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.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Tigers rained out yet again, will play twinbill Sunday

DETROIT — For the fourth time in 14 days, the Detroit Tigers have sent fans home unhappy, without even playing.

Because of incessant rain, Saturday night’s game with the Red Sox was postponed until today, when the two teams will play a day/night doubleheader (1:05 and 7:05 p.m.).

"Maybe one of these days, we'll play," Tigers pitcher Phil Coke grumbled, as he exited the locker room.

Hopefully, they'll play two.

But the night game — which matches up aces Justin Verlander and Josh Beckett — will not be televised, since ESPN owns broadcast rights to the time slot.

Tickets from Saturday night’s game will be honored for Sunday’s nightcap.

It's the first time the Tigers have had as many cancelations in that short a span since 1990, according to STATS, LLC. The last team to have as many rainouts on separate dates was the Cleveland Indians in 2007, who had seven total rainouts from April 6-9.

Raburn the next man in at second base

Ryan Raburn earned himself a shot at a full-time job with his hitting down the stretch last year.

Coming out of spring training, he was the starting left fielder, but through his own struggles and the hot start by Brennan Boesch, he was slowly phased into a rotation.

Starting Saturday, he’ll be the new primary second baseman, after neither Will Rhymes nor Scott Sizemore could lock down the job.

“I think you can safely say he’ll be our second baseman,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland told reporters after Friday’s 6-3 loss to the Red Sox. “To me, Raburn’s season starts tomorrow. Forget everything that’s happened to this point.”

That may be hard to do, unless the position change revitalizes Raburn’s bat.

The one-time utility man left April with a .253 batting average, but he’s hit just .100 so far in May, with just one extra-base hit. At one point, he was neck-and-neck with teammate Austin Jackson for the MLB lead in strikeouts.

Still, the pop in his bat is an upgrade over what the Tigers had been putting out there for most of the season.

Between them, Rhymes — who was demoted to Triple-A Toledo at the start of the month — and Sizemore — who was traded Friday for pitching help, in the form of lefty reliever David Purcey — hit just .221 with two doubles and six RBI in 35 starts at second.

Raburn and the other player in the mix, Ramon Santiago, combined to hit .313 with two doubles, two homers and seven RBI in just 13 starts at second.

Friday’s trade wasn’t the only move the Tigers made, optioning struggling reliever Ryan Perry to Toledo to clear room on the active roster for Andy Oliver, who will make a spot start Saturday, in the injured Phil Coke’s turn in the rotation.

In his last nine appearances, Perry allowed 13 earned runs in just seven innings pitched, as his ERA ballooned from a reasonable 3.00 to 14.04.

Leyland said the move was as much as anything to allow Perry — the Tigers’ first-round draft pick in 2008 — to “get away from it up here,” and work on mechanics. Thursday, Leyland said his “heart aches” for Perry because of his profound troubles.

The team will need to make an additional move to clear room on the roster for Purcey, when he arrives Saturday.

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Saturday, May 21, 2011

Tigers put LHP Thomas on DL, call up Furbush

It was only a matter of time.

With as much as the Detroit Tigers’ bullpen has struggled of late, it was no surprise Saturday when the Tigers called rookie Charlie Furbush up from Triple-A Toledo, taking the place of lefty Brad Thomas on the active roster.

The veteran Thomas, who had his elbow “lock up” while warming up Friday, was sent to the 15-day disabled list with elbow inflammation. The move was retroactive to May 11, the day after Thomas’ last appearance.

Now the only question is, will Furbush — who International League in strikeouts (55) as a starter at Toledo — will move into Thomas’ spot in the bullpen to fortify the relief staff, or push reliever-turned-starter Phil Coke out of the rotation and back into last year’s role?
Thanks to the versatility of several Tigers fielders, the team was able to carry 12 pitchers on the roster coming out of spring training, and this move doesn’t change that ratio.
Having the extra arms has not helped so far, however.

The Tigers’ bullpen is dead last in the big leagues with a ghastly 5.91 ERA, with opposing batters hitting a sizzling .283 against it. It’s resulted in nine losses by the bullpen, third-worst in the majors.

