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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, June 28, 2013

Rondon recalled to Detroit, leaving Mud Hens closer role for Valverde

DETROIT — Now we know who will close in Toledo, and it won’t be Bruce Rondon.

The day after the Tigers’ former closer accepted an exile to Triple-A to work on his delivery issues in the minors, they decided their future closer had worked on enough of his own issues.

Rondon, tabbed as the closer of the future for the Tigers, was recalled from Triple-A Toledo Friday afternoon, ostensibly leaving the closing duties for the Mud Hens in the hands of Jose Valverde. Evan Reed was optioned to Toledo to make room.

Rondon got the chance to make the team as the closer in spring training, but was deemed not ready. He later had a cup of coffee with the big-league squad, appearing in three games between April 25 and May 1, but was again deemed not ready.

Now, he’s back.

“Rondon has thrown the ball very well for us. He has thrown it very well. He continues to improve. He continues to work on some of the things that he needs to work on, his breaking stuff, spotting, command of his fastball, his quickness to the plate,” Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski said last week. “Some people think he’s ready to come here and pitch right now in the organization, and do a good job for us.”

Rondon has a 1.52 ERA and 14 saves for the Mud Hens, with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 50/13, allowing opponents to hit just .139 against him.

There were several things that Rondon needed to work on when he went back down, but some of those issues have been worked out, apparently. He will pitch the sixth and seventh innings, manager Jim Leyland told reporters Friday, and possibly the eighth, but is not in Detroit to close games.

“He continues to work on some of the things that he needs to work on, his breaking stuff, spotting, command of his fastball, his quickness to the plate,” Dombrowski said. “We’ll see how this goes. It wouldn’t surprise me sometime this year to see that he’s ready to help us, and he really has grown by leaps and bounds. We think very highly of him.”

It also saves the Tigers the conundrum of figuring out who gets the closing assignments at Toledo, Rondon or the guy they just sent down. Valverde, the team’s former closer, accepted an assignment to Toledo on Thursday, a week after he’d been designated for assignment, and cleared waivers.

Valverde was given the chance to go down to the minors to work in a lower-stress environment, with the admission that pitching innings without the pressure of closing out games was not really a productive situation for the longtime closer.

“We haven’t gotten to that point,” Dombrowski said of that dilemma last week.

Now they have, and here is the answer.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Valverde accepts assignment to Triple-A, will stay in Tigers organization

Former closer Jose Valverde accepted his assignment to Triple-A Toledo, according to the organization on Thursday, and will go to the minor leagues to continue working on his mechanical issues.

The Tigers designated the 35-year-old relief pitcher for assignment a week earlier, and he cleared waivers on Monday. The only thing that remained for him was to decide if he wanted to accept the assignment to the minors, or become a free agent.

“I’m glad he’s going to stay in the organization,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said, “and just see if he can possibly go down there and get it straightened out.”

In 20 appearances with the Tigers, after the brought him to the majors, Valverde was 0-1 with a 5.59 ERA and nine saves in 12 chances. The organization re-signed him to an incentive-laden minor-league deal in April, then brought him up to the majors a month later.

Phil Coke is frustrated he's not contributing more to Tigers' success

DETROIT — Same conundrum for job seekers, who need experience to get jobs, but can’t get it without having a job.

The Tigers know Phil Coke is struggling, but they have to throw him in order for him to get himself righted, to a point where he’s not struggling.

Manager Jim Leyland tried to give his lefty that shot when he brought him in to start the 10th inning of Thursday’s tie game, facing left-hander J.B. Shuck. He gave up a single, then two more hits to right-handed hitters Mike Trout and Albert Pujols and a sacrifice fly to lefty Josh Hamilton, going on the hook for the loss in the 3-1 defeat at the hands of the Angels.

“Well, you gotta pitch him. He won’t get going by sitting there. We wanted to give him an opportunity today to do something. People will focus on the right-hand hitter thing, but that’s not really the thing to focus on today, either. The thing to focus on is the leadoff guy, who was a left-hander, that they got on,” Leyland said. “I mean, when you get the leadoff guy, it changes the whole inning.”

Leyland also felt like there was too much emphasis on Coke, and not enough on other things.

“We gotta pitch him, because he’s gotta be good for us,” the manager said. “But we’re focusing on the wrong thing, as we always are. We got one run in 10 innings. We got one run in 10 innings.

“Phil Coke didn’t have a good day. We gotta get Phil Coke going, because if we don’t, we’re in trouble. We need Phil Coke to be good for us.

“Obviously, he didn’t have a good day, so I’ll address that.

“But let’s address the other issue. We always want to talk about a different situation. We got one run ... in 10 innings. That’s why we didn’t win this game. We had our chances to win this game.

“I’m not defending Phil Coke in any way. He had a tough outing. That’s acceptable. We don’t like it, but it’s acceptable. But we got one run in 10 innings.”

That sentiment wasn’t just the manager’s.

“You can’t blame it all on one guy. We had 10 innings today,” said starting pitcher Doug Fister, who got a no-decision after allowing just one run in seven innings. “We’re a team — we’re going to win as a team and lose as a team. That's the way it goes. It’s not one guy’s fault.”

For Coke’s part, though, he doesn’t mind shouldering a little bit of the blame.

“I’m annoyed right now, man. How do you think I feel right now? I’m not happy. I’m not excited about what I’ve done this season for this team,” Coke said. “I feel like I’m not contributing in a positive way and that’s a tough pill for me to swallow because I pride myself on what I do and I haven’t got anything to show for it. I don’t feel like I have anything positive effect-wise on our team.”

In his last six appearances, including Thursday, Coke has allowed six earned runs in 4 2/3 innings pitched, earning two extra-inning losses. He’s also allowed opponents a .368 batting average against in that span. He’s 0-5 on the season with a 6.56 ERA.

He’s struggled most against right-handed hitters, allowing them to hit .319 against him. 

Coke says it’s neither mechanical nor stuff.

“I don’t know what’s not clicking. ... I just don’t have the results progressing the way the velocity and location have been,” he said.

“I don’t feel like I’m trying to do too much when I’m out there. I don’t feel like the whole team’s weight is on my shoulders or anything like that. I’m going out there and doing my best to execute pitches that I’m being asked to throw. I don’t have the results to show for it.”

Sanchez feels good after 40 pitches to hitters, may miss one more start

DETROIT — Most likely one more before he’s back, but Anibal Sanchez is getting closer.

The starter, sidelined for three of his last four turns in the Detroit Tigers’ rotation with stiffness in his throwing shoulder, threw 40 pitches to hitters in a simulated game Thursday morning, gauging how close he is to returning.

“Nothing, just feel good. ... I don’t feel anything. I don’t feel pain. ... Now I know I’m ready but I need to wait for the process,” Sanchez said of how he felt. “I know I’m ready now. I just have to wait for the process.”

Next step for the right-hander, whom the Tigers traded for at the deadline last year, then re-signed in the offseason, is likely a live-action rehabilitation start, where he’ll throw 60 pitches, working his way closer to the 100 he’d be expected to throw in a big-league game.

“He did have a good session. I watched it myself, and the ball was coming out real good. We’ll probably find out tomorrow whether he’s good to go or not,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “I mean, if you went by what you saw today, you’d probably say yes, but you always have to wait to the next day, to see how he feels.”

Sanchez thought it was possible he’d throw 60 pitches in Lakeland, Fla., on Monday, then be ready for his next start after that.

“Right now it’s not like patient, it’s just take my time. Take my time for my back to normal, for be available 100 percent on the mound,” he said. “It’s not about how much I want to be there. It’s how I want to be there.”

If that does turn out to be the plan, it would mean that Jose Alvarez, who has started in Sanchez’s absence, would start Monday’s game for the Tigers, then Sanchez would resume his turn on Saturday, July 6, at Cleveland.

“Well, you always want to get your main guys in there and going. ... It’ll be great to get him back in there, when the time comes, and he feels totally comfortable and healthy. Obviously, the kid (Alvarez) has done a good job filling in, but he’s not Anibal Sanchez,” Leyland said. “Today would be a big day. ...

“He’s obviously very important to us. But you have to remember, we’re not the only one dealing with this kind of stuff. People missing starts happens all over baseball.”

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Smyly always OK with any role, but Leyland would like to use him in shorter stints

DETROIT — When Drew Smyly merely shrugs off any questions about his somewhat amorphous role in the Detroit Tigers’ bullpen, that’s not an act.

He’s not disgruntled to be a reliever, after losing out on the fifth starter job in spring training, even though he’d prefer to be a starter, if given his druthers.

No, when he shrugs, he sincerely means he does not care.

He’s just happy to be here, pitching in the big leagues.

It’s just how he is.

