The Tigers had a flurry of trade rumors surrounding their starting pitchers over the offseason until Doug Fister went to Washington. That seemingly ended the rotation speculation. Then came a Sunday report from Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe regarding Rick Porcello:
The Tigers are said to be willing to listen to offers on him, according major league sources. Porcello is once again at the back end of the Tiger rotation. While still young and promising, the Tigers need more consistency in the rotation. The Tigers took lefty Robbie Ray in the Doug Fister deal, but Ray is likely not quite ready to make the jump.
No sooner did the report hit MLB Trade Rumors than Dave Dombrowski denied any trade talks on any of their starting pitchers, including Porcello.
“We’re not trading any of our starting pitchers,” Dombrowski said. “I don’t know where that came from, but that is totally inaccurate. … We haven’t mentioned his name to one person. No one has called me [about him].”
Logistically, the rumor doesn’t make sense at the moment. If this were last spring, and the Tigers had a ready replacement, than one could see the Tigers gauging interest. Porcello has two seasons to go, including this one, before free agency, so the Tigers have a decision to make about his long-term future. History suggests most teams try to make that decision with starting pitchers two years out from free agency.
Once the Tigers traded Fister, however, they went from six viable starters to five. If somebody gets hurt, their next man up would likely be Jose Alvarez or Kyle Lobstein. Ray is expected to start at Triple-A Toledo, and even that is seen as an aggressive promotion by some. Unless the Tigers can re-sign Max Scherzer, they’ll have a major rotation hole to fill this offseason. A Porcello trade would open up another.
From a performance standpoint, trading Porcello now would not be trading at his peak value. If one believes Porcello is set to benefit from an improved infield defense, then trading now could be argued as selling low.
It still isn’t the craziest rumor this offseason regarding the Tigers rotation. Remember the Ervin Santana rumor?
Miguel Cabrera, Alex Avila and Nick Castellanos all make their offseason homes in south Florida, so it figures that they would be the three Tigers slated to be in the starting lineup both days on this two-game trip to Jupiter. Ian Kinsler and Austin Jackson are joining them on this leg.
1. Ian Kinsler, 2B
2. Trevor Crowe, LF
3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
4. Alex Avila, DH
5. Austin Jackson, CF
6. Tyler Collins, RF
7. Nick Castellanos, 3B
8. Bryan Holaday, C
9. Hernan Perez, SS
P: Rick Porcello, Ian Krol, Evan Reed, Jose Alvarez, Luis Marte, Jhan Marinez
1. Rafael Furcal, 2B
2. Christian Yelich, LF
3. Mike Stanton, RF
4. Garrett Jones, 1B
5. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C
6. Marcell Ozuna, CF
7. Casey McGehee, 3B
8. Greg Dobbs, DH
9. Adeiny Hechavarria, SS
P: Tom Koehler
Today is the stray home game in between last night’s game in Tampa and the upcoming two-day trip to Jupiter, so the lineup is a little interesting. Most of the regulars who started last night are off today. The exceptions are Torii Hunter in right field, Victor Martinez at first base, Steve Lombardozzi at shortstop and Nick Castellanos, who gets to DH.
Bruce Rondon is ready to pitch after being pushed back a day for a minor tweak in his back. He has had the ninth inning on his days to pitch.
No TV on this game, but you can listen in Detroit on 97.1 FM and online at MLB Gameday Audio.
Some more early notes:
- Jose Iglesias is slated to hit today (presumably on the back fields, since the Tigers aren’t taking a formal BP session this morning) and do some running. He did that yesterday, felt fine hitting but felt some soreness while running.
- Steve Lombardozzi has made an early impression with his baserunning instincts. Last night was the second time this spring he took third base on a double steal, both times on his own according to Brad Ausmus.
- Ian Kinsler, 2B
- Ezequiel Carrera, LF
- Torii Hunter, RF
- Victor Martinez, 1B
- Don Kelly, 3B
- Nick Castellanos, DH
- Daniel Fields, CF
- Bryan Holaday, C
- Steve Lombardozzi, SS
P: Drew Smyly, Justin Miller, Phil Coke, Bruce Rondon, Al Alburquerque, Luke Putkonen, Jose Valdez, Jhan Marinez
- Eric Young Jr., 2B
- Juan Lagares, CF
- Kirk Nieuwenhuis, RF
- Josh Satin, 1B
- Andrew Brown, DH
- Matt den Dekker, LF
- Wilmer Flores, 3B
- Taylor Teagarden, C
- Omar Quintanilla, SS
P: Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Gonzalez Germen, Jeff Walters, Joel Carreno, John Church, Adam Kolarek
On the first day of Tigers workouts, new manager Brad Ausmus had his pitchers working on pickoff throws, including the little-used pickoff to third base. Given Ausmus’ focus on preparation all spring, it was surely going to come into play in a game.