And carrying the extra arms has meant that some relievers have gone more than a week without a call, necessitating the dreaded concept of “getting work” in games that have gotten out of hand.

That type of mop-up duty has been the primary role this season for the Aussie journeyman Thomas, who has had 10 of his 12 appearances come with the Tigers trailing. He’s not done well in those situations, however, sporting an ERA of 9.00 and allowing a ridiculous 10 of 12 inherited runners to score.

Furbush might not be the Tigers’ highest-ranking pitching prospect — right-hander Jacob Turner was No. 21 on Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects list, while Furbush’s Toledo rotation-mate Andy Oliver was No. 87 — but he’d pitched like he was this season.

Second in all of Minor League Baseball in strikeouts last year, the 25-year-old Furbush had two complete games and a shutout among his eight starts at Toledo, sporting an ERA of 2.91 — a bit bloated by one bad outing — a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 55/14 and a WHIP of 0.93.

Oliver, who hasn't been far behind Furbush, will likely be the next call-up by the Tigers, as they continue to seek options for a bullpen that's been hemorrhaging runs.

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

I’d like to buy the world a Coke

There’s been a lot of chatter lately that the Tigers should — some blogs have even put a timetable on the proposition, labeling it a “will” instead of a “should” — put Phil Coke back in the bullpen, and bring up one of two minor-league lefties, Andy Oliver or Charlie Furbush, to take his spot in the rotation.

I know that seems like a consensus move, but consider me one that doesn’t think that will cure all the Tigers’ ills.

Coke gave up just three hits on just 78 pitches through seven scoreless innings against the Red Sox Wednesday, matching his longest career outing. In his last start, against the Twins, he went just 5 2/3, but Leyland considered it an improvement from his three previous starts — two rocky outings against the Mariners and one against the Indians — after two stellar outings to begin his career as a starter.

The lefty went toe-to-toe with Kansas City’s Bruce Chen in his first start of the season on April 9, then got his only win of the season by outdueling the Athletics’ Gio Gonzalez on April 14.

To recap, as a starter, Coke’s had three really good outings, three pretty bad outings and two that fall somewhere in the middle. Not bad for a guy in his first year as a starter at the MLB level, right?

What’s to say that either Furbush or Oliver would do the same, or better?

Granted, both are tearing up the International League at Triple-A Toledo.

And granted, both are probably more integral to the Tigers’ long-term plans for the starting rotation than Coke.

But why make a move that — at best — would be a wash on one end to incompletely fix a problem on the other. Coke was stellar out of the bullpen last year as a situational lefty, but that’s not what the Tigers’ biggest need is right now.

They’ve struggled all year long to find a seventh-inning guy (remember, that was supposed to be Joel Zumaya’s job, if he was healthy), and now high-priced free agent Joaquin Benoit has had to be moved out of the set-up role because of some inexplicable ineffectiveness.

And I’m not sure that you plug a lefty like Coke — who has an ERA of 1.83 and a batting average against of .172 against lefties, but is just 5.28/.287 against right-handed hitters — into a situation where lefty-righty matchups are at a premium.

Could it be a short-term patch? Sure.

Maybe you get two or three weeks out of it, and then Benoit magically gets his head right, and everything goes back to normal. The Tigers have 16.5 million reasons to hope that happens.

But do you really want to risk retarding the development of Furbush or Oliver — and possibly even Coke — as a starter to make that happen? Is it better to need Coke as a mop-up guy in the fourth inning, because of a confidence-crushing blowup by a rookie, than to hope that your starters — who’ve all done a pretty good job of it recently, by the way — go deep enough in the game to get it to closer Jose Valverde at the back end of the ‘pen?

If the long-term plan is to have Coke go back to the bullpen — i.e. he was just a stopgap for this year’s rotation — then you don’t worry about that part, and you only have to decide if one of the two youngsters is ready.

But that’s not what the Tigers have said they envisioned, when they asked for Coke to be included in the package from the Yankees in the three-team trade two offseasons ago. They saw an eventual starter, who could be a bullpen guy for now.