“Seriously. I mean, I get tired of hearing the same questions every time I come in the game,” he said Sunday, after 2 2/3 scoreless innings to help save a gassed bullpen.

“I was a starter my whole life, used to throwing six innings. But it’s easier throwing 20 pitches than it is 100 pitches. My arm bounces back fine. That’s the biggest thing. It doesn’t bother me throwing one inning here, two innings there. I just like being in the game, throwing. The longer I’m out there, the more fun I’m having.”

Of his 27 appearances in relief this season, 11 have been of two innings or longer.

That’s a testament to his cooperative attitude, as well as to his versatility.

“Phenomenal. He’s been a blessing,” Justin Verlander said. “Pitched absolutely phenomenally for us, and has allowed our team to come up with a lot of big wins.”

The second-year lefty can handle long relief, if called upon, middle relief, as well as short relief, when he can be employed as a lefty specialist, or as a guy who can get both right-handers and left-handers out in the seventh, eighth, or ninth innings.

But it’s also part of the problem.

He’s been successful in everything he’s been asked to do. Having given up just one run in June before Wednesday’s outing, his ERA of 1.75 was best on the team, and his WHIP of 0.993 was second only to Max Scherzer.

The success has made it that much more tempting for manager Jim Leyland — who has said repeatedly that the Tigers were a better team by bringing Smyly with the big club as a reliever than sending him to Toledo to start, which may have been in the pitcher’s best interests — to use him often.

And he’d like to use him more — just in shorter stints.

“The key for me, with him, is get him one inning, at an important time, and be successful, and then get him an inning the very next day at an important time, and be successful,” Leyland said. “He can go the back-to-back, if he pitches one inning. But when his pitch count gets up to 35, 38 and 39 pitches, then I lose him for a couple of days. So it’s not the ideal, perfect situation just yet, but we’re working on it.”

He’s already logged a considerable workload out of the pen, throwing more pitches (810) than any other MLB reliever by 66, and more innings (47 2/3) than anyone but Minnesota’s Anthony Swarzak (48 2/3).

“I’d like to be able to cut him down a little bit on pitches, if we could. I was planning on, really, one inning from him (Sunday), which would’ve been perfect,” Leyland said. “One inning for him, one inning for (Joaquin) Benoit. But when Justin (Verlander) struggled a little bit, I had to change the plan a little bit.”

As always, Smyly was completely OK with that.

Wednesday, he gave up three runs on two hits and two walks in his appearance, starting in the sixth inning, pumping his ERA up to 2.27. He walked left-handed J.B. Shuck — “That’s a no-no,” Leyland said. “He just wasn’t real sharp tonight.” — then gave up an RBI double to Mike Trout.

Three batters later, after an intentional walk to Mark Trumbo to set up a potential double-play ball, he got a ground ball to Prince Fielder at first that the Tigers only converted into one out. Albert Callaspo’s RBI single made it a three-run inning.

“The point there, too, is if we hold it to 4-3, it might be a different game,” Leyland said. “Drew just wasn’t sharp tonight.”

It still illustrates the conundrum the Tigers are in with the bullpen, where the options still have not shaken themselves out completely. Luke Putkonen was warming up early in the inning, in case starter Jose Alvarez faltered, but Leyland chose to keep him back in case he needed a long man later.

“We knew (Alvarez) was a little tired. If he would have been in early trouble in that inning, that’s why we had Putkonen up, because it would have been a longer thing and we would have gone with Putkonen,” the manager explained.

“But once he got into the inning a little deeper, we went with Smyly because you still have Putkonen to back up if something happens, Putkonen can pitch multiple innings. We really wouldn’t have had anybody behind him. We had (Al) Alburquerque, but if something goes where you get into a longer game or you need somebody to pitch, somebody gets hit around, then Putkonen was our only guy who could pitch multiple innings. That’s why we did it the way we did it.

“We were basically hoping to get through the sixth, pitch Smyly in the seventh, Alburquerque the eighth and Benoit in the ninth. And that’s what we’ve got to get to if we’re going to be good, because you can’t — Smyly threw 27 pitches, is he going to be ready tomorrow? I’m not really sure. But we’ve got to get to that where those guys are more available on a daily basis and a day off would be an exception, where you could use them two, possibly three days in a row, one inning.

“But we keep asking too much out of them. That’s why we pulled Alburquerque after one inning so he’d be hopefully ready for tomorrow, because that’s what we have to get to to get our bullpen straightened out.”No update updates
No word yet on whether or not Jose Valverde has decided to accept or decline his assignment to Triple-A Toledo after being designated for assignment late last week. ... Also no definitive news on the status of Anibal Sanchez, who has missed three of his last four turns in the rotation, including the last two while on the 15-day disabled list with shoulder stiffness. “Sanchez is coming along fine,” manager Jim Leyland said, admitting he still did not know if the starter would need a rehab stint, nor if he’d be ready for his next turn on July 1. “I can’t answer that.”

Four Erie players — Perez, Saupold, Startup, McCann — named Eastern League All-Stars

Four members of the Double-A Erie SeaWolves — Hernan Perez, James McCann, Warwick Saupold and Will Startup — were all named Eastern League All-Stars.

Perez (.300) and McCann (.306) have the best averages for players currently on the Erie roster, and rank first and second, respectively, in hits. Perez (pictured, top) is second in the EL in hits and first in doubles.

Saupold, a 23-year-old, right-handed starter from Australia, is 4-3 with a 2.96 ERA — sixth-best in the EL — in 13 starts for Erie, holding opponents to a .226 batting average.

A 29-year-old lefty reliever, Startup is 3-1 with a 2.10 ERA in 34 1/3 innings pitched, and has limited left-handed hitters to a .137 batting average.

Lennerton, Cron to represent Tigers organization in 2013 Futures Game

If you had to pick which of the locker mates for Triple-A Toledo were going to represent the Detroit Tigers for the All-Star Futures Game, odds are that 90 percent of the answers would have been Nick Castellanos.

Instead, it’s his neighbor in the next locker stall to the left in the Fifth/Third Field home clubhouse who’s a lock for the July 14 contest. Castellanos, the MVP of the 2012 Futures Game, is one of five final player vote candidates for the last spot on the U.S. Team. [Voting instructions are here.]

A 27-year-old Canadian-born first baseman, Lennerton was a 33rd-round pick of the Tigers in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft out of Oregon State, and was not ranked among Detroit’s top 20 prospects by before the season started, nor in Baseball America’s top 10.

He’s merely produced on the field. He had a streak of reaching base in 47 straight games that was snapped with an 0-for-4 night on June 18.

Entering Wednesday, he was ninth in the International League in hitting (.311), third in walks (52) and on-base percentage (.416), fifth in hits (88) and seventh in total bases (136).

Lennerton’s manager from a year ago, Double-A Erie’s Chris Cron, will be on manager Mookie Wilson’s coaching staff for the U.S. Team. His son, C.J., a former first-round pick of the Angels, will be one of the players he’s helping coach.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Tigers agree to terms with two more top picks, have deals done with 12 of first 13

University of Louisville pitchers Jeff Thompson (pictured, third round) and Chad Green (11th round) both agreed to contract terms with the Tigers, giving them deals with 27 of their 41 picks in the draft, and 12 of their first 13 picks.

Thompson took the loss when the Cardinals were the first team knocked out of the College World Series with an 11-4 loss to Oregon State on June 18.

Baseball America’s Jim Callis reported that Thompson’s deal was worth $549,400, right at slot value for the pick. According to Baseball America, the Tigers are $324,000 under budget in spending from their total bonus pool of $6,467,400, meaning they may have some left over to make some tougher signings with extra bonus money.

LSU’s Will LaMarche, the Tigers’ ninth-round pick, is their highest remaining unsigned pick. He and teammate Raph Rhymes (15th round), whose college season finished June 19 in the loser’s bracket of the College World Series, are the only two unsigned picks through 19 rounds.

Alex Avila's return from rehab stint more than just a matter of health; Leyland: 'He's gotta get his swing going'

DETROIT — Call it a difference of motives.

Alex Avila insisted that he felt well enough to play Saturday, before he went out for his rehab stint at Triple-A Toledo, and figured he would not spend any more time than necessary on the disabled list, since he is healthy again.

“I won’t be spending anymore time on the DL,” he said before he left for his rehab assignment. He’s eligible to come off the DL on July 2.

His manager said Tuesday that health is not the only consideration.

“No. He’s gotta get his swing going,” Jim Leyland said.

Avila was on his way to his first three-hit game since his last September when he was hit on the forearm by a pitch on June 16.

