February 2009

Bonderman scratched for Saturday

Jeremy Bonderman will still pitch on Saturday, but he’ll do so in a simulated game on the back fields rather than in the Tigers’ game against the Mets at Joker Marchant Stadium. He still has some lingering soreness in his shoulder, manager Jim Leyland said, so they’re going to put him in a more controlled setting for his first spring outing — 15 pitches, sit down, then 15 more pitches for a total of 30, the same pitch count he would’ve had in an actual game.

Jonathan Kibler will make the start Saturday in Bonderman’s place.

What to expect from Verlander?

While we all await Nate Robertson’s two innings tomorrow against the Nationals, followed by Dontrelle Willis’ outing against the Blue Jays Friday, there’s still the case of Justin Verlander and what to expect from him. It seems to be widely agreed upon that last season was a fluke, but it’s tougher to really form an expectation on what he can do this year. Obviously, the better his performance, the better the Tigers’ chances at a rebound.

Logically, he shouldn’t have the same troubles of run support that he did at the start of last season. That takes out some of those losses last year. Personally, I don’t expect velocity to be a question again. The more important questions are how he’ll pitch in close situations and whether he can hold down his pitch count and go deeper into games. As high as hopes are for bounceback seasons from Willis, Robertson and/or Jeremy Bonderman, the front end of the Tigers rotation is still the place where they could use an innings-eater to give their bullpen an easy night every turn or two through the rotation.

As Leyland pointed out, Verlander’s stuff is good enough to do it, if he can avoid trying to make the perfect pitch. Two innings in a Spring Training game probably aren’t enough to tell how he’s progressing on that, but they’re a sign as to how his pitches are going. On Wednesday, they were in and out.

Other notes from the spring opener, in no particular order …

  • Brandon Inge didn’t need long to start showing his range at third base. He nearly retired Casey Kotchman on a roller down the line, and stopped another ball that ended up foul. He also had a throwing error a little later in the game.
  • Leyland noted that he liked the way Zach Miner looked in his two innings of work, including a good offspeed pitch. As has been written, Miner needs to keep mixing his pitches and keep hitters off-balance.
  • The numbers in the box score won’t necessarily look good on Brandon Lyon, but Leyland noted in his postgame remarks that Lyon isn’t throwing his curveball yet. He’s primarily focused on building his arm strength at this point in camp.
  • As the box score also shows, Gerald Laird does not move badly for a catcher. His stride will not remind anyone of Pudge circa 2005/2006, but it moves him along.
  • Jair Jurrjens on facing the Tigers, his original organization: “It was a little awkward. I grew up here. This was my first team and I did everything here. It was a little strange warming up in the other bullpen, but it had to happen someday, and I’m glad the first one’s done.”

What to look for Thursday against the Nationals:

  • Pitchers: Edwin Jackson, Nate Robertson, Rick Porcello, Joel Zumaya, Clay Rapada and Macay McBride
  • Regulars: Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Guillen, Magglio Ordonez, Adam Everett
  • Dmitri Young is in Nationals camp, but as a non-roster invitee.
  • Wilfredo Ledezma is also in Nationals camp. He’s scheduled to pitch in relief at some point in the game.
  • This is the ballpark where, last year, a Tigers prospect ended up being stuck in the bathroom when the door jammed so tightly that it took a stadium crew to come in and remove it. Here’s guessing the door will be closed very carefully on Thursday.

Postscript on World Baseball Classic

Now that it’s official that Justin Verlander won’t be on Team USA, that clears the Tigers to put him on a pretty regular schedule of pitching once every five days. Project that out, and he should be on track to pitch Opening Day, though manager Jim Leyland hasn’t announced anything on that front quite yet.

Rodney’s a more interesting case. He said again this morning that he ready to pitch for the club again, as he did in 2006, but he wasn’t sure what happened. So it doesn’t appear that he pulled out. It looks like the Domincan team opted for some younger relievers, including Jose Arredondo and Rafael Perez. However, Arredondo looks like the only reliever resembling a closer on that squad.

As for Rodney, look for him to get at least one outing where the Tigers stretch him for 40-45 pitches, like pitching coach Rick Knapp plans to do with Brandon Lyon. For one thing, it gets his arm stretched out. For another thing, it gives him a chance to mix in his slider.

Also had a chance to check with Carlos Guillen, who suggested there’s a chance he could end up at DH in some opening round games. It would free up a corner outfield spot for Bobby Abreu, and it would ease some wear and tear on his knees playing on the artificial surface in Toronto.

Sheff sits for opener

Manager Jim Leyland is giving Gary Sheffield a break for the opener after taking a pitch off of his elbow Tuesday in live batting practice. Sheffield said his elbow swelled up a bit but wasn’t too bad. We’ll probably see him make his Spring Training debut on Friday, when the Tigers face the Blue Jays in Dunedin. For now, Marcus Thames is the DH in Sheff’s place.