And, let’s face it: The bullpen, while maddeningly inconsistent, is not the Tigers’ ONLY problem.

The offense has been, at best, spotty.

The Tigers’ starters wouldn’t have to chew their fingernails when they turn a slim, one-run lead over to the set-up guys, if they’d gotten a bit more run support.

If the Tigers look to swing a trade in the next month or so, it could be for another bullpen arm — one better suited to the setup role than Coke — but it’s more likely to be a bat that ensures that you don’t have to use a bullpen arm to safeguard a 3-1 lead, simply by helping make it a 5-1 lead.

As they’re currently set up — and with current performance — the Tigers are admittedly incomplete. But making one paper switch to put Coke in the bullpen does not put the last puzzle piece in place.

It merely moves a puzzle piece from one hole to another.

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Breaking the rain-induced boredom

What do baseball players do in rain delays?

Some college players find creative ways, like this “jousting” contest between members of the High Point and Radford teams.

Professional players like the Tigers are not immune to that type of buffoonery, either. During the rain delay at the start of Tuesday’s game vs. the Blue Jays (and eventual rainout), the Tigers were bored enough to play a little locker room hockey. Starter Brad Penny posted a video on his Twitter account of someone dressed in full goalie gear taking a shot off the facemask.

While all names were omitted to protect the innocent parties (as well as the less-than-innocent), you can bet that big-time Red Wings and U-M hockey fan Brandon Inge, who keeps several hockey sticks in his Comerica Park locker, was at least an instigator, if not an active participant, in the harmless fun.

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Tigers fans get premium Verlander vs. Beckett matchup

Think you can’t get better than last night’s 1-0 duel between the Tigers’ Phil Coke and the BoSox’s Clay Buchholz?

Wait ‘til you get a load of tonight’s matchup: Justin Verlander (4-3, 2.91 ERA) vs. Josh Beckett (3-1, 1.75).

Could you pick out a better head-to-head battle of American League aces?

“Probably not,” manager Jim Leyland acknowledged before his Tigers (22-20) left for the two-game series in Beantown.

“That’s a nice matchup for everybody, but obviously, we’re trying to win the game. So you don’t get caught up in that so much as a manager.

“Beckett’s been tremendous. I’ve seen him on TV twice now. He’s been tremendous. I’ve never seen him better, really. So it should be a good matchup. Sometimes those things get all hyped up, and they fizzle out.”

The only thing that’s fizzed out lately has been the Tigers offense. Since putting up 43 runs in a five-game span vs. the Blue Jays and Twins — all road wins — the Tigers’ bats have been punchless, averaging a mere two runs in the last four games. They’ve scored just twice in their last 25 innings.

That’s unlikely to change against Beckett, who leads all AL starters in ERA, and has yet to give up a run in May. His scoreless streak of 18 1/3 is just one out shy of his career long, and he’s 2-0 at Fenway Park, with an 0.34 ERA.

“Right now,” Boston manager Terry Francona told, “he’s going through that period where we're seeing the Beckett that we really like, the guy that commands three pitches, competes, working quick. He’s been reliable, that’s a nice word to use.”

So has Verlander.

Dating back to his first start in May, the Tigers ace has allowed just 10 hits and four runs in three starts (for an ERA of 1.57 over that span), giving up just three hits in his last 68 batters faced, and none for a 51-batter stretch that spanned his May 8 no-hitter.

“With Verlander, sometimes you’ve got to pick a pitch, because I don’t know that you can hit both speeds,” Francona told the Boston Globe’s Michael Vega. “You’re talking about a guy who can hit 100 and he’s got off-speed pitches that are good. You’ve got to see what he’s doing, first of all, but it sounds to me like he feels pretty good about himself. Make him work hard and maybe get him out of the game early, get him to make a mistake and don’t miss it.”

After pushing back the rotation one day for Sunday’s rainout, the Tigers opted after Tuesday’s game was washed out to keep the rotation on schedule, and skip Rick Porcello. Part of the decision was assuredly that Wednesday’s starter, Phil Coke, has already flown out to Boston, to get as much rest as possible on what could’ve been a very, very late night. But don’t discount the fact that the Verlander-Beckett showdown could’ve been washed away had the Tigers again moved everyone back a day.