But Avila is 0-for-8 in his first two games with the Mud Hens, with two strikeouts and a walk. He is hitting .172 for the season in 48 games with the Tigers, and was hitting .125 in June before his final game in the lineup. His on-base (.271), slugging (.288) and OPS (.560) percentages are the lowest of his career.

When he first went on the DL, he wasn’t looking at the positive side of the move — that it might give him a chance to work out his problems with the bat.

“Anytime you’re on the DL, it’s not a positive. I’d rather be trying to do something on the field to help the team win,” he said. “My goal is to obviously get better, do what I can to continue to get better with the bat in the games I’ll play down there, and get back as soon as can to help the team win.”

How soon that is may be open to interpretation.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Rotation alignment makes it unlikely Verlander would start All-Star Game for 2nd straight year

DETROIT — Unless something gets the rotation out of kilter over the final three weeks before the midsummer break, the Detroit Tigers won’t have the same guy start the All-Star Game for the second year in a row.

The way he’s pitched lately, that’s probably not that big of an issue.

Justin Verlander, who started the 2012 All-Star Game, and is slated to pitch on the final day of the first half, Sunday, July 14, would likely be precluded from pitching in the game by rule, even if he’s selected.

“They can’t pitch,” said Tigers manager Jim Leyland, who will skipper this year’s American League team, of the rules governing the potential usage of Sunday starters. “The guy Saturday can pitch an inning — probably an inning. But the guy Sunday can’t pitch. But they’re recognized as All-Stars, and they go. They have to go. You just replace somebody like that.”

Verlander has struggled enough — including Sunday’s abbreviated, five-inning start — that his chances of forcing that decision are dwindling by the day.

The only pitcher in Tigers history to start back-to-back All-Star Games was Jim Bunning in 1961 and 1962.

At a minimum, though, there could still be a Tigers pitcher starting the game, even if it’s unlikely to be Verlander.

Max Scherzer, the first pitcher in the majors to 11 wins, starts the Saturday before, which would likely limit him to an inning, at most.

“I would, knock on wood, assume Scherzer’s going to be on the team. I don’t know that. We’ll see. I would assume the players would vote Scherzer, but I don’t know that,” Leyland said. “You never know how that goes.”

It’s no easier for Leyland to predict which of the worthy starting pitchers — guys like Felix Hernandez, Yu Darvish, Clay Buchholz, Hiroki Kuroda or Hisashi Iwakuma — will be available to him.

Lining up the potential available pitchers this far out is a difficult exercise, if Leyland is trying to look ahead to see who he might name as the starter for the July 16 game at Citi Field in New York.

“I don’t know everybody else’s rotation. I can kind of figure it out, but I don’t know how it’s going to end up with guys pitching a potential All-Star on Sunday,” he said. “Then obviously we’ll have to make some adjustments to the pitching. They would still make the team, you would just have other guys that make it.”

The only wrench that might get thrown into the scheduling of the Tigers’ rotation is if they bring back Anibal Sanchez — who has been on the disabled list since June 16 with stiffness in his shoulder — in a different spot than he’d been occupying. He’s expected back on July 1, after Jose Alvarez subs for him one more time on Wednesday.

Sanchez long-tossed on the field Saturday, and felt fine afterward, according to Leyland.

“That’s good news,” the skipper said, “but you never know until they start throwing, and there are guys standing in there, hitting.”

It stands to reason that Sanchez might be the first one to pitch coming out of the All-Star break, though. Leyland will have to see how the break itself plays out — like if any of his starters are selected to pitch — before he can plan for the post-break rotation.

“I think you always use common sense, and you probably end up coming back last with the guy you think needs the most rest,” Leyland said.

“I have already thought about one scenario. You look at it two ways: If Sanchez comes back here shortly, which I believe he will. He’s had a couple starts off, so he might be a guy to come out of the chute. Possibility. Give the other guys that have been pitching every time, push them back a little bit. Plus, I don’t know who’s going to be on the All-Star team.”

With no off days between now and the break, Leyland said he was planning on getting people rest whenever possible.

“Starting Tuesday, we got a real tough stretch until the All-Star break, and I’ll probably rest every single player at least a day, at some point in that stretch. And that includes the big guys,” the manager said, noting that he wouldn’t do anything to mess with Prince Fielder’s streak of 417 consecutive games played, but will put him at designated hitter. “They’ll probably be rest for every single player, because it’s going to be a tough stretch.”

Projected Tigers rotation through All-Star break 
June 25, vs. LAA...........Rick Porcello
June 26, vs. LAA...........Jose Alvarez
June 27, vs. LAA...........Doug Fister

June 28, at TB...............Max Scherzer
June 29, at TB...............Justin Verlander
June 30, at TB...............Rick Porcello

July 1, at TOR................Anibal Sanchez/Jose Alvarez
July 2, at TOR................Doug Fister
July 3, at TOR................Max Scherzer
July 4, at TOR................Justin Verlander

July 5, at CLE................Rick Porcello
July 6, at CLE................Anibal Sanchez/Jose Alvarez
July 7, at CLE................Doug Fister
July 8, at CLE................Max Scherzer

July 9, vs. CWS.............Justin Verlander
July 10 vs. CWS............Rick Porcello
July 11 vs. CWS............Anibal Sanchez/Jose Alvarez

July 12 vs. TEX.............Doug Fister
July 13 vs. TEX.............Max Scherzer
July 14 vs. TEX.............Justin Verlander

Scherzer makes history, becoming first Tigers starter to post an 11-0 record to begin the season -

Scherzer makes history, becoming first Tigers starter to post an 11-0 record to begin the season -

Max Scherzer set the Detroit Tigers franchise record by winning his 11th straight decision to begin the season, breaking George Mullin’s 104-year old club mark for starting pitchers.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Peralta moves up in shortstop ranking in fourth AL All-Star vote tally

DETROIT — Leading all American League shortstops in most of the key offensive categories all season long, there’s one spot where the Tigers’ Jhonny Peralta isn’t the leader: in the All-Star voting.

But he’s gaining spots in the race, at least, if not ground on the AL’s leading vote-getter at short, J.J. Hardy.

“I don’t want to tip my hand… I would be disappointed if he wasn’t voted in by the players. The kid (Hardy) in Baltimore is doing pretty good, looks like he might get the vote from the fans. So that would hopefully put Jhonny in position to get the votes from the players,” Leyland said.

“I think Jhonny falls in the category — ‘does he deserve to make the all-star team?’ At this point I would say the answer to that is yes. However there are other individuals in that same category — from other teams —not necessarily at his position. I’m talking in general.”

Peralta was third in the voting last week, behind Hardy and Texas’ Elvis Andrus, but leapfrogged into second place when the voting update was released Saturday night, thanks to a week where he garnered 515,709 votes. He actually lost ground on Hardy, who got 677,672 votes.

Miguel Cabrera (4,337,223) remains on pace to post one of the highest tallies in All-Star voting history, increasing his lead on second-place Manny Machado (2,097,804).

As of right now, he’s the only Tigers position player in line to start.

Prince Fielder (2,579,031) lost more than 300,000 votes in what’s become a two-man race with Baltimore’s Chris Davis (3,960,299) at first base.

Omar Infante (1,191,119) garnered 318,977 votes in the last week, but remains a distant fourth at second base.

Victor Martinez (959,646) jumped into the top five at designated hitter, but is well behind AL leader David Ortiz (3,247,462).

Torii Hunter was third in the outfield voting after the first update, but has slid one spot in the standings each week. Last week, Nick Markakis overtook him. This week, it was Toronto’s Jose Bautista (1,867,367), sliding Hunter (1,851,657), though not by much. Austin Jackson (983,469) leapfrogged over Texas’ Josh Hamilton, into 12th place in the outfield voting.

In-stadium voting runs through June 28, while online voting continues until July 4.

