Blogs > Out of Left Field

A sometimes-irreverent look at Detroit's Boys of Summer, the Tigers, as they try to return to the top of the American League Central.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Lee Elia's famous rant still makes Jim Leyland giggle, 30 years later

The 30th anniversary of former Cubs manager Lee Elia's legendary postgame rant was Monday, and Tigers manager Jim Leyland — who's uncorked a few doozies of his own in his time — was asked about it before Tuesday's game.

It didn't take much prompting for him to start laughing. [If you've never heard the rant, click here. Warning: NSFW, NC-17 language.]

"Oh, one of the greatest. One of the greatest I’ve ever heard. It was unbelievable. I mean, that’s Pulitzer Prize (stuff). Or whatever they say. Nobel Prize, Pulitzer Prize. Whatever the (heck) you guys get," Leyland said. "Absolutely beautiful.

"I love Lee Elia. I had managed against him in the minor leagues. I’ve known him all my life. I mean, he just obviously lost it — which was not a good thing for Lee to do.

"I have to admit, as a spectator, I thought it was spectacular."

That's not to say Leyland agreed with the sentiments in Elia's rant. Not at all. Just the fact that — as every manager has at some point in time — the Cubs skipper lost it in volcanic fashion.

"And I don’t mean that as an offense against any Cub fans. I’m just saying the thing itself was — I mean, I’ve heard all those. Somebody had a tape at one time or another of all of them: (Tommy) Lasorda’s, Elia’s, Earl Weaver’s, Frank Howard’s. You know, if you’re a manager, you can have a great appreciation for all those," Leyland said.

"I mean, I couldn’t believe it when I first heard it, but I can’t say I wasn’t laughing my (butt) off, because I was."

And he can commiserate with the fact that Elia has been immortalized for that lone moment of lost control. Leyland's got his own moments.

Think the NSFW, face-to-face contfrontation with Barry Bonds, cussing out the outfielder in spring training. 

Think the "have the guts to write what you saw" moment in Boston last May, the clip of which is still standard fare on the MLB Network. 

He'll admit he's trying to reduce the number, though.

"You try to avoid those at all costs, if you can," he said with a grin.

Has he ever come close to a truly monumental one, though?

"Well, I’ve probably said some things I probably shouldn’t have said," he admitted. "Probably out of line at times, but there’s sometimes that you guys agitate enough, that people get (ticked) off."

Come to think of it, it HAS been a while since Leyland truly uncorked one.

"No, I’ve really worked hard at that. That was one of my New Year’s resolutions. I’ve been pretty good so far," he said, tongue-in-cheek.

"You don’t like to do that. It’s not fun making a fool of yourself. But you guys like it, because it’s news. I’m sure you’d love to play that on the radio in the morning, Lee Elia’s thing, wouldn’t you? Sure. You get customers. They’d love to hear something like that.

"I’m not going to do that, I can tell you that. Not like that.

"Believe or not — trust me when I tell you this — we don’t look for fights. But sometimes ..."

How about the classic dressing-room explosion in 2006, the one that's often credited with turning around what eventually became a World Series season.

"Well, that was memorable in the clubhouse, but not really memorable in the media. Wasn’t too pretty in the clubhouse," Leyland said.

"Most of the time, you guys understand. You’re looking for news. You know if a manager’s agitated, so you agitate him along a little more, to try to see if you can get him stirred up, get something out of him. I don’t blame you. That’s your job.

"I try to avoid that, if I can."

Lee Elia will continue to stand alone for a while, if that's the case.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Fister hitting batters at an alarming, record rate

DETROIT — Thank goodness the Detroit Tigers haven’t played the San Diego Padres this season.

With Tigers starter Doug Fister inadvertently plunking batters at an alarmingly record pace, you’d have to think the Padres’ Carlos Quentin — whose dislike for being nicked became glaringly obvious earlier in the month — might take umbrage.

With two more hit batters in Sunday night’s start, Fister now has eight in five starts this season, just four shy of his career high.

Then again, Fister would probably make sure that Quentin — who charged the mound on April 13 after being hit by a pitch, and broke Zack Greinke’s collarbone in the ensuing fracas — knew for sure it wasn’t on purpose.

“Unfortunately, I think it’s more mechanics for me. I’m not staying back at times, and kinda my arm drags, and the sinker gets away from me. For me, it’s never intentional to hit a guy. It’s (a matter of) looking over, making sure they know it’s not intentional,” Fister said Sunday.

“Yes, I’m trying to go inside, keep the sinker down and in, but by no means is it ever intentional.”

It’s not intentional, no.

But it has been glaringly frequent. Fister has twice as many hit batters as anyone else in baseball.

The record for most hit batters in a single season in the American League era (since 1901) is 32 by the Philadelphia A’s Chick Fraser in 1901. (According to, the most in the recorded history of baseball is 54 by Phil Knell of the 1891 Columbus Salons, in 58 games pitched.)

The Tigers’ franchise record is 23, by Howard Ehmke in 1922. The only pitchers more recent than that to crack the top 15 on the all-time list are Chicago’s Kerry Wood (21 in 2003) and the California Angels’ Tom Murphy (21 in 1969).

Right now, Fister’s roughly on a pace for 48, should he make 30 starts this season.

They’ve come in bunches already, too.

Fister had two in five innings in his first start against the Yankees.

He had another in his eight-inning start against the Blue Jays the next time out.

After none in seven innings in Seattle, he hit three guys in his April 21 start in Anaheim.

Then two more against the Braves Sunday.

“Well, really it’s part of his game — not to hit guys — but it’s part of his game to use both sides of the plate, and I don’t think the pitch to (Atlanta’s Justin) Upton was very far inside at all. I don’t know about the other one,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.

“He keeps them honest. He’s certainly not trying to hit anybody, but he goes in, and sometimes his ball runs late like it does — that’s why they miss-hit some balls — and sometimes, if starts in there, then it runs in at the last second, you might hit somebody once in a while.