The game will be broadcast on FOXSports Detroit at 7:05 p.m., as well as on the radio at WXYT-FM (97.1) and -AM (1270).

If you don’t feel like watching it alone, though, and you’re in Oakland County, you might want to head to Lake Orion, where the Tigers are hosting their first-ever Tweetup and road game viewing party at the Buffalo Wild Wings (770 North Lapeer Road). There will be prizes, including these items, courtesy of the Tigers marketing department (@WhosYourTiger on Twitter).

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tigers get washed out again

Tuesday’s series finale with the Toronto Blue Jays was postponed by rain, rescheduled for Monday, June 27, at 7:05 p.m. It was originally scheduled as an off day for both teams.

Since this was scheduled to be Toronto’s only trip into town this year, the two organizations waited as long as possible before deciding on the rainout just after 9 p.m.

It was one of four rainouts in the majors on Tuesday.

The Tigers will keep their starters the same for the Boston series, meaning the Justin Verlander (4-3, 2.91 ERA) vs. Josh Beckett (3-1, 1.75) matchup is still on for Thursday, showcasing two of the American League’s best.

“That’s a nice matchup for everybody, but obviously, we’re trying to win the game. So you don’t get caught up in that so much as a manager,” Leyland said.
“Beckett’s been tremendous. I’ve seen him on TV twice now. He’s been tremendous. I’ve never seen him better, really. So it should be a good matchup. Sometimes those things get all hyped up, and they fizzle out.”

Phil Coke (1-5, 4.54), who flew out early Tuesday afternoon, will start today’s game against Boston, facing Clay Buchholz (4-3, 3.94).

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Verlander announces program to host injured vets in Comerica suite

There are ways to use superstition to your advantage.

Well, at least to someone’s advantage.

In this case, the people who will benefit most from Justin Verlander’s superstitious nature will be veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

Working through the Veterans Affairs hospitals in Detroit and Ann Arbor, Verlander will open his luxury suite at Comerica Park on days he pitches, to host veterans and their families, a program called “Verlander’s Victory for Veterans.”

“What a better way for me to say thank you than to bring you guys out, injured veterans to the ballpark to use my suite with their family to enjoy the baseball game — hopefully which I win for the team,” Verlander said to the disabled veterans who attended Monday’s news conference.
“Who knows where I’d be if I didn’t have the God-given ability to play baseball? I could very well be in Iraq or Afghanistan right now. It means a lot to me, what you guys do for our country and this city, and this is my way of saying ‘Thank you.’ ”

Verlander’s first cousin, Christopher Verlander, is currently deployed in Afghanistan. Both were regaled with stories from their grandfather, Richard, a World War II veteran of the Navy.
The story behind the suite’s lack of use during Verlander’s starts also bears telling.

“The first time I had the opportunity to use this suite, or my girlfriend Emily did, was one of my first starts here at home, and it didn’t go very well,” Verlander said. “So me and Emily, both being somewhat superstitious, decided that is never going to happen again.”

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AL honors Victor Martinez for sizzling week at the plate

As Tigers manager Jim Leyland said of his designated hitter, Victor Martinez, on Sunday, “Victor has put on a show recently.”

It didn’t go unnoticed, as Major League Baseball named Martinez the American League Player of the Week, edging out teammate Justin Verlander.

Martinez has hit safely in every game since returning from the disabled list on May 4, extending the streak to 13 games, raising his average from .254 to .330 in the process. In five games last week, Martinez hit an AL-best .579 (11-for-19) with six extra-base hits (four doubles, two homers) and 11 RBI.

It’s the first time Martinez has been honored since 2005, when he was with the Cleveland Indians, and the fourth time overall.

Other hot performances that merited consideration for the honor were from the Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista (.429, six HRs) and former Tiger Matt Joyce (.450, four HRs). The two men came into Monday tied for the AL hitting lead with matching .368 batting averages.

