March 2007

Dmitri makes Nats

It was a sudden move, but Travis Lee’s decision to ask for a release meant that Dmitri Young will start at first base in Washington. Though the article calls Young "adequate" at first base, his 8-for-18 performance entering Sunday made a big difference. Just as important, it sounds like the fire is back for him. From Bill Ladson’s story on

"I didn’t exactly have passion when [I first signed with the Nationals], but being down in the Minor Leagues with those [prospects brought back the passion]," Young said. "They would come up to me every morning and ask me big-league-related questions. They would say, ‘We would love when you take your helmet off when you get a base hit.’ It got the old juices flowing. It made coming to work a lot easier for me, just having something to work for and proving to people that I had the ability to play. It has been pretty much my mission.

"I learned from my mistakes, knowing that I can’t let things bug me. I’m playing for a purpose and getting back to the kind of player people heard about the last 10 years."

That second paragraph is the big one. He didn’t have that kind of drive when his life was falling apart last summer. I haven’t seen him yet since I didn’t make either trip to Viera for the Tigers games against the Nats, but the reports suggest he has that drive now. It’s not going to be an easy year, because the Nationals look like a team that could lose a lot of games. But this should still be good for him, and I’m happy for him. And in a non-leadership way, it should be good for the younger players in Washington to have him around and keep him loose, something Ladson suggests.

Finishing the roster

The pitching staff has been finalized, manager Jim Leyland said today, though he hasn’t announced it yet. Given Chad Durbin’s performance Saturday and the fact that he’s out of options, he appears to be the favorite. The final bench spot, he said, is down to Neifi Perez, Ramon Santiago or Chris Shelton, and they haven’t decided that one yet. He’s hoping to have it finalized tomorrow.  Perez would appear to be the likely option there.

On other matters, Justin Verlander threw six scoreless innings for Triple-A Toledo today with two hits, three walks, eight strikeouts and a hit batter. He said afterwards his changeup felt a lot better, almost a polar opposite of how he felt about it last Tuesday against the Pirates.

Joel Zumaya is away from the team for the next couple days. He appears to have caught the flu bug that is making his way around the clubhouse, which is doubly bad news for media.

Pitching switch

Justin Verlander will pitch in a minor league game tomorrow instead of against the Yankees. Jason Grilli will pitch the big-league game instead. One possible reason: He faced them at Legends Field a few weeks and he’s scheduled to face them again next Friday. But then, it might also be a way to let him work on his mechanics in a lower-pressure (and non-televised) environment.

Clarification on Santiago

He does have a minor-league option left, so the Tigers can send him down at the end of camp without having to sneak him through waivers. Consider that my first action back to work after a few days off.

Campusano update

He had an MRI exam late yesterday afternoon in Lakeland. The results are being sent to Detroit via  courier and won’t get there until tomorrow, so it’s going to be at least another day before there’s any official word. He was at the clubhouse in Lakeland today.

Radar guns at spring training

Some parts of regular-season baseball don’t work well in spring training. Hot chocolate, for instance (coffee always works regardless of weather, because you have so many early mornings here). Night games arguably aren’t that fun. Luxury boxes only work in small quantities.

Add radar guns to that list.

I know they’re popular with fans, especially wherever Joel Zumaya pitches, but it’s not the greatest of ideas in spring training. Pitchers are building up their arm strength. Youngsters are trying to make an impression and give themselves a shot to make big-league teams. Players have more idle time to look for the readings. Not good.

The gun has been at Joker Marchant Stadium for a few days now, but today was the first time it was on with Joel Zumaya pitching. It seemed a little generous — a lot of fastballs registered at 102 mph, one at 103, and another at 101. He had a warmup fastball register around 99. I don’t doubt that Zumaya can still throw 102, but I don’t think he’d do it that many times in the regular season, let alone in the spring. Even Zumaya seemed skeptical of it.

Jim Leyland said it’s part of the "show business" at Comerica Park, but he’d rather not have them in spring training parks, because he knows certain relievers look to see what they’re throwing.

"Obviously at Comerica [Park] that’s part of the show business," Leyland said. "But I don’t like it in Spring Training. It’s not that big of an issue, but that’s just the way I feel about it."

Other notes:

  • Leyland argued today that nobody in the Majors made as many great plays in a season as Brandon Inge did in 2006. The email questions about Inge’s defense have dwindled with time, so hopefully that just about eliminates them.
  • With Campusano injured, Leyland sounds more like somebody who could have just one lefty in his bullpen on opening day. He said today he has Rodney, Zumaya and Jones from the seventh inning on regardless, and that part of the purpose for another lefty — to scare off opposing managers from inserting a left-handed pinch-hitter — is moot in the American League with the DH.
  • The trade front sounds quiet for the time being. Leyland said today that it didn’t sound like Dave Dombrowski has had very many calls, though that could change in the final week of camp. That said, Leyland said he doesn’t expect a deal.
  • Keeping that in mind, Leyland was asked after the game whether he’d have to make a tough call on who makes his bench. "I don’t think it’s going to be a tough call," Leyland said. "I think it’s going to be a disappointing call. There’s probably going to be two guys disappointed. That’s just the way it is."
  • Ran into scouting director David Chadd, who is on the last of three weeks on the road before he gets back home to Kansas. He likes the draft this year, calls it deeper in high school talent than collegians, and said there’s a good group of high school catchers and left-handed pitchers. That said, he’s not going to draft by need, even though the Tigers could use some catching in the system. They don’t pick until the 27th selection this year, but they gain a sandwich pick around the 60th overall selection. Because signability is such a factor with some teams, Chadd said, they have to scout as much top talent as they can and not assume somebody’s out of reach.

