Blogs > Out of Left Field

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

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

No movement, morning of deadline day

The Tigers weren't one of the sale shoppers lining up Monday night to get in on the swap meet around Major League Baseball, and they don't appear to have any specific urgency to get another trade done before Tuesday's 4 p.m. deadline, either.

As CBS' Danny Knobler reported Monday morning, business is slow:

As I wrote yesterday, the Tigers are apparently still looking for another right-handed hitter, and were reportedly one of the teams that made an offer on Cubs outfielder Reed Johnson Monday night. He ended up going to the Braves.

Another logical move for the Tigers would be a guy like Mets utilityman Scott Hairston, but he may have raised the asking price with a pair of homers on Monday night. But, as ESPN's Buster Olney mentioned, there may not be a fit between the teams, either.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Reed Johnson pulled from Cubs game; could he be headed to Tigers? (UPDATE: He's not)

It's the type of news that sends the rumor-mill whirling. Chicago media reported that outfielder Reed Johnson (and later catcher Geovany Soto) were pulled out of Monday night's game, and were seen shaking hands with teammates, a sure sign that they were headed to other locker rooms very soon.

Johnson, a 35-year-old journeyman outfielder, is just the type of player that the Tigers are looking for: an inexpensive (1-year, $1.115M contract with Cubs) right-handed batter, who hits lefties very well (career .313 hitter; .333 this season).

Coincidentally, Thomas Collier, a right-handed starting pitcher for the Tigers' Class A affiliate at West Michigan, was also pulled from his game, after just three innings of work.

As I wrote earlier today, Johnson's exactly what the Tigers may be seeking, either before or after Tuesday's non-waiver trade deadline.

Earlier Monday, The Oakland Press' sports columnist, Pat Caputo, had a hunch that Johnson might be a perfect fit in Detroit.

UPDATED: Apparently, according to reports from the Atlanta Journal Constitution (among others) Johnson's headed to Atlanta, along with pitcher Paul Maholm.

No more lineup variables

One of the most frequent (and misguided) complaints from fans about Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland are his ever-varying lineups, so much so that he — and everyone else involved, as well — gets tired of hearing about them.

There shouldn't be any complaints at the moment, as the Tigers' everyday lineup has stabilized since last week's trade, which brought second baseman Omar Infante over from the Miami Marlins. In the seven games since, including Monday's series opener at Boston, Leyland has varied his lineup just twice: on Thursday against the Indians, when Ramon Santiago started in place of Jhonny Peralta at shortstop, and Sunday, when the Tigers were facing lefty Brett Cecil.

Against the lefty, Quintin Berry sat in favor of Ryan Raburn, with Infante moving up to Berry's normal No. 2 spot, while Brennan Boesch dropped from sixth to eighth. Gerald Laird also spelled Alex Avila. Everything and everyone else has been static the whole week through.

Here's the lineup the Tigers will send out at Fenway Park tonight against Boston right-hander Clay Buchholz (8-3, 4.93 ERA):

DETROIT TIGERS (54-48, 2nd AL Central)
Austin Jackson, CF
Quintin Berry, LF
Miguel Cabrera, 3B
Prince Fielder, 1B
Delmon Young, DH
Brennan Boesch, RF
Jhonny Peralta, SS
Alex Avila, C
Omar Infante, 2B

Max Scherzer, RHP (10-5, 4.49 ERA)
Scherzer's been near-dominant in his last five starts, sporting a 4-0 record and a sub-3.00 ERA. The only aberration was his first start after the All-Star break, when he struggled at Baltimore, giving up four earned runs in five innings. He's had mixed results against the Red Sox, too, beating them 7-3 at Fenway on May 31 to cap a 4-0 month, but he was lit up for seven earned runs on eight hits in 2 2/3 innings of work in his season debut at Comerica on April 8.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Tigers reactivate Smyly, send him to Toledo

Part of the reason the Tigers felt the need to trade for a starting pitcher was the uncertainty attached to dependence on a rookie like Drew Smyly.

As well as he'd done in his first season above Double-A, there were concerned eyes in the organization watching his workload from the earliest part of the season, cautious plans made to limit his innings the further he went along.

"The common sense factor tells you that we were going to watch his innings. We’ve had two unfortunate circumstances that have really forced us to do that more than we would’ve had to or wanted to. We had a planned laid out for him. It’s something that you just take advantage of," manager Jim Leyland said at the beginning of the last homestand. "Who knows? Maybe that’s the good Lord telling us not to push him this year."

While a pair of injuries (blister, intercostal strain) may have helped limit his innings naturally, they did nothing to eliminate the principal uncertainty the Tigers had: Would they be able to depend on him during the stretch run?

"Well, I think it’s just an uncertainty at this point. He’s going to start throwing, so he is OK to do that. But that still is a couple week process, when you start getting involved with that. It played a factor," said general manager Dave Dombrowski during the conference call, after the five-player trade that landed them a veteran replacement in the form of right-hander Anibal Sanchez.

Where did that leave Smyly?

"I can’t answer that question at this point. We’ll just wait and see when he’s healthy," Dombrowski said at the time.

At this point, it appears he'll be a very cushy insurance policy.

The Tigers activated him Sunday from the 15-day disabled list, and sent him to Triple-A Toledo, where he'll make a start Tuesday. He'd been on the DL since the All-Star Break, after feeling the tweak in his last start, on July 6.

Could the Tigers still end up using Smyly, if someone gets hurt, or completely implodes? Sure. Could he be a bullpen option when rosters expand in September? Also sure.

But Monday's trade meant they didn't have to. And it made Smyly a luxury item: a big league-ready lefty who can start if called upon, a guy they can stash at Toledo until they need him again.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Overflow from Dombrowski trade conference call

Obviously not every quote uttered by a team official makes it into a story like Monday's. The conference call with Tigers GM and president Dave Dombrowski ran about 20 minutes.
Here's the majority of what he had to say about the five-player, two-pick trade that brought Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez to the franchise, in return for prospects Jacob Turner, Rob Brantly and Brian Flynn:

OPENING STATEMENT: It was a situation for us, as we try to improve our ballclub, and win our division, and hopefully get into the postseason and advance from there, that we felt we were in a spot that we wanted to address a couple of positions in particular.

And the addition of Omar Infante for us, gives us a solid second baseman, a quality guy that can go out there and play day-in, and day-out. He adds to your ballclub offensively, defensively. He can steal a base. A real solid player; to us, one of the better second basemen in Major League Baseball.

And then in Anibal Sanchez, quality stuff. He’s been a consistent starter throughout his career, really the last couple of years has pitched consistently and well. His last three outings, he’s pitched outstanding. He feels great, he’s got quality stuff, and he gives us a chance to have five established, proven, Major League starters in our rotation as we go forward over the next couple, two-and-a-half months, and have a chance to win.

We gave up a lot, and we know that. It hurt to do what we did. But we made this move, I’m sure as everybody looks at it, we’re trying to win this season. We’re in a position where you have to give up talent to acquire talent.

It was also kind of a unique situation as we went through this, and Sanchez being a free agent at the end of the year, not knowing if we would sign him or not sign him at this point, we wanted to get their draft choice. We kind of dickered back and forth on that, and also trying to place a value on that, and also being in a position where we’re trying to acquire somebody who’s going to be a free agent at the end of the year, where you don’t get compensation. That rule has changed. We kept going back and forth, and finally agreed to send our draft choice, between the second and third round to them.

I think that’s the first time a draft choice has ever been traded in a Major League trade.

Q: You've had chances to do so in past, why trade Turner now? 
Well, you never want to trade a Jacob Turner, but we’re in a position right now, where we feel that we had a couple of needs that we wanted to address, they’re very important for us to win, second base ... for us it was really a position we wanted to upgrade.

In Sanchez, you get a pitcher that’s a very good pitcher, but I think the reality is, right now, it gives us a chance to win, and in order to make the deal, we were going to have to give up what we gave up.

You never want to make the deal, but I will say that, in addition to Jacob, we do feel that we have a couple of young starters that are still there in Drew Smyly and Casey Crosby that are good, quality young starters at the Triple-A level/Major League level. So we do have a little bit of depth in that area.

