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, July 30, 2011

Tigers acquire Fister and Pauley from Seattle

The Tigers search for a fifth starter finally ended Saturday, when the Tigers pulled off a six-player trade with the Seattle Mariners, acquiring hard-luck starter Doug Fister and reliever David Pauley in return for rookies Charlie Furbush and Casper Wells, as well as minor-league third baseman Francisco Martinez.

The Tigers had not gotten a win out of the fifth spot since mid-June.

According to STATS_MLB, Fister (3-13) got just 10 runs of support in his last 10 starts, a total that 34 starting pitchers since June have received in a single start.

Tigers reportedly bringing top prospect Jacob Turner up to bigs

If it's ever going to, all heck generally breaks loose in the wee hours of the morning.

In this case, it was a report by Sports Illustrated's Jon Heyman that the Tigers were going to bring up top prospect Jacob Turner.'s Jason Beck reported shortly thereafter that Turner — who was on pace to start again Saturday, five days after his last outing for Double-A Erie — was not with the Seawolves, and that the Tigers organization was not answering questions about Turner. As of 10 a.m., the Tigers said they had not made any roster moves.

Duane Below was originally scheduled to start Saturday's afternoon game against the Angels, and was still listed as the Tigers' probable pitcher as of 10 a.m., but it makes no sense to bring Turner up, if he's not going to start.

Previously, the Tigers had said they were reluctant to bring up the presumed star-in-waiting, who'd been ranked as high as top 10 among all MLB prospects, saying he wasn't ready.

Manager Jim Leyland had said bringing him up before the rosters expand in September would be a "longshot" a few weeks ago.

His name's been linked to nearly every trade rumor surrounding the Tigers, who were searching for an experienced arm for the back end — or middle — of their rotation. In past years, the organization has been reluctant to include Turner, the ninth overall pick in the 2009 draft, in any potential trades, no matter the haul in return.

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Friday, July 29, 2011

Tigers send Ruffin down, recall Daniel Schlereth

The Tigers announced a minor roster move before Friday's game, swapping bullpen arms, sending rookie Chance Ruffin back to Toledo, and bringing back lefty Daniel Schlereth.

Schlereth saw action in eight games after he was sent down on June 30, going 1-0 with a 0.77 ERA, and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 18-5. Before his demotion, he'd allowed 19 walks in 25.2 innings with the parent club, fielding an ERA of 4.91.

Ruffin's two-appearance stint with the club may have just been an audition, given that he'd only thrown nine innings at Triple-A Toledo after his promotion from Double-A Erie on July 1. The former supplemental first-round pick from the 2010 draft is in just his second professional season.

If the Tigers are dangling him as trade bait, they can point to his quick acclimation to each level of professional ball he's encountered, including the big leagues. His debut was in the bases-loaded debacle on Monday, but Thursday, he threw two scoreless innings, one of the few effective performances by a Tigers pitcher in a debacle of a 12-7 loss to the Angels. Clearly, he's a quick learner.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

No surprise: Inge clears waivers, Tigers outright him to Toledo

In a turn of events that surprised absolutely no one in the world, Brandon Inge cleared waivers allowing the Tigers to outright his contract to Toledo.

This was just the cleaning up of the procedural leftovers from last Wednesday's decision to designate Inge for assignment. Inge, who has the ability to veto such a move as a 10-and-5 player (a 10-year veteran who's spent five years with their current team), has said that he'd accept the assignment.

"Everyone goes through rough patches and I just need to go down and work on something. I’m not holding anyone responsible. It’s me. I’m in the batter’s box. I play 100 percent every day, and it just wasn’t working out right there," said the veteran third baseman, who was hitting just .177 with one home run, necessitating the team trading for the Royals' Wilson Betemit. "I haven’t been playing well, and there comes a time when you need to fix it.
"I’m actually in a good place with it. I want to go down there and work on it."

Even though the Tigers knew that the move could easily have resulted in the end of Inge's career with the organization, they're not counting him out, either.

"Can he get his swing back, and make things happen? Hopefully. Right now, when we look at it from our own situation, trying to win, it just hasn’t happened for him, really," Dombrowski said.
"He’s still fine at third base, and I think if he’s hitting like he’s capable of hitting, I think he’s plenty fine at third base. But I would think — he’s only human if it’s not affecting him at some point. I mean, he’s been scuffling. He tries his hardest, he gives you everything he can — he always has done that — and I’m sure it affects him.
"But unfortunately, that ... is part of being a big-league player, when you scuffle like that. Hey, when you’re a general manager, and you make a bad trade, people boo you and throw (barbs) at you. ... It’s the same thing: We’re in a production-oriented business."

Inge promised he'd be back when the rosters expand in September, but until then, he'll be a high-priced insurance policy, should Betemit or one of the reserve infielders get injured. His price tag, which includes the remainder of his $5.5 million salary from this year, as well as the rest of the two-year, $11 million contract he signed in the offseason.

