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.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Laird injures knee in collision; will miss 'couple of days'

The last thing any manager or executive wants is to have someone injure themselves in the last week of camp. No one wants injuries at any time, but if they come early, there's at least time to deal with them.

So that's why the Tigers' brain trust of manager Jim Leyland and GM Dave Dombrowski had to be swallowing hard when they saw back-up catcher Gerald Laird go down in a heap in the second inning of Friday's Grapefruit League game against the Baltimore Orioles. Laird had been tracking a foul fly off the bat of Jai Miller when third baseman Don Kelly ran into his left knee. By all reports, Laird went down in pain, clutching the knee, and had to be helped off the field by head trainer Kevin Rand and minor league infielder Brandon Douglas.

There was a sigh of relief when it turned out to be less serious that it could have been.

The Tigers announced that it was a left knee sprain, that Laird's status was day-to-day, and that he'd be re-evaluated on Saturday.

Laird told the Detroit News' Tom Gage that he'll miss "only a couple of days. Glad I didn't blow it out."

Why all the angst over a journeyman catcher, a career .241 hitter?

Well, having seen the cost of not having a reliable back-up catcher on the roster — especially when the injury to Victor Martinez’s knee forced starter Alex Avila to be in the lineup for 18 straight games at one point last season — the Tigers brought Laird back on a one-year deal to take up the slack. Initially, it was to keep Martinez from having to do double duty. The signing became doubly important when Martinez tore up his knee in January, shelving him for the season.

Laird certainly won’t make anyone forget V-Mart’s offensive contributions when he’s in the lineup, but he’ll certainly help keep Avila fresh for the playoffs, which may be just as important. Avila was worn to a nub by playoff time, suffering from tendinitis in both knees, and hitting .073 in the postseason as a result.

Laird's absence on a short-term basis is probably not all that problematic. Last year's third-string catcher, Omir Santos, who split time between the big league team and Triple-A Toledo, and was sent to the minor league camp Friday morning, could be called back. He'd have to be added to the 40-man roster to do so, but the Tigers could easily open a slot by placing Al Alburquerque (elbow surgery) on the 60-day disabled list, among a handful of possible moves.

The problem is that Santos would not be a long-term solution, should Laird have to miss significant time. As it stands now, the Tigers have at least two 'emergency' catchers on the roster — Kelly and Brandon Inge — but neither would be considered anything more than a band-aid for a game, or at the extreme outside, two. Inge has had multiple knee surgeries since his own days behind the plate, eliminating him from realistic consideration for the role.

Having said that, you have to wonder where the Tigers might turn, if Laird were to get hurt (or if Friday's injury turned out to be serious)? Santos, who was re-signed as an insurance policy? One of the minor-league catchers, like recent draft picks Bryan Holaday, Curt Casali Rob Brantly or James McCann? Someone outside the organization?

That's a more interesting question.

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Tigers send Oliver to Toledo, narrowing the 5th starter race to two

The Tigers sent left-hander Andy Oliver down to Triple-A Toledo on Thursday, meaning the battle for the fifth starter job — which started out with six internal contestants — is down to just two: Drew Smyly or Duane Below.

Oliver, who'd seemed to overcome some of his control demons that plagued him last season — at both the big-league level and at Triple-A Toledo — earlier this spring, put back-to-back shaky outings together in his last two Grapefruit League starts.

"Nobody's down on Andy Oliver. We just didn't feel like, at this time, he was the guy," Tigers manager Jim Leyland told reporters Thursday, as MLive's Chris Iott passed along on Twitter.

At this point, it looks like it'll either be Smyly or Below heading north with the team to start the season. Smyly, who threw well in Wednesday's start against the Cardinals in Jupiter, Fla., is scheduled for one more spring start on Monday. Below is scheduled to pitch Friday.

But it could be both — or neither. General manager Dave Dombrowski could still decide to go outside the organization for a starter — "My general manager has a tendency to surprise you," manager Jim Leyland said, after refusing to rule out the possibility that the Tigers would look for an external solution — or the Tigers could take both north, with one — Below, almost assuredly — in the bullpen as a long reliever.