Q: Someone coming off 40-man roster to make room? 
Yes, we’ve designated for assignment Kelvin De La Cruz off our Double-A club.

Q: How about the 25-man roster?We don’t have to make a move until they report, which will be tomorrow.

Q: Does this trade change/eliminate desire to acquire another pitcher? We ... we’re set.

At this point. We have five guys going forward in our Major League rotation, and this would set our starting rotation going forward.

Q: So this will be the rotation as of Aug. 1? 
Well, I anticipate. I can’t ever tell you (definitively) ... yeah, that’s what our plans are.

Q: Did you find the asking price too high for other pitchers?I think, like in a lot of situations, you’re exploring a lot of options. We’ve looked at a lot of starting pitchers that are out there, and also weighed what the cost of acquisition would be ... in the price of players, as well as the availability. Who’s available, who’s not available, who we’re waiting on.

So, for us, this is the deal that just made the most sense for us to make. We could have tried to acquire Infante, and then tried to get a starting pitcher, but we do like Sanchez a great deal, too. People think a lot of his abilities ... so we feel like we’re getting a quality starter.

I think it’s just a combination of why you try to make any trade. You just think, even though it hurts a little bit to make it — which, anytime you acquire players for now for players for the future, that happens — we still feel we have some good players in our system. That’s the cost of trying to win, and we’re trying to win this year.

Q: Obviously have other catchers in system beyond Brantly
Well, we do. We do. And we still have a young starting catcher in Alex Avila, a left-hand hitting catcher. You aren’t going to have both of them in the organization at some point. That was not going to happen. Because you’re not usually going to have two left-hand hitting catchers at the big-league level. We like Alex, and we feel he’s our catcher, and he’s still young.

We hadn’t made the final decision going forward, but when this trade took place, they insisted on the package.

Those two names were pretty much in stone, if we were going to make this trade, and get these players.

Q: How quickly trade come about, and did MLB-wide pace of trading picking up speed up this one?
That answer’s simple, because it’s ‘No.’ That didn’t have anything to do with our pace.

Really, I had a pulse of talking to all the clubs. ... Right at the All-Star break and afterwards, had talked to Florida a while ago, and expressed interest in our second base (spot), and that we may be looking for a starter. They weren’t sure what they were going to do. (Marlins GM) Larry Beinfest contacted me on Friday, just wanted to check and see where we were, and if we still hand interest. I said we did.

He said, ‘Well, we’re going to see how this weekend goes, and I’ll get back in contact with you, if we decide to make a move.’ He contacted me yesterday, and it was kind of a first for me, he contacted me by text, to kind of make a first proposal, and it was in the middle of the game. So that was really the first time we got serious about talking about this, and we talked yesterday quite a bit, and again today, until the middle of the afternoon.

Q: Given Infante’s youth, is he a long-term answer at 2B? Well, we like him a lot, and he’s signed already for last year, which is a positive point, and he’s also young enough that we can talk about the future. But we haven’t reached that point yet.

Again, we like him a great deal, so who knows? But it’s not an area that we’ve discussed at this time.

Q: How badly are other teams coming after Castellanos? 
Very badly. A great deal. I think we were in a position that we basically had found no desire to trade him — again, I don’t like to say we have an untradeable player, because you say that, and all of a sudden something happens — but it would’ve taken a great deal. And we never discussed him, from our end of it, in any deal whatsoever, but were asked about him often.

Q: Was second base the overriding concern? Or equal? 
I think for us, if we had the starting pitchers going forward that we had, with the youngsters in the fifth spot, Smyly and Turner, I think that we felt comfortable enough, if they stayed healthy, and pitched like they’re capable of pitching. ... It was also something that protects us, gives us some depth. And we all know that any time you take the field with a pitcher that’s established, can give you seven, eight innings, that not only helps your starting rotation but that helps your bullpen.

I think from a second base perspective, it was a position we’d really wanted to address, a position that looked like it had scuffled for us all season long. Really has not caught fire from anybody that’s played there, and we’ve mixed and matched.

So that was an area we definitely wanted to address. There are not a lot of second basemen that are available, an especially aren’t a lot of second basemen that are available that are good players. ... We really looked really hard to find one.

We definitely had been trying to address the second base position, but the starting pitcher was also in our mind, though.

Q: Smyly’s open-ended, indefinite return from injury contribute? 
Well, I think it’s just an uncertainty at this point. He’s going to start throwing, so he is OK to do that. But that still is a couple week process, when you start getting involved with that. It played a factor.

Q: What is Smyly’s role going forward? 
I can’t answer that question at this point. We’ll just wait and see when he’s healthy.

Q: Did the familiarity with Infante help make this deal? Well, I don’t think it really played into it, because that really wouldn’t make a difference. It’s nice to have a feel for him, because we know he’s a quality individual. A lot of people in the organization still know him, hold him in high regard. I can’t say as though that was a real big factor. I think it was his overall makeup, and you try to do a lot of research, make sure they have a quality makeup; we did that with these guys. That’s more important than where they came from.

Q: Will fans be excited for return of ‘Infantiago’*laughs*
I think they’ll be pleased as long as we win.

Q: Did Turner’s performance Sunday enhance trade in Marlins’ mind?I don’t think a great deal, because they’d already proposed it, as we were going along. I can’t really answer that question, totally, but they have liked him in the past, I know that. Perhaps they watched him start the ballgame, because it wasn’t in the first couple innings that I got the text — it was about the third, fourth inning, somewhere around there. So maybe they did watch a couple innings, and that swayed them one way or the other. But they’ve always shown an indication that they liked Jacob.

Q: Will Infante’s acquisition make Raburn’s spot on the team tenuous? I wouldn’t speculate on any of the players at this point.

Q: What was the value of trading draft pick?Really, for us, when they asked us for the three players that they asked us for, and they said that they’d give the two, the one thing that was, for me, a concern is that we’re dealing with a player that ... is a free agent at the end of the year. In the past, you would’ve received draft-pick compensation for a player like that. So, for me, I asked them for their draft choice, and then there was the matter of what would the value of that be, from their end of it, as well as ours. They admitted that struggled with it.

So it’s a situation where for me, they struggled with that, too. They, in turn, started asking for more players, and a fourth player if they gave us that (the pick). And we spent a long time going back and forth on that. And then they finally asked me to trade (our) pick, and that seemed like that was a fair request. So that was how we came to it.

It was an interesting exercise, with draft choices. For us, we pick up a No. 1 draft choice at the end of the first round. We cannot trade this choice anymore, now that we’ve got it.

You trade up to the first round from the second round, and that had value for us.

Q: Did the recent run of success help you deal from position of strength? I don’t know that it helped us in the trading aspect of it. We felt all along that we had a club that was a good club. Of course we weren’t playing up to our capabilities. I think one thing that it helped was that, as we moved forward, and other guys had started to respond — what you hope to do is identify a position or two where you can hopefully help in a deal. And when a lot of guys are struggling, or not playing up to their capabilities, sometimes that’s hard to identify. So by us playing better, and some guys starting to step up, it gave you an easier area to really focus on.

Reaction to Miggy's milestone day

Here's what Tigers fans were saying Sunday, when Miguel Cabrera became just the second-ever Venezuelan-born player to reach the 300 career home run plateau, joining Andres Galarraga:

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Tigers pack them in for three-game series vs. ChiSox

All three of the weekend’s games against the Chicago White Sox were sellouts for the Tigers — 44,572 Friday, 42,888 Saturday and 41,281 Sunday — giving them four straight packed houses, when you throw in the crowd of 40,311 from Thursday’s series finale against the Angels.

“For us, it was work, obviously, but for the fans, it was a happening. For the fans around town, all weekend, was tremendous. I hope they continue tonight, party a little bit, and enjoy it. Because it was really nice, people coming in from out of town, other parts of Michigan. Everybody into it. Really nice, just a nice weekend for us,” said Tigers manager Jim Leyland, whose team has won five straight.

“But for us, it’s work, and we gotta go to work again on Tuesday. Hopefully the fans will enjoy this one, and remember this weekend. There were probably some people here from Chicago, as well, and they’ll go home a little sad, but our fans this weekend should be real happy.”

