera's current contract expires in 2015, a year after Justin Verlander's current deal is up. Then, there's the nine-year, $214 million deal the team signed Prince Fielder to in January, begging the question how long the team can go with three $20 million players.






Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Below sent down to get some work at Toledo; Putkonen recalled

It’s almost a no-win situation for a guy like Duane Below.

If you never see a team’s long reliever, it means the starters are probably doing pretty well — and by extension, so is the team.

Duane Below hadn’t gotten a lot of work of late — just 9 1/3 innings pitched in four second-half appearances, after 36 innings before the All-Star break — which is good for the Tigers, but not so good for him.

The rust was evident in Monday’s game, as Below was called upon to keep a 5-1 game close, but instead allowed the Twins a second straight three-run inning, as they blew it open for a 9-3 win.

After the game, the Tigers sent Below to Triple-A Toledo, recalling right-hander Luke Putkonen in his place.

“Well, he really hasn’t gotten that much opportunity to be sharp, to be honest with you, in the role that he’s in, so we’re going to send him down and hopefully sharpen him up. It’s a little unfair to ask a guy to do sometimes what we ask him to do, but at the same time, when you’re in the Major Leagues, you have to be able to do that: You have to be able to sit and then come in,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.

“When it’s 5-1, you’ve got to be able to hold it a little bit, and like I said, he’s struggled with that a little bit. So we’re just making the move, get Putkonen up here.”

Among the mounting concerns that Leyland has in his bullpen, figuring out ways to get a guy like Below innings was about the last thing he could concern himself with.

“I don’t worry about it. If I’m not getting him work, that’s a good thing. And I don’t mean that disrespectfully, because he’s done a great job. But if you don’t need your long man, that’s a great thing. ... if you’re getting your long man lots of work, that’s a bad thing,” the manager said in the middle of the last home stand, right before he did indeed need Below to eat up some innings.

“That’s what a long guy does. If he can’t do that, he’s not going to be a good long guy in the big leagues. And he’s good at it. I talked to him yesterday, told him to just be patient with me. He’s not a forgotten guy.”

With Below optioned out, that leaves the Tigers with just two lefties on the big-league roster — Darin Downs and Phil Coke. Downs has pitched very well, but Coke has struggled mightily.

“After we’re down 5-1 when he comes out, I didn’t want to use Cokie up, obviously. You gotta be able to stop it, and we haven’t been able to stop it. We’ve been giving up some add-on runs,” Leyland said in the understatement of the month.

“It starts with the starting pitching, and Anibal (Sanchez) just didn’t have a very good start tonight. ... I certainly know he’s a better pitcher than he’s shown so far. I guess we’ll have to keep looking.”

Putkonen posted an ERA of 8.59 in 7 1/3 innings with the big-league club earlier this season, but had pitched reasonably well in Toledo of late. Eight of the 17 earned runs he allowed in his last 10 appearances for the Mud Hens came in a catastrophic outing against Columbus on July 25, when he gave up 10 hits and nine runs in 1 1/3 innings.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Leyland doesn't want his locker room "cluttered up" with call-ups

For a franchise that’s floundering, the September call-ups can be a chance at a sneak preview of the future.

For a team with playoff aspirations, though, how much value is there in bringing up guys who won’t be doing much more than sitting on the bench?

None, in the opinion of Tigers manager Jim Leyland.

“Yeah, they asked me about that this morning. I have a pretty strong opinion on it. One of the questions today was talking about (top prospect Nick) Castellanos. I don’t want to get my boss mad at me, but somebody said, ‘Well, do you just bring him up here to see what it’s like in the big leagues?’ No, I don’t think you do that. That’s my opinion. I think you bring him up if you think he can help the club,” Leyland said Thursday morning.
“And that’s the way I feel about anybody. I don’t want the clubhouse getting all cluttered up. I never have.”

You can write the Tigers down for bringing up an extra catcher, likely Bryan Holaday, who was up for 12 games in June.

Other than that?

Theoretically, a team might have a minor niche or two that could be filled by an extra player you don’t have room for on the 25-man roster.

“I think sometimes you look for a specialist, like a speed guy, another speed guy, a defensive guy,” Leyland said, “but we’re already talking about six outfielders that I can only find (time) to play four. So, if we’ve got somebody down in the minor leagues that’s better than the six we’ve got, he’d probably be here now. So I don’t think that’s the case.”

You also have the cannon fodder theory, bringing up guys who probably only see the field in a blowout, players whose only function is to suck up meaningless innings.

That seems a bit extraneous for Leyland.

But he’ll abide by the wishes of his general manager, Dave Dombrowski, and his assistant GM, Al Avila.

“Dave and Al do a very thorough job at that, they’ve always been very good with me about that. They know what my feelings are. I don’t like to bring 10-12 guys up here, because there’s just too much going on, and your concentration and preparation is for the games, trying to get involved in the playoffs, and stuff like that. But I do think you use common sense,” Leyland said. “I always respect if he (Dombrowski) says ‘Well, I want to bring this guy,’ then we bring him. That’s his call.
“He gives me the players, and I manage them. Whatever he decides to do is fine with me. But he knows I don’t like a bunch of extra guys hanging around, particularly if they’re not going to do anything. Just to sit up here and watch a big league game, I don’t think makes a lot of sense.”

Don Kelly clears waivers, is outrighted to Toledo

The Tigers announced Thursday that Don Kelly's contract was outrighted to Triple-A Toledo.

Kelly, the Tigers' utility man for the past three seasons, was designated for assignment last Friday. That meant he was removed from the 40-man roster — clearing a spot for trade acquisition Jeff Baker — and the club had 10 days to place him on waivers, trade him or release him.