The evolution will be televised

OK, admit it, how many of you watching Sunday’s game on TV were still tuned in during the ninth inning?

The tough part about Sunday’s broadcast was that it was a split-squad game, meaning only half of the starting lineup would be on the field. On the other hand, it gave fans a rare chance to see some of the prospects in action. I’d expect Cameron Maybin was one of the few reasons for fans to watch the later innings, but by game’s end, you also had Jeff Larish, Brennan Boesch, Matt Joyce and Michael Hollimon, among others. Jim Leyland said afterwards that it was one of his goals.

It’s one of the facets of these spring training games, and it’s one interesting aspect when you consider how many of these games are televised in one outlet or another. ESPN seemingly televises more games every spring, and each new team-owned channel seems to bring more spring telecasts where the facilities make sense for it. So fans in theory would become more and more versed in some of these guys.

Consider this in the television aspect: While we were watching the game here, we could also watch the FSN South broadcast of the Tigers’ split-squad game against the Braves online on MLB.TV. When we heard about Edward Campusano’s injury, we were able to bring up the replay of when he left the mound. It’s not like that every day, of course, but it’s interesting stuff.

The rest of what’s news:

  • Gary Sheffield couldn’t talk details about his case, but as he chatted with reporters this morning, one could tell how strongly he believes in it. He thinks it’s something for all players to follow, since it deals with their system of representation and what happens when a player tries to represent himself. He wouldn’t mention Scott Boras by name, but you obviously knew who he meant when he talked about who he believed was stretching out the case.
  • Though it probably wouldn’t make the headlines, Sheffield spent a lot of time talking about Cameron Maybin. When Sheffield sees Maybin, he thinks of Eric Davis. He also thought back to his own time as a prospect, when he thought he was ready for the big leagues at age 18. He remembered following around Robin Yount during his first big-league camp for the Brewers and trying to do everything Yount did. When Yount went in to get taped up, Sheffield said, he went in to get taped up.
  • Scary fact: Sheffield was drafted 10 months before Maybin was born. Maybin was a year old when Sheffield made his Major League debut.
  • Spring training results don’t mean anything. When you’re the Devil Rays and you’re 3-16, though, that has to mean something.

Campusano injured

Edward Campusano left Sunday’s split-squad game at the Braves with what the Tigers are calling left elbow tenderness. He’ll be re-evaluated tomorrow in Lakeland. I’m guessing the next question would be how any stint on the disabled list would affect his Rule 5 qualifications. The answer is that the Tigers can place him on the DL if they want, but he must spend at least 90 days on the active roster. Otherwise, he’d have to go through the same thing next year.

Nationals promote Dmitri Young

Washington announced the move this morning. It doesn’t mean anything yet as far as Young making the team, but it means he passed the first step in competing for a job. He had to get into game shape and he pulled that off. He’ll now compete with Travis Lee for the starting job at first base while Nick Johnson is out.

Now pitching …

Now that I’ve taken my jaw off the floor after Xavier’s loss …

I wasn’t really sure what was going to happen with the opening day start. I thought Kenny Rogers made sense, especially if Jim Leyland wanted to put Justin Verlander in the fifth spot, but I also looked at the spring training rotation just after the games started and counted it out for about five weeks. If the rotation stayed the same, Opening Day would be one extra day for Bonderman, whereas it would require either short rest or a rotation tweak for Rogers.

Bonderman gets up for big games. He likes matching up against aces like Roy Halladay, and his game is at a point where it shows. He was outpitching Johan Santana that day in Minnesota at the end of July before the bottom fell out, just like he has outpitched other guys in his time. The Bonderman-Halladay matchup should just add another aspect to what should be quite a day at Comerica Park. And in a regular-season setting, you’re not worrying about Kenny Rogers feeding off the crowd.

Other stuff …

  • Don’t read too much into Bonderman’s numbers from Saturday. He threw somewhere around 10-12 changeups by his estimation, some in counts where he normally wouldn’t throw it, and he got beat on a ground ball up the middle from Vernon Wells, something most pitchers would take in a regular-season setting. His one really bad pitch was a hanging sinker to Reed Johnson for a home run, and Bonderman otherwise felt like his breaking ball was pretty good.
  • Leyland lauded a sixth-inning RBI single from Ivan Rodriguez, calling it one of the best at-bats he’s seen all spring. Pudge was in an 0-2 hole before poking a 2-2 pitch through the right side to score Maybin after his triple. Pudge’s average is up to .395 now, and that’s in a lot of at-bats.
  • The Tigers wore green hats for the St. Patrick’s Day game. The Blue Jays wore green uniforms. I liked the Tigers approach better on that front.
  • The tough part about your team getting beat in the tournament on a last-second shot is that you know that highlight is going to be on over and over again for the rest of the weekend. You either have to take it or not watch any more games until next week. Plus you can’t watch that One Shining Moment highlight CBS shows after the national championship game. But I told Bonderman I wasn’t going to pout, so I’ll leave it at that.