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Verlander gets chippy with Royals' Melky Cabrera

If you happened to see a visibly animated Justin Verlander yapping from the dugout Friday night, rest assured he was not aiming that vitriol at neither his teammates, nor his manager, who'd just pulled him from the game after eight strong innings of two-hit baseball.

"Coming off a nine-inning game, he (Leyland) was probably thinking give me a little bit of rest, I guess. I'd have been more than glad to go back out, but he stuck his hand out, and I shook it, so that pretty much seals the deal," Verlander said with a wry smile after the game.

So who exactly was the Tigers' ace so cheesed off at? The Royals' No. 2 hitter, Melky Cabrera, who'd just popped out to Don Kelly in left field to end the eighth inning. And it wasn't because Cabrera had broken up Verlander's no-hitter two innings earlier, with an RBI triple that was the first hit allowed by Verlander in 51 batters, a span of 15 2/3 innings, dating back to May 2.

Why was he mad? It's best explained in Justin's own words in the video:
(And my apologies for the less-than-stellar videography. The mob gets pushy around an interviewee at times, forcing vantage-point changes quite often.)

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Friday, May 13, 2011

Tigers send Ordonez to the 15-day DL, call up Dirks

DETROIT — Given how much he’d struggled this year with his balky ankle, I don’t think anyone was surprised when the Detroit Tigers sent veteran outfielder Magglio Ordonez to the 15-day disabled list on Friday.

Andy Dirks, who was hitting .328 at Triple-A Toledo, was recalled to fill Ordonez’s spot on the 25-man active roster.

And given how well the 25-year-old outfielder had played both in spring training — hitting .333 to force his way into the conversation for the final reserve outfield spot — as well as in his first extended tour of duty at Triple-A, it was no surprise that Dirks got the nod. An added bonus for the Tigers is that it gives then another guy capable of covering the territory in Comerica Park’s spacious center field, allowing Austin Jackson a day off without much of a defensive drop-off.

Ordonez has struggled with frequent soreness and inflammation in his surgically-repaired right ankle, the one that cost him the second half of last season. He’ll be referred back to Dr. Phillip Kwong of the Kerlan-Jobe Clinic in Los Angeles — who performed the surgery on Ordonez’s ankle on Aug. 25 — for further testing.

The move will be retroactive to Wednesday, making him eligible to come off the DL on May 25.

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Monday, May 9, 2011

Programming change

The Tigers' opener in Minneapolis on Tuesday, originally scheduled for Fox Sports Detroit, will be moved to FSD-Plus to accommodate Game 6 of the Red Wings-Sharks series. Both events start at 8 p.m.

Check with your cable provider to see which channel number is assigned for FSD-Plus.

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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Zumaya to have surgery after all

With every injury, there's a worst-case scenario.

Unfortunately, for Joel Zumaya, that scenario has come to pass more often than not. And it's again, as he's now opted to have surgery next week that will likely end his career as a Detroit Tiger.

When Dr. James Andrews last examined Zumaya's surgically repaired elbow, seeking an answer to the inexplicable soreness the oft-injured relief pitcher experienced every time he tried to throw, he found no answers. Nothing showed on the MRI or X-rays, nor were there any nerve issues.

Andrews gave two options: A wait-and-see approach of six more weeks of rehabilitation, or exploratory surgery to attempt to pinpoint the elusive cause of the pain.

At the time, Tigers head trainer Kevin Rand said with the surgery option, the timetable "was not favorable for him to pitch in 2011."

Zumaya chose rehab again, but two weeks into the six prescribed, he's changed his mind. He'll have surgery on May 10.

The oft-injured reliever has been through the process before — from the torn ligament in his finger, to shoulder surgery, to the most recent, surgery to fix a broken bone (the olecranon) in his elbow — each time bringing the possibility of being his last chance.

But he signed just a one-year contract with the Tigers in the offseason, and it's unlikely they — or any team — will sign him again until he proves he can avoid injury.

