March 3rd, 2009

Nate, with traffic

You might have already seen the story of Dontrelle getting out of some major jams to salvage his outing from a potential mess, but he wasn’t the only pitching escaping disaster on Tuesday. His fellow starting contestant, Nate Robertson, had the bases loaded with nobody out in the in the sixth and ended up with a two-run inning.

It’s impossible to call it stingy work, not with two runs allowed. Compared with his downfall last season, however, it’s progress that shouldn’t go overlook.

After the bases were loaded, Robertson induced three straight ground balls. He barely missed double plays out of the first two, thanks to speed up the line from Cesar Izturis and Endy Chavez. Considering he was pounding hitters with two-seamers because his slider wasn’t working, that’s not bad.

“If I didn’t have my two-seamer,” Robertson said, “I wouldn’t have lasted three innings.”

Then there’s this stat set from last year: Not only did opponents bat .370 (61-for-165) against Robertson with runners in scoring position, but 26 of those hits went for extra bases, including 11 home runs. He also gave up 25 walks in those situations. The total OPS with RISP worked out to 1.116.

“It’s something obviously that’s pretty necessary for him to get out of those type of innings,” manager Jim Leyland acknowledged.

It’s the upshot of the fact that Robertson has had traffic on the bases in each of his first two outings.

“So far, with runners in scoring position in my two outings, I’ve done a pretty good job of damage control and making a pitch. I’ve been known to be that kind of guy in the past. I don’t want to get runners in scoring position with less than two outs. But that was the situation I was in.

“Their runners got on base, obviously, but I thought I made the pitches to get out of the situation. And I was happy with that.”

Opponents batted just .199 with just 13 extra-base hits against Robertson with RISP in 2006, and .266 with 12 hits for extra bases the year before that. By 2007, that rose to .316 with an .852 OPS.

Other notes:

  • Haven’t had a chance to write much on it with so much focus on the starting competition, but Bobby Seay is getting stingy this spring. With two more strikeouts in a 1-2-3 eighth inning Tuesday, he has fanned five batters in his three Spring Training innings, including striking out the side on nine pitches in last Wednesday’s opener. He didn’t throw many breaking balls, which is what Leyland has said he needs to work on to improve against left-handed hitters, but he didn’t need them Tuesday. If he somehow wasn’t one of the four relievers on the staff whose job was set already, he might be now.
  • There were about two dozen Venezuelan fans who drove down from Orlando and brought drums and other musical instruments. They played several times between innings, and it gave the game a winter ball feel. Brandon Inge and Ramon Santiago both said it reminded them of the Dominican League, only quieter.
  • It didn’t get mentioned in the Dontrelle Willis story this evening, but Willis is showing a very good pickoff move. Not only did he nab Abreu to escape the first inning with runners at the corners and a 3-0 count on Magglio Ordonez, but he also arguably had another runner caught earlier in the inning. He didn’t get the call on that one.
  • Following in the footsteps of follow MLB.com writers Matthew Leach, Jordan Bastian and Bryan Hoch, I’ve started up a Twitter page. I went through today’s game as a tryout to see how it worked out. Check it out during the day if you want and let me know how it works out.

Dontrelle avoids disaster, salvages outing

Final line on Dontrelle: 3 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 1 K … It could’ve been much worse with the runners he had on, but he made big plays. He picked off Bobby Abreu to escape the first and rebounded from three walks to escape the second. His third inning against the middle of the Venezuelan order was exactly the way he needs to pitch. His pitches were tailing outside to right-handers in the second inning, but he got them over consistently in the third, which allowed him to change speeds effectively.

“I felt like I was around the zone,” Willis said. “I just didn’t get the breaks.”

Tigers vs. Venezuela

TIGERS

  1. Everett, SS
  2. Polanco, 2B
  3. Sheffield, DH
  4. Thames, LF
  5. Larish, 1B
  6. Laird, C
  7. Inge, 3B
  8. Raburn, CF
  9. Clevlen, RF

PITCHERS: Dontrelle Willis, Nate Robertson, Brandon Lyon, Bobby Seay, Freddy Dolsi

VENEZUELA

  1. Endy Chavez, CF
  2. Melvin Mora, 3B
  3. Bobby Abreu, RF
  4. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
  5. Magglio Ordonez, DH
  6. Carlos Guillen, LF
  7. Jose Lopez, 2B
  8. Ramon Hernandez, C
  9. Cesar Izturis, SS

PITCHERS: Armando Galarraga, Victor Zambrano, Ramon Ramirez, Victor Moreno, Francisco Rodriguez

Bonderman: "I think I'll be playing catch in about two days."

There’s a lengthy explanation for the injury that Jeremy Bonderman is dealing with, and it involves the scapula, but it comes down to normal inflammation, according to head athletic trainer Kevin Rand. They’re going to let the round of medication run its course, and once the pain goes down, he’ll start throwing.

Bonderman said this morning that the soreness has pretty much gone away, and it’s mainly inflammation restricting his shoulder. He’s pretty optimistic that he’ll be able to get back on the mound quickly, since it’s been less than a week since his last mound session.

“I think I’ll be playing catch in about two days,” Bonderman said.

That said, Bonderman isn’t making guarantees about his return. When asked if he’ll be ready for Opening Day, Bonderman said, “I hope so. Honestly, I couldn’t tell you.”

Why this exhibition means something

This has the potential to be a very interesting day.

The last time the World Baseball Classic rolled around in 2006, the Tigers had one exhibition against a national squad. That was a split-squad game against Italy, and to be honest, it was pretty sleepy. Joel Zumaya threw in the other split-squad game that day against the Indians in Winter Haven.

Venezuela is a much better squad, and there’s no split squad to divide up the talent. But how seriously are the players going to take this game? Fair question. It is an exhibition, after all, and several of these players are Tigers teammates. On the other hand, if you look at the Venezuelan batting order, it’s as good or better of a lineup than most Tigers pitchers are going to face all spring. Offense is the Venezuelans’ strength, and given that the team has just three games together to get ready for the opening round next week in Toronto, I doubt they’ll be taking a game off. If Dontrelle Willis, Nate Robertson and others don’t throw quality strikes, they could get rocked.

Oh, and did I mention that K-Rod is supposedly pitching in this game? After last Saturday’s game, he’s the best Mets pitcher the Tigers will see here this spring.

On a side note, word from one of the Venezuelan reporters is that Carlos Guillen is going to be the regular left fielder in their lineup. I ran into Guillen this morning, and he said he hadn’t heard anything.

On another side note, and more for entertainment purposes, here’s guessing that Armando Galarraga throws one of his eephus pitches against the Tigers today. I have no inside knowledge of this, but he talked early in camp about throwing a couple this spring. Facing hitters who know his game this well, this would seem to be a good time for it.

Cachitos!

One of the complaints Carlos Guillen had about the last World Baseball Classic was that the Venezuelan team had a problem arranging clubhouse food. That doesn’t look like it’s going to be a problem. There’s a mobile food stand located right outside the clubhouses here at Joker Marchant Stadium, serving Venezuelan cuisine.

One of the many Venezuelan reporters here today brought a Venezuelan breakfast called a cachito. It’s kind of like a ham and cheese croissant, only more filling. He brought extras for some of us in the press box, and it basically put to shame the blueberry muffin I bought from Starbucks. If you have a chance to try a cachito sometime, give it a try.

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