Ausmus just didn’t want it in <i>this</i> game. And as he walked out of the dugout Friday night, having seen reliever Luis Marte called for a balk that brought in the Yankees’ winning run in a 3-2 Tigers loss, Ausmus was struggling to figure out why Marte tried a pickoff throw in the first place.
Then it hit him.
“We have a play where you pick to third, and I unknowingly gave it,” Ausmus said. “Really, as I was walking up the runway, I realized that I had given it to him. Don’t blame the player for that one. Blame the manager.”
For all the praise heaped on Ausmus for his intellect and his focus on preparation, he was bound for a miscue. This was the first noticeable one, although he might have gotten away with it and left Marte with the blame had he not fessed up after the game.
“It was my fault,” Ausmus reiterated. “The player didn’t screw up. I actually ended up giving a sign by accident and realized after I walked off the field that I had given a sign. You can chalk that one up to me.”
Marte had runners at the corners and one out in the bottom of the ninth. Third baseman Francisco Martinez apparently did not pick off the accidental sign, because he wasn’t at the bag when the throw came in. That brought the balk call, which brought in the game-ending run.
Between a Friday night game, a chillier forecast than usual for these parts and a stadium that feels more like American League than Grapefruit League (hopefully the photo above reflects that), this might be as close of a feel as we get to regular season baseball this spring. It also helps that the Tigers brought over a fair number of regulars for this one, including the projected Opening Day outfield and Alex Avila behind the plate and batting fifth. With Matt Thornton on the pitching list for tonight, it’ll be interesting to see if Joe Girardi waits until an inning when Avila is up to bring him in.
After an abundance of time at shortstop, Steve Lombardozzi shifts over to second base for the night, giving Ian Kinsler an easy day ahead of tomorrow’s game against the Mets back in Lakeland. Danny Worth starts at short tonight.
It’ll be interesting to hear the reception for Joba Chamberlain, who certainly has a lot of history here, when he takes the mound for his inning of work in relief.
One other thing: It might be nothing, but it’s worth noting that Jose Ortega and Luis Marte were added to the pitching list for tonight. Neither of them were on the pitching list for yesterday’s rained-out game, so it’s not simply a matter of being pushed back. If you were going to look at relief depth the Tigers could tap if they wanted to swing a trade for a left fielder, either one could make sense. Bruce Rondon was previously on the pitching list for tonight, but he’s now slated to pitch Saturday against the Mets.
- Rajai Davis, LF
- Torii Hunter, RF
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B
- Victor Martinez, DH
- Alex Avila, C
- Austin Jackson, CF
- Steve Lombardozzi, 2B
- Nick Castellanos, 3B
- Danny Worth, SS
P: Anibal Sanchez, Robbie Ray, Joe Nathan, Joba Chamberlain, Jose Ortega, Luis Marte, Jhan Marinez
- Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
- Derek Jeter, SS
- Carlos Beltran, DH
- Brian McCann, C
- Alfonso Soriano, RF
- Brian Roberts, 2B
- Ichiro Suzuki, LF
- Eduardo Nunez, 3B
- Russ Canzler, 1B
P: Hiroki Kuroda, Michael Pineda, David Robertson, Matt Thornton, Shawn Kelly, Bryan Mitchell.
All last summer, Justin Verlander said he had until the playoffs to get things right. When he shut down the Athletics in Game 5 of the AL Division Series, he sounded like he was right where he wanted.
“I’m pitching the way I’m supposed to,” he said after that game. “I worked my butt off all year to try to get consistent and get myself where I needed to be.”
Now he says he wasn’t where he wanted to be, not mechanically at least, even during the postseason. After throwing his 45-pitch session inside the batting cages at Joker Marchant Stadium Thursday afternoon, he said he’s trying to erase the muscle memory of 2013 and get back to his 2012 form.
“The adjustments I’m trying to make are the way I used to throw, before last year,” he said.
It also might have been before the core muscle injuries that led to January surgery.
It’s the plurality of the injuries that have him now suspecting he was pitching injured last season. When he had the surgery, he said a few weeks ago, it took care of injuries on both sides. The left side was injured in offseason workouts. The right side was injured at some other point, and was almost as bad, when Dr. William Meyers examined him.
“Everything I felt when I injured myself was on my left side,” Verlander said. “There was nothing [felt] on my right side. We went through all the physical exams, and when he told me I needed surgery on my right, that was kind of the indicator. And he said my right [side] was almost as bad as my left — the abdominal part, not the groin. That could very well, and most likely, gone back a little bit of ways.