Chris Davis, Orioles 3,960,299
Prince Fielder, Tigers 2,579,031
Mike Napoli, Red Sox 902,562
Albert Pujols, Angels 872,602
Mitch Moreland, Rangers 750,674

SECOND BASE Robinson Cano, Yankees 3,032,183
Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox 2,135,499
Ian Kinsler, Rangers 1,329,136
Omar Infante, Tigers 1,191,119
Jose Altuve, Astros 850,577

J.J. Hardy, Orioles 2,548,682
Jhonny Peralta, Tigers 1,838,500
Elvis Andrus, Rangers 1,616,834
Jed Lowrie, Athletics 1,207,486
Derek Jeter, Yankees 819,175

Miguel Cabrera
, Tigers 4,337,223
Manny Machado, Orioles 2,097,804
Adrian Beltre, Rangers 1,334,195
Evan Longoria, Rays 1,106,984
Josh Donaldson, Athletics 635,581

Joe Mauer, Twins 2,788,972
Matt Wieters, Orioles 2,068,032
A.J. Pierzynski, Rangers 1,054,093
Carlos Santana, Indians 1,029,674
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Red Sox 966,196

DESIGNATED HITTER David Ortiz, Red Sox 3,247,462
Lance Berkman, Rangers 1,519,503
Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays 1,091,593
Victor Martinez, Tigers 959,646
Mark Trumbo, Angels 919,036

Adam Jones, Orioles 3,571,693
Mike Trout, Angels 3,548,195
Nick Markakis, Orioles 1,915,860
Jose Bautista, Blue Jays 1,867,367
Torii Hunter, Tigers 1,851,657
Nate McLouth, Orioles 1,660,080
Nelson Cruz, Rangers 1,595,371
Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox 1,289,195
Alex Gordon, Royals 1,239,771
Yoenis Cespedes, Athletics 1,183,926
Coco Crisp, Athletics 1,115,204
Austin Jackson, Tigers 983,469
Josh Hamilton, Angels 897,181
Shane Victorino, Red Sox 823,363
Ichiro Suzuki, Yankees 759,154

Avila ready to start rehab assignment at Toledo

By AKEEM GLASPIE  • Special to The Oakland Press 

DETROIT — Tigers catcher Alex Avila is heading to the “City of Glass.”

Avila has been on the 15-day disabled list since Monday after taking a fastball to the forearm during Sunday’s game against the Twins.

He will be reporting to Triple-A Toledo Sunday to began his minor league rehab assignment.

“Very anxious. Very anxious. Was killing me just to watch,” he said. “I don’t like watching, especially — I mean, I haven’t played in a week. It’s felt like a month. I just want to play baseball.”

Avila said he expects to return to the team as soon as he’s available to come off the DL July 2.

“I won't be spending any more time on the DL,” Avila said.

The plan is for Avila to spend time catching, and as a DH while in the minors. He said he’s seen a noticeable difference as far as pain and swelling as the week progressed.

“It feels good. It's gotten a lot better the past two or three days. It's a night-and-day difference,” he said. “Swelling is down a lot. A couple days ago was the first time the swelling went down to where I was actually able to swing the bat a little bit. Each day it has gotten better and better and today I feel good as new.”

Aliva said, that similar to any bruise there is some discoloration of the area, but that the bruise looks worse than it actually is. The next step for Avila is to battle the lingering fatigue that he feels as he tries return to playing after sitting since the beginning of the week.

“Yeah, sometimes, but I think that’s more because I’ve had four or five days off, really not doing much, just kind of working out in the gym a little bit. The last couple days, doing baseball activities, it was a little sore, but nothing that’s of major concern,” Avila said.

He had a scan of the bruise and an X-Ray — both negative. He said the final step is to get his full range of motion back in his wrist. He credited his rehab process in aiding his speedy recovery.

“Once you get the swelling out of it, your range of motion comes back a little bit,” Avila said. “The other thing is, you’re working on it three, four, five times throughout the whole day, so there’s a lot of treatment over the last few days. If we didn’t work on it so hard, it would still be lingering.”

Brayan Pena and Bryan Holaday have been handling the catching chores in Avila’s absence.

COLUMN: There may not be a magical fix for Tigers' closer problems hiding in someone else's back yard

DETROIT — The grass is not always greener in your neighbor’s yard.

No, this is not meant to be a lawn care or hardware store commercial, and no I’m not complaining about my neighbor’s lawn being greener than mine. (My lawn is the best in the neighborhood, rest assured.)

No, this is more about the concept that there are magical fixes for every problem lying just across the lot line on someone else’s property.

Everything is horrendous where you’re at — thanks to the myopia of sports, where every problem HERE seems to blown in to a dilemma 100 times greater than anyone else could possibly have over THERE — and peachy keen everywhere else.

(If only we could get a piece of that Magical Land of Elsewhere to come here. There might be unicorns over there, too. You never know. We should get one.)
When Tigers fans look at the unending mess that the closer’s role has been over the last nine months, understandably they think that it’s a burden completely unique to them.

So there was a huge sigh of relief from those quarters when the team finally took official steps to take Jose Valverde out of that role Thursday afternoon, naming Joaquin Benoit the new No. 1 ninth-inning option. There was an even more tangible relaxing when Valverde was designated for assignment 24 hours later, banishing him at the minimum to the minors — or possibly out of the organization altogether, for the second time in nine months.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Tuiasosopo lands on DL, forcing Garcia to travel I-75 for fourth time in seven days

DETROIT — It’s only 58 miles from Comerica Park to Toledo’s Fifth-Third Field.

Still, to Avisail Garcia, it’s got to feel like a million, especially since he’s traveled up and down I-75 five times already this season, four times in the last seven days.

Garcia was back in Detroit Friday, and just in time to replace a slightly hobbled Austin Jackson in center field.

His recall was part of a flurry of moves, that included the Tigers designating Jose Valverde for assignment, and recalling Al Alburquerque.

While there have been transactions galore in the month of June, it seems like the preponderance somehow involve the 22-year-old outfield, Garcia. 

He came up on May 13, when Jackson went on the DL with a hamstring strain. 

He went back down June 14, when Jackson came off the DL. 

He came up again Monday, when Alex Avila (forearm contusion) and Anibal Sanchez (shoulder strain) went on the DL

He went down Thursday, when the Tigers needed Jose Alvarez on the active roster to start in Sanchez’s spot. 

• He came back up Friday, replacing Matt Tuiasosopo, who went on the 15-day disabled list with an intercostal strain in his side.

Tuiasosopo was a late scratch from Thursday’s game after feeling something pull while hitting in the cage during batting practice.

“We got the word about five minutes before the game, and I had to scratch him,” manager Jim Leyland said. “Felt something in here, swinging in the cage.”

Could Garcia inherit some of the at-bats vs. right-handers that had been headed Tuiasosopo’s way, given the struggles of Andy Dirks?

“That’s a possibility,” Leyland acknowledged.

Facing the Red Sox lefty Jon Lester, the Tigers would normally have had Jackson playing in the outfield Friday, instead of the left-handed Dirks.

But Leyland wants to be careful with Jackson, who is just a week removed from his own stint on the DL.

That left the Tigers a man short.

“We’ll be short tonight because I don’t want to obviously play Jackson. If I could play Jackson, I’d have him in the starting lineup,” Leyland said. “I’m not going to put him in the game to pinch run when his legs are sore.”

Is it serious?

“I don’t think so. I think just kind of do some treatment with it and kind of get that stiffness, soreness out of there. Things should be all right,” Jackson said. “Hoping so (tomorrow). See how it feels doing the treatment and things today. Just kind of take it easy, don’t want to make it worse by doing too much.”

That does not leave a whole lot on the bench: Back-up catcher Bryan “Doc” Holaday, reserve infielder Ramon Santiago, and utility man Don Kelly.

Same situation the Tigers had a night earlier, with Tuiasosopo ailing.

“That’s what I had (three players on bench). It’s a priority but you don’t really want to run Doc Holaday or Santiago,” Leyland said. “What that means is if something happens to an outfielder, I would put Infante in the outfield and Santiago at second base. Unless you want me to play Doc Holaday in center. Probably wouldn’t be a good idea.”

Infante has started 67 career games in the outfield, 16 of those in his first stint here in Detroit.

“Not very often but he’s played center field in the big leagues, played left field,” Leyland said. “That’s just an option. Those are options you don’t want to use but you make do with what you got.”

Tigers DFA Valverde, give him option of continuing to work out problems at Toledo

DETROIT — The experimenting with Jose Valverde at the major league level is over, as far as the Detroit Tigers are concerned.

Whether or not the experiment of trying to fix his issues carries on elsewhere is up to the 35-year-old reliever.

Friday, the Tigers designated Valverde for assignment, meaning they have 10 days to assign him to the minors, place him on waivers, or work out a trade.

General manager Dave Dombrowski said he’d given Valverde the option of accepting an assignment to Triple-A Toledo to attempt to straighten things out, but had not yet gotten an answer from his former closer.

“He was open-minded to it. He did not say no to it. But he needed some time to think about it,” said Dombrowski, who met with other members of the organization, before he, manager Jim Leyland, pitching coach Jeff Jones and assistant GM Al Avila gave Valverde the news. “He seemed understanding. I don’t think anybody — I think he knows he’s been struggling. And how do you get that back?

“He seemed understanding of it. Quiet. Noncommittal.

“But I don’t think he — he’s also in a spot where he didn’t say, ‘Gee, I think you’re wrong. And I need to run out of here.’ I think he was taking it in and digesting it.”