Here’s the lineup for the opener:

  1. Granderson, CF
  2. Polanco, 2B
  3. Ordonez, RF
  4. Cabrera, 1B
  5. Guillen, LF
  6. Thames, DH
  7. Laird, C
  8. Inge, 3B
  9. Everett, SS

Pitching: Verlander, Miner, Seay, Lyon, Bonine, Ni, Bloom

More encouragement for Dontrelle

OK, by now, I’m guessing you’re tired of reading all this talk about live batting practice sessions and pitchers feeling encouraged. But I really think Dontrelle Willis’ second live BP session is worth mentioning.

Three days ago, Willis was talking about pounding the strike zone making hitters put the ball in play, and he still does. Tuesday, however, was more about Willis working the strike zone with his secondary pitches, especially in and out. He made a point to throw some changeups and breaking balls to every hitter he faced, if only to see how each hitter reacted. And he did a good job of keeping those pitches down in the strike zone. If he missed his spot, it was usually outside, where he’s less likely to give up damage.

Talking with Willis afterwards, he wasn’t gushing so much as he seemed quietly confident. He could leave the gushing to Jim Leyland.

“He looked really good,” Leyland said. “Good life, good movement, throwing strikes. He looks tremendous right now, to be honest.

Added Ramon Santiago: “Everything was low with movement. The sinker was low. And he threw where he wanted.”

Willis is still talking about pounding the zone and putting ground balls in play. And keep in mind, as a left-handed pitcher, he stands to benefit the most from

Like Willis, Jeremy Bonderman seemed to be focused on his secondary stuff in his session today. He threw what seemed like a heavy dose of changeups and breaking balls. Ryan Perry came out throwing hard again, but he seemed to have a better command of his pitches compared to a few days ago. He suggested he was a little less jumpy, though still a little nervous out there.

Other notes …

  • As expected, Leyland said he’ll use Jeff Larish some in the outfield (both corner spots) as the games get going. And while Leyland didn’t give any indication on Larish’s chances for making the squad, Leyland made a point to say, “I would not be afraid to have him on my team. I think he’s good. I think he’s a talented guy.” Larish said last week that while he didn’t know whether he’d play the outfield here, he did play the outfield some at Arizona State, so it won’t be a new position to him.
  • Who’s the player Leyland is most curious to see play in games? That would be outfield Casper Wells, who can play all three outfield positions despite being a big guy. He’s still a long, long shot to make the club, Leyland said, but he just wants to see what he can do out there.
  • Catchers Gerald Laird and Matt Treanor met with pitching coach Rick Knapp this morning to go over signals and calling games.
  • Final World Baseball Classic rosters are officially announced in a few hours, but the Venezuelan roster is already out. Armando Galarraga is in the rotation, while Magglio Ordonez, Miguel Cabrera and Carlos Guillen are all supposedly taking part. Fernando Rodney says he’s ready to pitch for the Dominican team, though he hasn’t heard the final roster.
  • Pitching schedule for the Tigers tomorrow against the Braves: Justin Verlander, Zach Miner, Bobby Seay, Brandon Lyon, Eddie Bonine, Fu-Te Ni and Kyle Bloom.
  • Jair Jurrjens is scheduled to pitch for Atlanta tomorrow.
  • Now is as good a time as many to refer to the Tigers Spring Training radio schedule. It includes 13 games, almost all of them on the weekends. However, Wednesday’s game is also on the radio. Click here for a full schedule.
  • The practical joke squad struck outfielder Clete Thomas today while he was working out. Players and coaches returned from workouts this morning to find Thomas’ cowboy boots hanging from the ceiling of the clubhouse.

Another good day for Porcello, Zumaya

Usually the second time around on live BP sessions, hitters start to catch up, making more contact and putting more pitches in play. That was not the case with Rick Porcello on Monday. Instead, it was more hitters watching pitches go by. Matt Treanor caught him and said it was nasty stuff.

For anyone wondering, Porcello is scheduled to pitch an inning Thursday against the Nationals at Viera, then throw a side session back in Lakeland over the weekend, then in next Monday’s exhibition game against Florida Southern.

Zumaya was one of the final pitchers to throw Monday and kind of cranked it up in his second time out. He wasn’t particularly happy with his split changeup, muttering something after letting go of one of them, but his curveball was breaking well, fooling right-handed hitters who would back away from the plate before the ball turned over. Inge was one of those, and he was crowing afterwards that he simply put a ball in play. Zumaya’s fastball was cranking up but in and out locationwise, because he was admittedly overthrowing.

Nate Robertson also threw Monday and turned up another good session for his slider. He said he’s having an easier time getting around on the pitch now compared to last year, and it’s putting some bite back into the ball. We’ll get a better idea how far he has progressed when he pitches Thursday and mixes in his other stuff to set up Nationals hitters, but it appears he has the slider back.