“But certainly he’s not trying to.”

It’s not been all bad, though.

It helps that Fister has issued only six walks on the season, and is in the top 15 in ERA among American League starters (2.38). He’s also tied for third in the big leagues in wins with four.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Dirks' knee hasn't been 100 percent since spring training, but it's getting better

DETROIT — It wasn’t exactly an edict.

More of a recommendation that Andy Dirks skip winter ball this time around.

After watching Andy Dirks struggle with lower-body injuries in 2012, it was obvious to some members of the Tigers brain trust that maybe a little bit of time off his feet in the offseason might be beneficial, just to limit the possibility of his body hitting a wall.

So he did.

And then his body hit a wall — more literally than figuratively, this time.

After a restful offseason, a collision with the outfield wall in Lakeland, Fla., this spring has put Dirks back behind the 8-ball again.

He’s been struggling with inflammation in his right knee for a better part of the first month, something that’s surely contributed to his lackluster start.

“Well, I hit it pretty good, so I knew. I mean, it was swollen up. I figured its just swelling, and it’ll go away. But it just lingered and lingered and lingered,” Dirks said Sunday, the third straight day he was out of the starting lineup for the Tigers.

“It definitely took me a little longer to get going (without winter ball), and I was feeling pretty good toward the middle of spring training. You know, swing was coming along good, everything’s progressing. I think hitting the wall set me back a little bit, but that’s just part of the nature of the best. That’s baseball. Things happen.”

After helping the Escogido Leones clinch the Dominican Winter League title in January 2012, Dirks came into spring training red hot — and stayed that way.

By May 1 last year, Dirks was hitting .314.

By the end of that month, it was up to .328.

And then he missed the next 55 games with a combination of hamstring issues and soreness in his Achilles tendon.

Late in the season, manager Jim Leyland thought it might be a good idea if Dirks didn’t subject himself to year-round baseball, so that maybe he wouldn’t wear out.

“The first full Major League season is pretty long,” Leyland said at the time. “Now, I don’t want to get in trouble with the organization because I don’t know what the plan is, but I’m a big believer that you have to get a way from it.”

As well-intentioned as the plan was, the plan didn’t necessarily work — through no fault of anyone’s.

No one could have anticipated him hitting the left-field wall at Joker Marchant Stadium, chasing after a Jack Cust fly ball. The knee swelled up right away, and limited his time in the field the rest of spring training.

“I’m not sure he’s ever been at 100 percent. I don’t think he’s 100 percent, no, I do not. I think there were days he ran hard to first base and he looked pretty normal, but then when you’d watch him go out to the outfield after the inning sometimes he wasn’t moving quite as good,” Leyland said. “So I doubt that it’s ever been 100 percent just yet, to be honest with you. I don’t know that for a fact. But it does appear to be recurring. I don’t know if warm weather, cool weather’s got anything to do with that. I don’t really have an idea on that.”

It hasn’t helped that the Tigers haven’t been warm since the spring, either.

“Yeah, the cold definitely makes it more stiff, or something. It hurt more during the cold games than it did during the warmer. ... There’s days it felt better, and days it felt worse, for sure,” he said. “It’s that inflammation in there. It just lingers, stays in there. Keep playing on it, keep playing on it, and it doesn’t really have a chance to get out of it.”

It’s definitely slowed him down, but probably isn’t the sole reason that Dirks has gotten off to such a slow start. He’s hitting just .167 with one extra-base hit in 17 games played, having struck out 12 times.

“I mean, I’m not going to make excuses why I haven’t been hitting. I don’t know if it’s a factor or not,” Dirks said.

“Could be. Could be a lot of factors. Definitely wasn’t helping the issue, you know?”

At least the inflammation is starting to finally clear up.

Dirks isn’t 100 percent, but he’s getting closer.

“I would not say that he’s probably 100 percent. But he was feeling better yesterday. How fast you get 100 percent, I don’t really know. Apparently it’s probably going to be a little cool and damp so I don’t really know. I guess that affects that kind of stuff, but yeah, I could play him,” Leyland said. “I could have played him (Saturday) as far as putting him in if I had to. I would not have been able to take (Matt) Tuiasosopo out yesterday if I hadn’t felt I could put him out there if something happened.”

Dirks is encouraged, at least.

“The last couple days, it’s felt better than it’s felt in the last month,” he said. “Definitely an improvement.”

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Tigers trying to keep it classy, putting on the suit and tie after big hits

DETROIT — Suit up.

While Saturday’s Negro Leagues game against the Atlanta Braves brought the opportunity for the Detroit Tigers to wear their throwback Detroit Stars jerseys, that’s not the alternate attire the players have been wanting to don.

Every once in a while, you’ll see one of them — after a big hit, of course — don a phantom suit, shrugging on the jacket, adjusting the tie, then maybe popping the cuffs.

“Me and Torii (Hunter), we do that together before every game. That’s what me and Torii do. It’s just put on the suit, jacket, adjust the tie. ... Do a little fist, then do that before every game. That’s our version of the handshake,” said Matt Tuiasosopo, one of the ringleaders of the fun little trend that hasn’t totally taken over the team just yet.

“Not everybody does it: Torii does it, Prince (Fielder) does it. I did it, finally, for the first time yesterday, because I finally got a hit. (Brayan) Pena did it. There’s only a couple of guys who do it.”

Tuiasosopo had plenty of reason to do it in Friday night’s game, as he registered a two-run single with the bases loaded — the Tigers’ first hit all season with two outs and the bases loaded — followed by his first home run in a Tigers uniform (and his first in the big leagues since 2010) in the fourth inning.

His five-RBI night was obviously the first of his career — considering he came in with 16 in his career, and had one on the season so far for the Tigers.

Perfect time to adjust the tie a little.