And there's this to factor in, as well. The Tigers won't need a fifth starter right off the bat, given the number of off (weather) days built in to the first few series. Last year's fifth starter, Phil Coke, did not start his first game until April 9, making two relief appearances in the season-opening series in New York.

So what would Leyland like to have happen, ideally?

"I gave you enough hints through the course of the spring what I’d ideally like to have ... but, it doesn’t mean it’s going to play out that way," Leyland said, in response to verbal fishing expeditions by reporters over the weekend. "When you have four or five right-handed starters, you would probably like someone to pitch long from the left side. But it doesn’t mean you have him. That doesn’t mean that’s going to be the decision. So don’t mark that down. Could it be? It could be. But ..."

While the Tigers still have a decision to make between the more experienced, veteran Below — who started twice in 14 MLB appearances with the Tigers last season — and the inexperienced but composed Smyly — who did not pitch above Double-A in his first professional season last year — there is an upshot to the whole situation.

The Toledo rotation (as pointed out by Mud Hens beat writer John Wagner) will be stacked with former candidates for the fifth starter job: Oliver, Jacob Turner, Adam Wilk and Casey Crosby.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tigers get their 'huge' news: Cabrera gets medical clearance to return

Jim Leyland was on pins and needles, like a kid before Christmas.

Well, OK, not really, but the veteran manager WAS eagerly anticipating the report from Miguel Cabrera's medical evaluation on Tuesday morning, excited to get the good news that the reigning American League batting champ could return to the field.

Cabrera had been intentionally idled for a week after a grounder took a wicked hop and hit him in the face, opening a gash that required eight stitches, and causing a small fracture in the orbital bone in his right cheek.

"Tomorrow’s a big day. A big day. A huge day," Leyland said after Monday afternoon's game. "I’ll be anxiously awaiting to hear about that, I can tell you that. ... I know he feels good. You know he looks good. By his own admission, he’s not having any trouble seeing. His eyesight is perfect. So, it’s just in the hands of the medical people. What’s there that we don’t know about, the average people? We just don’t know."

The Tigers told reporters that Cabrera would work on conditioning on Tuesday, then likely resume baseball activities on Wednesday. Head trainer Kevin Rand would not give reporters a timetable on Cabrera's return to the field however.

"Still not sure when Cabrera will play but it will be soon — and that makes me feel real good," Leyland was quoted by the Detroit News' Tom Gage.

Regardless, Cabrera thinks he'll be ready for next week's season opener.

"I think so," he said Monday. "I’ll be ready. Don’t worry."

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Monday, March 26, 2012

Turner sent to Toledo, as Tigers pare six from roster

That slim chance that manager Jim Leyland left hanging just closed.

Reluctant to completely rule out the recovering Jacob Turner — idled since March 13 with shoulder tendinitis before resuming throwing this weekend — Leyland continued to include the prized right-handed prospect in discussions of the fifth-starter candidates.

That discussion is now closed, however, as the Tigers announced Monday morning they'd optioned the youngster's contract to Triple-A Toledo as one of six roster moves. The club also sent infielders Audy Ciriaco, Argenis Diaz and Ryan Strieby, outfielder Quintin Berry and right-handed pitcher Chris Bootcheck to minor league camp.

The two who may still play the biggest role in the Tigers' season this year could be Strieby and, of course, the uber-talented Turner, who is right on the cusp of being ready for the bigs.

"Dave (Dombrowski, the GM) said it’s time to get him over there, and get him going, because he’s going to be a starting pitcher in Toledo. ... I think Dave wanted to feel totally comfortable before we sent him over there that he was right," Leyland said, noting that the ability to get him ramped up to speed to start in Triple-A trumped the desire to get him an inning or two more work with the big club this spring.
"I don’t need to see him again. He needs to go pitch. He’s a young pitcher with a huge, huge ceiling, so me seeing him one more inning in spring training doesn’t mean (squat)."

A first baseman, Strieby's path to the big leagues is obviously blocked by a pair of star acquisitions the Tigers have made over the past few seasons. But that's all that's holding him back at this point, now that he's finally right after three years of battling a wrist injury that almost derailed his once-promising career.