The three games against the White Sox ranked as the fourth-, sixth- and 14th-largest crowds at Comerica this season, where the Tigers now have 19 sellouts, and have drawn 1,826,100 through 48 home dates. 

Detroit sold out Comerica Park 17 times all of last season.

Dirks finally heads out for rehab assignment

Andy Dirks’ interminable wait to be a ballplayer again is finally over. 

On the disabled list since May 31 with a strained Achilles tendon, the outfielder finally got clearance to head out for a rehabilitation assignment on Sunday, joining the Triple-A Mud Hens in Toledo. He started in center field in Sunday night’s game, and collected an RBI single in his first at-bat.

“Right now, it’s good. I wouldn’t be going somewhere if I didn’t think I could play. It’s finally getting better, so you know it’s a positive right now. But I still have to see how it feels after I start playing games because it’s tough to simulate it. Playing a baseball game is one of the toughest things to simulate, I think, but we’ll see,” said Dirks, who will probably get three at-bats per game for a few nights, then be the designated hitter for another. 

“I’m ready to start playing. It’s been too long.”

Manager Jim Leyland isn’t expecting him back soon, though. Though Dirks happily packed up for a road trip, it’ll probably be with the Mud Hens, who head out on the road at the same time as the parent club. 

“His will be a little bit longer time than most rehabs, so they’ve got plenty of time to fool with that,” Leyland said of the rehab plan.

After playing in the Dominican League in the offseason, Dirks started both spring training and the regular season red-hot, hitting .328 with 15 extra-base hits, 24 runs and 16 RBI through the team's first 37 games. 

But in reality, he's been hurt off-and-on for most of the season. He initially tweaked his hamstring on April 18, then — by overcompensating for the first nick — hurt the Achilles tendon on May 1. It took the Tigers waiting most of the month before shutting him down. 

Phil Coke returns to Tigers after birth of first daughter, Mickenzie LouAnn

Phil Coke knows the incredible pressure of being handed the baseball in Yankee Stadium as a rookie, being asked to fill in for the greatest closer of all time, Mariano Rivera, and expected to hold onto a lead.

But that pales in comparison with the bundle of responsibility he was handed in the wee hours of Saturday morning, when doctors at Henry Ford Hospital in West Bloomfield handed him his newborn daughter, Mickenzie LouAnn Coke.

“All of a sudden, that seems easy,” the lefty relief pitcher said Sunday, remembering that first save on May 18, 2009, just 24 hours after he’d blown an eighth-inning lead. “Hopefully, I don’t eat my words.”

It also seemed much easier than what his wife, Bobbie, had gone through, with just shy of 24 hours of labor before Mickenzie arrived at 2:22 a.m.

“She’s so, so tough. She makes me feel like such a girl. But, then again, if I feel like a girl, I’m tough, too. She’s tougher than me,” said a clearly exhausted Phil in the Tigers’ locker room Sunday morning, after he’d distributed cigars to teammates.

“It was unbelievable. She was up walking around yesterday, and they were concerned about ... they weren’t sure if she’d be able to or not.

“She just hopped up, and thought nothing of it. I was like: ‘Whoa!’ Extra strong. Mama is extra strong.”

Coke admitted it would probably be hard to justify any trip to the disabled list from here on out, too.

“Hey, you know what? My arm better be falling off my body. ... I will never come off the field for a boo-boo. It better be broke,” he joked.

“I was thinking about things that everybody says, ‘Oh, the last month’s going to be brutal on her, and she’s going to have a bad attitude, hormonal swings.’ I’m like, ‘OK.’ My wife’s awesome. I don’t know what everyone’s complaining about. My wife was amazing the whole time, then just graceful through everything.”

Coke missed both of the Tigers’ first two games of the series with the White Sox and, while they’d had the news of the baby’s arrival, they hadn’t seen Coke himself until he wandered into Jim Leyland’s Comerica Park office during the manager’s pregame media session. The relief pitcher had spent Friday night at the hospital, as well as all day Saturday, before going home to get sleep.

“It definitely gives you perspective on different aspects of life. ... She’s every bit of that word: beautiful,” Coke said, admitting that no warnings beforehand prepared him for the moment that he was handed his daughter.

“No, that was an incredible, incredible feeling. I still don’t quite have words to describe what I was feeling. I still don’t. I’ve been thinking about it all the time, and every time I look at (her picture on) my phone, I get a little teary-eyed.”

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Tigers play White Sox with first in AL Central on the line

Since an 11-day span in early June when the Tigers hovered between five and six games off the pace, they've gone 22-11, putting themselves just a half game behind the American League Central-leading White Sox — who have spent 46 straight days in first — coming into Saturday's contest.
With a win, the Tigers could reclaim sole possession of first place for the first time since April 22.

The Tigers have gotten three exceptional starts in a row from Doug Fister, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, and will need another one Saturday from Rick Porcello to extend their win streak to four games.

"Yeah. That’s the only way we’ve got a chance to win," manager Jim Leyland said before the game.. "He’s facing one of the best in the league. So when you face somebody like (Chris) Sale, the one common denominator is you better pitch good against him, or you’re going to get beat."

An All-Star after making the conversion to starting pitching, Sale comes into the game 11-2 with a 2.11 ERA overall, and a 3.20 ERA in 19.2 career innings pitched vs. Detroit. He's 1-0 with a 1.69 ERA in three career appearances at Comerica Park.

"He’s got great movement. He’s a hard thrower — 92-94 (mph), that’s pretty firm for a lefty. Got a nasty slider, and he’s kind of effectively wild," Leyland said. "He’s pretty good. In fact, he’s real good."

Austin Jackson, CF (R)
Ryan Raburn, LF (R)
Miguel Cabrera, 3B (R)
Prince Fielder, 1B (L)
Delmon Young, DH (R)
Jhonny Peralta, SS (R)
Brennan Boesch, RF (L)
Gerald Laird, C (R)
Danny Worth, 2B (R)

Alejandro DeAza, CF (L)
Kevin Youkilis, 3B (R)
Adam Dunn, DH (L)
Paul Konerko, 1B (R)
Alex Rios, RF (R)
A.J. Pierzynski, C (L)
Dayan Viciedo, LF (R)
Alexei Ramirez, SS (R)
Gordon Beckham, 2B (R)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Despite minor setback, Dirks still hopeful to head out for rehab this week

Manager Jim Leyland continues to sound less enthused about Andy Dirks’ rehabilitation than the player himself does, noting Tuesday that it “isn’t too good,” as another bout of soreness in the injured Achilles tendon caused the Tigers to back off a bit.

Dirks sounded far more upbeat — intentionally.

“My expectations are always high, I don’t care about the situation,” the second-year outfielder said. “You’ve always got to be positive. But in reality, it’s just one of those injuries that takes a long time to heal.”

Having missed 42 games through Wednesday night, Dirks conceded there’s no reason to push it if it’s sore. He was not going to do any baseball activities, but was planning a workout with strength and conditioning coach Javair Gillet. But Dirks is still hoping to possibly get clearance to head out for a rehab assignment this week.

“It’s still a possibility. It’s definitely still a possibility,” Dirks said. “It’s getting better, but yesterday was just a little sore, so why would we want to push it? It’s been two months, so why would we go out there, keep running hard to where it re-injures again. That doesn’t make any sense.”

Lineups for Thursday's series finale vs. Angels

The Tigers and Angels play the final game of a four game series (weather permitting) Thursday afternoon. If the season ended today, the two teams would meet in the Wild Card game, in Anaheim.
Here are Thursday's lineups:

Austin Jackson, CF (R)
Quintin Berry, LF (L)
Miguel Cabrera, 3B (R)
Prince Fielder, 1B (L)
Delmon Young, DH (R)
Brennan Boesch, RF (L)
Jhonny Peralta, SS (R)
Alex Avila, C (L)
Danny Worth, 2B (R)

P: Max Scherzer (8-5, 4.84 ERA)

Mike Trout, LF (R)
Erick Aybar, SS (S)
Albert Pujols, DH (R)
Mark Trumbo, RF (R)
Kendrys Morales, 1B (S)
Alberto Callaspo, 3B (S)
Maicer Izturis, 2B (S)
Peter Bourjos, CF (R)
Bobby Wilson, C (R)

P: Jerome Williams (6-6, 4.67 ERA)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Tigers awarded extra pick in MLB's Competitive Balance Lottery

The Detroit Tigers won the lottery Wednesday, awarded an extra pick in the 2013 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft as a result of the first-ever Competitive Balance Lottery.