“We don’t do it every hit. Has to be a big hit. You hit a double, or you hit a single but you bring in some guys. Can’t just be a random two-out single, and bring nobody in,” Tuiasosopo said. “It’s fun.”

Where did it come from, though? Is it an homage to the Neil Patrick Harris’ Barney Stinson character on CBS’ “How I Met Your Mother?” Stinson’s catch phrase, after all, is “Suit up!”

No. Tuiasosopo said he’s seen the show, but that’s not it.

There seems to be some variation in the true answer.

“Pena and I, we’re on the bench, and we want to have some fun with guys. Some teams, they do all kinds of stuff. And we were with Torii, and we were like, ‘Let’s be classy. Let’s put on the suit, and adjust the tie, like we’re going to work.’ That’s what that is,” Tuiasosopo said. “Pena was the actually the creator of it. He was like, ‘Put the suit on, T.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I like that. Then adjust the tie.’ That’s how it came to be.”

Hunter has a different story.

“Nah, I was the one that did it. I did it. Just trying to tell ‘em, everybody’s doing that ‘Ahhh!’ all that crazy stuff. I told them, ‘All right, let’s keep it civilized. Work as usual. Put our coat on, and tie — suit and tie — and keep it civilized,” he said.

“Yeah, we’re going to work. Business as usual. Slide in, hit a double. Put your coat on, straighten up your tie. ... We’re all doing it to keep it business as usual. Keep it civilized.”

Friday, April 26, 2013

Cold weather hasn't helped Tigers' record, nor their health

DETROIT — You can’t necessarily blame the cold weather for the cold turn the fortunes of the Detroit Tigers have taken since their 9-5 start.

It certainly has contributed to some of the losses, making it uncomfortably hard to grip a ball ... or a bat.

“You don’t want to keep focusing on it, because, No. 1, it’s the same for everybody, but if you read the comments, (Kansas City’s Jeff) Francoeur said he couldn’t feel his hands, it was the coldest game he’d ever ... you know,” said manager Jim Leyland, whose team had lost five of six coming into this weekend’s interleague series with the Atlanta Braves.

“The weather conditions do have something to do with everybody, not just the Tigers. The weather is a factor, but I don’t want to make it sound like I’m saying it’s just a factor for us, and not other people, because it was pretty cold when we were hitting good, too. I don’t really know the answer to that.

“Right now, were not certainly clicking on all cylinders.”

But it’s been more directly involved in the Tigers losing players to minor injuries over the last week or so.

“The other night, we had a couple guys that were complaining. Guys were having a hard time getting loose,” Tigers head trainer Kevin Rand said. “It’s the same thing with the other club. We all deal with the same thing. But the fact is that when it’s cold, guys have more issues.”

Justin Verlander had a blister near his thumb crack open in the cold, forcing him to leave Thursday’s start earlier than anticipated.

Phil Coke strained an adductor muscle in his less-than-successful relief outing Thursday, and wasn’t available for Friday’s game.

Al Alburquerque’s nagging little hip flexor pull, which cut short his outing in Wednesday’s game.

And the cold has done no favors for the sore knee that’s bothered Andy Dirks since he slammed it into the fence in spring training.

“I think the weather’s had something to do with Alburquerque’s thing, Coke’s thing now. Some of the guys have been tight. It’s funny. Some years, nothing goes on like that, and other years, muscles tighten up, or get crampy, or whatever,” Leyland said.

“I can’t explain it to you. ...”

Most of those injuries will clear up on their own, in time.

No one thinks that Verlander’s blister issue will keep him from making his next start on Tuesday.

“No, I mean, we’re looking at it. We should be able to get him ready for his next start,” said Rand, noting it’s not the first time Verlander’s dealt with the issue

When you’re out there pitching, and it’s cold and dry, it’s just a crack in the skin, just like you’d get, regular people, working outside. You’re going to get a crack in the skin. Unfortunately, the location of it, in the thumb area, caused him to not be able to pitch coming out in the eighth. ... Pitchers build up different wear sites, but most of those callus over, and usually aren’t an issue. But when they split like this, they become an issue.”

Coke may miss some time, though, with what amounts to a groin pull.

“He felt it on a pitch yesterday,” Rand said. “He’s better today. He’s kind of a day-to-day guy at this point in time. Might be a couple days.”

And Alburquerque SAID he was OK after feeling the flexor tighten up, but he hasn’t pitched since.

“He’s a classic example of that the other night. He felt something in his hip flexor on a pitch. It tightened up pretty good for him, I think. A lot of that was cold weather-driven. It did tighten up,” Rand said. “Yesterday (Thursday), he came in and felt better. We weren’t going to use him yesterday. Give him some time and he’s OK. We’ll continue to treat him and get him out there.”

Dirks may be a more dicey proposition.

The knee hasn’t totally been right since the collision with the wall. That’s probably a large component of why he’s hitting .167 out of the gate.

Cold isn’t helping that, either.

“He’s had a couple continued flare-ups with that. He still has some inflammation in an around the joint,” Rand said. “As a result, I think he probably had a reaction to the cold weather the other night. I think that kind of bothered him a little bit.”

There’s no telling when it might be healed up all the way.

“Trainer got a text yesterday morning that the knee was sore, and acting up, but that’s OK. Today’s better, but what does that mean?” Leyland said. “I can’t answer that.”

Dirks wouldn’t have started Friday’s game, anyway, with a left-hander on the mound, but no manager likes to be short-handed.

That’s less of a problem on the bench than it is in the bullpen.

But Leyland’s not going to force-feed pitchers into the game in April, if there is a chance it could hurt them further.

“You have to watch them all. I try to watch them all. Maybe the other people are right, but I try not to do silly stuff. I know how valuable a healthy pitching staff is. I mean, Jose Valverde had no spring training, all of a sudden pitched four out of six (days) — I mean, I think you just don’t do crazy stuff. I want to get this bullpen, once and for all, in order. Now Coke’s a little setback again,” Leyland said.

