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.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Tigers taking old-fashioned bus trip to Cleveland

As far as Tigers skipper Jim Leyland is concerned, this next road trip is more like it.

Rather than taking the short, 20-minute flight to Cleveland for three games this weekend — a process that stretches into hours, once you factor in airport security — the Tigers will be piling onto a pair of buses for the 2 1/2-hour drive to northeast Ohio.

The Tigers play Friday-Sunday at Progressive Field.

“I’m really looking forward to it. I really am. I think it makes a lot of sense, I think it’s a great idea. By the time you get packed up here, get out to the airport, get in, get bussed over to the hotel,” Leyland said.
“Last year, one time I drove home from Cleveland, and I was at the ballpark, and I was here before the bus was here.
“Don’t tell the Ohio State Patrol that.”

It will be a chance for the Tigers players and coaches to relive their minor league days — even if it’s not quite as lengthy as some of the old 12-hour bus trips Leyland had to endure as the manager of the Tigers’ old Triple-A affiliate, the Evansville (ind.) Triplets (now the Nashville Sounds).

“I think it brings you back to your roots a little bit, the minor leagues, get on the bus with the guys, bull (a bit). ... It’s kind of fun. Read reports, or (shoot the bull), or play cards or something. It’s kind of neat. Like the old days,” said Leyland, admitting that it won’t quite be like a trip on a Greyhound bus.
“This will not be your normal bus ride. ... We won’t be stopping at the McDonald’s on the (Ohio) Turnpike.”

Schlereth's doozy of a sliding play takes sting out of 4-error game

When you’ve just finished your second four-error game of the year, it’s usually hard to pick out a defensive bright spot.

That wasn’t the case in the Tigers’ 10-1 loss to the Mariners Wednesday night, though.

A day after Ryan Raburn’s outfield gaffe made all the blooper reels, relief pitcher Daniel Schlereth’s sliding, back-hand toss to nab Milton Bradley in the seventh inning was the highlight of the night for all the right reasons.

Bradley’s line shot hit off Schlereth’s glove, ricocheting toward no-man’s land in front of first. The second-year reliever dove after the ball, sliding on the slick grass before making a back-hand toss to Miguel Cabrera at first to nab Bradley by a step.

(Click here to see the play.)

“If I would’ve kept running, I’d probably have tripped over my own feet, and done a barrel roll. Probably took out Miggy or something. Luckily, the grass was wet enough where I could slide about eight feet without killing somebody,” joked Schlereth, admitting that his father — former Broncos offensive lineman and current ESPN football commentator Mark Schlereth — would be proud of his pitch-out.
“I didn’t get scared or anything, because it was kind of like the option toss (in football), just grabbed it while I was sliding, flicked it over there.
“Not too much time to think about it. Just do what your instincts tell you, ya know?”

The younger Schlereth got a slew of text messages from friends after the play made the highlights, landing in the No. 5 slot on the Top Plays segment of ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” and the No. 1 slot on the Web Gems segment of ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight.”

“I have to get a copy of that video somehow. Maybe ESPN can get my dad a copy of it, or something. We’ll have to work something out. I don’t think I’ll be on Web Gems too many times,” Daniel Schlereth said.
“That’ll probably be my first, and only, Web Gem that I ever get, so ...”

Sunday, April 24, 2011

League-wide offensive struggles don't faze Leyland

If you thought the Tigers’ team batting average — which has crept up to .255 with a pair of nine-run outbursts in the first two games of the series vs. Chicago — was a localized problem, rest assured, it’s not.

The White Sox (8-13) haven’t hit a lick so far, either, contributing to their slide of 1-9 slide. Chicago came into Sunday’s game having hit .197 in their last 11 games, with just 32 runs scored.

The topic came up when Tigers manager Jim Leyland was talking with White Sox hitting coach Greg Walker, who’d played for Chicago when Leyland was a coach there.