"I had a great conversation with him this morning, and I think you could honestly say — which is what I told him — there could be a huge possibility that he could help this club at some point this season. I believe that. Is it going to happen? I told him I hope not, in some ways, because that means somebody’s hurt," Leyland said.
"Who knows? If we’re looking for a right-hand hitter, maybe to DH for a little while, who knows? He looks better than I’ve seen him in four years. He’s healthy now, he’s got a better look on his face — he was hurt, and it was hurting him to play."

Berry's candidacy for the 25th spot on the roster had picked up momentum over the weekend, when he smoked the game-winning grand-slam in Friday's come-from-behind win over the Pirates in Bradenton, Fla., then made two dazzling defensive plays in Sunday's 1-1 tie with the Yankees in Tampa. A career minor leaguer, Berry has something that the Tigers are sorely lacking on the roster: Blazing speed.

"Defensive capabilities, speed, bunt and run. I didn’t know him, really, to be honest with you, before he came into camp," Leyland said. "Made a helluva impression. That’s another weapon that we don’t have much of."

While he mentioned Diaz as a potential MLB utility man, Leyland was more effusive about the potential of the still-young Ciriaco, whose demotion was delayed until after he started Monday's game at third base.

"Sometimes when a guy’s been around a little bit, been in camp and everything, people just disregard him, think maybe the organization’s forgotten about him. That’s not true at all. I still like this guy a lot. He’s gotta become more consistent," Leyland said.
"But I think if this guy pops, it could be big. He’s one of those guys — if he pops, it could be something special."

Bootcheck, a non-roster invitee, was a long-shot candidate to nab the last remaining spot in the bullpen.

"Bootcheck’s just one of those guys that just has to go pitch. He’ll probably do a good job, and probably have a chance to get called up," Leyland said. "He’ll go down, do a good job. He’s got major league experience. He didn’t do anything wrong this spring. He did fine."

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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Turner's recovery might be too late to get back in 5th starter competition

More good news on the recovery of Tigers' No. 1 prospect, Jacob Turner, came on Sunday, when pitching coach Jeff Jones said that the right hander threw a successful, pain-free bullpen session.

Turner was shut down with tendinitis in his pitching shoulder midway through spring training, but has been trying to get back on track, throwing Friday and again Sunday.

"It went really well," Jones said, indicating that Turner would likely throw again in spring training. "He’ll probably take two days off, then pitch in a game."

Jones could not answer, however, whether or not that would be in a major or minor league game.

For his part, manager Jim Leyland thought it was unlikely Turner was still a candidate for the vacant fifth spot in the starting rotation, given his injury blip.

"One more start? I doubt that. I don’t think we have really the time for that, to be honest with you. Another appearance or maybe two? That could be a possibility," Leyland said Saturday. "I would assume that, if he’s not a candidate — and I think it’s a very slight chance that he is now; I’m not ruling it out totally, but I think it’s a very, very slight chance — then I would assume, when healthy, Dave would want to get him over there pitching."

If Turner does not go north with the Tigers, he'll still need to be ready to join what is rapidly becoming a crowded rotation for Triple-A Toledo.

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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Fifth starter competition narrows by process of elimination

The Detroit Tigers came into spring training with six internal candidates for the fifth starter position, but that number is being steadily whittled down by attrition and elimination as camp goes on.

Lefty Adam Wilk was the latest name removed from the hat, as his contract was optioned to Toledo Saturday morning, cutting the number of players in camp to 38.

The 24-year-old Wilk, who appeared in five games for the Tigers last season, had a 7.50 ERA in 12 spring innings, giving up 19 hits and 10 runs.

Optioning Wilk leaves Andy Oliver, Drew Smyly and Duane Below as the most likely candidates to claim the fifth starter job. Casey Crosby, one of the other early candidates, was optioned out earlier in camp, while Jacob Turner is just starting to begin throwing again after a "dead-arm" period.

Smyly has been the dark-horse candidate throughout camp, considering his control of his arsenal. Tigers manager Jim Leyland was asked Friday whether Smyly's stuff could be considered exceptional.