“It’s way too early to start panicking about losing four out of five, or five out of six. Don’t misunderstand: I’m not saying I’m happy about it. But I think it goes a lot like sometimes you say ‘You can’t be afraid to lose a game.’ Well, I don’t want to lose my bullpen for a month or two, getting greedy. I think it’s important, obviously, to win the games, but ...”

Miggy presented with his Tiger of the Year award

The Detroit chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America presented Miguel Cabrera with his Tiger of the Year award Friday at Comerica Park, before the game against the Atlanta Braves. 

Cabrera was a unanimous selection, after his Most Valuable Player and Triple Crown season in 2012. 

It was the third time he'd won the award since joining the Tigers, also winning in 2008 and 2010.

Cecil Fielder (1990, 1991, 1992) was the last three-time winner of the award. Alan Trammell won it three times, as well. No player has ever won it four times.

(The table of past winners below is courtesy of
Don Wert (1)
Al Kaline (1)
Al Kaline (2)
Placido Polanco (1)
Carlos Guillen (1)
2008 Detroit TigersMiguel Cabrera (1)
2009 Detroit TigersJustin Verlander (1)
2010 Detroit TigersMiguel Cabrera (2)
2011 Detroit TigersJustin Verlander (2)
2012 Detroit TigersMiguel Cabrera (3)

Miggy gets his own salsa

You'd think it would only come in scorching hot (like his hitting) ... but not so.

The brand new product, "Miggy's Salsa" will be available for a limited time at Meijer stores in Detroit, Lansing, Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids areas, as well as online at
Made by PLB Sports, who brought you Justin Verlander's Fastball Flakes, it comes in mild, medium and hot, and is available in 16 oz. jars.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Keep calm: It's just a blister on JV's thumb

DETROIT — Breathe. Keep calm.

When Justin Verlander left Thursday’s game against Kansas City earlier than normal, and — gasp — with an injury, you could hear an entire Detroit Tigers fan base sucking in air and holding it.

Relax. It’s just a blister on his thumb.

Won’t even affect him for his next start ... right?

“C’mon. Yeah, it’s not that big of an issue,” Verlander said. “That’s why I got out of there. To be able to make my next start and the one after and not create something that I have to deal with for a month.”

It’s something he’s dealt with before, and something he’ll likely deal with again.

Not worth losing any sleep over.

“I wouldn’t think so. They can do wonders with those things now. They put stuff on there, hardens up pretty quick, things of that nature,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “I mean, I don’t think it’s going to be. The thing you worry about that is if it breaks open or something again. He’s had this in the past, and it hasn’t been a problem.”

Verlander noticed the blister had first developed toward the end of his last start, in Anaheim. It started getting worse around the fifth inning of Thursday’s start, and — by the seventh — he sat down with pitching coach Jeff Jones to talk about it.

“At this point in the year, there’s no point in creating something that could become a nagging issue. We made the decision to call it a day,” said Verlander, who didn’t know how long he could go with it. “I was kind of on the fence, and that’s why I talked to Jeff (Jones) about it. It was becoming a little bit painful, but it wasn’t like a huge gash, or anything. But at the same time, that’s what you don’t want it to turn into.”

After he left the game, the bullpen allowed six runs over the final three innings, handing Verlander (2-2) his first no-decision of the season.

In retrospect, he was asked, did it frustrate him that he’d had to come out?

“Well, it’s frustrating that we lost. I’m not going to sit here and second-guess myself or Jeff for the decision we came to,” he said. “We thought it was the right call, and I think one of the things you’ve gotta do in this game is have faith in your teammates, and if that’s the right decision, it’s the right decision, and you’ve gotta have faith in the guys coming in behind you to do the job. Tonight, we weren’t able to do it. But that’s not to say I have any less faith in those guys the next time.”

SHORT HOPSThe Miami Marlins claimed left-handed pitcher Duane Below off waivers Thursday from the Tigers. Detroit had designated Below for assignment on Wednesday, to make room for Jose Valverde on the 40-man roster. ... Avisail Garcia joined Class A Lakeland to begin a rehab assigment. He’s been out since March 22 after injuring his right heel stepping awkwardly on first base. ... Verlander's third strikeout of the day gave the Tigers 191 as a staff, surpassing last year's modern era club record for April strikeouts. ... Miguel Cabrera picked up his 20th RBI in the first inning, making he and Prince Fielder the first pair of Tigers hitters to both have 20-plus RBI in April since Tony Clark (27) and Travis Fryman (21) in 1997.

Alburquerque fine after getting ‘grabbed’

Tigers reliever Al Alburquerque cruised through his first inning and two-thirds Wednesday, but everyone got a little worried when he looked a little awkward facing his seventh batter of the night.

Considering the 26-year-old missed the majority of last season after elbow surgery, there was reason to be cautious, and assemble everyone on the mound to check out the problem.

“His hip tightened up. He got a knot in his hip. Fortunately, it was nothing with his arm. He kind of felt it on a pitch in the flexor area, then it just kind of grabbed him,” manager Jim Leyland said. “That’s a fortunate thing. I was real suspicious, when I saw him throwing to the last batter or so, so I went out to check him. His hip tightened up. I don’t expect it to be anything. We’re very fortunate it’s not the arm. That’s a good sign.”

Alburquerque said he felt fine after the game.

“I felt it the second pitch. I think I need to stretch more before I pitch in the game. It’s nothing serious. I don’t feel like it’s anything serious,” he said.

“I wanted to make it through my inning. I threw everything for a strike and I felt good. I wanted to get through my inning, no matter how. It’s part of the game.”

He wouldn’t, walking a second straight batter to put two on with two outs.

Joaquin Benoit would relieve him, getting the Tigers out of the seventh-inning jam with a pop fly.

Alburquerque said he felt fine Thursday morning.

Leyland on VMart being sent Wednesday night: 'Just a good, old-fashioned brain cramp'

DETROIT — No hesitation at all.