That's likely a good part of the reason no team put in a waiver claim. There were some rumors that the Florida Marlins would put a claim in, hoping to land a calming influence for their young squad, but the team said recently it did not know where that rumor had started.

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Monday, July 25, 2011

Verlander gives Don Kelly a hotfoot

So you don't think the Tigers are a loose bunch, having fun?

If you missed it Sunday, here's the clip of utilityman Don Kelly getting a hotfoot in the dugout during the game vs. the Twins. The culprit was apparently Justin Verlander.

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So you're saying there's a Chance?

(C'mon — I had to. You know I did. Stop rolling your eyes.)

After Sunday's game at Target Field, the Tigers announced they'd be sending Lester Oliveros back to Triple-A Toledo, and giving one of their two No. 1 picks from the 2010 draft — a kid named Chance Ruffin — his first Chance.

(OK, I'm done now. Seriously.)

What does it mean that Oliveros was sent down? Nothing much, really. Most of the writers who cover the Tigers were a tad surprised that he got through the past two weeks — which included a handful of agonizing transactions — unscathed.

Not that he'd pitched poorly. He hadn't. But while he hadn't earned himself a bus ticket out of town (trademark: Bobby Ross), he hadn't exactly made it impossible for him to be optioned out, either. In short, he'd been OK — nothing more, nothing less.

So what makes this transaction noteworthy — other than the symmetry with Chance making the majors just a year after being drafted, as had his father, Bruce, to start his own 12-year MLB career? The younger Ruffin was taken with the compensatory pick the Tigers got when they lost Fernando Rodney to free agency. Bruce Ruffin was a second-round pick of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1985.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland certainly didn't sound like he was the architect of the move. "I don't know anything about him," the manager told reporters in Minneapolis after the game. "I know nothing about him except he's tough, he's good and he's from Texas."

Think about it this way, then: If Oliveros hadn't really done anything to force the issue on being sent down, what did Ruffin do to earn the promotion at this point?

Well, he'd done well enough with both Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo, going 3-3 with a 2.09 ERA, 17 saves, 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings, and a WHIP of 1.209. Solid, but not spectacular.

He'd been accorded a special spot with the Mud Hens since his July 1 promotion, though, holding down the closer spot over guys with MLB experience in Daniel Schlereth and Ryan Perry — both former first-round draft picks — as well as Enrique Gonzalez, who leads the Hens in saves.

"Chance Ruffin is closer makeup and closer stuff," Hens manager Phil Nevin said, when asked by the Toledo Blade's John Wagner recently. "This is what we see him as down the line, and so far he's done nothing to deter anyone from thinking of him that way. He's someone we think very highly of."

Fair enough. But why bring him up to the big leagues on July 24, in the middle of a pennant race, especially when all of the short relief spots in the Tigers' bullpen are ably filled? Jose Valverde has yet to blow a save opportunity as the closer, high-priced free-agent acquisition Joaquin Benoit has settled into the set-up role just fine after a shaky start, and rookie Al Alburquerque, the seventh-inning guy, has arguably been one of the Tigers' four most pivotal pitchers this season.

In this case, think outside the box — or outside the organization.

This move — just like accommodating moves to pitch prospects Andy Oliver and Charlie Furbush in front of scouts from other teams — could very well just be a showcase of Ruffin's skills as a potential trade chip before the July 31 trade deadline.

If the Tigers don't want to move one of their blue-chip prospects, like Oliver, Furbush, Jacob Turner or Nick Castellanos, maybe a guy like Ruffin — a quick riser with a mid-90s fastball and a closer's disposition — would be next on the list of candidates for a swap to land the Tigers another starting pitcher for the stretch drive.

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Fans react to the news of Brandon Inge being DFA'ed

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Below tabbed to get spot start for Tigers

When the Tigers sent Charlie Furbush down the minors after his second audition to claim Phil Coke's old fifth spot in the rotation, they said it was because they wouldn't need a fifth starter for nearly two weeks.

Or in other words, until this Wednesday.

But instead of bringing up Furbush again, the Tigers announced Tuesday morning that Britton, Mich., native Duane Below would get the call up from Triple-A Toledo to start Wednesday's night game against the Oakland A's.

Whether it's an audition or just a stopgap remains to be seen.

What is clear is that the Tigers feel like they don't yet have an answer for the problem of finding a fifth starter, to pitch behind Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Brad Penny and Rick Porcello. The problem has become so concerning that the organization has made no secret of its intent to seek external reinforcements before the July 31 (non-waiver) trade deadline. And they've been linked to nearly every trade-worthy arm with a pulse since.

How did they get here?

Well, in part, it's because the Tigers didn't feel like any of their highly-touted minor-league arms were ready to be a starter at the big-league level coming out of spring training.

So Coke, a career reliever in the big leagues, who had been a minor-league starter in the New York Yankees system, got the first crack at the fifth spot. As much as he had the tools of a starting pitcher, and showed flashes of pitching well, the results were not there — he went 1-7 in 14 starts with a not-good-but-not-cataclysmic 4.82 ERA.