"I wouldn’t say that. I think he’s got very good stuff. If you’re talking about Sandy Koufax stuff, no. Not many of those guys around. I think he’s got very good stuff," Leyland said.
"I think Oliver’s got very good stuff, and I think Crosby’s got very good stuff. And Adam Wilk has very useable stuff — there’s a lot of pitchers in the big leagues who don’t throw more than 94-95 mph; a lot of guys pitching at 89-90-91. Jacob Turner has good stuff."

The Tigers still have some time before having to make the final decision on the fifth starter. It may be the last of the three most major roster decisions the Tigers have to make before Opening Day.

"I think they possibly could all funnel down to one day, but you could possibly make one of those decisions sooner than the other two. You could probably get your position players, but the bullpen spot and the fifth starter’s probably going to go real late — because we don’t know. We have no idea," Leyland said.
"We have a better idea than we did a week or so ago, because it looks like Turner’s obviously going to be eliminated from that, right now, because of his health situation, and Crosby’s already down. We do have a better idea than we did a week or two ago, but we don’t have any idea. We’re just continuing to run ‘em out there. Like I told you before, I’ll be thrilled to make that announcement to you guys, but as you know, there’s not going to be any hints or anything, because I don’t have any hints for you.
"I really don’t."

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Friday, March 23, 2012

Cabrera feeling fine

Apparently, Miguel Cabrera is feeling no ill effects of the small fracture in his right cheek suffered earlier this week, thanks to a wicked hop on a grounder by the Phillies’ Hunter Pence.

“I saw a picture of him yesterday on Kevin’s phone. He looks great. Beautiful. Looks great. No pain. Swelling’s going down. A little discolored there yet. But we’re going to take all precautions,” Leyland said of a picture shown to him by trainer Kevin Rand. “But he feels good. He wanted to come (to Bradenton) today. He told Dave (Dombrowski, the GM) he was ready to come play today, but obviously we’re not doing that.”

While it’s good news, it certainly won’t budge the Tigers from their timetable. The initial diagnosis included instructions for Cabrera to be held out of all activities for a week, before being re-evaluated.

Leyland cautioned against reading too much into Cabrera’s enthusiasm.

“It means just what it means: That he’s going to sit quiet for a week, and then be re-evaluated. That’s all that means,” the skipper said.

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Tigers claim LHP De La Cruz off waivers from Indians

Kelvin De La Cruz's head may be spinning.

The minor league left-hander has just joined his third organization in five weeks, as the Tigers claimed him off waivers from the Indians on Friday. Detroit optioned the contract of the 23-year-old to Double-A Erie.

De La Cruz was designated for assignment on Feb. 14 by the Indians to make room for Casey Kotchman, then traded to the Texas Rangers on Feb. 21, for cash. The Rangers organization sent De La Cruz back to the Indians on March 15, and then designated him for assignment again.

Originally a non-drafted free agent signing by the Indians in 2004, De La Cruz has 35-31 record with a 4.02 ERA and 487 strikeouts 508-plus minor league innings (118 appearances/105 starts).

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Justin Verlander, pro pitcher, amateur pitch-man

A byproduct of Justin Verlander's Cy Young-MVP season in 2011 has been monumentally increased face time for the Tigers star. He's been on the late-night TV talk show "Conan," on the cover of the video game MLB2K12, on the cover of a cereal box, and now a part of MLB's Opening Day commercial campaign.

In the ad campaign — which will run on MLB Network and ESPN — several stars, including Verlander, issue some bold predictions for the 2012 season. In addition to promising "more complete games," Verlander also (jokingly?!?) promises to "throw 107." As long as his arm doesn't fall off, I suppose ...

Here's the main spot:

Verlander also had some out-takes, like demonstrating the grips for his pitches (and calls the four-seam fastball his "money-maker")

He also talks about the first time he hit 100 on the radar gun ...

... as well as his first curveball grip

And, lastly, the grip for the "Vulcan change-up" ...

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Cabrera has broken orbital, will be re-evaluated in a week

Apparently the only way to get Miguel Cabrera out of the lineup at third base was to break his face.

The Tigers slugger was diagnosed with a non-displaced fracture of the orbital floor underneath his right eye, and will be sidelined for a week for the swelling to go down before he can be re-evaluated, according to multiple reports out of Lakeland, Fla., on Tuesday.

His vision is not impaired.