When the Tigers’ new third-base coach for this season, Tom Brookens, saw Johnny Peralta’s two-out third-inning single shoot into right field Wednesday night, he instantly began waving home the runner at second base.

Good idea, normally.

“I think he just had that ‘base hit, I’m going to make him throw him out with two outs‘ — which is what you normally do, what I want him to do — but just had the wrong guy,” manager Jim Leyland said Thursday morning. “That’s probably what you call a good, old-fashioned brain cramp.

“I think what happened to him — which I understand — I think he just got in that ‘two out, make him throw him out’ mode, and forgot that it was Victor.”

Yep. The runner at second at the time was Victor Martinez, who was never a speed demon, even BEFORE he had microfracture surgery on his knee last year.

And the right fielder was Kansas City’s Jeff Francoeur, who led the majors in outfield assists last season.

Even Peralta can tell you running on Francoeur’s arm is silly.

The ball reached home approximately 45 minutes before Martinez did (slight exaggeration).

“It was really a blessing; the best part about it was, he was out by so (bleeping) far, that there wasn’t going to be a collision or anything,” Leyland said.

Indeed, rather than try to dislodge the ball, Martinez — himself a former catcher — avoided the collision by merely peeling off toward the dugout (see picture above) and conceding the inning’s final out.

“He did absolutely the right thing. It’s one of those things, as a third-base coach, normally you’re saying with two outs, take a chance. If he throws it off-line, Victor scores. Francouer’s a great thrower, he’s very accurate, so there’s a good chance he was going to be out,” Leyland said. “But there’s no sense in any kind of collision or anything, no. Just tag him, and get it over with.”

And Martinez wasn’t going to put his health in jeopardy for a low percentage chance that he’d be able to score anyway.

“Trust me, it was a really long year for me last year, so I wouldn’t do anything stupid. If I’m out, I’m out. If I’m safe, I’m safe,” said Martinez, who didn’t know how far out he would be until he saw the ball arrive. “Not right away. I saw the catcher get the ball and I was almost halfway to get to the plate. There’s no reason to run over the catcher. No reason to try and do anything stupid. I want to keep playing baseball.”

Phil Coke discusses Valverde's return on Sirius XM Radio

Phil Coke was on MLB Network Radio's "First Pitch" show on Sirius XM on Thursday morning, talking with hosts Todd Hollandsworth and Jim Memolo about Wednesday's return of Jose Valverde.

An excerpt on the fan reaction:
"You know what? They were very happy to see Papa back. Very happy. Because look at it by the numbers. He’s the most consistent guy getting a save at the end of the game in the last three years, by the sheer fact that he’s got more than anybody else. The fans recognize that, and understand that. They’re happy to see that he’s back to continue on with the work he was doing."

As an observer, there were mostly cheers for Valverde from the Comerica crowd, but there were some boos, too. 

Are you buying what Phil is selling about universal acceptance?

Here's the rest of the interview:

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

VIDEO: Jose Valverde speaks about return to Tigers

Jose Valverde is back with the Detroit Tigers as their closer. Wednesday, he spoke with media members before the Tigers' game with the Kansas City Royals.

If you'd missed the initial story, you can click here to read more.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Discretion is better part of valor for Dotel, who heads to DL with elbow inflammation

DETROIT — Discretion is the better part of valor, even if you’re a competitor who never wants to say the words: “I can’t.”

Tigers reliever Octavio Dotel agreed to head to the 15-day disabled list, hoping that a little time away from throwing a baseball will allow the lingering inflammation in his pitching elbow to clear up for good.

“We just were talking about it after the game Sunday, and we just agree, each one, for my best, for the team best, to help everyone. I think that was a great idea. They ask me what I think, and I just decided, I’m probably not at my best feeling, throwing-wise, because I don’t have my good feeling, the way I would love to feel, when I come in the game to throw,” he said.

“I was trying to get through, but it’s early. I don’t think we have to push that hard, when we have guys that can do the job, also, in the minor leagues. We just decided to make sure (I’m) healthy 100 percent, and just go from there, and that’s what we’re doing.”

Dotel has had an X-ray on the elbow, but has not yet had an MRI. He doesn’t even think it’s necessary, as long as the doctor can give him something to get rid of the inflammation.

The DL move — which allowed the Tigers to bring up rookie reliever Bruce Rondon — was made retroactive to Saturday, a day after Dotel last appeared in a game for the Tigers. After shutting it down for a few days, the plan is for him to play catch sometime next week, then go out and pitch somewhere in the minors on a rehabilitation assignment.

“We just decided, let’s shut him down a few days, then have him throw, then send him out and see if we can get rid of this, once and for all,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “It wasn’t coming out real good, as you know, and there’s a reason for that, so we said let’s go ahead and try to get it right.”

That’s obvious just by a perusal of the stats that Dotel has put up in 4 2/3 innings stretched over six appearances early this season, the seven earned runs allowed leaving him with a 13.50 ERA.

Dotel certainly didn’t have to say that he was ailing for the Tigers to pick up on that fact.

“Well, they kind of know. They saw me last year, the way I pitched, and they’ve been watching me this year, and they kind of know, it’s not the same Dotel, and they just come to me and talk to me. Even (though) I can compete with what I have now, but I gotta be smart. It’s early. We (are) in April. I don’t think I need to force myself, in this situation, to keep going the way I am, when there’s five months left,” Dotel said.

“You can’t be dumb. You gotta be smart, and think about the whole situation, and your situation, and the team situation. I think for the team, for the best, is me having the DL, and bring somebody healthy.”

It wasn’t even so much a physical problem as much as it was a mental one. The pain wasn’t a sharp one, but more of a persistent dull pain.