The Tigers may have hamstrung themselves a bit by their loyalty to the popular player, going into the season with inconsistent youngster Ryan Perry as the only truly viable alternative to Zumaya as the seventh-inning specialist. That role has been one of the most glaring problems in a bullpen that has been, unfortunately, rife with them.

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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Scott Sizemore's recall from Toledo a surprise to him, at least

DETROIT — Scott Sizemore tried not to think about Detroit much during his exile to Triple-A Toledo this spring.

He knew something was up when he was scratched from the Mud Hens’ lineup just before Monday night’s game, though.

“When I went in the clubhouse to hit in the cage ... I saw Nev (Mud Hens manager Phil Nevin), he kind of gave me the ‘come here.’ And then he walked down to tell Argenis Diaz ... that he was going to play second. I kind of had a good idea at that point, but I wasn’t officially told until after the game,” Sizemore said of his call-up to the Tigers, unexpected to everyone but him, apparently.

The Opening Day second baseman for the Tigers a year ago, Sizemore lasted just 30 games before losing his job, and getting sent to the minors. This spring, he couldn’t figure out a way to reclaim it, losing the competition with Will Rhymes for the job.

But Sizemore didn’t sulk. Rather than concentrate on what could have been, or could someday be, the 26-year-old chose to focus on what was.

And he didn’t sit by the phone, waiting for the call-up.

“To be honest, I didn’t really even think about it. I didn’t let the stuff I couldn’t control affect me, just focus on the stuff on the field, and it seems to have paid off, thus far,” Sizemore said Tuesday, as he wandered around the Tigers locker room, collecting high-fives, fist-bumps and hugs, and trying to find his locker.
“I think anytime you worry about things you can’t control, it takes a little bit of the control away from you. My mindset was just to do everything I could on the field, and whatever happened with the front office up here, is just out of my control. Can’t do anything about it.”

But Sizemore did do something about it: He tore the cover off the ball in Toledo, leading the International League with a .408 average. His extra-base pop — seven doubles, one triple, two homers — was part of the reason the Tigers called him up after Monday’s game, the first step in an attempt to fix the feeble top of their batting order.

“Just knowing what I had to do to get back up here,” Sizemore said of his focus. “You’re not going to get handed the job. You’ve gotta kind of force the issue. That was my mentality, just go down there, work as hard as I could, do everything I could to earn an other shot.”

Last year, that shot quickly slipped away. He was hitting .206 when he was sent down to Toledo on May 15. He didn’t return to the bigs until the September call-ups.

In the interim, Carlos Guillen took over the job until he got injured, then Rhymes shined in his opportunity the rest of the way.

That, as much as anything, was what got Rhymes the job in Spring Training. While Rhymes outhit Sizemore on the Grapefruit League circuit (.328 to .243), much of that difference was in the final few games of the spring, when Rhymes already had the job in hand.

And while Rhymes was hitting just .221 when he was optioned to Toledo after Monday’s game, manager Jim Leyland was insistent that it was more a matter of circumstance than performance.

“It’s not like Will Rhymes did so bad. I certainly don’t want to indicate to anybody that we’re blaming all of our offensive woes on Will Rhymes. That’s not the case. The case in this matter is, we’re looking for a little punch,” Leyland said of Rhymes, who’s never going to be confused for a power hitter. “So he kind of caught the short end of the stick, to be honest with you.”

Rhymes’ advantage over Sizemore — aside from defense — might be in his fit for the No. 2 spot in the order, where you want someone who can move a runner into scoring position for the big RBI guys. Problem was, Rhymes didn’t have that opportunity too often, considering the struggles of leadoff man Austin Jackson in getting on base.

Sizemore may be a step below Rhymes, defensively, but he’s making up ground, thanks to a return to health. He missed time in the 2008 season with a wrist injury, then returned to earn honors as the Tigers’ Minor League Player of the Year in 2009, before a fractured ankle ended his season prematurely.

It’s taken him more than a year to get his mobility and flexibility completely back, and regain the range robbed from him by the injuries.

Now the test will be to continue his torrid hitting, something that was even more unexpected to Sizemore than the call-up.