“He said they really haven’t hit yet, and they’re fourth in league in runs scored. But he was making the point that, ‘Well, we saw (Oakland’s Brett) Anderson, (Trevor) Cahill, (Anaheim’s Jered) Weaver, (Justin) Verlander ... I mean, that’s got something to do with some of that stuff. I mean, pitching’s pretty good. That’s got something to do with what happens,” Leyland said, pointing to the Tigers’ recent outburst almost being an anomaly.
“What gets lost in the shuffle sometimes is that we beat two good pitchers. We’re going to face another real good one today (John Danks), and then we’re going to face (Seattle’s Felix) Hernandez, and then we’re going to face that new phenom they got (Michael Pineda). It doesn’t let up. That’s just the way it is. Go to Cleveland, we’ll probably see (Justin) Masterson, who’s really tuned it up, going to come home and play the Yankees ... and so, it’s just a never-ending thing."

It’s not just these two teams, either.

If the American League’s current league batting average of .248 held up, it would be the lowest since 1972. MLB’s also on pace to have its lowest-scoring April since 1992.

“I think there’s a lot of factors. The pitchers are good, the weather’s been horse(bleep). ... I don’t think the offense will be what it was, during the slow-pitch time in the American League,” Leyland said.

The trend isn’t a huge concern to the manager, though.

“I don’t care about anybody else in baseball, I only care about my own team. But it’s encouraging to me, because we have track records. That’s what I’ve said all along, and I’m not going to deviate from that. That’s what we have, that’s what we’re banking on, like everybody else is,” he said.
“So I’m banking on track records. Victor Martinez is going to hit, if the book doesn’t lie — and the book doesn’t lie. Magglio Ordonez is going to hit. I think everybody probably has a feeling right now that they’re looking forward to when it happens, because all teams have guys with track records. I mean, the White Sox are going to hit, the Twins are going to hit. I mean, when you say hit, is it going to be back to four or five years ago? Probably not. But they’ll hit. I mean, it’s in the book, and I’m a big believer in the book.”

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Martinez headed to 15-day DL; Tigers bring up Santos to back up at C

For the second time in as many weeks, Tigers manager Jim Leyland was forced to take one of his big bats out of the lineup in the middle of a game, when the pain became visible to anyone watching.

While he was able to let Magglio Ordonez work his way through the ankle pain that kept him out of the lineup for five games, he won't have that luxury with the groin injury that has sidelined Victor Martinez.'s Jason Beck confirmed Tuesday night that the Tigers placed Martinez on the 15-day disabled list after his strained groin was examined in the afternoon.

Even before the extent of his injury was clear, the club was forced to purchase the Minor League contract of Omir Santos from Triple-A Toledo on Tuesday to back up Alex Avila until Martinez can resume that role. Utility man Don Kelly had been listed as the emergency catcher, but was never intended to be used in anything other than an absolute emergency.

Santos, who missed most of spring training with a toe injury, signed a Minor League contract with the Tigers in December as insurance at the catching position. The soon-to-be 30-year-old bounced around the Mets’ minor league organization last year after playing in 96 games in a platoon at catcher for the parent club in 2009, hitting a respectable .260 with 14 doubles and seven homers.

More important than Martinez's glove, however, will be replacing his bat in the order. While he was hitting just a modest .250 with nine RBI, the Tigers had signed him to a four-year, $50 million contract based on his track record — a career batting average of .299 and 103 RBI per season — making him the perfect protection in the order for cleanup hitter Miguel Cabrera.

With Martinez on the shelf, that role will likely fall again to Brennan Boesch, who inherited that unenviable job last season.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Not good news on Zumaya; Tigers move him to 60-day DL

If you were waiting for Joel Zumaya to don his Superman cape and swoop to the rescue of the Tigers’ struggling bullpen, don’t hold your breath.

Then again, if you were actually expecting that to happen, it begs the question where you’ve been for the last four years.

The Tigers moved the star-crossed reliever from the 15-day disabled list to the 60-day DL on Monday, meaning that he’ll not be eligible to return to the team until at least the end of May.

Tigers trainer Kevin Rand said last week that Zumaya was expected to be reexamined early this week by noted orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews in Florida after experiencing “radiating pain” in his throwing arm during his first throwing session a few days earlier.

Monday’s news means that examination — which was to include more X-Rays and MRIs, along with an added test, an EMG, to check nerve conductivity — did not go well, other than to rule out nerve-related issues.