“You have inflammation, you can pitch, but it’s in your head. When you’re coming in the game, even though you don’t want to think about it, you have that in your head. The uncomfortable feeling is there. It never goes away. It’s always going to be there. Even it doesn’t matter the situation you are in the game, sometimes. You think it’s going to go out of your head, the inflammation, but it’s always there. Doesn’t matter the feeling, or the situation (in) the game,” he said, admitting it’s a sense of relief not to have to worry about his status on a daily basis.

“Yes. You don’t wanna have that in your head. You want to feel like ‘I’m ready to go.’ You don’t wanna have anything in your head, ‘How’s it going to be today? How’s it going to be tomorrow?’ And that’s one of the things I was dealing with. Hopefully, in the next 10 days coming up, I feel good, and I don’t have to think about it. I just gotta think about throwing strikes, and getting people out.”

Rain out will be made up later
Tuesday’s game between the Royals and Tigers was rained out, and will be made up at a yet-to-be-determined later date. The Royals return to Detroit for a pair of three-game series, Aug. 16-18 and Sept. 13-15. ... The Tigers pushed their starters back for the remaining two games of the series, while the Royals skipped Wednesday’s probable starter, Luis Mendoza. Max Scherzer (1-0, 2.84 ERA) will face Wade Davis (2-0, 2.25) in Wednesday evening’s game, while Justin Verlander (2-2, 2.13) will face James Shields (1-2, 3.00) in Thursday’s matinee. ... The Tigers’ pitching staff is second in the American League in strikeouts with 179, leaving them 11 shy of tying last year’s club record for strikeouts in the month of April.

REPORT: Jose Valverde appears to be headed north, while the Mud Hens have flown south

With Jose Valverde pitching well in three appearances with Class A Lakeland, it was safe to assume he’d be headed north sometime soon.

But your assumption might be wrong if you think he’s joining the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens.

Craig Custance, the senior NHL writer for ESPN The Magazine, a Michigan native and Michigan State graduate, tweeted Tuesday afternoon that Valverde was on his flight to Detroit.

It’s unlikely he’d be flying through Metro Detroit if he were joining the Mud Hens, who were headed south to take on the Durham Bulls in North Carolina.

Valverde still appears on the Lakeland Flying Tigers roster, and the Tigers did not make any moves — other than bringing up Bruce Rondon earlier in the afternoon — to make public.

“We have no further moves to announce at this time,” said the Tigers manager of media relations, Rick Thompson. “If that status changes, we’ll share it at that time.”

By the terms of the minor league deal he signed with the organization on April 5, the Tigers have until May 8 to bring him to the big leagues before an opt-out clause in the contract kicks in.

UPDATE: Custance spoke with Valverde when the flight landed in Detroit.

Fister's ERA drops, VMart's average rises on off day

Thanks to a couple of overturned scoring decisions, a pair of Tigers saw their stats get better on Monday without playing a game.

Victor Martinez's batting average jumped from .167 to .182 when the official Major League Baseball decision changed one of his at-bats in Seattle from an error to a hit. It came in the fifth inning of Wednesday's game, a hot shot that Mariners shortstop Brendan Ryan could not handle.

Doug Fister saw his ERA drop from 2.67 to 2.00 when the scorer overturned Albert Pujols' third-inning at-bat on Sunday from a double — on a liner that went right off the glove of Miguel Cabrera at third base — to an E5, making all three runs in the inning unearned. Fister would later hit Josh Hamilton — the pitcher's MLB-leading sixth hit batter — then yield another run on a groundout by Mark Trumbo.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Valverde puts together three scoreless appearances for Lakeland

Through three appearances for the Class A Lakeland Flying Tigers over the weekend, Jose Valverde has faced one batter over the minimum of nine, including striking out the side against Clearwater on Monday.

After back-to-back hitless outings Friday and Saturday against Dunedin, Valverde yielded just a single in the seventh inning of Monday's game, earning a hold.

Valverde walked one in each of his first two appearances with the Flying Tigers, but erased both with ground ball double plays, needing just 20 total pitches. According to published reports, his fastball reached the mid-90 mph range this weekend.

The 35-year-old veteran reliever signed a minor league deal with the Detroit Tigers earlier this month, and had been working out in extended spring training before joining the organization's High-A affiliate.

While the Tigers have until May 8 (when an opt-out clause kicks in, if Valverde has not been brought up to the majors) to decide what to do with Valverde, they may still want to get him some time at Triple-A Toledo before they make the call. Up until now, they hadn't assigned him there because of the weather.

"At this point, we're not just going to leave him in Lakeland and make a decision," Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski told reporters, including MLive's Chris Iott, last week. "Our plans are to move him up, but the weather's been so bad. We don't want him to go join the Toledo club and all of a sudden be sitting there for three or four days and he's not pitching because of the weather. Our decision at this point is weather-driven strictly."

Now would be a perfect time to make the promotion, as the Mud Hens are leaving the frigid north, and heading to Durham, N.C., for four games, followed by four games in Norfolk, Va. The temperatures are supposed to hit the 80s in North Carolina midweek, and be in the 60s in Virginia for the weekend.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Inge plays peacemaker after Fifth Third Field fracas

(Photo courtesy Tigers and Mud Hens fan Toshi Endo)

TOLEDO — To Brandon Inge, the tale of a regrettable incident near the visiting dugout in a minor league game at Fifth Third Field in Toledo Tuesday was less about what actually happened than about how it appeared to the other fans around.

"It was just an agitated fan that took it a little too far. That’s all," the former longtime Tigers player said before Wednesday's game against the Toledo Mud Hens, the Tigers' Triple-A affiliate. "It happens."

The fan was reportedly throwing peanuts at Inge, and got himself into a verbal altercation with Inge's current teammates on the Indianapolis Indians. One of those teammates, Jerry Sands, was suspended one game by the International League for trying to enter the stands. The fan was eventually escorted out of the park.

[The Toledo Blade's Hens beat writer John Wagner has first-day and second-day coverage of the incident.]