Wednesday’s drawing, a provision set up by the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, was designed to give the clubs in the bottom third of the league in both revenue and market size a competitive boost by giving them a chance to win extra draft picks. Each eligible team’s chances were proportional to the previous year’s winning percentage.

As one of the teams who received funds as part of the MLB revenue sharing program, the Tigers were eligible for the drawing for Round B picks, after the second round. They got the sixth and final pick in Wednesday’s draw. [An explanation of the process is here, along with the full results.]

Without factoring in the compensatory picks awarded to teams who lose free agents, that should equate to somewhere around the 72nd pick in the draft at this point.

The bonus for the CBL picks is that, for the first time in MLB history, they’re a tradable commodity, under certain restrictions.

In effect, Tuesday’s lottery win equates to another trade chip for the upcoming trade season, to go along with the prospects in the farm system.

Turner to start again Sunday, despite Tuesday's debacle

Jacob Turner will start again for the Tigers.


That was manager Jim Leyland’s message Wednesday afternoon, less than a day after the rookie’s disastrous outing against the Los Angeles Angels, easily the worst of his young career.

He went just two innings, giving up seven earned runs on six hits — three of them tape-measure home runs — as the Tigers lost 13-0.

But he’ll be at it again five days later, starting for the Tigers in the series finale against the White Sox on Sunday. It may not be ideal, but it is what it is.

“It’s exactly what I said: When we’ve got to mess with our pitching, these are the kind of things that happen,” Leyland said. “But Jacob might pitch two-hit ball for six innings on Sunday. I can’t answer that question. I don’t know. He did not have a good outing. It’s simple.”

The veteran skipper wanted to keep his options open before Tuesday, hoping that Drew Smyly (intercostal strain) would be ready to slide back into his normal spot in the rotation.

He’s not.

“This is going to get to the point where he’s going to miss his second start. Is he going to have to then go out and pitch a few innings somewhere? I don’t know that. I can’t answer that question right now,” Leyland said. “Believe me, I don’t like this any more than anybody else does.”

That leaves the Tigers with the option of going back to Turner — or one of the other options in the minors.

It’s both a test for the pitching depth, and possibly an indictment of it.

When the Tigers passed on adding a veteran arm in the offseason, it was with the express intent of one of their youngsters filling the open fifth spot in the rotation.

Thanks to injuries, they’ve had to start, at one time or another, five of those six candidates — Andy Oliver, currently on the disabled list at Triple-A Toledo, is the only exception — with varying levels of success.

Adam Wilk posted an 8.18 ERA in three starts in April, lasting just two innings in his final attempt.

Casey Crosby got three starts in June, going less than four innings in three of them, and finishing with a 9.49 ERA.

While he’s settled well into his long relief role, Duane Below did get a start earlier this month, but couldn’t get out of the third, giving up five runs (only one was earned). In three career big-league starts, he has an ERA of 4.38, but allows opposing hitters to hit at a .308 average, and a WHIP of 1.541.

And Turner’s sporting a 10.29 ERA after Tuesday’s debacle, and still has yet to win his first MLB game, losing two of his five career starts.

The Tigers still have high hopes for their top pitching prospect, though.

“He’s a kid that, in my judgment, isn’t quite ready for this yet, but will be, and will be at the top of a rotation, or close to it. We coulda caught lightning in a bottle, he could’ve had a great outing ... but I wasn’t really expecting that. I wasn’t expecting what happened to happen, either, but if I could’ve gotten six innings and been in the game, I’d have been comfortable with that. ... If we could’ve gotten that I would’ve been satisfied, but that’s asking a lot. Things move pretty fast up here,” Leyland said Tuesday night. “I wouldn’t want to overreact one way or the other. I think that was pretty obvious. I think he’s a top-of-the-rotation guy that just needs more seasoning.”

It’s monstrously hard to get that seasoning on the job, though.

“It’s difficult to learn at the Major League level, whether your a pitcher, a hitter, or anything. We’ve got quite a few guys on this team that have had to do that, and part of it is the pressure to win. Everybody wants you to win, everybody wants you to do well, and the fact of the matter is, more times than not, you’re not. Then people are going to ask questions, either ‘What are you doing?’ or ‘Are you good enough?’ It’s hard for guys learning to handle stuff like that,” catcher Alex Avila said. “In the minor leagues, it doesn’t really matter. Normally, the ones that are going to get it, they get it, and they figure it out it tough situations, that’s really when you figure out how someone really is, is how they react.”

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Berry giving Tigers a much-needed injection of speed

When he took off, his manager flinched.

When rookie speedster Quintin Berry took off for second base in the seventh inning of Monday’s game, his manager later admitted to gasping — only because he saw the bad jump Berry had gotten against reliever LaTroy Hawkins. Berry made it anyway.

A handful of pitches later, Jim Leyland flinched again, when Berry took off for third, and watched him nearly get thrown out, punishment for another bad jump. That’s a huge risk to take when Berry at the time represented the game-tying run, and the American League’s second-leading RBI man, Miguel Cabrera, standing at the plate.

Berry was safe again.

It was oh so nerve-wracking, and EXACTLY what the Tigers needed.

“When’s the last time, other than maybe Jackson, in the last seven years I’ve been here, we stole second and third, in a big situation, in a tight game? That’s not what we’re known for,” Leyland said Tuesday.

“But he better get a better jump.”

One of the Detroit Tigers’ main offseason goals was figuring out a way to inject some speed into their sometimes grindingly slow lineup. For all intents and purposes, it looked like they’d struck out, sticking with their in-house options — Delmon Young, Ryan Raburn and Ramon Santiago, none of them burners — at the two positions (left field and second base) where they had the best chance of upgrading their speed.

It turns out, the infusion they needed came from a minor-league deal they handed to a career minor-league journeyman on Nov. 9, a transaction that got next to no ink at the time.

Berry had spent five rather uneventful seasons bouncing around the minor leagues for three different organizations, spending only four games above the Double-A level before this season. It was enough of a letdown that he considered giving up the ghost on the hopes of ever making it to the big leagues.

“I’m excited to be here. I spent my good time in the minor leagues where nobody was watching anything. It’s a blast to be up here,” said Berry, who’s gone from an emergency replacement for an injured Austin Jackson, to a revelation, to a fan favorite.

“I’m happy with the success I have right now. I always want to get better. I always expected myself to be able to get here and be able to help a team win. That’s all I wanted to do is be able to help a team win. I’m just happy for that. Like I said, things could go wrong. But I played this game in the minor leagues for a long time. To have any lack of confidence that I could be up here doing what I’m doing, I wasted a lot of time in the minor leagues.”

When Jackson was gone, Berry manned center field and hit leadoff, doing a pretty darned good Austin Jackson impression. By the time the Tigers’ regular leadoff man returned from an injured abdominal muscle, Berry had made it increasingly hard for his manager to remove him from the lineup, especially since he brought something that — outside of Jackson — the Tigers had lacked for years.

Pure, unadulterated speed.

“There’s no substitute for speed. That’s just a different type tool than an arm or a bat. There’s no substitute for it. That’s just a God-given thing that Berry has, and other guys have, and some guys don’t. It’s a weapon,” Leyland said.

“He’s changed our club a little bit.”

Despite playing in just one more than half the Tigers’ games so far, he came into Tuesday’s game already tied for fifth on the team in runs (30), tied for the team (and American League) lead in triples (5). And he’s far and away the team leader in stolen bases (14), ranking just outside the league leaders in that category.

He had yet to be caught stealing, either, an impressive feat for a guy who’s never seen any of these pitchers.

“I’m a firm believer in that most baserunners that steal the bases, I think they probably want to make everybody think that they’ve studied 18 hours of tape, and all that (crap), and most of the time, they (bleeping) run on speed,” Leyland said. “I can assure you of that.”