“Nothing really jumped out at us any more than what we had already determined,” Rand told reporters in Seattle Monday. “The (elbow) bone has healed up. It’s kind of a puzzle. Nobody can point and say, ‘That’s why he has pain. That’s the cause.’ ”

The options from here — which will be discussed with Andrews and the team’s medical staff — are to continue the rehab program, which could last six more weeks and still yield no progress, or undergo a diagnostic arthroscopic procedure, which might pinpoint the issue.

It’s the latest setback in Zumaya’s halting recovery from the elbow surgery that ended his 2010 season. The right-handed fireballer was placed on the 15-day DL on March 22nd, after just one spring training appearance, with inflammation in his elbow.

He had surgery on the elbow in mid-July, inserting a pin in his right elbow to repair a fracture of the olecranon.

That, however, is just the latest injury in a litany of mishaps that have befallen him since his sensational rookie campaign in 2006. After 62 appearances in the Tigers’ run to the World Series that season, Zumaya has not made more than 31 appearances in a season since, having suffered through a ruptured tendon on the middle finger of his throwing hand, a dislocation of the AC joint in his throwing shoulder, followed by a stress fracture in the same shoulder.

Having seen him fight through injuries before, the Tigers brought Zumaya back on a one-year, $1.4 million contract in the offseason, avoiding arbitration.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Ordonez will sit indefinitely with sore ankle

When Jim Leyland took veteran outfield Magglio Ordonez out of Monday’s game, it was because he was in pain.

And it was his surgically-repaired ankle again.

Initial fears about the potential extent of the injury — including to the Achilles’ tendon — were eliminated by an MRI Monday evening that showed no structural damage.

Tigers trainer Kevin Rand said the discomfort was just from fluid from the bursa sac behind the Achilles’ tendon in Ordonez’s right ankle, a situation that will have to be monitored the more he plays this season.

“Something that we just have to treat symptomatically, and it’s a day-to-day thing,” Rand said Tuesday morning. “I’m sure when he was complaining of some of the tightness the other day, when we took him out, that’s probably what he had. The next day, he’s great, he feels great, and he was out and he was fine. It’s basically a day-to-day thing that we’ve got to work through. There will be some good days, and some not-so-good days.”

Until Ordonez can prove to Leyland that it’s a good day, however, he’ll probably be sitting on the bench beside the manager.

“Just going to wait and see until he thinks he’s OK to play, and really play probably throughout the game. That’s all you can do. There’s no sense in keep aggravating stuff. I’m sure he’ll get it quieted down. But I’m going to try to make sure it’s right,” said Leyland, noting that he had no way of being more specific about how long Ordonez is likely to be out.
“Once again, I hate to tell you guys something, then have him come in tomorrow, and everything’s perfect, and he feels like 100 percent. I don’t know the answer, that’s what I’m trying to tell you. So I’m just going to sit on it until we’re convinced, and he’s convinced. I mean, nobody can really tell you but an injured player. That’s just the way it is. I’m not a mind-reader, and I’m not a doctor. ... But if it hurts ... That’s why when I saw him come down the (dugout) steps, I took him out. It was hurting.”

With Ordonez out, birthday boy Brennan Boesch will be the designated hitter in Tuesday’s game, facing Rangers left-hander C.J. Wilson. Alex Avila, however, will sit, with Victor Martinez catching Tigers starter Brad Penny.

“Boesch has hit OK against lefties, but if Magglio was right, he probably wouldn’t be in there today,” Leyland said.
“I think Alex is swinging good. You can look at that two ways: Some people will say, ‘he’s swinging real good — play him.’ Other people, like myself, will say, ‘Well, he’s swinging real good, why give him a real tough day where he might get out of a pretty good groove?’ You can look at that however you want to look at it.”

Ramon Santiago starts at second base in place of the struggling Will Rhymes (.182), while Casper Wells gets his second start of the season in right.

“I think we’ve got a pretty good, predominantly right-hand-hitting lineup. If they hit, it’s a good lineup, if they don’t, it’s not,” Leyland said. “That’s just the way it is. That’s as simple as ABC.”

Zumaya headed back to Andrews Institute for re-check

Oft-injured reliever Joel Zumaya will go head back to Andrews Institute in Pensacola, Fla., early next week to get his balky elbow examined again, after experiencing pain after just 24 tosses last Thursday, in his first throwing session since spring.