[Click here for the full story on]

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Tuiasosopo's role may expand beyond pinch-hitting, platooning

A minor-league free agent signed over the offseason, Matt Tuiasosopo has done everything asked of him, including pinch hit. And done it well.

His two-run pinch-hit double in the sixth inning was just the latest example.

He’s now 3-for-10 with six RBI in pinch-hit situations, his three hits all for extra bases — two doubles and a home run.

“I just thank God for every opportunity that I’m getting. Skip’s doing a great job giving me opportunities and I try to prepare as hard as a can to mentally be prepared for the pinch-hit at-bats. It feels good to come through in those situation, but ultimately if we lose it kind of takes away from the good things,” he said, admitting he studies up to be prepared for the eventuality. “Watch a ton of video; watch a ton of video about the lefties, the pitches that they’re throwing, what they’re looking like and how they’re facing right-handed hitters. I try to watch film the night before for left-handed starters and I try to watch video on the left-handed bullpen guys. I just try to get as much video as I can.”

The six RBI are the most since Frank Catalanotto had six in 1999. The rest of the Tigers are 5-for-26 with one triple six RBI.

“You were trying to get a couple of them right there, maybe even run into one and get three of them,” Leyland said. “We got a couple.”

Included on the roster as a platoon player for left field, who was expected to primarily play against left-handed pitching, that role may expand.

Now hitting .338, Tuiasosopo may be the beneficiary of Andy Dirks’ struggles, in terms of more playing time in the outfield. Dirks finished the game 1 for 5 and is hitting .208 in June.

Will Tuiasosopo take some of Dirks’ starts?

“That’s a great question. ... Since Dirks has been struggling, then you might consider putting him in there a little bit more. I think that’s a very fair point. That’s the kind of stuff that I think is legitimate. I don’t have any problem with that at all. I don’t think we’re ready to do that just yet,” Leyland said before the game.

“If somebody doesn’t get going, then you play him a little bit more, or do something else. I’m not talking about anybody in particular, but I’m talking about any player.”

Garcia sent back to Toledo to make room for Alvarez's return

DETROIT — Avisail Garcia used to be the new Miguel Cabrera.

Now, he’s the new Danny Worth.

Like Worth, who spent the 2012 season shuttling up and down I-75, back and forth from the Detroit Tigers to their top farm team in Toledo nine times, Garcia is well on his way to matching that.

He’s already been up and down twice, Wednesday getting word that he’d completed his second tour of duty with the parent club after just three days, optioned back to Toledo to make room on the active roster for Thursday’s starting pitcher, Jose Alvarez.

After starting 16 of 24 games in his first stint, Garcia was called up in Monday’s flurry of roster moves, played five innings in reserve that night, and did not see the field again.

Alvarez was up on June 10 to make a start in the spot of the injured Anibal Sanchez. He’ll make Thursday’s start against the Boston Red Sox again in the stead of Sanchez, who went on the 15-day disabled list with a sore shoulder Monday, and is expected to miss two starts.

“We said if something came up, he would deserve a start, and ... something came up and we’re giving him a start. We’re comfortable with him. They don’t know him,” manager Jim Leyland said. “You just use your stuff. You give him a little bit of a game plan, but you don’t swamp him with stuff. These hitters haven’t seen him, so they haven’t had a chance to adjust to him. And he hasn’t seen them.

“I feel comfortable putting him out there.”

Alvarez earned a repeat performance after taking a no-hitter into the fifth inning against the Indians 10 days ago, earning his first big-league victory.

Considering his Triple-A ERA nearly doubled — going from 3.52 to 6.75 after giving up three homers to the Syracuse Chiefs in his only start since returning to the Mud Hens, it was probably wise to take the initial success of Alvarez — a minor league free agent signed in the offseaon — for the Tigers with a grain of salt.

“Like I said after the first one, you just have to be careful,” Leyland said. “He came up, he did a wonderful job. I think he’ll do fine (Thursday).

“When you’re having a good game, and everything, it’s real easy to have presence and poise, but your true test is if you get roughed up a little, or you give up a home run to the first hitter. How do you respond then? Do you fall apart? Or do you maintain that poise and all that stuff.

“So I don’t really know. Hopefully that won’t happen.

“The kid did a fantastic job.”

Catching rotation complicated by boon for Verlander in Tuesday's lineup

No pitcher gets his own personal catcher.

Not under Jim Leyland, anyway.

But the Detroit Tigers’ skipper broke his own rule — or, more accurately, bent it a little — for Tuesday’s start, hoping that ace Justin Verlander could use the rapport he’s built recently with backup catcher Brayan Pena to get on a good roll.

“Verlander’s been working pretty good lately with Pena, so I thought I would do that. That’s something I don’t ever normally do, because I don’t want to get in a rut where a guy’s going to have a special catcher for a certain pitcher — not Verlander, but any combination,” Leyland said Wednesday.

“I’ve never — I don’t do that. But I did it (Tuesday) night, because they were real good in Kansas City together, so I thought ‘I’m going to catch him, rather than do something different.’ ... I wanted to give my horse the benefit of the doubt.”

It didn’t really net the results that Leyland was looking for, as Verlander again struggled with his fastball control, and was hit for five runs in five innings — giving up all five on a pair of home runs.

It also made a bit of a mess of the catching rotation between Pena and recently recalled Bryan Holaday, getting away from what you’d expect from a platoon between the right-handed Holaday and the switch-hitting Pena.

With Pena in the lineup against Orioles lefty Zach Britton, it forced Leyland to choose between starting him against the next two opposing pitchers — both right-handers — and play him at least four straight games, or play Holaday against a righty.

“I don’t want to kill him. It was just kind of one of those ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ situations,” Leyland said. “It’s a day game after a night game, and one thing I know: Holaday’s going to have energy.”

It also might have made sense to start Holaday along with Jose Alvarez, who will be recalled to make another start Thursday in the rotation spot of the injured Anibal Sanchez. Holaday worked extensively with Alvarez at Triple-A Toledo, and knows him probably better than anyone on the Tigers.

“Well, I thought very seriously about that. He didn’t catch Alvarez up here, and he did all right. Alex (Avila) caught him the first game, and I thought Alex did a terrific job with him,” Leyland said. “I’ll tell you this: If Holaday hits two home runs today, and knocks in four runs, I’ll catch him tomorrow.”

It will be Holaday’s first start in the big leagues in more than a calendar year. He made three starts in early June when Avila was on the disabled list with a hamstring injury, then was a September call-up, making two more appearances as a defensive replacement.

Leyland doesn’t worry about his defensive abilities at all, though.

“I think he’ll be fine. I think Holday’s good at following a game plan. I think Ricky knows what he wants to do. I think Jonesy will have him programmed — you hate to make it sound like they’re a computer (to be) programmed — but he’ll have him programmed to what he wants to do, so that won’t be an issue. I think the guys really like throwing to Doc in spring training,” Leyland said.

“Like I said, he’s got a lot of energy. I don’t think it’s any big deal.”

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Tigers go back to mixing and matching for 9th inning, as closer situation continues to resemble 'Days of Our Lives'

DETROIT — If only Macdonald Carey were still alive to do the voice-over for the Detroit Tigers’ bullpen: “These are the Days of Our Lives.”

Even the team’s manager, Jim Leyland, admits his closer situation has become a daily drama, akin to a soap opera, like the one that opened with Carey’s famous line.

What is he going to do in the ninth inning?

Tune in later to see.

“Hope we’ve got the lead. It’s ‘Days of Our Lives.’ You’ll have to find out tonight,” he said, tongue-in-cheek, before Monday night’s game.

On Sunday, Leyland used set-up man Joaquin Benoit for one out in the eighth, then brought him back for the ninth. It was his fourth save of the campaign.

Monday, Leyland used lefty Drew Smyly for the final three innings of the game, after Max Scherzer pitched six stellar innings, moving to 10-0 on the season. It was Smyly’s second three-inning save of the year.

“It worked out pretty well for us tonight, and hopefully we can just kind of mix and match, use Papa Grande (Jose Valverde), use Benoit, use Cokey (Phil Coke), and just see what it sets up each night, and what the situation looks like,” Leyland said.

Given that it’s the fourth change of direction in philosophy for how to close out games — starting with rookie Bruce Rondon in spring training, then starting the regular season with a closer-by-committee-that-wasn’t-really-a-committee situation, then adding Valverde, and now back to what appears to be a committee — you can see the resemblance to a daily soap opera.

The only thing that’s been consistent is inconsistency.

“I like what we’ve got, and truthfully, we don’t totally, totally have our furniture arranged in the bullpen,” Leyland said.

“There’s no question about that.

“We were in the process of trying to get it arranged before we got Valverde, and we’ve tried to get it arranged since we’ve had Valverde, that’s what we’ll continued to try to do.”