But Berry’s been more than just a bunt-and-run guy. His batting average has never dipped below .286 since his first week in the big leagues, a pretty impressive feat for a guy who had a career .267 average in the minors.

“I come up here, I want to try to be more than just a speed guy. I want to be a good player. Things are just going my way. They could be going the other way but balls are finding holes,” said Berry, admitting that hitting in the No. 2 hole, sandwiched between Jackson and Cabrera, where he’ll get plenty of fastballs, does help a lot. “That’s all I can ask for right now.”

Surprisingly, Berry (who only three times in his minor league career had more RBI than steals in a single season) has been a run producer — he had 18 RBI through Monday’s game, when he drove in an insurance run in the eighth with a single past a drawn-in infield — impressing his boss.

“He’s pretty good at that. He’s been great. He’s been absolutely fantastic for us. He’s done a terrific job. He’s been absolutely terrific for us. He’s exciting. That gives us another way to score some runs sometimes. But the thing that I’m impressed with, is he’s knocked in some big runs. He’s had some big hits and knocked in some runs,” Leyland said.

“He’s done great. Like I said ... it’s a great story about somebody that finally gets a chance, waited a long time for it, and he’s taking advantage of it. It’s nice to see.”

He’s a long shot from being Rookie of the Year caliber. After having Mark Trumbo finish second in last year’s voting, the Angels are likely to have a crack at the award again this year, with the way Mike Trout has played since his call-up at the end of April.

Trout came into Monday’s game hitting an AL-best .348 and tied for the MLB lead in steals with 30.

So will Berry give Trout a run for his money?

“Naw, man. That dude’s ridiculous,” Berry said with a laugh. “If y’all are expecting that, you can relax.”

Monday, July 16, 2012

Castellanos still a long way off, in skipper’s mind

Andy Dirks isn’t the only outfielder that Tigers fans have been clamoring to see.

Ever since the news broke that prized position prospect Nick Castellanos, the MVP of last week’s Futures Game, was working in the outfield, the countdown clock started ticking for some folks, measuring just how soon he’ll be in a Tigers uniform.

Blocked at third base for the foreseeable future by Miguel Cabrera, it made sense to teach him a new position, if the plan was to fast-track him to the majors.

In Leyland’s mind, though, expecting him to contribute this year is pretty far-fetched.

“I have no idea. That would be probably a surprise to me. That’s an awful big jump. Particularly now that he’s playing the outfield. But he’s one of those special guys. I wouldn’t put anything past him,” the veteran manager said. “Right now, that would be on the back burner for me.”

And making any sort of assessment of his ability to play the outfield, based on one week’s worth of games, hardly makes sense, either.

“Well, you know. If he’s hittin’, he’ll look like a pretty good outfielder,” Leyland joked. “I think it’s unfair — it’s unfair to the kid, it’s unfair to anybody else, it’s unfair to the instructors, everybody else — to say after three or four days. How much can you tell in three or four days? I mean can he catch a fly ball? Yeah. I can catch a fly ball. But what you’re talking about, that’s not fair to the kid. Let’s let that take its course, see what happens.”

Castellanos started for Erie in right field Monday night, and hit one of the Sea Wolves’ four home runs in the game. He’s hitting .301 in his 33 games at Double-A, with five home runs and 17 RBI.

Villarreal sees a neck specialist

The first half’s biggest pitching surprise, second-year reliever Brayan Villarreal, missed all of the first series of the second half with a neck problem.

He woke up the first day in Baltimore, feeling a “pinch” on the back of his neck. It hurt when he rotated his head to the side.

“I start feeling bad and I let them know I can’t pitch like that. Then I tried to just warm up and I felt like it still hurt,” said Villarreal, who spent the whole series in the dugout. “I think it started like from sleeping and when I went to practice, I didn't move.” 

The Tigers training staff had Villarreal (3-2, 1.55 ERA, .178 batting average against) see a neck specialist on Monday.

With as many times as different players have had to consult specialists this year, seems like the team is keeping them in business.

“We sure as (heck) have,” manager Jim Leyland said.

Dirks finally approaching ballplayer status again

It’s been a very, very boring six weeks for Andy Dirks.

Trying to heal up from a persistently pesky Achilles injury that’s kept him out since the end of May, Dirks hadn’t been able to do a lot of the things he was used to doing, especially since he spent half that time in a walking boot.

It was, by far, the longest he’s gone without being a ballplayer in a long, long time.

“I’ve been playing solid baseball for the last three years — this is the longest I’ve been without baseball in a while,” Dirks said earlier this month. “I’m staying in shape as good as I can. I don’t want to get out of shape and show up fat. ... I watched TV. Watched the game on TV. Played a little guitar. Rest. That’s about it. It’s pretty boring. I’ve got a pretty boring life right now.”

That’s all about to change for the better, as it seems like the second-year outfielder is finally on the mend, enough that he may possibly be headed out for a rehabilitation stint later this week.

The left fielder, who parlayed a successful winter campaign in the Dominican Winter League into a hot start before injuries derailed him, was back in town from Florida to “put on a show” for trainers, as his manager put it.

“This is the best it’s felt in a long time,” Dirks said. “It’s showing signs of good improvement. Now I’ve just got to get to the point where I can go full-bore baseball activities, and then look to do some kind of rehab assignment.”

The staff at the Tigers’ facility in Lakeland, Fla., helped the outfielder push the envelope, cranking up the intensity of the training regimen as fast as his body could adjust to it.

Dirks, however, knows that he can’t push it too fast, in an attempt to return sooner. He’s tried that before, both with the Achilles, as well as with the hamstring he was nursing before that.

“At this point, I’ve missed so much time already, why miss a couple more days?” he said philosophically. “Obviously, I’d rather be out there playing today, but today’s not an option, so just gotta get it better, and trying to keep it progressing, progressing, progressing.”

Dirks has hit off a tee, as well as with a coach pitching. He’s yet to face live pitching, though.

And he really didn’t have a good handle on how long it might take him to get back up to game speed, get his timing back, once he does head out to a minor league destination for a rehab stint.

“It’ll probably take some at-bats, and that’ll be good. My swing feels good. I don’t think to much about it — ever. The baseball is all I think about. As soon as I start hitting the baseball hard, I’m sure I’ll be good to go,” he said. “For me, if I go out and feel fine, I’m ready to play. But they know better than I do about that. I’ve never been on a rehab stint anywhere. But these guys know how to do it, I don’t. I’m just a baseball player.”

Given how much time he’s missed already, and how rusty he’s likely become, his manager isn’t counting on him anytime real soon.

“Well, the good news for me is when he’s ready to play for the Detroit Tigers, which won’t be for quite a while. Because he’s going to have to go out and get several at-bats — he’s been out two months, six weeks plus. He’s going to have to go out and get at-bats, and it won’t just be three or four days of at-bats,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “That’s still a process.”

Last time the Angels were here ...

The last time the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim were in the visiting clubhouse at Comerica Park, there were still some hot tempers trying to cool down after a humdinger of a series finale, where their aces, Justin Verlander and Jered Weaver, went toe-to-toe (at least until Weaver got thrown out), as Verlander carried a no-hitter late into the game and more than likely locked up the Cy Young that afternoon.

There was also the small problem of an elbow thrown at Verlander by Erick Aybar — who'd bunted for a base hit to break up Verlander's near no-no — and the near bean-ball war incited by a jawing match between Weaver and a pair of Detroit's aging veterans, Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen.

If you don't recall the incident, you can read about it HERE.

And you can also revisit some of the postgame commentary by watching the video below:

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Leyland right to be concerned about Smyly, who heads to DL again

If it seems to you like the Tigers have never had their rotation lined up all season long, thanks to one issue after another, you’re not alone.

“If we can get synchronized and healthy in the pitching staff, I’d be tickled to death,” manager Jim Leyland said, admitting he can never feel comfortable that is happening. “Every time I think about that, something else pops up.”

Next up: a small tweak in the side — an intercostal strain, to be specific — of rookie lefty Drew Smyly that has landed him on the 15-day disabled list, backdated to July 7, the day after his last start. Luis Marte was recalled from Toledo on Saturday, and multiple reports say that Jacob Turner will start in Smyly’s spot on Tuesday.

