March 13th, 2009

Strikes vs. quality strikes

jackson.jpgIf you read the Edwin Jackson story off today’s game, you’ll notice the point that was made on pounding the strike zone and trying to get quick outs — in his case, to get the defense behind him off the field quickly and out of the sun. You also noticed that it worked the first time through the order — including a four-pitch second inning — before the Mets hit him for back-to-back home runs to start the fourth, and that Jim Leyland pointed to too many fastballs and spotty command.

That’s the flip side of the strike zone argument that the Tigers have to avoid falling too far into. While Justin Verlander and others have been battling walks and otherwise high pitch counts too soon in their games, there’s a price to be paid for hitting the strike zone without regard for where in the zone to hit it. Cory Sullivan and Jose Valentin got Jackson on fastballs that caught too much of the plate. Zach Miner has generally pounded the strike zone in his outings, much more than fifth-starter competitors Nate Robertson and Dontrelle Willis, but hitters have pounced on sinkers that seemingly haven’t been low enough.

Then there’s reliever Casey Fien, who has been throwing strikes too, but with better control. He credits the knee-to-knee drills that pitching coach Rick Knapp had pitchers doing early in camp. Fien is still doing them — 3-4 times a week, he says — and he thinks that by hitting the catcher’s mitt without the catcher having to move in those drills, he’s getting into a good habit. That could end up a good step for Fien, who might soon have to adjust from facing Triple-A hitters to Major League ones.

Other notes today …

  • Remember when everyone was hoping/expecting the Tigers to have extra starting pitching to trade by the end of Spring Training? Now Leyland’s remarks at least allow for the possibility that the Tigers could trade for starting pitching to fill an opening if Jeremy Bonderman’s shoulder concerns stretch into the season and the Tigers have to fill two spots instead of one.
  • There wasn’t really much news to come out of owner Mike Ilitch’s visit to Tigers camp on Friday. He stopped by the clubhouse, said hello to some of the players, including Gary Sheffield, and then visited with manager Jim Leyland before watching Friday’s 9-3 loss to the Mets. “Just a general conversation about the ballclub,” Leyland said. “Very good questions. I felt I was prepared for them.”
  • Hard to tell what to make from Joel Zumaya’s latest setback. Head athletic trainer Kevin Rand described it like a muscle cramp or a knot above his shoulder and towards the neck, which doesn’t sound like a game-breaker. Apparently it isn’t something that just flared up today or anything, so they thought they could get him through it. But technically, it’s still a shoulder injury, and Zumaya still hasn’t thrown in a game in nearly two weeks.
  • In other injury news, Leyland said Marcus Thames is “improving” from his strained abdominal muscle.
  • Leyland said he’s worried about getting Curtis Granderson and other Tigers from the World Baseball Classic some at-bats down the stretch once they return. He didn’t specifically mention Granderson’s situation, in which he started only one of Team USA’s three opening-round games, but he really didn’t have to. Interesting to see how that plays out in the upcoming second round. Leyland said he’s also worried about getting these guys some fundamental workouts.
  • So if Detroit’s starting outfielders need some playing time once they get back from the Classic, and Clete Thomas is expected to be cleared to play the outfield around the same time once his throwing program is done, how will the Tigers get Thomas a steady diet of playing time to try to get him ready for the season? Good question, and important regardless of whether he opens the season with Detroit or Toledo.
  • While Granderson is expected to start almost all the games in center field this season, save for the occasional game off, Leyland said he doesn’t know yet whether he’ll use Granderson as the leadoff man against both righties and lefties.

Zumaya will not throw Saturday

Turns out Joel Zumaya will not throw in Saturday’s simulated game. He has what head athletic trainer Kevin Rand likened to a cramp between his shoulder and his neck, so he’s going to be held back a day or two. Fernando Rodney also will not throw Saturday; Jim Leyland said team officials decided he had been stretched earlier in the week, so they’re going to hold him back.

Meanwhile, Casper Wells was not available Friday. He has had lingering pain in his elbow after a diving attempt earlier in camp and was getting it checked out by a doctor Friday. No word yet on the diagnosis.

Verlander, Jackson maybe set for Toronto?

Interesting comments on the starting rotation today from Jim Leyland, who said he has decided on pitchers for both Opening Day and the home opener. He didn’t name names, but considering he also announced that starters will pitch on their scheduled days the rest of camp, including Minor League games on Tigers off-days, it would appear he’s lining them up to pitch on schedule.

If that’s the case, the guy seemingly in line to start Opening Day at Toronto on April 6 is Justin Verlander, whose next outing would fall Tuesday against the Astros. If he pitches every five days from there through the end of Spring Training, he would be on turn to pitch Opening Day. Edwin Jackson, who started today, would be on a schedule that would land on April 7, the season’s second game.

Does that mean Armando Galarraga would pitch home opener? It very well might. Since Galarraga’s pitching in the World Baseball Classic, there’s no schedule to track on him. Still, it would seem unlikely for the fifth starter to pitch that game, and while Leyland believes Jeremy Bonderman will be ready for the start of the season, he points out that he doesn’t know. Saturday’s simulated game will be critical.

Another thing to keep in mind: Bonderman has traditionally pitched well at Toronto, where he’s 1-2 with a 3.09 ERA and .213 batting average in five career starts and a relief appearance.

Back to work: Tigers vs. Mets

Gerald Laird is fine, but he’s getting an extra day of rest. Max St. Pierre is starting behind the plate.

We’ll have the Twitter page running again. Here are your lineups:

TIGERS

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

PITCHING: Edwin Jackson, Bobby Seay, Brandon Lyon, Freddy Dolsi

METS

  1. Cory Sullivan, CF
  2. Jose Valentin, 2B
  3. Daniel Murphy, DH
  4. Nick Evans, 1B
  5. Bobby Kielty, RF
  6. Jeremy Reed, LF
  7. Andy Green, 3B
  8. Omir Santos, C
  9. Ruben Tejada, SS

PITCHING: Freddy Garcia, Casey Fossum, Ron Villone, Kyle Snyder, Bobby Parnell, Darren O’Day, Rocky Cherry

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