“As he explained it, he threw 24, and if he’d stopped at 24, he’d have been fine, but after the 25th one, he felt something, and then he had discomfort the next day,” said Tigers trainer Kevin Rand, who participated in a Monday conference call with Zumaya, his agent and famed orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews.

Thursday’s throwing session was the first for Zumaya since midway through spring training, when he complained of inflammation in his surgically-repaired elbow on his throwing arm.
Andrews’ staff will do another MRI and another X-ray, adding an EMG this time to test the nerve-conduction in the joint.

“His complaint has included having pain radiating down his forearm,” Rand said.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Jackson continues to scuffle, but stays in the lineup

DETROIT — It’s no secret that Austin Jackson is scuffling at the plate.
After another two-strikeout performance in Saturday’s 3-1 loss, dropping the second-year leadoff man’s average to a team-low .176, Tigers manager Jim Leyland said after the game he’d probably give the 24-year-old his first day off Sunday, just to get him away from baseball.
“I’ll probably get him out of there tomorrow, just to get him away from it,” Leyland said. “I want to make it perfectly clear, that’s not punishment. Just get him away from it for a day.”
However, when the skipper posted the lineup for Sunday’s matinee against the Royals, however, Jackson’s name was — as usual — inked in atop the list.
While not speaking about Jackson in particular, Leyland did address when is too early — or when it’s not — to make a judgment about whether a cold start is just a blip or a trend.
“I think you can kind of smell guys that are fighting themselves a little bit. But you know, up here, for the most part, guys have to fight through it. You know these periods are coming, whether it’s in your third year, your fifth year or your eighth year or your first year. It always happens,” Leyland said Sunday morning.
“But I think we’ve got pretty strong-minded players, strong-willed guys that will figure it out, fight their way through. Just understand why you’re not swinging real good, and maybe you got that one at-bat, or whatever, maybe that’s your contribution to help you win a ball game.”
While Jackson’s defense has been stellar in center field, as always, he hasn’t made that contribution with his bat lately. His only hit in the first two games of the series was of the infield variety, while he’s added to his AL-worst total of 13 strikeouts.
The fact that Jackson, who led the league in strikeouts a year ago, too, finished the spring on an 0-for-25 slide, then has started the regular season with just six hits in his first 34 at-bats (and an on-base percentage of .243) has to be a concerning trend.
Leyland isn’t worried just yet, given Jackson’s makeup.
“I guess it depends on how he handles it, and to me, that’s one of his strong suits. He’s one of those kids who’s never too high, or too low. But, at the major league level, he’s hasn’t really gone through this just yet, either, so we’ll have to watch it,” the manager said.
“People have a tendency to think that every time you’re not hitting, you’re doing something wrong mechanically, and that’s not always necessarily true. Sometimes, you just aren’t staying on the ball. He’s going through a little bit of a streak where he’s swinging at the ball, and taking strikes. So I think he’s getting caught in between, just a little bit. And that’s usually a tell-tale sign of a little slump. But he’ll come out. He’s just not in a real good groove right now.”

Another setback for Zumaya
Oft-injured reliever Joel Zumaya was supposed to start light throwing on Thursday, but that’s been put on hold again, according to Tigers trainer Kevin Rand. Zumaya, who was shut down in spring training after experiencing inflammation in his surgically repaired pitching elbow, felt some discomfort at the end of his first throwing session, Rand said.
There will be a conference call Monday with the doctors involved in the rehabilitation process, including surgeon Dr. James Andrews.