At the time it happened, the strain wasn’t even serious enough to end Smyly’s night early.

Leyland and trainer Kevin Rand went to the mound to investigate, but the youngster talked them into letting him pitch another inning, and get through the sixth.

But it still concerned Leyland.

“It was sore yesterday ... and it’s in that area where you always worry about,” Leyland said a week ago, “but it doesn’t appear. ... they think a couple of day it’s going to be fine, but I’ve been down that road before. You know, so I am kind of watching that one pretty close. We’ve had a lot of stuff.”

Obviously, the rest over the All-Star break was not enough to heal it up, and Turner — who had a spot start in place of Smyly when his fellow rookie missed time with a blister — will be recalled to take his spot in the rotation.

Turner got a no-decision in his only start this season, going five innings and allowing just one earned run, walking five and striking out three.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Podcast of appearance on Toledo's ESPN affiliate

I appeared Thursday as a guest on the Front Row show with host Norm Wamer, an afternoon radio program on the ESPN affiliate in Toledo, Ohio, 106.5 FM The Ticket.

Here's the podcast of that 20-minute segment, where Norm and I talked about the Detroit Tigers' first half, grades at the break, expectations for the second half, and a little about the trade market for July.

Thanks to Norm for having me on. It was fun.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Grading the Tigers' first half: All in all, right about average

There’s a distinct problem with expectations: You’re expected to meet them.

The higher they are, the harder it is.

And whether or not you’re able to do so colors the perception everyone has of nearly everything you do.

That’s why, in some corners, the Tigers’ first-half performance is seen as so underwhelming, so disappointing, so ... dare we say ‘catastrophic’?

That’s why, for every comparison to last year’s second-half ascension, there’s a snide reminder of 2008 ... the last time the franchise tried to live by the New York Yankees’ model, and spend their way to a title. The last time the fan base printed playoff T-shirts in April, only to get increasingly frustrated as they remained moldering in the boxes in which they came. The last time the Tigers had exaggeratedly high expectations, and failed to meet them, falling flat on their faces, and finishing dead last in the division.

And that’s why the Tigers’ modest five-game win streak — their longest of the season to date — in the run up to the All-Star break was such a breath of fresh air, such a welcome respite from the predictions of recurring DOOOOOOOOOOMMMM.

It was a realization that while the first half of the season might have been bad, or at least worse than anticipated, it’s not THAT bad.

“Obviously, we had some ups and downs. If you grade out our first half, there’s some good things and some bad things. Sometimes in baseball that happens,” pitcher Max Scherzer admitted. “But at the end of the day, if you look at the talent in this room, you know that we can get it all together and be a very good team, and be very competitive here in the AL. It’s something we’re going to have to do for the rest of the second half, is just be consistent. I think with the talent here, we’re going to be able to play at that type of level.”

Sure, the Tigers were inconsistent in the first half.

Sure, there was a non-stop shuttle between Comerica Park and Fifth/Third Field in Toledo, given all the injuries.

Sure, it took them slightly more than 30 games to win back-to-back games, and almost 50 to get back to .500.

But they’re over .500 and just 3 1/2 games off the lead with 76 games — 41 of them against division rivals — left to play. And there’s plenty of time to improve on both of those, just like there’s plenty of time to improve on the grade for the season.

So far, you’d have to give the Tigers a ‘C’ for the first half, but there’s no reason to think that won’t change, and drastically, between now and the end of September.

Here’s how that grade breaks down by position and by offense, defense and pitching:

DEFENSE — This was not supposed to be the Tigers’ strong suit, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that it’s not. The corner infielders and outfielders are there for their power potential, not their leather, so it’s not a shock that they have the second-most errors in left field, and the third most at first base. But the transition of Miguel Cabrera to third hasn’t been as bad as people thought it might: Even with him starting 83 of 86 games there, the Tigers have the third-best fielding percentage in the AL at the position.

It’s been up the middle where the Tigers have been shockingly poor, as normally sure-handed Jhonny Peralta hasn’t been, and no one’s made enough plays defensively among the revolving door of candidates at second base. The Tigers have turned 10 fewer double plays than anyone else in the American League, and have the third-fewest in all of baseball, ranking only ahead of San Diego and Houston.

The catchers haven’t been immune, either, as the 10 passed balls are second-worst in the AL, and have combined with the pitching staff to allow 72 stolen bases, the third-most in the league.

Only in center field have the Tigers been better than par, defensively speaking, as Austin Jackson and Quintin Berry have been flawless in the middle of the spacious Comerica Park outfield.


STARTING PITCHING — This was supposed to be the second-biggest strength of the team, behind the offense, but considering the fact that rookie fifth starter Drew Smyly might have held down the Tigers’ second-most consistent slot in the rotation, it just shows how inconsistent the product has been.

Oh, sure, defending AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander has been spectacular at times — coming within two outs of his third career no-hitter — but he’s had his own ups-and-downs, too, despite what could be labeled the best April of his career. He took the loss in three straight starts for the first time since 2008, as the calendar changed from May to June, but he’s won four of five since. Despite ranking dead last in run support in the AL, he holds or is tied for the league lead in innings pitched, quality starts, complete games, strikeouts.

Smyly has been everything he was advertised to be: Calm, composed, effective ... and young. The 22-year-old made the jump from Double-A, and has done exactly what the Tigers need from a fifth starter — give the team a chance to win, more often that not. Despite occassional struggles with allowing extra-base hits, he’s done that.

Doug Fister spent two stints on the DL with a strain in his side, and has pitched like a guy who hasn’t had enough work to stay sharp.

Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello have both shown glimpses of what they can provide in the middle of the rotation — Scherzer striking out 15 vs. the Pirates, and leading the AL in strikeouts-per-nine innings; Porcello was the team’s Pitcher of the Month for June, going 3-1 with a 3.00 ERA — but both have ERAs at or above 4.50, and have had a number of early exits.

That’s part of the reason the Tigers are tied for fourth in the AL in quality starts, and second in complete games, but have logged the third-fewest innings pitched of any starting staff in the league.

(Individual grades: Justin Verlander A-; Max Scherzer B-; Rick Porcello B-; Drew Smyly B-; Doug Fister, Casey Crosby, Adam Wilk and Jacob Turner all inc.)

BULLPEN — The unit that ranked among the worst in the league in the first quarter of the season has become a strength, posting a 2.15 ERA and limiting opponents to a .228 batting average over the past 49 games.

While closer Jose Valverde has been less than spectacular in trying to reprise his role as the Fire Man of the Year — blowing three saves in his first 13 chances — he’s at least settled down of late (as long as you don’t count non-save situations), converting his last seven save chances before the break.

Joaquin Benoit has been spectacular in the setup role, recording 20 holds (2nd-best in the AL), and appearing in nearly half the Tigers’ games so far. Minus one implosion as a fill-in closer, Octavio Dotel has been steady, while rookie Brayan Villarreal has been a find, limiting opposing batters to a .178 batting average, and posting an ERA of 1.55 — this year’s version of last year’s rookie sensation Al Alburquerque.

Lefty Phil Coke is the bullpen’s workhorse, taking the ball whenever needed, while Duane Below’s been the best of a steadily changing cast behind them, carving out a niche in long relief after finishing runner-up in the fifth-starter contest to Smyly.

There’s been a good deal of turnover because of non-production, but — aside from a few instances where they’ve been strapped by circumstance — the unit seems to have stabilized.

(Individual grades: Joaquin Benoit A; Brayan Villarreal A-; Phil Coke B+; Octavio Dotel B-; Duane Below C+; Jose Valverde C-; Collin Balester, Luis Marte, Daniel Schlereth, Luke Putkonen, Thad Weber, Jose Ortega, Darin Downs all inc.)

OFFENSE — This unit is where the team’s main shortcomings have been, as a unit that was projected to score 900 runs will likely fall more than a run per game shy of that lofty estimate. Right now, the Tigers have scored 387 runs (6th most in the AL), despite the second-most hits, the second-best batting average and the fourth-best on-base percentage.