“What we’re thinking is the adjustments I’m making, the way I was throwing last year, might have had something to do with an injury being there, without me knowing. And that might have been why I had to change my mechanics a little bit. And this is coming from Dr. Meyers. Even if I don’t feel it, my brain still knows it’s there. We think it was a very slow kind of injury. That’s why there was never a pop or anything, I never felt anything, because it was really slow over time. He said I was probably losing strength through my core, so that was probably, what I think — and what we think — my body trying to adjust to that and be able to pitch through it.”
Verlander explains the adjustment he’s trying to make as getting his shoulder back to a parallel level.
“Just overall last year, there was a tilt in my shoulders,” he said. “I look back at pitches I made in the past and right when I’m about to fire to throw home, everything’s parallel. My shoulders are almost parallel, my arm’s up behind my head, and everything’s firing on a parallel plane. Last year, if you were to take a snapshot, there’s a lot of pitches where my lead arm’s up here and I’m firing from down here, almost below my neck.”
Asked how he could pitch well in the postseason — remember, he not only had better results, but better velocity — Verlander shrugged.
“I don’t know. Just, will.”
I’ve heard a lot of people mention what I was thinking at the Winter Meetings: Jim Leyland looks younger since he retired as manager. That makes sense, but if so, then the next question is whether the reverse is true.
If Brad Ausmus starts picking up gray hairs soon, you can thank the Tigers’ injury situations for it. It’s not about Justin Verlander, who by all appearances is on track to be ready for the start of the season. It’s about the other guys.
Ausmus has a gifted young shortstop with a condition that has bothered him off and on since before he became a Tiger last July. And while Thursday was a good day for Jose Iglesias towards getting healthy, he does not yet have a timetable for a return, nor any guarantee that his shin splints will no longer nag at him from time to time.
If Iglesias has day-to-day injuries during the season, his backup is Steve Lombardozzi, who was already spending this spring getting comfortable at the position. With Iglesias’ situation uncertain, the urgency to get Lombardozzi ready to step in increases.
Meanwhile, Ausmus now has a left-field platoon that now could feature anything from Rajai Davis as a full-time left fielder to a partial platoon to a multi-player pile-up. The good news is that Davis has enough speed to add some production against right-handed hitters if he can hit the ball on the ground (he seems to alternate seasons with decent and low BABIPs against righties, and last year was a low season at just .273). The bad news is that there’s no clear-cut answer for the left-handed hitting answer to that mix, and Ausmus has at least three possible options to evaluate for the next three weeks with Don Kelly, Trevor Crowe and Ezequiel Carrera. All of them have shown serious offensive flaws over their careers, but all have something to bring over a short stretch if they can heat up.
If there’s uncertainty at both spots three weeks now, Ausmus could have some serious decisions to make with his bench: Keep Don Kelly and another left-handed hitting outfielder, likely Crowe or Carrera? If Kelly becomes a platoon outfielder in left, does that mean Crowe or Carrera make the team as a reserve? Could Lombardozzi serve as a backup outfielder, and if so, would that lead Ausmus to think about carrying Hernan Perez or Danny Worth for protection at shortstop and third? So far, Ausmus hasn’t given any indication that carrying an extra infielder is an option.
Last but not least, if nobody impresses in left field, do the Tigers move to add an outfielder, either off the waiver wire or through the trade market? Credit MLB Network Radio’s Jim Duquette and Mike Ferrin for asking that question today to Dave Dombrowski, who gave his usual trade deadline answer that they always keep tabs on the market. That usually means if they’re not scouting their options, they’re about to.
Andy Dirks, whose back injury led to this uncertainty in left, said today doctors are confident that he should be back in 12 weeks, despite the forboding sense that back surgery brings. Can the Tigers feel confident that they can find help around midseason if recovery takes longer? Can they trust that Dirks, who came in to camp with something to prove, can be effective upon his return?
A fair number of these are questions for Dombrowski. But even those trickle down to Ausmus, who might have to manage this roster through some issues very early in his managerial tenure.
Just when Justin Verlander was ready to face opposing hitters again, he met up with one foe he was never going to beat. Heavy rains at Joker Marchant Stadium washed out Thursday’s Grapefruit League game between the Tigers and Phillies.
The game will not be made up. Tickets can be exchanged for a future Tigers Spring Training home game, a Lakeland Flying Tigers home game in the Florida State League, or a refund at the stadium box office.
The game had been in suspense for a while as a weather front crept towards Florida’s Gulf Coast overnight and into Thursday morning. The timing of the system passing through was the only question. Once the rain began shortly after 9 a.m., it kept going all morning and into the afternoon, leaving the decision to cancel inevitable. Radar showed a storm system wider than the state of Florida.
Thus, Verlander spent his Thursday throwing yet another side session, this one indoors within the Tigers batting cages. He couldn’t duplicate the game conditions, but the pitches should at least be enough to continue his process of stretching out his arm endurance to be ready for the season.