“To be honest, you’d say yeah (it’s unexpected). You can’t ever expect to hit like that going into the season. Of course, I know I’m capable of doing that, it’s just being mentally focused, and it’s not really necessarily looking at my results, but what I do with the at-bat. It just keeps kind of going well for me,” said Sizemore, struggling to remember a time in his career that he’d hit so well for so long, and settling on a three-week span in Class A.

Even if it doesn’t keep up at quite that same pace, he’s still reasonably sure that Tigers fans haven’t seen the real Scott Sizemore yet.

“I’d like to think so. I think I’ve got a lot more in the tank,” he said. “It’s just putting your best foot forward, and showing everybody else what you’ve got.”

Short hops
• New York starter CC Sabathia has been up-and-down in his career at Comerica Park, starting 6-0 in his first eight starts there, but going 1-4 with a 5.63 ERA since 2006. Entering Tuesday night, he had not beaten the Tigers on the road as a Yankee.

• Alex Avila’s two home runs Monday night marked his second multi-homer game of his short major league career. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he became just the second Tigers catcher in 15 years (Pudge Rodriguez, Aug. 8, 2004) to hit two home runs in a home game. Avila came into Tuesday night’s game leading all MLB catchers in RBI (21) and total bases (48), ranking second in home runs (5) and triples (1), third in doubles (6) and runs (12). He’s hitting .309 and slugging .593, both totals best among full-time catchers.

• The Tigers continue to pound out doubles, hitting at least one in 27 of 29 games after Ramon Santiago’s two-bagger Monday night.

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Monday, May 2, 2011

Scott Sizemore is finally freed

Rumors were swirling Monday night that Scott Sizemore might have earned the call-up from Triple-A Toledo after last year’s Opening Day starter at second base for the Tigers last season was a healthy scratch for the Mud Hens’ game vs. Pawtucket.

Tigers president and GM Dave Dombrowski confirmed the move — calling Sizemore up, and optioning Will Rhymes down — after Monday’s game. Sizemore was leading the International League with a .408 average, while Rhymes was hitting just .221 after the weekend.

"As you know, we’ve been scuffling from an offensive perspective, and Sizemore’s been hitting very well ... We figured it was a way to get a little more pop in the lineup, maybe get some extra-base hits and try to get things going at the top of the order for us," Dombrowski said.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland was quick to point out that the struggles of the Tigers' offense — which include leadoff man Austin Jackson hitting just .188, and No. 3 hitter Magglio Ordonez posting an anemic .151 average, a slugging percentage of .164 and just one lone RBI — are not all the fault of Rhymes, normally the No. 2 hitter.

“Sometimes, you’re the victim of a situation of ... you’re not really tearing it up — and we didn’t really expect him to — but sometimes you’re the victim of a situation where a few guys aren’t hitting, and he’s a second baseman, and the guy who’s hitting .400 is a second baseman. So, it’s not like Will Rhymes did so bad,” Leyland said. “I certainly don’t want to indicate to anybody that we’re blaming all of our offensive woes on Will Rhymes. That’s not the case. The case in this matter is, we’re looking for a little punch. ... So he kind of caught the short end of the stick, to be honest with you.”

As highly anticipated as the move has been — there was a populist movement to "free Scott Sizemore" on Twitter — it won't be the cure-all to a team that's struggling in all aspects of the game.

And it might not be the only move coming. Victor Martinez, who will resume his role as the primary DH, is eligible to return from the 15-day disabled list on Wednesday. His return will mean that Ordonez will either have to spend more time in the outfield, or possibly sit for a while. Leyland noted after Monday's game that Ordonez could be moved down in the order at times, or out of it.

Sizemore's promotion to the big club will also mean that Ryan Raburn will spend most of his time in the outfield again, rather than splitting his starts between left and second base. That, too, would indicate that Ordonez might be destined for some time off, since Leyland's more likely to leave Brennan Boesch (.300) in the lineup, as either the right fielder or DH.

Finally, Phil Coke's solid start against the Indians — more reminiscent of his first two starts of the season than his last two horrible outings against Seattle — may have staved off the conversations about moving him back to the bullpen, at least for now.