“Thank God it is not worse,” Cabrera told reporters, according to the Detroit Free Press’ John Lowe.

Cabrera was struck in the face by a first-inning grounder off the bat of the Phillies’ Hunter Pence, after it took a bad hop on him. He immediately left the field under his own power, with trainer Kevin Rand helping stanch the bleeding with a towel. He was taken to a local Clearwater, Fla., hospital for testing.

Buster Olney of ESPN reported that Ramon Santiago had been urging Cabrera to wear sunglasses to see the ball better.

That urging may have saved Cabrera’s eye, even though the glasses were what caused the cut, which required eight stitches to close.

“I want to thank God I had glasses on,” Cabrera said, according to Olney, noting that he hopes to play opening day.

“His sunglasses helped him a lot. You could see the imprint of the ball on the glasses,” Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski said, according to Lowe. “We will know a lot more in a week.”

Tigers manager Jim Leyland joked Monday that Cabrera looked like a boxer who wasn’t doing too well in a fight, but the slugger said he didn’t feel any pain on Tuesday.

“I can take a punch. Or two or three,” he told MLive’s James Schmehl.

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Monday, March 19, 2012

Cabrera hustled off field after taking hot-shot one-hopper off face

Miguel Cabrera was hustled off the field in Clearwater, Fla., after taking a sharp, one-hopper off the bat of Hunter Pence to his right cheek in the first inning of Monday's Grapefruit League game with the Phillies.

The impact caused Cabrera to spin around, and opened a gash on his cheek. From the ESPN replays, it appeared as if Cabrera's Oakley sunglasses may have kept the ball from hitting his eye, but also likely opened the cut on his cheek, which was bleeding steadily. [Here is a picture of the immediate aftermath.]

The Tigers slugger was hustled off the field, and into the Tigers clubhouse by head trainer Kevin Rand, and replaced in the field by Audy Ciriaco. He never went down, and left under his own power.

"Tomorrow, you're going to pick up a paper and read about his lack of ability to play third base. Every third baseman in league gets hit by a ball," ESPN analyst and former Red Sox and Phillies manager Terry Francona said as Cabrera was leaving the field.

Cabrera was taken to a local hospital for stitches and precautionary X-rays, the Tigers announced.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland joked about it when he joined the ESPN broadcast from the dugout in the middle of the fourth inning.

"First look, he looked kind of like a prize fighter who wasn't doing too good," the manager said.

When Francona mentioned a shot of Leyland biting his nails, asking if it was a matter of Leyland worrying about Cabrera or really needing a cigarette, Leyland said, "Combination of both."

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

No surprise in first camp cuts, as Tigers release Pauley

There were no shockers when the Tigers announced their first cuts of spring training on Monday, cutting nine players to get down to 48 in the big league camp — not even considering the one familiar name on the list.

Four of the players were spare catchers — Rob Brantly (3rd round/2010), Curt Casali (10th/2011), Patrick Leyland (8th/2010) and James McCann (2nd/2011) — the organization's recently added depth at the position, no longer necessary at this point in camp. Prized third-base prospect Nick Castellanos and infielder/outfielder Justin Henry were also sent down to the minor league camp on Monday, while infielder Hernan Perez and outfielder Avisail Garcia were told that their contracts would be optioned down on Wednesday.

But the only outright cut was reliever David Pauley, who'd never really found any success with the Tigers after coming over from Seattle with Doug Fister in last year's trade deadline deal.

Despite manager Jim Leyland insisting at the start of camp that Pauley was "better than we saw last year" and that the team wouldn't "write him off and forget about him," Pauley did nothing to help convince the Tigers to keep him around. The 28-year-old gave up eight hits and five earned runs in his 2 2/3 innings of work this spring (for a 16.87 ERA), after seeing his ERA more than double (2.15 to 5.95) in the transition from the Mariners to the Tigers.

At the time of the trade, with the Tigers bullpen struggling to bridge the gap between the starters and the back end, the addition of Pauley seemed like it might be nearly as important as grabbing another starter in Fister.

It just never worked out that way.

[NOTE: In a strictly procedural move, the Tigers placed Victor Martinez on the 60-day disabled list on Tuesday. He had the first of two knee surgeries on Jan. 27]

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