January 21st, 2009

Bullpen move + Zumaya = upbeat Leyland

Jim Leyland wasn’t saying a whole lot about his bullpen plans when he talked with reporters Thursday at a charity dinner in suburban Toledo, but he did sound optimistic that he was going to get more help in the form of a move or two coming up, plus hopefully a healthy Joel Zumaya.

“We’re still working hard,” Leyland said. “We’re not done yet. We’re still trying to put our team together. Hopefully that could involve maybe a couple more people, but we don’t know. We have nothing done, but we think there’s some encouraging signs.”

“Up to this point, we’ve done as much as we could. I think Dave has been pretty creative so far, which he said he was going to have to be this year. And I don’t think we’re done yet. Will we get something done? I don’t know. But is it possible? I definitely think it is.”

“We had a lot of money to play with, but we already played with it. And I think everybody knows it. So we weren’t going to be in the hunt for a lot of the big names that were out there and everything. And there’s still some guys that we might have some interest in at hopefully a little better of a bargain.”

Leyland sounded particularly upbeat about Zumaya, enough so that he said the Tigers’ bullpen plans will depend in large part on how he fares this spring in his comeback from the stress fracture in his shoulder.

“That will change the whole bullpen, probably,” Leyland said. “Zumaya’s health will be a significant factor in the bullpen. You might almost need two guys to replace Zumaya. He could be that good for us. He was that good in 2006. If we can get in that scenario again, we’ll be pretty good.”

Asked how Zumaya’s progress is going, Leyland said:

“Typical Zumaya, he was throwing bullets from 90 feet the other day already in Lakeland. It’s a process, but it’s way too early to know what he’s going to look like when he has to get a hitter out, max effort and stuff like that. Right now, he looks good. We’re thinking that he made a lot of progress. But it’s still a wait and see.”

Other quotes from Leyland …

On Bonderman’s rehab: “Tremendous. He looks stronger and better than ever.”

On Dontrelle Willis: “Very good. Outstanding. Better than they saw him at any point last year. But once again, he’s not facing hitters. I’m just going to lay low on that. I don’t want to put expectations or be talking about that kind of stuff every day, because I just think it makes it worse.”

On the competition for the final spot in the rotation: “We obviously need a fifth starter, and I’m going to let that play itself out. I’m not going to comment on it every day. I’m not going to get excited if somebody looks good for three innings one day and somebody looks bad for three. I’m going to sit back. I’m going to play it calm. I’m going to see how things develop. And at the end of Spring Training, we’ll come out there with the best possible team we can.”

Brandon Lyon update

The Tigers and Lyon’s agent, Barry Meister, are talking. But Meister is still talking with other teams at this point, so nothing is close to being done. There was some belief that Lyon would be matching up with a team around mid-week, but that timetable appears to be out. Just figured I’d pass that along to temper some expectations out there.

I’ll be heading down to Maumee, Ohio tonight for the start of the Tigers winter caravan at the Monsignor Schmit Youth Foundation Dinner. Jim Leyland is scheduled to be the keynote speaker. Players slated to attend include Marcus Thames, Mike Hessman, Ryan Raburn, Jeff Larish, Clete Thomas, Eddie Bonine, Brent Clevlen, Michael Hollimon, Chris Lambert and Clay Rapada, along with broadcaster Mario Impemba. Tickets are still available at $50 a person or a table of 10 for $500. More information is available at mudhens.com or by calling the Catholic Youth Organization at 419-244-6711, ext. 609.