Verlander’s next turn in the Tigers rotation is scheduled for next Tuesday against the Blue Jays, also at Joker Marchant Stadium. Barring no more postponements, he should get four starts against opposing hitters before the season begins.
The rest of the Tigers’ scheduled pitchers — including Drew VerHagen, Ian Krol and Al Alburquerque — were slated to throw in the cage as well to keep them on schedule. Detroit hits the road for three of its next four games, including Friday night’s game against the Yankees in Tampa and a two-day trip to Jupiter for games against the Marlins on Sunday and Cardinals on Monday.
A week after Jose Iglesias’ shin splints forced him out of action, the Tigers don’t have a timetable for when he could return. That’s the bad news for the Tigers shortstop. The good news for Iglesias is that team medical officials might be close to finding a remedy for the shin splints that have bothered him off and on for at least the past couple years.
The team had a specialist observe Iglesias running and watch how the orthotics might impact him.
“Last year Boston made them for me, but this time we added a pad at the bottom, and it really helped me,” Iglesias said.
The difference, Iglesias said, was immediate. He added that another adjustment might be made once they can have another set of orthotics built.
That doesn’t mean Iglesias is going to return to action right away. He’s scheduled to hit in the cage today and continue receiving treatment. He’s presumably going to have to take infield work and run the bases as well before he’s cleared to return to action. Long term, though, there’s at least some hope that this might not be an ongoing issue for him anymore.
The first test of the Tigers’ depth didn’t take long to emerge. With Andy Dirks out for the next 12 weeks for back surgery, the original plan to platoon him with Rajai Davis is now out until at least June. And considering it’s back surgery that he’s having, that timetable might have to be flexible.
Dave Dombrowski told reporters Tuesday that the initial plan is to look within camp for the answer. Though the Tigers signed Davis primarily for his numbers against left-handed pitching (besides his speed, of course), they could opt to give him some starts against righties and only sit him against the particularly tough matchups. When Davis signed during the winter meetings, Brad Ausmus said left field wouldn’t necessarily be a strict left-right platoon, a perceived nod towards Davis’ tendency to heat up against all pitchers in stretches.
Still, even if Davis were to get an uptick in play now, it’s tough to envision him playing every day for two months. It’s also difficult to envision him on a hitting tear that lasts two months, although his .288 average and .335 on-base percentage last year represented the best first-half numbers of his career. So somebody is going to play some part in the mix.
It’s not going to be Steven Moya, who has yet to play a game above A-ball. If this injury happened around midseason, one could envision Daniel Fields or Tyler Collins getting a call if they were off to a good start at Triple-A Toledo. As it is, however, neither has played above Double-A Erie, and both need more time. The Tigers promoted Fields aggressively his first year as a pro in 2010, and he ended up spending 2 1/2 years at Class A Lakeland, arguably slowing his development. Collins batted just .240 with 122 strikeouts at Erie last year, and while it’s rarely useful to make judgments this early in Spring Training, he has struck out five times in seven at-bats this spring.
The two utility players on the projected 25-man roster can each play left field. Don Kelly is certainly familiar there, having started 51 games in left over the last four years. The question will be the offensive production. His playing time has always come against right-handed pitchers, but he has batted .198 and .220 against righties over the last two seasons, though the .198 came in very limited playing time in 2012. If the Tigers could get his 2011 splits (.250 average, .698 OPS vs. RHP), they’d take it and put it in a platoon with Davis. Steve Lombardozzi is a switch-hitter with some extra-base power, but he has never been a big offensive catalyst.
As for the minor-league free agents, Trevor Crowe and Ezquiel Carrera both have Major League experience. In fact, you might remember them as Cleveland Indians in recent years. Crowe struggled with the Astros last year, despite hitting well at Triple-A. Carrera, meanwhile, let his situation get to him last year at Triple-A Columbus, and it showed in his numbers.
Between the lack of clear-cut answers and Dave Dombrowski’s history of being thorough on the scouting front, it would be a shock if the Tigers don’t send out evaluators across Florida and out to Arizona to look at potential options, both for trades and possibly for waiver pickups when roster cuts approach. Mike Carp has found his way into trade rumors for teams seeking left-handed hitting at first base, but he actually made more starts in left field than at first last year. He hit .296 with an .885 OPS last year, and drove in 43 runs in essentially a half-season’s worth of play. Ichiro Suzuki is an all-time great without a starting role this year, but he’s making $6.5 million this season. A slew of other outfielders could hit the trade or waiver markets by mid-month, a huge amount for a team that might merely be seeking a short-term fix.
Bottom line, what happens here depends a lot on how the Tigers view the Dirks injury. If Detroit really expects Dirks back in June, the wait seems more reasonable. If the injury is viewed as part of a larger injury concern, or if there’s any indication three months won’t be enough, then the wait seems longer.