Thursday's news meant that he'd cleared waivers. Given his service time, Kelly now has the option of accepting the assignment to Toledo, or refusing it, and electing to become a free agent — as Omir Santos had done earlier this season.

There are plenty of fans hoping the likable Kelly will stick around the Tigers organization, but he was caught in a numbers game, and was not hitting well enough to justify staying with the big-league club. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Valverde still dancing on the knife's edge

There are a few jobs where you can’t be perfect, but you must be perfect.

A high-wire act without a net. No margin for error.

Surgeon, certainly. Air-traffic controller.

In sports, maybe only hockey goalie or football cornerback fit that description as aptly as baseball closer does.

If you fail, EVERYONE knows.

And your head immediately goes on the chopping block.

“He’s always in a situation where he decides the outcome. He’s out there because you’ve got a lead, so if he doesn’t do well and you lose a game, people focus on that more because you’ve lost the game. That’s why it’s such a noticeable position,” said manager Jim Leyland Wednesday afternoon, less than 24 hours after his own closer, Jose Valverde, blew two-thirds of the three-run lead entrusted to him in the ninth inning of Tuesday’s game, throwing a season-high 33 pitches.

A pop-out by Curtis Granderson stranded the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position. Valverde had already allowed singles to Eric Chavez and Ichiro Suzuki, a walk to Raul Ibanez, and a potentially game-tying double to Russell Martin.

But he didn’t give up the lead — by the barest of margins — earning his 22nd save, no matter how heart-stopping.

Wednesday is a new day, and a new game.

“He’s obviously been one of the best. One of the reasons he’s been the best is because he’s got a real knack for being able to turn the page. Closers that can’t turn the page usually don’t close too long,” Leyland said.

“Release point looked different. No. It just got out of whack. You know you’re not perfect every time. It doesn’t work that way. It’s a tough game. Sometimes you know where it is and you don’t get it there. But he’s fine.”

Problem was, even with occasional bouts of wildness, Valverde WAS perfect last year, going 49-for-49. That spoiled Tigers fans, who’ve always had a love-hate affair with their team’s closers (see: Todd Jones, Mike Henneman, Guillermo Hernandez) over the years.

This year, he’s not been so reliable, blowing four of his 26 save opportunities. His numbers are down (or up) across the board, too — the highest WHIP and ERA since 2006, the lowest strikeout-per-nine inning ratio.

It’s not a matter of changing the way he pitches, though.

“Nothing has changed from this year or from he’s been throwing his entire career,” catcher Alex Avila insisted. “The way he throws when he comes in hasn’t changed at all from his entire carer. Yesterday, he threw four or five splitters. Normally, he’s going to throw a majority fastballs and mix in one or two split-fingers in an at-bat, depending on how long it is or depending on what the hitter shows you. If he’s late on the fastball, there’s no reason to throw him a splitter.”

But when your closer gets himself into jams, it just seems so much worse.

In his 47 appearances, Valverde has allowed the first batter he’s faced to reach 15 times.

As bad as that seems, it’s not that much different than last year when (according to STATS, LLC) only two pitchers in baseball walked the first batter they faced more than Valverde.

The difference is, this year, that proclivity seems to be costing him more.

“Pitchers are going to give up hits. That’s just the way it is,” Avila said. “You’re going to talk about Jose giving up hits because he’s the last three outs of the game That’s just the way it is.”

It’s hardly a syndrome that’s just limited to Valverde.

Last year’s National League Rolaids Relief Man, John Axford, has an MLB-high seven blown saves. So does Oakland’s Ryan Cook.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have an MLB-worst 17 blown saves on the season, and have FOUR on their current road trip alone.

Valverde has four for the season, tying him for 19th-most in MLB.

“What other closer would you rather have? I don’t know if any other closer hasn’t blown three or four saves,” Avila said. “Even (Aroldis) Chapman has blown (four) saves already this year. It’s not like you’re going to find someone that is invincible like he was last year. Obviously, a year like he had last year is a year everyone talks about because it doesn’t come around very often. It’s definitely blown way out of proportion — some of his struggles, that’s for sure.”

Certainly, there’s not anyone on the team that’s a slam-dunk answer to replace him, either.

Set-up man Joaquin Benoit is perhaps the most logical successor, should the Tigers not re-sign Valverde in the offseason. But he has 13 career saves in 11 seasons, and has only had more than two once (six in 2007).

Octavio Dotel has 109 career saves, but has succeeded just once in three save opportunities so far this season.

Brayan Villarreal might be a closer option in the future, but Leyland has maintained all along this season that he has reservations about the durability of the the 25-year-old’s slight build. Given the key step that Villarreal had to make in his progression into a viable big-league reliever was not getting too excited, putting him in the ninth-inning pressure cooker after two partial MLB seasons seems like it may be a tad premature.

Wednesday's ninth inning was case in point. Villarreal got two outs, then gave up a pair of singles, a walk, a balk and an RBI single. Presto, the two-run deficit was a four run deficit.

And that was him pitching without trying to protect a lead.

"He had a tough time tonight. He got out of whack a little bit after they got a hit or so. He kind of quit pitching and started throwing," Leyland said. "That's a good lesson. But he's done a fantastic job. Those things are gonna happen once in a while. He's been absolutely tremendous for us. We just didn't pitch well. The add-on runs killed us, obviously."
Valverde, on the other hand, has the most saves (97) in the American League since the start of the 2010 season, and is best among all MLB pitchers with a 93.3 percent conversion rate in that span.

Asked Tuesday night if he’d thought about going out to get Valverde before he melted down.

“He’s our closer,” Leyland said simply.