"That stuff is unfortunate. You can’t avoid it. There’s always going to be a couple idiots at every game. There’s nothing you can do about it. You can handle it the best you can, and I think we did," said Inge, a veteran of 12 big-league seasons, including 1,408 games with the Tigers.

"To be honest, there’s so many times a player won’t acknowledge some of the stuff that is going on where a normal person is going to want to fight. Put it this way, I’d say 80 percent — when you go on the road — of people that are sitting close to where you’re going to be during the game are not there to applaud you."

A father of two himself, Inge was more worried about how the situation impacted the kids in the stands around the incident. Noticing a couple of scared looks, he made sure to try to smooth it over as best he could.

In short, his paternal instinct kicked in.

"To be dead honest with you, yeah. I have two kids of my own and I know the face. I know the face of a kid that’s scared. And that man was definitely scaring those kids around that area. It was no big no deal. Everything was handled very professionally. The Mud Hens handled it professionally and I think we handled it as professionally as we could," Inge said.

"But when you see a big group of rather large baseball players standing over the side of the dugout, sticking up for one another, kids that are sitting near that area are probably going to be a little freaked out. A little scared. I noticed that immediately. There were probably five or six kids that were 10 years old or younger sitting in that area. I talked to Z (Mike Zagurski), one of our pitchers there, and I asked him to hand me the ball bag. I called all the kids over and said, ‘Don’t worry about anything. Everything is fine. There won’t be any harm on anyone. Sorry for disrupting you and enjoy the game.’ I made sure they were alright.
"It seemed like they kind of calmed down. My biggest fear is that a kid would leave this experience and think differently of ballplayers. We’re just big kids, so I didn’t want them to feel like that. I gave them some balls and I think things were fine after that.

"You just don’t want to see a kid ... I actually saw a couple kids sitting by themselves, I’m sure their parents were nearby, and I saw them actually get up and move a couple seats back. They were just like, 'Wow, we need to move.' I didn’t want them to feel like that. So I pulled them over and gave them some balls. It turned to be I think really good."

Monday, April 15, 2013

Valverde with no hits ... and a hit

Jose Valverde threw two scoreless innings (no hits, no walks, four strikeouts) against Canadian National team in extended spring training scrimmage Monday at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Kissimmee, Fla.

That's after throwing one scoreless inning against the Braves in an extended spring game in Lakeland, Fla., on Friday.

Valverde did provide a big hit with his current minor league teammates over the weekend, though, buying them pizzas — from Domino's Pizza, no less — on Sunday.

Ryan Longstreth, a Michigan native and 40th-round draft pick of the Tigers last summer, tweeted his thanks out early Monday morning:

Friday, April 12, 2013

Valverde pitches scoreless inning in extended spring game

The process is in progress.

Once the Tigers signed their former closer, Jose Valverde, to a minor-league deal last week, there were certain things he was going to have to show them, like whether or not he's rediscovered some of his lost velocity, and whether or not his split-finger is still a viable part of his repertoire.

"I would say that’s a fair assessment," said manager Jim Leyland, when asked if Valverde had become a one-pitch pitcher last year. "That’s why he’s going down there to see if that’s there, if that’s part of his repertoire. That’s why it’s a process, and obviously no immediate plans."

Step one of the process was going to extended spring training in Lakeland, Fla., and getting up to game speed there.

Valverde threw a bullpen session on Wednesday, then threw one scoreless inning in Friday's extended spring game vs. the Braves, the Tigers said, striking out one and walking one. He's scheduled to throw in a Monday scrimmage, as well.

From there, if all goes well, he may head north to Triple-A Toledo. The minor-league deal he signed with the Tigers on April 4 has an out clause if he's not brought up to the big leagues by May 5.

The 35-year-old Valverde was 3-4 with a 3.78 ERA and 35 saves last regular season. But he had a dramatic postseason implosion, giving up nine earned runs in just 2 2/3 innings of work, blowing leads in Game 4 of the American League Division Series and Game 1 of the AL Championship Series, and was not initially pursued by the Tigers when he became a free agent after the season.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Schedule-maker does Tigers a favor with early West Coast swing

DETROIT — Wanna get away from all the dreary, wet coldness?

If so, you’re not the only one.

The Detroit Tigers’ upcoming 10-day, nine-game trip to the West Coast comes at the most fortuitous time, simply because they’ll be able to get away from all the uncertainty of Michigan spring weather.

And it certainly doesn’t hurt to get the obligatory West Coast trip out of the way now, rather than later in the season, when they’ll already be all traveled out.

“Well, yeah. You gotta play good anywhere, but it’s nice that after this trip, we’re condensing our travel pretty good. We’ll have Florida and (Texas), but we’re out of the way with the West Coast. That’s pretty good,” Tigers manager Leyland said.

“We’re not going out there two, three times. We’re going out there early where hopefully we can dodge some inclement weather here. So, it’s not all bad. Pretty good, really.

“These 10 days out there, we’re done out there. We’ve got Texas, Florida, but that’s not bad. You get into Minnesota, Boston, New York, Chicago, it’s not too bad.”

That’s exactly true. After this one, to Oakland, Seattle and Anaheim, the Tigers’ remaining trips are all so much more manageable.

Only a trio of three-city road trips remain: Tampa Bay/Toronto/Cleveland in late June, early July; Cleveland/New York/Chicago in August; and Boston/Kansas City/Chicago in September.

It should help, too, that the weather can’t be as bad — or at least as uncertain — as it’s been in Detroit for this week’s games against the Blue Jays.

The start of Wednesday’s game was delayed 2:29 by the rain which fell throughout the game.

There’s no guarantee Thursday’s start won’t be similarly impacted.

“We see what happens today. They’re talking we might get it in, heavy rains later. Misty stuff all day long. Rain all day,” Leyland said. “I don’t know how this is going to play out.”

But there’s less of a chance of having that problem out west.

“Well, I’m not really sure what we’re going to get into out there. I’m not sure. I heard tonight it’s going to be pretty cold in Oakland. It’s going to be cold in Seattle, I would think. Anaheim, it should be all right,” Leyland said.