How about buying some new furniture?

“Well, that’s easy to say, but you can’t go and buy a shirt for $5,000 and put it on, and it doesn’t look good, so you throw that away and go get another one for $5,000. It doesn’t work that way,” Leyland said. “That’s not fair to the owner.”

Although Leyland insists he never gets too high or too low, riding the ups and downs of the season, the constant turmoil has created some stress for him — something that he jokingly dismisses.

“Well, (Baltimore’s Manny) Machado leads the league in doubles, and I’m about second in doubles. Double vodka, double Scotches,” he said with a laugh. “No, I’m just kidding. Don’t make it sound like that, because I rarely drink.”

But he does understand how fans might panic just a little bit.

And he does understand all the efforts to suggest a change in direction for the Tigers’ relief corps that belies last week’s “Who the (bleep) should I be closing with?” rant.

He just doesn’t have any definitive answers, any more than any of them do.

“Absolutely. That’s baseball conversation, and I’m thankful that we have that. Means that people are interested in us,” Leyland said Monday.

“I think there are some people that make very legitimate points, from a fan standpoint. I think there are some very legitimate points from a fan standpoint, on Twitter, or whatever you call it. I think there are some very legitimate points on talk shows, but I also think there are some foolish points, with people grasping at straws, and coming up with stuff that’s silly.

“But I think there’s a lot of good thought process by the fans. I have no issue with that.

“I wish I had answers for them, but I don’t. I gotta try to do the best I can with this unit. Like I said, everybody’s got an idea there’s a problem. Like I said the other day, it’s like telling me I’m bald. ‘Well, no (bleep). Can you tell me how to grow hair?’ ‘No, I don’t have any idea how to grow hair.’

“It’s what I said the other day, I’ll stick to it. I love when people are talking about the Tigers, and second-guess at times. When stuff’s legitimate ... it’s not so far-fetched that they’re talking about (Rick) Porcello as the closer. I don’t think that’s far-fetched. I don’t think that’s silly.

“But right now is not a time for that. We have information that we see going on, we think right now that that’s not the best thing for Rick Porcello or our club right now. We think he’s doing really well, and I like the fact that we’ve got five guys that — knock on wood — have been keeping us in games all the time. That’s pretty important.

“If you don’t have good starters, you very rarely have anything to close.

“I love good ideas, and to talk about stuff. But it’s just not that simple.

“People say ‘Well, why don’t you do this ...’ or ‘Why don’t you do that ...’ Well, we don’t just come to eat our lunch.”

While he opened the door by saying it was not a far-fetched idea to propose a starter as a closer, he closed the door after the game, reiterating that now is not the time to talk about something like that.

“One thing I wanna say though is I hope — I’m asking a favor of all you guys — I hope that everyone quits going to Rick Porcello and asking him about being the closer. He is not going to be the closer. He is not a closer,” Leyland said in his postgame media session. “There’s no sense going to Rick and asking him about it, because it’s just not necessary. So I would appreciate if people would just drop that subject with him, because we want him to concentrate on what he’s doing right now as a starter.”


Why bring in MORE drama?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Tigers reportedly come to terms with Knebel, but don't pencil him in at closer just yet

DETROIT — Yes, the Tigers currently have issues at closer.

And, yes, they drafted at least one guy with experience in that role in college.

But, no, the selection of Texas Longhorns closer Corey Knebel was not a “need” pick, if there can even be such a thing in baseball, where most players are at least a year away from contributing, when drafted.

In fact, the Tigers don’t expect Knebel to even be a closer for them in the long run, let alone now.

The Tigers, who reportedly came to terms with the Competitive Balance Round A selection on Monday, expect that Knebel will be a starter.

“We feel like Corey can start. He has three pitches — obviously two plus power pitches now — but he has a delivery and an arm action, for us, to start,” said David Chadd, the Tigers’ vice president of amateur scouting, during the draft. “I think he was put in that closer’s role at the University of Texas, in my mind, because he was a dominant closer, and had success doing it. But we’re going to send Corey out as a starter.”

Jim Callis of Baseball America reported that the deal was for the full slot value of $1,433,400. He later said on Twitter that Knebel “has size & enough feel for change-up to make it work.

There are no concerns about Knebel’s two reported run-ins with authority while at Texas, earning him a pair of suspensions.

He is purported to have given a teammate a urine sample to use as his own for a drug test, and also had a run-in with a coach.

“Well, I can answer that by saying this: We don’t believe we got a problem child. I think we got a young individual that might have made some bad decisions in the past, but ... we’re comfortable with the answers we were given, and that’s why we made our selection,” Chadd said. “We, as a collective group — and I’m going to mention Tim Grieve, our area scout — we’ve done our due diligence on the off-the field issues with all these guys, off and on the field. We’re comfortable with all the answers we were given. Obviously, extremely comfortable with their abilities, and that’s what allowed us to make the selections.”

But those are the only instances of misbehavior in a three-year career that saw him earn All-America honors as a freshman.

He finished with 37 career saves at Texas, leaving him four shy of Huston Street’s school record.

Crowdsourcing my contest entries

It's contest entry time (this one the Michigan Press Organization's Better Newspaper Contest) and I always have the hardest time picking between columns. These are the six contenders that I have to narrow down to three. One of them already won an award, so it will probably get precedence.

AUGUST 4: “No more Mr. Nice Guy for Tigers, but a tough decision doesn’t necessarily mean an incorrect one”

MAY 5: “Victor Martinez provides Tigers a ray of sunshine in their darkest hour”

SEPTEMBER 30: “Cabrera not wilting under the pressure of Triple Crown chase, as he carries Tigers toward playoffs”

OCTOBER 24: “WORLD SERIES PREVIEW COLUMN: So I lost my place. Are we still doing the ‘Fire Leyland’ thing?” Oct. 24

NOVEMBER 14: “Torii Hunter a perfect fit for Tigers ... and vice versa”

APRIL 28: “As dissonant as it may seem, unlike Brandon Inge, Delmon Young probably isn’t going anywhere”

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Hunter gets HR No. 300, back in the city where he started

DETROIT — When Torii Hunter passed the 2,000-hit plateau in Detroit back in April, he figured he’d probably pass the 300-homer plateau in his new home stadium, Comerica Park, too.

“I’m going to get my 300th home run here, too,” Hunter said with a smile, back then, knowing that he sat just three homers shy of that mark.

But he’s hit just one home run at home this year, and ended up getting his milestone homer at an old home town, belting a first-inning home run at the Minnesota Twins’ new Target Field in Sunday’s game. [WATCH THE VIDEO]

"I got my first home run against these guys (the Tigers), and I got my 300th home run in a Tigers uniform," Hunter said on the Fox Sports Detroit postgame show.

"I think it was kind of a neat scenario, with the Minnesota fans loving him, and getting to see him do that," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said on the FSD postgame show.

With Austin Jackson aboard, Hunter belted a 2-0 pitch from Twins starter P.J. Walters for a 376-foot shot to left field. He'd later add an RBI double, giving him his second three-RBI game with the Tigers, and his first since April 11.

Hunter hit 192 home runs in nine full seasons with the Twins, 105 in five seasons with the Angels, and three now in his first season with the Tigers. He later added a double, giving him hi

Despite hitting more home runs (87) in the Metrodome than any other park, few of Hunter's milestone homers actually came in Minnesota, though.

His first home run was April 15, 2009, at Tiger Stadium.

His 50th home run came April 30, 2002, at the Metrodome.

His 100th home run came May 15, 2004, at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago.

His 150th home run came Aug. 20, 2006, at the Metrodome.

His 200th home run came June 9, 2008, at Angel Stadium in Anaheim.

His 250th home run July 9, 2010, at Oakland Coliseum.

And now his 300th home run came back in the same city where he started, against his first team, the Twins.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Miggy continues to lead AL All-Star vote-getters; Orioles close gaps at several spots

It appears the Baltimore Orioles will be the Tigers’ stiffest competition in All-Star Game voting.

First baseman Chris Davis (2,999,094) is chasing Miguel Cabrera (3,277,890) for the overall voting lead among American League players in the third weekly totals announced by Major League Baseball Sunday night. That extended Davis’ lead over Prince Fielder (1,980,129) for the AL starting slot at first base.

Cabrera continues to lead the O’s Manny Machado (1,626,209) by a healthy margin for the starting spot at third base, while Adrian Beltre (1,105,706) and Evan Longoria (898,422) are further behind.

Baltimore’s Adam Jones (2,740,505) leads all vote-getters in the outfield, while teammate Nick Markakis (1,463,392) moves into the third and final starting outfield slot, behind Mike Trout (2,710,115), and ahead of the Tigers’ Torii Hunter (1,425,571), who slides down to fourth. Despite missing a month with a hamstring strain, Austin Jackson (712,623) is 13th among outfielders.

