March 2009

Porcello update

He's fine. He actually was hit in the back, not the shoulder. He actually threw 15 more pitches in the bullpen after being taken out of the game.

Difference of opinion

So here’s an interesting question to consider in the wake of Gary Sheffield’s release: What if Sheff ends up signing with a National League team (the Phillies, perhaps) and playing the outfield? Will that make a difference in what Tigers fans think? Will that put Tuesday’s decision in a different light?
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Because at this point, there’s clearly a very big difference of opinion as to whether Sheff can still play in the field. The Tigers felt like he was a DH only, and told him so when they said they made the decision to release him based on versatility.

“When I heard that word, versatility, I’m like, ‘I’m probably the most athletic guy on the team,’” Sheffield said. “But at the same time, that’s their opinion and I have to respect that.”

Manager Jim Leyland conditioned his answer when asked if there’s a difference of opinion.

“I don’t question it,” Leyland said. “I didn’t question it ever. If you go back to what I said last year, I was worried about Sheffield getting hurt if he played the outfield.”

If you remember back to when Sheffield was injured playing the outfield, though, it was on a relatively freak play, a collision with second baseman Placido Polanco. And if it’s a shoulder injury that would be the worry, it would seem more likely to come on a swing than on a throw. The question might more realistically be whether there was a fear of Sheffield breaking down physically if he played the outfield regularly.

More realistically, given the roster situation, the Tigers could keep Sheffield or Marcus Thames, but not both. Given the economy and the thinking of teams around the league right now, neither was a strong trade candidate, though the Tigers tried. And if the Tigers were going to keep Sheffield over Thames, they had better be sure they could get a good season’s worth of production out of him. Because it wasn’t just an Opening Day decision, but a longer-term decision. If Sheffield got hurt in late April, there would be no Thames to which to turn, unlike years past.

And at this point in their careers, the Tigers made a decision that they had a better chance at getting more out of Thames, not just in the field but very possibly at the plate.

“He’s got the best home-run ratio in baseball, or one of them, the last few years,” Jim Leyland said.

Yes, those Thames prognostications we all were building pretty much ended up off. That’s how much financial considerations, and an owner’s willingness to look past them, can make a difference.

“Mr. Ilitch has always listened to our opinions on what gives us the best chance to win,” Leyland said.

That said, Leyland added, “I don’t make the decision to cut contracts. I manage the team.”

And the prevailing opinion among club officials was that Thames was their guy. It does not mean they concluded that Sheff was done.

“He will get it,” Leyland said of Sheffield’s 500th home run. “And more.”

Sheff certainly believes that he will.

“I’ve got a lot left. I know that,” he said. “If one person doesn’t think you can play in the field, that’s their opinion. I know I can. Nobody understands my body better than me. Unfortunately, I got hurt here and never been able to show what I can really do. But I fought real hard to get back to this point. I just feel like I’ve got more to give.”

That includes the outfield. And if you read the quotes, you can detect a twinge of regret that Sheffield accepted a DH role a few years back when the trade was made.

“I can go out there on an everyday basis and play in the outfield,” he said. “That’s what I yearn for. I want to be in the outfield. At the same time, it kind of puts you in a box when you accept the DH role, because people start labeling you as that’s all you can do. And that’s not the case. I accepted this role because this was pretty much the only opportunity that I had at the time of leaving New York and going to a place where I was comfortable. So I had to take the DH role. I could’ve not come to Detroit and waited on another situaiton and played the outfield. But I chose to come around people that I know.”

As the roster turns

Josh Anderson is a left-handed bat, and he’ll be on the Tigers’ bench. That does not necessary mean he will be the left-handed bat off the bench.

There’s a key point to be made about Monday’s trade. While Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said that Anderson will be on the roster — he’s out of Minor League options, so they wouldn’t have made the trade if they didn’t plan on it — Dombrowski would not say that Anderson takes up the last spot on the roster. That means if the spot Marcus Thames has held for the past few years wasn’t in play before, it certainly appears to be now. And Jeff Larish would seem to be the other one in line for it.