Andy Oliver, the Tigers' best prospect in the high minors and the most heralded of the Mud Hens' four-lefty starting rotation, did not do well his two cameo appearances while Coke was on the disabled list with a mildly sprained foot. He gave up two home runs in a six-inning stint against Boston, then another in a four-run, five-walk outing against the White Sox, when he couldn't get out of the fourth inning.

Charlie Furbush, the lanky lefty who came up at the same time as Oliver, pitched well out of the bullpen (1-1, 2.49 ERA in 21 2/3 IP) for nearly a month. But he was shaky when given the opportunity to claim the fifth spot after Coke's demotion, lasting less than five innings in each of his two starts (0-2, 8.59 ERA).

The Tigers have said several times that they did not intend to rush their top prospect, 2009 No. 1 pick Jacob Turner, up to the majors to fill the breach, preferring to keep him at Double-A Erie, where he's pitched adequately. Don't think they don't plan on having him ready by next year, but they don't want to risk pushing him too high, too soon — as they may have done with more MLB-ready arms like Porcello, Verlander or Andrew Miller.

That leaves a guy like Below, who was the team's 19th-round pick in the 2006 draft, and the anonymous fourth man in of the quartet of lefties at Toledo — along with Oliver, Furbush and Adam Wilk, currently a long reliever in the Tigers' bullpen.

Like Wilk, Below's ceiling as a prospect may be far lower than the other two, but his results wouldn't necessarily lead you to conclude that. He is 9-4 with a 3.13 ERA for Toledo this year, going 5-1 in his eight starts since June 4. His last start for the Mud Hens was on the 15th, putting him right on schedule for five days' rest before making his MLB debut Wednesday.

Unlike the earlier promotions Oliver and Furbush — who the Tigers instructed the Mud Hens to have pitch an inning on Sunday, when a handful of other teams' scouts were on hand — you don't get the feeling that giving Below a spot start at the big-league level is a showcase for other teams. If the Tigers are planning to trade a pitching prospect for immediate help, other teams would probably be looking at the two higher-ceiling prospects — especially given the Tigers' perceived refusal to offer Turner in deals over the past two seasons.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

No starter named yet for Wednesday; Below, Furbush are best bets

The Tigers have not yet announced a starter for Wednesday’s game against Oakland. The fifth spot in the rotation — where Phil Coke was slotted to start the season — has been vacant since the Tigers sent Charlie Furbush down after his second try at an audition for the role last Saturday.

“There’s some candidates, but we haven’t settled on anyone yet,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.

The Tigers could recall Furbush, who excelled in the bullpen (1-1, 2.49 ERA in 21 2/3 IP) but was shaky in two starts (0-2, 8.59 ERA) lasting less than five innings each time. His last outing for Toledo was on Thursday, giving him six days rest before a potential return.

Andy Oliver, the Tigers’ other high-ceiling starting prospect with the Mud Hens, has not pitched well lately, and was scheduled to start Sunday night, so it’s unlikely the Tigers would force him to try again on three days rest.

Fast-rising uber-prospect Jacob Turner, who pitched in the Futures Game on Sunday, last pitched for Double-A Erie on Friday. That puts him right on schedule to pitch again Wednesday, should the Tigers desire a peek at him at the big-league level, but Leyland called the likelihood of him coming up in the next few weeks “longshot speculation.” GM Dave Dombrowski confirmed to Fox Sports' Jon Morosi Sunday that it would not be Turner.

That leaves a guy like Duane Below, the native Michigander who is 9-4 with a 3.13 ERA for Toledo this year, going 5-1 in his eight starts since June 4.

Or a trade candidate, should the organization pull off any one of the swaps for a starter it has been linked with recently.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Victor Jose stumping for his dad, VMart, in MLB Final Vote

Much like in 2009, when Tigers and Phillies fans teamed up with the "Bran Tornino" campaign to get Brandon Inge and Shane Victorino voted in to the All-Star Game in the Final Vote, the teams' fan bases have hooked up again this season with the Victor/Victorino campaign, hoping to get Victorino and Victor Martinez in on the final ballot for the 2011 All-Star Game.

The Martinez family unveiled its secret weapon on Wednesday, with just 24 hours left in the voting: Victor Jose Martinez.

While the team is in Los Angeles playing the Angels, Victor Jose, the precocious 6-year-old son of Victor Martinez, held a press conference Wednesday at Comerica Park, along with the Tigers' mascot, PAWS, to stump for votes for Victor Jose's dad.

"I really want my dad to go to the All-Star Game," Victor Jose Martinez said in the video he recorded in both English and Spanish, noting that he'd like to go hang out with friends like Big Papi, David Ortiz.

The Red Sox designated hitter is one of the two captains for the Home Run Derby.

If you'd like to watch the video, it's HERE. If you'd like to vote, you can click HERE. Balloting ends at 4 p.m. ET Thursday. The winner will be announced later Thursday evening.