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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Brayan Villarreal can't find the strike zone, as bullpen implodes

DETROIT — There’s no question there’s potential in Brayan Villarreal’s right arm.

Question is: Potential for what?

Could be nirvana. Could be disaster.

Wednesday’s implosion — where the young reliever walked the only three batters he faced, and had the 8-6 loss to the Blue Jays hung on his record — was case in point why Villarreal might be a sought-after commodity, but he still might not be ready for the prime time.

Team president Dave Dombrowski said in the offseason that he’s had more inquiries from rival general managers about Villarreal than any other player.

“One organization told me at the end of the year that the best stuff they saw out of any relief pitcher all year long was Brayan Villarreal,” Dombrowski said at the end of last season.

Oh, he has the stuff all right.

He also currently has an ERA of 54.00, and a WHIP (walks-hits-to-innings-pitched ratio) of 7.50.


Wednesday was hard to watch, not because he couldn’t throw ANYTHING across the plate — he got ahead of each batter he faced, and was up one ball, two strikes on both Edwin Encarnacion and Mark DeRosa — but because he couldn’t throw it at the most critical juncture. Having entered the game with a runner on, the walk to DeRosa forced in a run. When Octavio Dotel took over, and gave up a bases-clearing double to J.P. Arencibia two pitches after entering the game, all of a sudden, the Jays were in the lead.

What happened?

“I can’t really answer that question. It just looked to me like he threw a couple of great pitches to start hitters, and then just was spiking the ball in the dirt, and just totally missing. And I don’t know how to explain that. I don’t know if he got a little hyped up, and just tried to throw it a little harder, or a little better pitch — I can’t answer that question. I just don’t know. But obviously his rhythm and his stuff was not good, or you don’t throw that many balls,” said manager Jim Leyland, who dismissed the idea that Villarreal got too fastball happy. “I didn’t think so at all. I think rears back and flings it and flings it pretty good, sometimes it’s in the strike zone, sometimes it’s not.”

Even the 25-year-old Venezuelan fireballer didn’t think that was a problem.

But he didn’t know what exactly the problem was.

“Yeah, I mean, I’ve got a lot of confidence in my fastball. You could see they couldn’t hit it. Even when they knew that pitch was coming, they couldn’t hit it. That’s my best pitch, and I’ve got a lot of confidence in it — but I’ve just got to throw it for strikes,” he said after. “I was out of control today. I was trying to throw strikes, and I couldn’t. I don’t know what’s going on. It’s something I have to work on with my mechanics, or something.”

While he had not yet spoken with pitching coach Jeff Jones immediately after the game, rest assured there will be some serious video work soon.

“Yeah, I felt like I am pulling my shoulder — couple things I have to work on,” he said, admitting he can’t tell when he’s doing it what exactly he’s doing. “Not really. When I’m on the mound, I don’t feel that much. But like right after, after I pitch, I start thinking about what I was doing wrong, why I was missing the ball this way or this way.”

It was the perfect spot for the Tigers to see what they had ... but it’s not the result they were looking for, obviously.

“You got four right-handed hitters in a row so you felt like it was set up pretty good,” Leyland said.

“I think the first common denominator with that whole case scenario is if people are here, they have to pitch. You don’t just bring guys up here to sit them, he’s on the big league team but we’re not going to pitch him. I thought you got a guy that throws 95-96-97 miles an hour with a good slider and you got four right-handed hitters coming up, and I don’t want to sound like I’m defending my decision, because I’m not, I would make the same decision again. He’s gotta pitch and we’ve gotta see if he can do it. It’s that simple. I thought if there was ever a scenario… I mean, they’re good hitters but that’s what the big league has is good hitters. So that to me was a scenario for him and today he couldn’t throw the ball over the plate.”

Short hops
Miguel Cabrera received his Players Choice Awards — for 2012 Player of the Year and American League Outstanding Player — from 2011 Player of the Year Justin Verlander in a pregame ceremony. ... Former closer Jose Valverde threw a bullpen session in extended spring training in Lakeland, Fla., on Wednesday, and is scheduled to throw one inning in Friday’s extended spring training game, followed by 1-2 innings in a Monday scrimmage. ... Former Tiger Casper Wells was claimed off waivers from Seattle on Wednesday, 10 days after he’d been designated for assignment.


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