That was about it from camp today. Players were getting out in a hurry because they had a charity golf outing this afternoon. And as third base coach Gene Lamont said, guys are getting anxious to start playing some Spring Training games.

Cabrera held out of workout

Word from the Tigers is that Cabrera was excused from Monday’s workout for a previously scheduled appointment, not related to any ailment. In other words, no reason for concern. He was back on the field taking batting practice near the end of the Tigers workout.

Spring rotation set

We now have the schedule for the starting candidates (well, most of them) for the first few games:

  • Justin Verlander and Zach Miner will pitch Wednesday against the Braves at Joker Marchant Stadium
  • Edwin Jackson and Nate Robertson will pitch Thursday against the Nationals in Viera
  • Armando Galarraga and Dontrelle Willis will pitch Friday against the Blue Jays in Dunedin
  • Jeremy Bonderman will pitch Saturday against the Mets in Lakeland

All of them are expected to pitch two innings apiece.

If you’re trying to project the regular season rotation from there, don’t bother. The pairings are based off of their throwing groups from live BP sessions over the last 4-5 days.

Verlander likely to start spring opener

Jim Leyland didn’t set it in stone Sunday, but he said that Justin Verlander will probably start Wednesday’s Spring Training opener against the Braves.

Leyland has also said over the last few days that he and pitching coach Rick Knapp would make out his Spring Training pitching schedule the idea of counting out the days from the April 6 season opener, so that whoever they eventually wanted to start Opening Day would be on schedule for that. Verlander’s assignment Wednesday would put him on track for the opener if he were to pitch every five days.

There’s one possible hitch to that plan: A schedule of every five days would include an outing March 12, which is an off-day for the Tigers. So in order to keep that track, Verlander would have to either pitch in a Minor League game that day or, if no Minor League games are available, pitch in a simulated game against a slate of Tigers farmhands. Neither would be a big deal, but it’s worth mentioning to show that it’ll take some work to keep him on schedule. There are two other scheduled off-days on the Tigers’ spring slate — March 18 and 24 — but neither would fall onto Verlander’s track.

No starters have been announced from there, so we can’t project out just yet. Part of the trick there, of course, is that there are so many candidates for that fifth spot that the Tigers have to figure out who will actually start games and who will have to pitch second on most days.

Other items of interest:

  • With Michael Hollimon all systems go for this spring, the Tigers are going to use him around the infield — second base, shortstop and maybe a little at third. That’s a good sign that he’ll probably be the Tigers’ insurance as a utility infielder if Ramon Santiago or one of Detroit’s starting infielders goes on the disabled list.
  • Leyland called Casper Wells a long shot to make the club this spring, but nonetheless, Leyland said he’s anxious to see Wells in games. He’s a big guy who can play all three outfield positions, and makes him unique.
  • Talking with Clete Thomas this morning, I got more specifics on when he should be able to start throwing. His rehab program is scheduled to end around March 23, about two weeks before Opening Day. He’s currently throwing from around 120 feet. He can do everything but throw at this point, including swinging a bat, so it’ll be interesting to see if he gets any at-bats at DH early this spring.
  • Fu-Te Ni is scheduled to leave the Tigers on Thursday to join the Chinese Taipei team in preparation for the World Baseball Classic. That means he’ll be around for Wednesday’s Spring Training opener, but Leyland said he needs to check before deciding whether to pitch Ni against the Braves.
  • Leyland said he talked Saturday with Kenny Rogers, who told him he’s currently being a dad and going to his kids’ games. As for whether Rogers considers himself retired, Leyland said, “He didn’t offer anything, and I didn’t ask anything.”

Scary diagnosis for ex-Tiger

Those of you who remember Jason Johnson’s two seasons in Detroit know about his dealings with diabetes. Now he has another serious health concern — melanoma of the right retina. It apparently was discovered during a routine eye exam when he went to the optometrist for a new contact lens prescription because his vision was blurred in his right eye.

From the MLB.com story:

Johnson was sent to the renowned Wills Eye Institute in
Philadelphia, where a certain amount of fear began to set in. His first
meeting with the staff featured a particularly memorable exchange with
a doctor.

“There are three things we do here — the first thing is to save your life,” she said.

Johnson gulped, thinking. Johnson said he thought, “I’m worried
about making a baseball team this year, and now I’m worried about my
life?”

The next two things they would do at Wills, she told him, were
to save Johnson’s eye and his vision, in that order. Another doctor
asked Johnson how financially stable he was, and Johnson felt shock –
was his baseball career over?

“What are you talking about?” Johnson recalls thinking. “That’s kind of a bad thing to start off with.”

Johnson was a non-roster invitee in Yankees camp trying to win a bullpen job. Now he has much bigger concerns. Needless to say, here’s hoping everything turns out as well as can be expected for Jason. The story goes on to say there’s a 98 percent recovery rate for people with his condition. But I thinks it also brings home the importance of scheduled eye exams. You just never think about something like cancer involving your eyes.

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