At second base, Detroit’s Omar Infante (872,142) is a distant fourth, behind leader Robinson Cano (2,409,512). At shortstop, Jhonny Peralta (1,322,791) is in third, not far behind leader J.J. Hardy (1,871,010) of the Orioles, and Texas’ Elvis Andrus (1,358,412).

In-stadium voting runs through June 28, while online voting continues until July 4.

Third voting update:
Chris Davis, Orioles 2,999,094
Prince Fielder, Tigers 1,980,129
Mike Napoli, Red Sox 744,334
Albert Pujols, Angels 693,062
Mitch Moreland, Rangers 645,071

Robinson Cano, Yankees 2,409,512
Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox 1,635,674
Ian Kinsler, Rangers 1,123,654
Omar Infante, Tigers 872,142
Jose Altuve, Astros 734,896

J.J. Hardy, Orioles 1,871,010
Elvis Andrus, Rangers 1,358,412
Jhonny Peralta, Tigers 1,322,791
Jed Lowrie, Athletics 1,019,861
Derek Jeter, Yankees 669,698

Miguel Cabrera, Tigers 3,277,890
Manny Machado, Orioles 1,626,209
Adrian Beltre, Rangers 1,105,706
Evan Longoria, Rays 898,422
Josh Donaldson, Athletics 500,773

Joe Mauer, Twins 2,127,175
Matt Wieters, Orioles 1,615,625
A.J. Pierzynski, Rangers 885,137
Carlos Santana, Indians 864,779
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Red Sox 748,725

David Ortiz, Red Sox 2,488,451
Lance Berkman, Rangers 1,239,521
Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays 769,322
Mark Reynolds, Indians 745,058
Mark Trumbo, Angels 722,667

Adam Jones, Orioles 2,740,505
Mike Trout, Angels 2,710,115
Nick Markakis, Orioles 1,463,392
Torii Hunter, Tigers 1,425,571
Jose Bautista, Blue Jays 1,379,251
Nelson Cruz, Rangers 1,310,079
Nate McLouth, Orioles 1,300,158
Alex Gordon, Royals 1,040,685
Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox 1,004,434
Yoenis Cespedes, Athletics 926,611
Coco Crisp, Athletics 869,153
Josh Hamilton, Angels 726,485
Austin Jackson, Tigers 712,623
Shane Victorino, Red Sox 682,220
Ichiro Suzuki, Yankees 620,734

COLUMN: Closer continues to be a suppurating wound for Tigers ... and it may not heal soon

DETROIT — If you keep picking a scab, it’ll never heal over.

For three-quarters of a year, the Detroit Tigers have been hoping that the suppurating wound that is the back end of their bullpen will heal itself up without serious external intervention, but each and every time that it seems like it might, the scab is torn off with another blown save or late-inning meltdown.

The thing that makes fans mad isn’t that the Tigers refuse to acknowledge the situation — everyone knows that this particular elephant is in the room.

“This basically boils down to everybody can tell me I’m bald but nobody can tell me how to grow hair,” manager Jim Leyland told reporters Friday. “That’s how I see it. ‘Hey, Jim, you’re bald.’ ‘No (bleep). How do I grow hair?’ ‘Well, I have no idea.’

“Same old thing. Everybody knows that there’s a problem. Nobody’s got the remedy.”

No, the thing that makes fans mad is the fact that the Tigers have steadfastly refused to see anyone about the issue, hoping it’ll just heal itself.

Never once did they seek outside remedies.

They tried one internal solution, minor-league fireballer Bruce Rondon, in spring training, before abandoning the pretense that he was ready for the job.

Then they tried the “closer-by-committee” route for the span of three weeks, long enough to register one blown save, before going back to square one, and reemploying the guy who was there when the problem started.

At best, re-signing Jose Valverde — fresh off a late-season meltdown in 2012 that kept him unemployed until well after the start of this season — was a band-aid solution, a quick, comfortable fix after earlier plans fell through.

He was a placebo to make people feel better, without really fixing the problem.

And now that he’s blowing saves again, everybody just realized it’s a sugar pill.

It’s far, far, far from being a fix.

We gave it time. We didn’t “put the cart before the horse.” We waited. Watched.

Grimaced. Quaked.

Waited for the inevitable shoe to drop.

“Everybody was probably a little nervous,” Valverde himself admitted in an on-field interview with Fox Sports Detroit’s Ryan Field, after he’d promptly let the potential tying run on base with a leadoff single in Tuesday’s 3-2 win over Kansas City.

Ya think?

Why would that be?

Is it because Valverde has blown three saves, as many as he has in any season in Detroit, save last year, when he blew five?

Is it because he’s given up five home runs already, as many as in any full season since 2008?

Is it because his supposed “out pitch,” the split-finger fastball, is getting hammered?

Is it because his only other main pitch, the four-seam fastball, isn’t as fast as it used to be (registering an average of 92.7 mph, the lowest since his rookie year), no matter what anyone says? And, as one scout told Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan, it’s “as flat as Kansas.”

What, me worry?

It was a good, low-risk bet when the Tigers took it, re-signing Valverde to an incentive-laden contract. If he panned out, well, they’d be right back where they’d been his first three years here.

If not, they’d be where they found themselves 273 days ago Sunday.

That day, Sept. 16, Valverde gave up a double, triple and single in the ninth inning in Cleveland, recording just one out in the process. The triple, if you’ll recall, was the ball Don Kelly slammed into the wall trying to catch, prompting Leyland to jokingly say he looked like a “wounded giraffe.”

That blown save was the first for Valverde after a streak of 13 straight successful conversions, leading to a false sense of calm that he’d turned around his early-season struggles.

All that blown save — which, coupled with a loss in a makeup game in Chicago the next afternoon, left the Tigers three games back with 16 to play, and teetering dangerously on the brink — provided was foreshadowing of the postseason collapse.

And, from what we’ve seen in the last week and a half, nothing’s changed all that much. At this point, he’s proven to be an adequate closer. Nothing more. Nothing less.

A World Series contender has got to have better.

You could argue — and many of you have, vehemently — that the Tigers probably have better on their own roster.

You very well could be right.

But we may not find that out, given the fact that the guy who choses who pitches when, the guy who has the ultimate responsibility for walking out on the field and signaling to the bullpen, does not agree.

A column in last weekend’s daily newspaper clippings, espousing Valverde as the team’s best option, and noting fans’ dissatisfactions with that opinion, pushed Leyland’s buttons.

“Who do these fans think we should be closing with? I don’t understand this. When I read (stuff) like this ... and there’s nothing wrong with the article. I don’t understand who they think we should be closing with,” he said, completely unsolicited.

“So I’m asking that question — who the (bleep) should I be closing with?

“They want some rookie kid? I mean, I don’t understand that.

“Stuff like that boggles my mind. It doesn’t upset me. I was just reading this. Talks about Valverde being the best closing option, and talks about the fans. It has nothing to do with me liking Valverde. Who the (bleep) should I close with? Who do you want me to close with? (Jose) Ortega? Rondon? (Drew) Smyly? I mean, who the (bleep) do you want me to close with? When I put (Phil) Coke in the game, and they say ‘He can’t get a right-hander out.’ You want me to close with Coke? I don’t know what the (bleep) these people want. Sometimes, it boggles my mind.”

If you’re a guy in Leyland’s position, you probably agree with him.

These are the toys he’s been given to play with.

And he’s going to play with them.

He can’t do much else.

If Valverde’s on your roster, he’s your closer. If he’s no longer your closer, he probably need not be on your roster.

Until the day that circumstance changes, you work with what you’re given.

“I’m not going to talk about silly (bleep),” Leyland said Friday, getting understandably testy with a line of questioning that’s been virtually the same for three-quarters of a year. “We’re going to do the best we can. We’re going to use Jose Valverde until we decide Jose Valverde can or can’t do it or we’ve got somebody else better. That’s what we’re doing. That’s like everybody else does. That’s what you do. That’s what we’ve got, in our opinion, right now.”

So when might that change?

Probably not for a while.

Unless the Tigers fill the spot from within — either with Rondon or Smyly or set-up man Joaquin Benoit — you won’t likely see an addition to the mix for another month.

That’s essentially what Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski, watching the Class A West Michigan Whitecaps take on the Great Lakes Loons in Midland this week, intimated to MLive’s Hugh Bernreuter, saying that nothing would get serious, in terms of trade talks, until the deadline.

That’s not a surprise. You hardly want to telegraph your desperation to potential trade partners.

Even then, what’s available?

Unless they pay the piper for the Phillies’ Jonathan Papelbon, probably not much. If that’s the case, are you really upgrading?