Magglio out
Leyland waited until the last minute to post his lineup Sunday morning, waiting to see if Magglio Ordonez’s surgically-repaired ankle would allow him to play in the day game, after Saturday’s 4 p.m. start.
It did not.
“Sometimes that thing just stiffens up on him,” Leyland said, noting that Ordonez would “more than likely” be available to pinch hit, if needed.
With Ordonez out, Brennan Boesch started in right field, and moved into the No. 3 spot in the lineup, hitting in front of Cabrera.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Notes from Tigers home opener

The first Detroit Tigers home opener in ages without the living influence of either Ernie Harwell or Sparky Anderson wasn't without a reminder of the franchise's no-longer-living legends.
While the Tigers announced months ago, at TigerFest, that they'd wear a black arm patch on their uniforms this season in honor of the recently-passed Anderson, their former skipper, the team also raised a flag in his honor Friday, one that will fly at home games this season.
It won't be the last time they honor Anderson, however.
The team announced Friday that his No. 11 will be officially retired as well, in a ceremony prior to the game against the Diamondbacks on Sunday, June 26. Arizona, as you'll recall, is managed by former Anderson player — and Waterford native — Kirk Gibson, while former Tiger teammate Alan Trammell is his bench coach.
Current Tiger manager Jim Leyland was a longtime friend of Anderson's and was touched by the pregame ceremony Friday.
"It was great to see Lance (Parrish) and Dan Petry — I managed Dan in the minors, in the instructional league, with Lance — great to see two real good, proud Tigers come back in honor of Sparky, their manager," Leyland said. "You certainly think back, I was thinking back during the moment of silence to some conversations I had with Sparky, when I wasn’t his coach, when I was a Triple-A manager. So I went back in time, a little bit, thinking about him. It’s nice that the flag’s going to be up there all year in honor of him."
Another former Tiger from Anderson's watch was downtown for the Opening Day festivities. Former starting pitcher Frank Tanana, the Detroit Catholic Central grad who now resides in Farmington Hills, said his favorite opening day memory was of Anderson.
"Back in the '80s, I was picked to start on Opening Day. When he was asked why I got the chance to, Sparky gave the wonderful answer of, ‘Somebody has to’" Tanana said, tongue in cheek Yeah, thanks a lot, Spark. Thanks."
Tanana, who spent eight seasons with his hometown Tigers, had more fond memories of his former skipper, though.
"I think one of my favorite memories is one time, in spring training, Sparky gave the ‘I’m God’ speech, where, basically ‘don’t mess with me, I call the shots here.’ Until right after that, we went out and had batting practice, and the very first ball hit was a line drive that practically knocked him out. He got hit right in the head," Tanana recalled. "I let about 30 minutes go by, and then just walked into his office, see how he was, and nicely just kind of mentioned to him that he might want to drop the ‘I’m God’ speech, because he just got a warning, and next time, God might be serious, and so let’s let God be God."

Monday, April 4, 2011

In case you'd missed it over the weekend, the Yankees were caught ... doing something.

If you're looking for a conspiracy theory to explain the Tigers' supposedly superior starting staff sadly surrendering a stunning slew of runs to the Yankees (yes, I just got 1,000 bonus points for my alliteration), here's one possible explanation:

The Yankees were cheating.

How else do you explain 23 runs allowed on 29 hits — including nine homers — and 12 walks? (OK, how do you explain it, if you're not willing to use either the shoebox size of Yankee Stadium or simply poor pitching by the Tigers as plausible reasons?)

Well, maybe they were cheating. Keith Olbermann, the ESPN broadcaster-turned-MSNBC broadcaster-turned-freelance journalist, Tweeted out a picture from Opening Day of Brett Weber, a coaching assistant with the Yankees, signaling the type of pitch just thrown to on-deck batters.

By baseball rules (operations bulletin C-4, to be specific), that's a no-no.

It became the subject of news stories here and here. Brought to the attention to the powers that be at Major League Baseball, it became a brief investigation.

While MLB put a phone call in to the Yankees, telling them to cease and desist, and not to allow Weber to signal on-deck batters (giving a report to the dugout is acceptable), Weber continued to be stationed behind home plate for the rest of the series.

The Yankees contended it was because the scoreboard's radar readout was broken. Joe Garagiola Jr., MLB's senior VP for standards and on-field operations, who spoke with the Yankees, seemed to buy the explanation.

"I think he (Garagiola) recognizes the fact that there's no real advantage here. But at the same time, there is a bulletin out there that says you're not supposed to do that. We explained to him that the first inning, the scoreboard was reading 912 mph, so normally that stuff's out there," Yankees GM Brian Cashman told the New York Times.
"It's a silly situation. It's not really an issue."

But it makes for good X-Files-style conspiracy theories.

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