“But, we won’t have this kind of weather. We might get some rain in Seattle, but they’ve got the dome, so it won’t make any difference.

“The one thing about it is, we should not be sitting around worrying whether we’re going to get the game in or not. We should be able to get in a flow, where we’re playing for 10 straight days, with the exception of that off day Monday.

“So that doesn’t bother me at all. That’ll get guys going. I think the biggest thing is, it gets your rotation going. That’s a big thing, to get them going.”

Barring weather-related hiccups, the rotation will turn over four more full times before that becomes an issue again, when the Tigers have an odd couple of off days in one week in early May: Monday, May 6 and Thursday, May 9.

If the Tigers get rained out Thursday, it might become an immediate problem, since they do have Monday off before the three-game set in Seattle.

“We’ve got 20 different scenarios on our pitching staff, as far as starting guys, and not having them sit eight days — somebody’s going to have to sit at some point,” Leyland said. “One day’s not bad, but if you get a Monday off and a Thursday off, that’s a little bit different.

“It’ll all work out. There’s nothing you can do about. There’s no sense worrying about it. You can worry about it until the cows come home. If you’ve got Monday and Thursday off, you’re off. You don’t have a game.”

One scenario for that time frame is to have a starter head to the bullpen for a few days, and have a turn skipped, in order to keep everyone else’s turns in line.

“I would think that’s a strong possibility, depending on the situation today, the situation with the two off days, there’s a possibility someone might work out of the bullpen for a little bit before they get back into their start,” Leyland said. “I’m not going to get into the details right now, but that’s a strong possibility.”

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Brayan Villarreal can't find the strike zone, as bullpen implodes

DETROIT — There’s no question there’s potential in Brayan Villarreal’s right arm.

Question is: Potential for what?

Could be nirvana. Could be disaster.

Wednesday’s implosion — where the young reliever walked the only three batters he faced, and had the 8-6 loss to the Blue Jays hung on his record — was case in point why Villarreal might be a sought-after commodity, but he still might not be ready for the prime time.

Team president Dave Dombrowski said in the offseason that he’s had more inquiries from rival general managers about Villarreal than any other player.

“One organization told me at the end of the year that the best stuff they saw out of any relief pitcher all year long was Brayan Villarreal,” Dombrowski said at the end of last season.

Oh, he has the stuff all right.

He also currently has an ERA of 54.00, and a WHIP (walks-hits-to-innings-pitched ratio) of 7.50.


Wednesday was hard to watch, not because he couldn’t throw ANYTHING across the plate — he got ahead of each batter he faced, and was up one ball, two strikes on both Edwin Encarnacion and Mark DeRosa — but because he couldn’t throw it at the most critical juncture. Having entered the game with a runner on, the walk to DeRosa forced in a run. When Octavio Dotel took over, and gave up a bases-clearing double to J.P. Arencibia two pitches after entering the game, all of a sudden, the Jays were in the lead.

What happened?

“I can’t really answer that question. It just looked to me like he threw a couple of great pitches to start hitters, and then just was spiking the ball in the dirt, and just totally missing. And I don’t know how to explain that. I don’t know if he got a little hyped up, and just tried to throw it a little harder, or a little better pitch — I can’t answer that question. I just don’t know. But obviously his rhythm and his stuff was not good, or you don’t throw that many balls,” said manager Jim Leyland, who dismissed the idea that Villarreal got too fastball happy. “I didn’t think so at all. I think rears back and flings it and flings it pretty good, sometimes it’s in the strike zone, sometimes it’s not.”

Even the 25-year-old Venezuelan fireballer didn’t think that was a problem.

But he didn’t know what exactly the problem was.

“Yeah, I mean, I’ve got a lot of confidence in my fastball. You could see they couldn’t hit it. Even when they knew that pitch was coming, they couldn’t hit it. That’s my best pitch, and I’ve got a lot of confidence in it — but I’ve just got to throw it for strikes,” he said after. “I was out of control today. I was trying to throw strikes, and I couldn’t. I don’t know what’s going on. It’s something I have to work on with my mechanics, or something.”

While he had not yet spoken with pitching coach Jeff Jones immediately after the game, rest assured there will be some serious video work soon.

“Yeah, I felt like I am pulling my shoulder — couple things I have to work on,” he said, admitting he can’t tell when he’s doing it what exactly he’s doing. “Not really. When I’m on the mound, I don’t feel that much. But like right after, after I pitch, I start thinking about what I was doing wrong, why I was missing the ball this way or this way.”

It was the perfect spot for the Tigers to see what they had ... but it’s not the result they were looking for, obviously.

“You got four right-handed hitters in a row so you felt like it was set up pretty good,” Leyland said.

“I think the first common denominator with that whole case scenario is if people are here, they have to pitch. You don’t just bring guys up here to sit them, he’s on the big league team but we’re not going to pitch him. I thought you got a guy that throws 95-96-97 miles an hour with a good slider and you got four right-handed hitters coming up, and I don’t want to sound like I’m defending my decision, because I’m not, I would make the same decision again. He’s gotta pitch and we’ve gotta see if he can do it. It’s that simple. I thought if there was ever a scenario… I mean, they’re good hitters but that’s what the big league has is good hitters. So that to me was a scenario for him and today he couldn’t throw the ball over the plate.”

Short hops
Miguel Cabrera received his Players Choice Awards — for 2012 Player of the Year and American League Outstanding Player — from 2011 Player of the Year Justin Verlander in a pregame ceremony. ... Former closer Jose Valverde threw a bullpen session in extended spring training in Lakeland, Fla., on Wednesday, and is scheduled to throw one inning in Friday’s extended spring training game, followed by 1-2 innings in a Monday scrimmage. ... Former Tiger Casper Wells was claimed off waivers from Seattle on Wednesday, 10 days after he’d been designated for assignment.