“People always talk about getting a dominant closer. There are very few dominant closers out there,” Dombrowski told Bernreuter. “You can exchange a lot of closers and get the same ups and downs with each one.”

Even if someone does hit the market between now and July 31, how much do you have to pay?

It would have cost a first-round pick (and quite a bit of owner Mike Ilitch’s dough) to grab the no-brainer solution to the problem, signing the one and only proven closer on the free-agent market in the offseason.

Raise your hand, and untuck your shirt, if you’d feel more comfortable with Rafael Soriano in the big-league bullpen than first-round pick Jonathon Crawford heading to rookie ball.

Now, if you want to get someone on par with that, you’re probably looking at having to give up prized prospects like Nick Castellanos or Avisail Garcia.

And probably more.

That, in a nutshell, is what fans are truly mad about.

There’s a small element of the fan base that seemed to want it to work out with Valverde, and everything to magically go back to the way it had been. There was a larger, more vocal group, that hoped he’d fail along the way.

Almost everyone is a bit miffed that it’s been three-quarters of a year with no forward progress. This could have been fixed. It could have been addressed.

And it wasn’t.

That’s frustrating for everyone involved, probably including a few folks inside that locker room.

It has the potential of getting worse, too.

“Cannot let this affect everybody else on the team. ‘How are we going to lose tonight?’ ” former White Sox and Mets manager Jerry Manuel said on MLB Network.

Former big-leaguer Todd Hollandsworth, now an analyst on MLB Network Radio’s “First Pitch” show, was just as blunt in his assessment.

“They’re giving moments to other teams in their division, moments to regain that hope. ... And you’re helping them get over (horrendous stretches). You should be the team that is driving the nail into the coffin. You’re giving them these moments,” Hollandsworth said. “The point is, you’re winning this game in the last inning, and you hand the ball to the bullpen, to your closer, and you give it back. It’s why I talk about it like I do. The one thing that will tear at a team, more than anything — you can survive the rotation, you can survive the slumps — but the bullpen, if this continues to happen, will absolutely tear at your team. ... You are giving moments to the teams you should be burying right now.”

Yes, there are other problems with the Tigers, but nothing that can’t be fixed easily.

There’s one problem that is going to take some doing to fix.

And it’s about time it happened.

Three-quarters of a year is long enough.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Tigers come to terms with top pick Crawford, 18 others

The first isn’t always last.

The Detroit Tigers came to terms with their first-round pick, Florida right-hander Jonathon Crawford, they announced on Friday, along with 18 more of their 41 picks in last weekend’s draft.

Crawford, the 20th pick in the first round, signed for right at the slot amount of $2,001,700 according to Jim Callis of Baseball America. The Tigers have a total bonus pool of $6,467,400.

Callis had announced on Twitter the signing of Georgia Tech’s Buck Farmer on Thursday, while 27th-rounder Joe Mantiply and 14th-rounder Ben Verlander had made their own signing announcements on Twitter.

Of the 19 total signings so far, eight of them came from rounds in the second half of the draft, but five of them were from the Tigers’ first 11 picks.

UPDATE (June 17): The Tigers reportedly signed Corey Knebel, their selection in the Competitive Balance Round A, to a deal.

The full list of signings announced Friday: 
(1) Jonathon Crawford, RHP, Florida
(5) Buck Farmer, RHP, Georgia Tech
(6) Calvin Drummond, RHP, Arizona Christian
(8) Zach Reininger, RHP, Hill College (Texas)
(10) Kasey Coffman, CF, Arizona State
(12) Dominic Ficociello, 3B, Arkansas
(13) Austin Green, C, San Diego
(14) Ben Verlander, OF, Old Dominion
(16) Duncan McAlpine, C, Dallas Baptist
(18) Jonathan Maciel, RHP, Cal State-Long Beach
(19) Austin Pritcher, RHP, The Citadel
(21) Curt Powell, SS, Georgia
(25) Johnnie Kirkland, RHP, Southeastern University
(27) Joe Mantiply, LHP, Virginia Tech
(28) Scott Sitz, RHP, Florida State
(30) Ryan Beck, LHP, New Mexico State
(31) Brett Huber, RHP, Mississippi
(32) Tanner Bailey, RHP, MIssissippi
(40) Taylor Johnson, 2B, St. Edwards

UPDATED (June 17):
(CBA) Corey Knebel, RHP, Texas

Tigers activate Jackson from the DL; option Garcia to Toledo to make room

DETROIT — Don’t get it wrong.

The Detroit Tigers think that Avisail Garcia will be an impact player down the road, that he’ll be a guy they will want in their lineup nearly full-time, eventually.

They love Avisail Garcia.

They NEED Austin Jackson.


So when Jackson’s rehab stint went according to plan, he was recalled from Triple-A Toledo Friday, and activated from the 15-day disabled list, where he’d languished for just more than a month, forcing the Tigers to make do in center field and in the leadoff spot.

“We get Austin Jackson back, that’ll excite us a little bit. He ignites our offense when he hits doubles to lead off a game, or every once in a while hits a triple,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said last week. “Gets on and can steal a bag. That’ll help. But hey, you make do.”

And, according to plan, Garcia went right back to doing what he was supposed to be doing, optioned out to Toledo, where he can continue to get at-bats and develop.

“He needs to be at Triple-A getting 500 at-bats,” Leyland said two weeks into Garcia’s short stint at the big-league level, replacing Jackson.

“The kid’s a big-time prospect, and that’s what he is. We love him. I said three or four years ago he was the best prospect in the system. He can run, throw, hit, hit with power.

“He’s got a chance to be an impact player at some point.”

Jackson is an impact player now.

And the Tigers need him.

They went 16-14 with him on the DL, and are 24-27 without him over the last two seasons.

He was immediately inserted in the starting lineup for Friday’s game at Minnesota.

“He’s our catalyst. He’s a guy we need in the lineup. You’re built a certain way, you know, and when he goes down, you get other guys out of their roles,” said Don Kelly, who split a lot of the action in center field with Garcia in Jackson’s absence. “We need Austin back.”

Now they have him.

Everybody agrees that’s a good thing.

Not everybody is going to agree that sending out Garcia was a no-brainer, especially considering he hit .288 with 10 RBI in 24 games.

It’s not like he’s burst on to the scene like the Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig, though.

Garcia has still got some maturing to do, and a little bit of success at the big-league level is not going to change that fact. And it didn’t exactly give the Tigers an outfield logjam, like some had intimated.

“No. I don’t worry about that one bit. I tell them (fans that) Austin Jackson’s coming back to play center field. That’s what I tell them,” said Leyland, foreshadowing exactly what happened.

“Who’s he going to replace?” Leyland asked rhetorically, naming off the regulars in the outfield, including Jackson, right fielder Torii Hunter and the left-field combo of Andy Dirks and Matt Tuiasosopo. “The guy hit a triple and knocked in a few runs. It doesn’t mean he’s taking Austin Jackson’s job.”

More logically, it would have been a matter of taking over the right-handed portion of the left-field platoon, ousting Tuiasosopo. Considering Tuiasosopo is hitting .349 (and .333 against left-handed pitching), that seems unlikely.

Garcia wasn’t going to take the spot of Dirks, since he’s not a left-handed bat, nor was he going to take the utility role of Kelly, another left-hander.

There’s also the fact that, with the exception of Garcia and Dirks, who still have options left, the Tigers would have had to designate for assignment any other player involved to be able to send them to the minors. They’ve already lost two players — Duane Below and Quintin Berry — when they were exposed to waivers in the DFA process.

The Tigers did see good things from Garcia, though.

After the vast majority of his hits went to right-field in his stint with the parent club late last season, and in the postseason, this year, Garcia was more able to use all fields. And he seemed more comfortable against big-league pitchers, trying to put the ball in play, rather than trying not to strike out, settling for just making contact.

“I think the biggest thing that I’ve seen with Garcia, that I really like, is that he’s not been passive to the ball anymore. He’s been real aggressive to the ball,” said Leyland, who does not envision the 22-year-old being a center fielder when he eventually comes back to the Tigers for good.

For one, he has a tendency to float to the ball, the coaching staff has noticed, a habit they’ve worked hard to break him of — just as hard as they’ve tried to keep him from lunging at first base, the bad habit that cost him the start of the season with a heel contusion.

“He’s accounted for himself well,” Leyland said. “If I was to say, right now, if I was to predict the future, I would say he’s probably a corner guy, but he’s been working with Brookie (outfield coach Tom Brookens), working on his throwing, working on what he’s supposed to do.”

What he’s supposed to do right now is go back to Toledo, and continue to improve, making room for Austin Jackson.