As has already been written elsewhere, players without guaranteed contracts can be cut by April 1 and be owed 45 days’ salary in termination pay — or basically one-fourth of what they were slated to make — rather than the full season. Thames is scheduled to make $2,275,000 this year as part of a one-year contract agreement reached back in January to avoid arbitration. On a team with payroll considerations and lots of guaranteed contracts that can’t be cut, it’s hard to say that it wouldn’t be a factor, especially if all the evaluations are equal.

There’s very likely no way that Larish can match the pure power numbers Thames has put up in his role over the last few years. He ratio of a home run every 13.52 at-bats over the last three years ranks fourth in the American League. There’s absolutely no way that Larish can match Thames’ actual power and raw strength. But he has Minor League numbers that project him to hit for power in the Majors, he’s shown a knack for hitting off the bench, and he’s a left-handed bat for a team that has a predominantly right-handed lineup.

While you can’t rule out a trade, Thames himself has pointed out his situation: He has been on the block at various points over the last three years without a deal. He has also been rumored on the market for much of this Spring Training without much developing. And Dombrowski termed the chances of a trade involving any Tigers outfielder as possible, but not likely.

If the Tigers believe that Larish can provide them with enough of a power spark at the plate, especially in pinch-hit situations, then they could face a very difficult decision: How much is it worth for them to put him on the team? Plenty has been written over the last few years about a power hitter like Thames not having a regular role. But how about possibly not having a roster spot?

There’s only one big upside to Thames being out of the picture in Detroit, and me no longer getting emails asking to guess what Thames would hit over a full season is not it. It’s the fact that Thames could end up in a better situation for him in terms of playing time. Whether he could compete for that elusive starting job is uncertain this late in camp, especially when teams haven’t stepped up and traded for him already. But a long-awaited chance at more playing time, a platoon or more, couldn’t happen to a better guy.

Tigers get Josh Anderson

The Tigers swung a trade for a speedy left-handed hitting outfielder, acquiring Josh Anderson from the Braves for reliever Rudy Darrow. Anderson lost out on Atlanta’s CF competition and is out of options, so he’ll open the season on the 25-man roster.

That pretty much solves the OF logjam. Dave Dombrowski said that another trade involving one of their outfielders is “possible, but not likely.”

Good sign for Bonine

Sorry for no post yesterday. Needless to say, it was a crazy day.

Back to action today with news on reliever Eddie Bonine, who is now set to make the start for the Tigers in their Spring Training finale Thursday against the Blue Jays (Edwin Jackson is starting a Minor League game that day). Jim Leyland wants him pitching no more than two innings that day. While Leyland hasn’t said anything about whether he’s on or off the roster, this should be a good sign for his chances. He’s written down to pitch on the day the Tigers break camp, and he isn’t being stretched out for any return to starting duty in Toledo.

Leyland has been effusive in his praise for Bonine the last couple days, particularly as a reliever. The manager called him a “totally different pitcher” out of the bullpen compared to starting, in large part because he throws harder in shorter work. He has also made better use of the knuckler he threw at times last year. And a harder-throwing Bonine with a knuckler (actually two now, a harder version and a slower one) has a chance to be a pretty effective middle to long reliever, possibly in a big role if Zach Miner is summoned to the rotation.

Other news …

  • Nate Robertson is now set to pitch Tuesday against the Nationals after Rick Porcello’s outing is done. That puts two of the primary starting candidates pitching on the same day. “Hopefully it’ll take up most of the game,” Leyland said of their innings.
  • Still no word on when Zach Miner will pitch again. 
  • Leyland reiterated that his preference would be to have Armando Galarraga pitch the home opener April 10. “But I’m not sure if that’s going to work out,” Leyland said.

Leyland: Bonderman "highly unlikely" for start of season

Add Jeremy Bonderman to the list of Tigers pitchers who likely won’t be available at the start of the season. Given where his arm strength is and where it needs to be, manager Jim Leyland said, the Tigers aren’t expecting him to be ready when the season begins in nine days.

“I would tell you today that, in my own personal opinion, it’s highly unlikely that he will be ready for the season to start,” manager Jim Leyland said.