But if he begins to struggle again, it will be hard for Leyland and Dombrowski — both men in the final year of their current contracts with the Tigers — to ignore the seasons that young lefties Andy Oliver (3-1, 3.64 ERA, 31 K/29.2 IP) and Charlie Furbush (2-1, 1.90 ERA, 32 K/23.2 IP) are putting together in Toledo.

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Granderson unsure of reception on return to Comerica

DETROIT — You can’t blame Curtis Granderson for feeling a sense of dislocation on Monday.

After six years of entering the field at Comerica Park through the home dugout on the first-base side, he sat in the visitor’s dugout for the first time ever on Monday. He sat on the bench, mobbed by the usual horde of New York media, as well as the hometown Michigan writers, explaining what it felt like to come to the park he grew up in as the enemy for the first time.

“I’m still kind of wondering what it’s going to be like. Every place we go, the Yankees just can’t help but get a little boo(ed) in there. But it’s going to be very interesting to see what happens. Then I’ve gotta go up there and bat, against (Tigers pitcher Justin) Verlander, of all people. It’s going to be very emotional, across the board, just from intensity level ... exciting ... nervous ... all those things wrapped into one,” admitted Granderson.

The popular outfielder was traded to the Yankees two offseasons ago — as part of the three-team blockbuster that brought the Tigers starting pitchers Max Scherzer and Phil Coke, reliever Daniel Schlereth and Granderson’s replacement in center field, Austin Jackson — but missed last year’s trip to Detroit with a groin injury.

He still keeps up with the Tigers he grew up with — Verlander, Brandon Inge, Joel Zumaya, Ryan Raburn — sharing fond memories of their trip to the 2006 World Series. He’s enjoyed playing against his former teammates before.

But he knew Monday night was going to be different.

“It’s exciting, anytime I get to play against them. First time was in spring training, last year, then having them come to us twice, this year and last year, was enjoyable. But the first time coming back here is going to be enjoyable, exciting, nervous, all wrapped up into one,” said Granderson, who didn’t know what kind of reception he’d get from Tigers fans.
“I think it’s going to be 50-50, just because I remember when we’d play the Yankees, when they’d come in, and you can’t help but put some boos out there. So that’s just going to be part of it. Hopefully, there will be some cheers, as well.”

That may have been a bit of an intentional exaggeration.

Aside from an flight layover, Granderson hadn’t been back to the state since shortly after the trade — when he was here for a function for his charity, Grand Kids — but got a warm welcome even boarding the bus from the team hotel Monday morning.

“Today, getting ready to go on the bus, a number of fans wanted autographs, just the comments across the board — ‘Hey, we miss you,’ ‘Come back,’ ‘When are you doing your foundation stuff here?’ So very interesting,” said Granderson, who was amused by the amount of Tigers gear he was asked to autograph.
“I felt like the fans liked the fact when I was here. I also loved the fans here. ... The city of Detroit, the state of Michigan — absolutely amazing, in terms of their loyalty for anything Detroit-based. I mean, the amount of people that carry it with them, no matter where they go, on the road, or here in the state of Michigan, is just amazing.”

Well-deserved awards
Both Brandon Inge and Austin Jackson received their 2010 Players Choice Awards before Monday’s game. Jackson was voted the AL Outstanding Rookie after posting MLB-best rookie numbers in hits (181), runs (103) and stolen bases (27). Inge was voted the Marvin Miller Man of the Year, in part for his work with C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor. The award, named after the MLBPA’s first director, is given to the player whose off-field contributions to the community most inspire others.

Lineup sometimes more about match-ups
While Will Rhymes is starting to show some signs of life with the bat — going 5 for his last 14 at-bats, including a 2-for-5 performance in the leadoff slot Sunday, raising his average to .221 — sitting him Monday was as much a function of his replacement as it was how he’s been swinging the bat. Ramon Santiago is 8-for-17 in his career against Yankees starter Bartolo Colon. Aside from Brennan Boesch, who homered in his only at-bat against Colon, the next-best average against the Yankees’ veteran right-hander is Brandon Inge (.348, 8-for-23).