That’s been the problem: The Tigers get hits and baserunners, but don’t convert those into runs.

A team with station-to-station speed (the Tigers have grounded into 78 double plays, fourth worst in MLB), but is in the lower third of baseball in HRs (82, 19th most) is a large factor in that failing.

You can’t blame that entirely on the big guys, though, as Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera rank in the top four in the league in RBI, both on pace for 120 or more runs driven in.

No, the production has been lacking from lower in the order, where there’s been more underperforming than anything else.

Alex Avila and Jhonny Peralta were both coming off All-Star seasons, but neither is going to come anywhere near their career numbers from 2011. Ryan Raburn and Brennan Boesch were both handed starting jobs at the beginning of the season — on the strength of the potential in their bats — and neither has hit well enough to stay in the lineup.

And until his recent home run binge, Delmon Young had been about half as productive as he’d been down the stretch last season, when he helped spark the Tigers to a 30-10 record in his 40 games after the trade.

While Raburn has been just part of the problem in the second-base carousel, the lack of production from the corner outfield positions has been glaring, as has the shortfall in numbers from the designated hitter spot, as well as the No. 5 spot in the order — both of which were so ably handled last year by Victor Martinez.

Austin Jackson has been perhaps the lone player performing far above expectations on offense (Fielder and Cabrera have hit well, but everyone knows they’re going to), as he ranks second in the AL in batting average (.332) and on-base percentage (.408), eighth in slugging (.545) and fifth in OPS (on-base, plus slugging, .953). He’s even hanging on to the end of the top 10 in runs scored (54), despite missing 21 games with a strained abdominal muscle.

(Individual grades: Austin Jackson A+; Miguel Cabrera A; Prince Fielder B+; Quintin Berry B+; Andy Dirks B; Gerald Laird B; Alex Avila C+; Jhonny Peralta C-; Ramon Santiago C-; Brennan Boesch D+; Delmon Young D+; Ryan Raburn D; Don Kelly, Danny Worth inc.)

Friday, July 6, 2012

Lineup angst: Everyone needs a rest now and then

For the ninth time since May 15 (when the Tigers were last at .500, at 18-18) that the team will play a game in hopes of a win putting their record back at even. Here's the lineup:

Austin Jackson, CF
Quintin Berry, RF
Miguel Cabrera, DH
Prince Fielder, 1B
Delmon Young, LF
Ryan Raburn, 2B
Jhonny Peralta, SS
Alex Avila, C
Ramon Santiago, 3B

Starter: Drew Smyly, LHP

Manager Jim Leyland said he was planning to get Miggy "off his feet" at DH sometime before the break. Facing a LHP (which eliminates LH Don Kelly) Friday, the options to replace him at third were switch-hitting Ramon Santiago and right-hander Ryan Raburn. Leyland chose Santiago, a middle infielder who has played in parts of 15 previous games at third (including five last season), but hadn't started there since Aug. 13, 2008.

It's not quite the lineup dilemma that Leyland "tossed and turned" over before Thursday's game, but attempting getting Cabrera and Fielder "off their feet" a time or two is a consideration that the skipper takes seriously. Both have played in each and every one of the team's 83 games to date, and have missed only a combined 40 innings of a possible 733 1/3 defensive innings (12 for Fielder, 18 for Cabrera). 

"Am I going to play them 162? I doubt it. But who knows?" Leyland said recently, asked after if there was a specific trait that allowed both to play nearly every inning of every game. "Yeah, they’re big and strong.

"They can have a day off whenever they want a day off," the skipper said.

But that's just the point — neither of them do.

Both men want to be in the lineup each and every day. They've even turned down attempts by the skipper to give them a rest.

"That’s a treat, a special treat for a manager, when you got your star players that go to the post every day, that’s pretty good. I’ll give them a day off if they need a day off. Or if I really think I see one of them (struggling), I’ll give them a day off. There was one day I talked to Prince about getting him off his feet for a day, and DHing him, and he said ‘No, he’s all right.’" Leyland recounted.

"Yeah, they both like to play. That’s a blessing for a manager. They both like to play. They want to be in there all the time.

"Most guys do. They want to play. That’s what you signed them for. They want to play. It can be grueling, but we’re not going to run anyone into the ground.

"I think I’ll have to watch Berry here, once in a while. When you’ve got a guy who runs like he does, and steals bases, and stuff like that, at some point, you gotta be careful you don’t run him down.

But that’s a little bit different than guys that are big and strong as Cabrera and Prince."

Cabrera has been the team's DH twice previously: June 17th, after a streak of 50 straight games in the field, and April 21, in the second game of a doubleheader. The next day, he switched over to first base late in an 11-inning affair, replacing that day's fill-in first baseman Kelly. That was the only day all season that Fielder did not start at first base. He's finished every game he's started but one — the second game of the season, when Kelly replaced him in the ninth inning of a 10-0 blowout.

As for Berry, he's played in 39 of a possible 41 games since his call-up on May 23, starting all but seven of them. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Leyland: 'If Raburn doesn't help us against left-handers, then we got issues'

When you’re right, you’re right.

Or maybe not.

In the seemingly interminable — and yet futile — search to fill out a lineup with enough right-handed hitters to succeed against left-handed starters this season, Tigers manager Jim Leyland has struggled mightily with decisions to plug in some of his struggling right-handed hitters in the lineup.

If it seems like it’s a set up for failure, you might be correct. Sometimes the “right” choice sure doesn’t seem like the right one.

Thursday’s lineup decision was no different: Play the struggling Ryan Raburn or hot-hitting lefty Quintin Berry against Minnesota’s left-handed starter, Scott Diamond.

“Normally it’s like clockwork, normally I can write it down the night before right after the game. Raburn’s struggled so bad last night, so that made it a little more difficult,” Leyland said before Thursday’s game. “I tossed this around until five minutes ago, I wasn’t sure what to do, that sounds like the manager doesn’t know what he’s doing, I know what I’m doing but its just that I slept on it and I thought about it last night.”

How did it come to this? While Raburn had hit .289 since returning from a stint at Triple-A to get his hitting woes figured out, his 0-for-4 night Wednesday dropped his average back to .176. Raburn hasn’t been over the Mendoza line since the second game of the season.

In some ways, the Tigers are built this way. Wasn’t it just yesterday (or maybe the year before last) when the complaints about the Tigers’ offense was that it was TOO left-handed?

Not anymore. Three of the six available outfielders — Berry, Brennan Boesch and Don Kelly — are left-handed. When he’s healthy, so is Andy Dirks.

That doesn’t leave a whole lot of options.

For a team that is 9-13 against lefties coming into Thursday’s contest — the second in a string of five games where the Tigers will face a lefty starter — that foreshadows a lot of tough calls.

“In our case, it’s not a big deal right now. We only have three extra guys and one of them is a catcher, so you know you don’t have many choices. That’s where it starts, so I had a choice, I had to toss and turn with it today whether to play Berry or Raburn and I ended up playing Raburn,” Leyland said. “The thought process is, if Raburn doesn’t help us against left-handers, then we got issues, so you give him the benefit of the doubt to see if you can maybe get him going a little bit.”

Raburn isn’t the only right-handed hitter in the Tigers lineup who’s scuffling.

Jhonny Peralta is hitting .257 with 24 RBI. He hit .312 with 50 RBI in the first half last year, earning himself a spot on the American League All-Star team.

Delmon Young, who had 32 RBI in his 40 regular-season games with the Tigers after his August trade acquisition last, has 31 in 74 games so far this season.

“Peralta, Young and Raburn gotta do something against left-handed pitching. It’s that simple,” Leyland said. “It’s that simple, Jhonny Peralta, Delmon Young and Ryan Raburn gotta do something against left-handed pitchers, it’s that simple.”

Peralta’s going to play more games than not, given his position.

Young is going to either DH or play occasionally in left, but he’ll play more games than not, as well.

That leaves the decision — until Dirks comes back — down to Raburn or Berry.

While Berry gives the Tigers an element they don’t have enough of — speed — he’s not going to be able to play every single game.

