February 19th, 2009

Pitchers 1, hitters 0

No surprise, but pitchers are ahead of hitters at this point in Tigers Spring Training — in many instances, very much so.

In Justin Verlander’s case, his health in these things depends on being ahead of hitters.

Most
pitchers in these live BP sessions are throwing from behind the cage,
protecting them from the risk of a one-hopper back up the middle.
Verlander does not. He isn’t comfortable throwing from behind a screen,
and he wants to simulate game conditions as much as he can when he
takes the mound for these sessions. He says he was knicked by a
comebacker a couple years ago, but it didn’t change his view.

“It wasn’t the first time I’ve been hit by a ball,” Verlander said, “and it won’t be the last time.”

The
way Verlander was throwing Thursday, nobody seemed to be making
contact. He seems to have taken the adjustments pitching coach Rick
Knapp and worked them into his mechanics. The result is some very good
stuff, enough so that Miguel Cabrera and others were marveling.

“Verlander was outstanding,” manager Jim Leyland said. “I think he’s really trying hard.”

He
wasn’t the only one. Ramon Santiago was teasing lefty Kyle Bloom about
a curveball that he dropped on the plate and sent Santiago swinging at
air. Eddie Bonine said he was struggling to locate some of his pitches,
so he ended up throwing some knuckleballs, which wasn’t too fun for
Magglio Ordonez and his hitting group.

Those sessions will continue for the next two days. Tigers hitters get to face Joel Zumaya on Friday and Ryan Perry on Saturday.

Other odds and ends …

  • The
    Tigers were scheduled to do some fundamental work on rundowns Thursday,
    but with rain coming, they decided to scratch that and move up the
    pitching sessions so that they could get it in. They’ll do rundowns
    sometime in the coming days.
  • With Todd Jones back home enjoying
    retirement, Bobby Seay seems to be becoming a bit of a veteran voice in
    the Tigers bullpen. He talked this afternoon about how he felt the
    bullpen might have let up a bit down the stretch, including himself,
    and needs to carry it through.
  • Leyland said he thinks the
    key to Seay will be to find more consistency on his breaking ball and
    hit the outside corner with it against left-handed hitters. Seay said
    he’s also working on an offspeed pitch that he might mix in from time
    to time as an added option. But I think the general consensus is that
    even if LH hitters might sit on the slider and try to take it to the
    opposite field, Seay can get them out if he executes the pitch.
  • Leyland
    said he still believes Joel Zumaya can fill the closer’s role down the
    line. Just not right now, not with how little he has pitched over the
    last two years.
  • Interesting comment from Leyland on
    Fernando Rodney: “His fastball might not be his best pitch, but it’s
    his most important pitch.” He doesn’t mean throwing it more often; he
    means commanding it and maintaining velocity. For what it’s worth,
    fastballs made up a bigger percentage of Rodney’s total pitches last
    year (62.4%) than any other season in his career, according to
    fangraphs.com. His average velocity with it (95.3 mph) was also the
    highest of his career.
  • Leyland will be away from the club on
    Monday to return home to Perrysburg and attend services for his nephew,
    B.J. Miller, who passed away after a battle with cancer.

Pitchers v. hitters

It’s going to be a rainy afternoon here in Lakeland (not that I’m complaining), but it should hold off long enough this morning for the Tigers to get in their first round of live batting practice between pitchers and hitters. Again, it’s hard to get a good read from these things, because pitchers are almost always ahead of hitters, but it’s a better read than the bullpen sessions we’ve been watching.

In news this morning, manager Jim Leyland said that if everyone’s healthy, he probably has four bullpen slots set for Opening Day. Lyon, Rodney and Zumaya are among them. Leyland didn’t name anyone else, but my read is that Bobby Seay is another. That leaves three, Leyland has already indicated that Zach Miner will almost certainly be in the bullpen if he doesn’t get the starting job. That essentially leaves two open spots, but with the closer and setup jobs stable (unlike last year), the Tigers have a lot of flexibility with those two openings.

“If healthy, I think we have a chance to have a lot of depth in our bullpen,” Leyland said.

Also, Juan Rincon said this morning that he will not play for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic. He wants to stay in camp and try to win a job. It brings up one of the recurring issues that seems to be going on this year — in this market, and with so much competition in some of these camps, players seem reluctant to go away for a couple weeks and try to pick up where they left off with just a couple weeks left in camp. Even a week, Rincon said, would be too long to be away.

If you were worried about Zach Miner, fear not. He missed yesterday’s workout with a nasty stomach virus, but he’s back today and holding down solid food.

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