He did not, however, assess the chances of Bonderman opening the season on the disabled list, and he said he still had no decision on when Armando Galarraga would start.

Bullpen blues

It’s only Spring Training, but it was pretty amazing how quickly Friday’s game fell apart once Justin Verlander left the game. A leadoff error didn’t help Fernando Rodney in the eighth, but the ensuing single and double put him in major trouble. He settled down to retire the next three batters and keep the game tied, but as manager Jim Leyland pointed out, he could’ve used that earlier.

“When the horse got out of the barn, Rodney showed that everything’s fine,” Leyland said. “But in a 2-0 game, you’ve got to come in there [like that] right away. I’m just grateful and thankful that he did have it and show it, and that’s something that can be easily cured. But it was too late. The horse was out of the barn by the time he started throwing the ball.”

That’s four straight outings, including a camp game, in which Rodney has surrendered multiple runs after looking dominant for the first half of Spring Training. Total damage in that stretch: 12 runs, 11 earned, on 11 hits in 4 2/3 innings. Rodney had been working on a slider as a third pitch, which the Tigers had been encouraging last year, but expect to see a whole lot of fastballs and changeups from here on out.

Enter Brandon Lyon for the ninth, his first outing since giving up four consecutive homers to the Red Sox on Monday. He didn’t give up an extra base hit, but after a leadoff walk, two singles sufficed to end it. The only batter he retired was on a sacrifice bunt. He has given up multiple baserunners in six of his last seven outings.

Again, it’s Spring Training. But with Joel Zumaya now all but certain to stay back in Florida when the regular season starts, Rodney and Lyon are a little more important than if Zumaya was ready. What this means for Ryan Perry’s chances of making the team remain to be seen, but it could make for an interesting decision. Leyland pointed out Friday that he doesn’t have many decisions to make in the bullpen.

A few other notes before you go watch basketball …

  • Dontrelle Willis threw another side session today, according to Leyland, and had some encouraging results. He’s now set to follow Jeremy Bonderman on Sunday. How many innings or pitches, I don’t know.
  • Joel Zumaya will be pitching in a camp game Saturday afternoon. If you’re in the area and not going to Dunedin to watch the Tigers and Jays, the camp game supposedly starts at 1 p.m. ET.
  • Yes, I did notice Omar Infante at shortstop today.

Verlander on Opening Day, Jackson next day

Jim Leyland finally made official what was pretty much assumed, that Justin Verlander will start on Opening Day at Toronto. Edwin Jackson will start the second game of that series. After that, it’s still uncertain, but Leyland made it pretty clear that he might like to start Armando Galarraga for the home opener April 10, depending on how the rest of the rotation works out. It would be a reward of sorts for the season he had last year, though I also imagine Galarraga’s temperament lends itself to not getting caught up in the atmosphere.

Look for more on the site.

Zumaya now "highly unlikely" for opener

He threw another side session today, apparently was fine. The next step, according to manager Jim Leyland, is whether to have Zumaya throw another side session or to start having him throw in camp games.

If that sounds like a timetable that isn’t going to have him ready for Major League games when the season starts in 11 days, you’re not the only one thinking that. Leyland said it’s “highly unlikely” that Zumaya will be ready for Opening Day.

Four cuts, Everett, Robertson fine

Lots of stuff today …

  • The Tigers made four cuts today instead of the expected five. Don Kelly, Max St. Pierre and Alexis Gomez were sent to Minor League camp, while Wilkin Ramirez was optioned to Triple-A Toledo.
  • The moves included no pitchers. Nor did it include second baseman Will Rhymes, who remains in camp.
  • Adam Everett was walking around the clubhouse surprisingly well today, a day after he sprained his ankle. He thinks he can be back to action in 2-3 days.
  • Nate Robertson, meanwhile, has no structural damage to his sprained thumb. It’s still pretty swollen, but he’s hoping he can be back throwing in a few days. He thinks he might be able to pitch when his turn comes back around next Monday. “It’s not out of the question,” he said, “but it’s not a sure thing.”
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