“He has played almost every game since he’s been up here (38 of a possible 40) and he’s not that big, strong, of a guy, he’s been very good but it doesn’t hurt to get him outta there for a day or two. Plus, with Raburn, we need him to do something, it’s simple. So that’s basically your choices, you know, you’re not going to play Donny Kelly against a lefty, you’re not going to play Alex and the only other lefty is Berry so that was the only question,” Leyland said.

“I’m kinda playing the string out right now, to see if Raburn is going to do something.”

Here are the lineups for Thursday's game:

Denard Span, CF (L)
Ben Revere, RF (L)
Joe Mauer, DH (L)
Ryan Doumit, C (S)
Justin Morneau, 1B (L)
Trevor Plouffe, 3B (R)
Darin Mastroianni, LF (R)
Brian Dozier, SS (R)
Jamey Carroll, 2B (R)

Austin Jackson, CF (R)
Ryan Raburn, LF (R)
Miguel Cabrera, 3B (R)
Prince Fielder, 1B (L)
Delmon Young, DH (R)
Jhonny Peralta, SS (R)
Brennan Boesch, RF (L)
Gerald Laird, C (R)
Ramon Santiago, 2B (S)

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Scherzer: Decision to scratch from start 'best for me, best for the team'

As many problems as the Detroit Tigers have had with hamstrings this season, there was no reason to take a chance when Max Scherzer was the latest to come up gimpy.

In a move that he called “best for me, best for the team,” it was determined on Monday that he’d be scratched from Tuesday’s scheduled start against the Minnesota Twins as a precautionary measure, because of a twinge in his left hamstring.

Duane Below was tabbed to replace him.

“It’s only one start. If you go out tonight, and something happens, you could miss three or four starts. We just didn’t want to have that happen, no matter what,” said Scherzer, who said that his recent run of success — where he’s gone 5-2 in his last eight starts — did not play into the decision. “Obviously, I want to be out there today. I realize how important these games are right now, to finish off this homestand before the All-Star break, so it frustrates me that I’m not able to help the team today.”

That wasn’t enough to trump the risk for a team that’s been ... well, hamstrung by hamstring injuries.

First there was a spring training tweak by backup catcher Gerald Laird, followed by a strain that cost rookie reliever Luis Marte a chance to come north with the squad. Outfielder Andy Dirks’ hamstring injury in April probably contributed his Achilles’ tendon injury that’s kept him out since the end of May.

Then Laird hurt his other hamstring just hours after starting catcher Alex Avila came up lame with a hamstring pull overnight.

And now Scherzer, who felt a twinge in his hamstring while running Saturday on the artificial turf in Tampa Bay’s Tropicana Field.

“I was running, was going to sprint, and it just gave out on me,” Scherzer said. “I’ve been doing running, sprints the day after my conditioning for four years now. I didn’t do anything different. Just the turf in Tampa, it gave out.”

It was not a serious injury. The Tigers were hoping that rest between then and Tuesday would cure it. Scherzer was away from the team during that span for the funeral of his younger brother, Alex, who passed away June 21.

When Scherzer tested it Monday, though, it didn’t seem like the hamstring — which is on his landing leg, and has to stand up to the torque of and full weight of his body coming down on it — could handle him starting less than 24 hours later.

“When I started pushing it, throwing off the mound and pushing it, I couldn’t go 100 percent. That was a decision we had to make (Monday). I came in (Tuesday), got treatment, it feels a lot better,” Scherzer said.

“If push came to shove, I could’ve pitched today. If we really needed it. But at the same time, you’ve gotta be smart about these things. Hamstrings, they seem to have recurring injuries — you’ve seen it throughout the league, guys that try to come back early from hamstring injuries, it’s usually not a good thing.

“Kevin (Rand, the head trainer) and the coaching staff, they didn’t want to roll the dice this early in the season. Just skip the start, and start again Sunday, that’d be the best for me and the team.”

Admitting (jokingly) he’s not even sure what day it is at this point, Scherzer’s normal pitching routine will merely reset, starting with a bullpen session on Friday. He threw full bore on Tuesday, and should have no problems being ready to start the final game before the All-Star break on Sunday against the Kansas City Royals.

“Obviously, it’s not a serious injury for me. I was able to come in today get treatment, and I was really able to let it go when I was playing catch, and that’s the encouraging sign,” Scherzer said Tuesday.

“If I had to pitch today, I could, but obviously, it’s not the best thing to do.”

Below will start in Scherzer's place Tuesday for Tigers

Nothing like giving a dude a heads-up.

Moments before the media came flooding into the postgame Tigers locker room, rookie left-hander Duane Below was told that his evening was about to get a whole lot hairier.

The native of Britton, Mich., may have been scratching his head when he didn’t get into Monday’s game against the Twins, even with the early exit of starter Doug Fister, but it became clear what was up when he was tabbed to be the fill-in starter in place of Max Scherzer on Tuesday.

It was one of a trickle-down flurry of postgame moves.

“They let me know probably right before you guys. When I didn’t throw tonight, I was just kind of questioning why, but then they told me,” said Below, acknowledging that he’d probably have to make a phone call or 10 to let his family know, especially with relatives coming into town this week for the holiday.

“I’m excited. ... I want to be part of the team, and help the team any way I can, and filling in this spot tomorrow, I’m looking forward to it.”

Below started twice last season, and was a contender for the fifth starter job in spring training, but earned a call-up as a replacement part in the bullpen, and hasn’t left. He was supposed to get a start on April 30, but it was rained out.

He’s not going to change anything radical in less than 24 hours, though.

“I’m still going to do the same thing, not try to change it. Pitching out of the bullpen, coming in for long innings, I tried to keep the same mindset, keep the same focus on the things I’m trying to accomplish. That’s getting outs, keeping the ball on the ground. I get in trouble when the ball starts to elevate. That’s when guys start hitting the ball hard, line drives, and that’s when I start giving up home runs,” Below said.

“I’m going to go out and attack the hitters ... and let our defense do the work. Other than that, I’m just going to try to have fun.”

While Below’s getting a shot that many fans have wanted to see all season, it’s only one that’s happening out of desperation.

Scherzer was expected to make the start until the Tigers got word that he couldn’t on Monday, thanks to a hamstring he tweaked, jogging on the turf at Tampa’s Tropicana Field.

“It’s one of those we just kinda can’t afford to take a chance. We spoke to him today. He’d thrown today, but when he tried to really let go a little bit, he’d feel it,” manager Jim Leyland said. “We automatically scratched him — not taking any chances. We do not expect him to miss his next start, which will be before the break, obviously.”

Barring any further setback, Scherzer will return to his normal spot in the rotation on Sunday, and pitch in the Tigers’ final game before the All-Star break.

In addition to losing Below, the bullpen will likely be without two of the pitchers who did throw in relief of Doug Fister in Monday’s game. Phil Coke will likely be unavailable after throwing 25 pitches in two innings of work, while Luis Marte was optioned to Triple-A Toledo to make room for one of two promotions.

The Tigers recalled right-hander Jose Ortega, and purchased the contract of left-hander Darin Downs — a 27-year-old native of Southfield who is still trying to re-start his career after a line drive broke his skull in 2009. The Tigers will have to designate a minor leaguer for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster for Downs, but had not yet told the player in question as of late Monday night. [UPDATE: Matt Young was DFA'ed Tuesday afternoon, the team announced.]

The Tigers also optioned infielder Danny Worth to Toledo. After making his 18th start of the season on June 15, Worth had seen action in just five of the Tigers’ next 16 games, all in a reserve role.

“We need bodies. (Marte) did a good job. He didn’t do anything wrong, neither did Danny Worth. But we’re in a situation where we knew this was a possibility,” Leyland said.

“Sometimes guys are just victims of circumstance. You’ve gotta get your roster. ... We’ve had a lot of this going on all year, but ... you just fight through it.”

Here are the lineups for Tuesday's game:

Austin Jackson, CF (R)
Quintin Berry, LF (L)
Miguel Cabrera, 3B (R)
Prince Fielder, 1B (L)
Delmon Young, DH (R)
Alex Avila, C (L)
Ryan Raburn, 2B (R)
Brennan Boesch, RF (L)
Ramon Santiago, SS (S)