March 2009

Share your George Kell memories

I saw Rich's post from the previous entry a little bit ago, and it reminded me that this would be a good place to give readers a chance to share their memories of George Kell's career, both as a player and a broadcaster. I didn't get to listen to him until the tail end of his career, but I definitely remember how Kell and Al Kaline had this style unlike anyone else you'd find. Plus, well, you had two Hall of Fame players talking about the game in the same broadcast booth, yet they never made the broadcast about them.

Zumaya throws off mound

Feels like I’ve written this before — though technically, Joel Zumaya started throwing off a mound last time before I got down here — but head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said Zumaya threw a “light” side session off of a mound this morning and felt good. I use quotation marks for light because with Zumaya, it can be relative at times. The duration of it, though, was light. They’ll see how he feels tomorrow and then set up a longer session for him.

Jim Leyland called it good news, but said he still doubts whether Zumaya will be ready when the season starts. He would like to get to a point where he felt comfortable pitching Zumaya on back-to-back days.

“It’s starting to become a real short Spring Training,” Leyland said.

In camp game news for Tuesday, add Armando Galarraga to the pitching list for that game. He’s go for about 65 pitches Tuesday, then get an extra day of rest before getting into an actual game next Monday against the Nationals at Viera. If you project out every five days from there, that would put his first regular-season turn on April 9, the final game of the series at Toronto. But for all we know, he could get another day of rest and pitch the home opener. Leyland said today he has a pitching plan set for Opening Day, the next day and he thinks the home opener April 10, but he isn’t ready to announce it yet. Verlander and Jackson appear to be on schedule for the first two games, respectively.

Time to thin out the bullpen

Tigers sent out three relievers this morning. Taiwanese left-hander Fu-Te Ni and right-hander Casey Fien were assigned to Minor League camp. Righty Freddy Dolsi, meanwhile, was optioned to Triple-A Toledo, where Ni and Fien will probably join him in the Mud Hens bullpen.

Miner out of rotation running

The shuffling of Rick Porcello pushed Zach Miner out of what might’ve been a starting assignment for Saturday. But it isn’t just the Spring Training rotation in which Miner is on the outside looking in.

Manager Jim Leyland told Miner on Saturday that barring something unforeseen, he will not be in the Tigers rotation when the season opens in little more than two weeks.

That confirms what had been expected, that Miner would be used as a reliever on this club. Whether he’s set to make the Tigers bullpen, however, is a question Leyland left unanswered when he talked with reporters Saturday morning.

The recent performance of left-hander Nate Robertson, who has had back-to-back solid performances, might well have accelerated the decision to pull Miner from the starting competition. Robertson, Miner and Dontrelle Willis were viewed as the leading candidates going into camp, with Porcello as a long shot before his continued strong performances and impressive poise seemingly forced his way into serious consideration.

While Porcello and Robertson have started to stand out, Miner has had a statistically rough Spring Training, allowing 14 earned runs on 23 hits over 13 innings. He had been relatively consistent throwing strikes until his final outing last Monday, when he walked three Cardinals over as many innings.

Zumaya plays catch again

Joel Zumaya played catch again on Friday, this time from 90 feet. No timetable yet on when he might throw a side session; that will probably wait until the medical staff sees how he feels tomorrow morning.

Other injury news …

  • Placido Polanco said he felt fine after bruising his left thumb and right pinky finger on a hit-by-pitch Thursday night. He had three at-bats and a two-run single Friday.
  • Marcus Thames still has to get treatment on his strained abdominal muscle, but he’s back in playing shape. He had two hits and a walk in three plate appearances.

More aggressive at the plate

One thing that particularly bothered Jim Leyland about Thursday’s loss to the Braves was the number of strikes that his hitters took, especially in scoring situations. At one point, he noted, they had a man on base and saw 10 strikes, swinging at only one of them. But rather than yelling at his hitters, he made a point to some of hitters on one of the fields during batting practice.

“It’s not something you get on them about,” Leyland said. “This ithe time you put their arm around them and say that in these kinds of situations, you have to get a swing off. There’s one thing about it, you can’t knock in a run without swinging, unless you get hit with the bases loaded or walk.”

To be fair, they still had their moments. All three of Collin Balester’s strikeouts over his four innings were called, two of them in the second inning after  Jeff Larish leadoff walk. That fourth inning, however, saw four runs come in without an extra-base hit. Six Tigers singled. And overall, there seemed to be a more aggressive approach.

More work for Willis, Bonderman

While the Tigers took batting practice this morning, pitching coach Rick Knapp was at work in the bullpen. First up was Dontrelle Willis, who was working on some mechanics in the bullpen after he went back to his old leg kick in Thursday night’s game against the Braves. Knapp and Willis are basically going to work off of that old delivery now in the idea of going with what’s comfortable in hopes that it helps him.

“We’re at the point where we’re trying pretty much anything,” manager Jim Leyland said. “I think that’s pretty simple.”

Bonderman was a matter of shoring up some of his mechanics, which he said were all over the place at times Thursday, presumably from the rust. Leyland sounded a much less tentative tone about Bonderman Friday morning.

“I think if he stays healthy, he’ll be ready to pitch Opening Day, or the fifth day, or whichever day,” Leyland said.

TIGERS

  1. Santiago, SS
  2. Polanco, 2B
  3. Sheffield, DH
  4. Thames, RF
  5. Kelly, 1B
  6. Larish, 3B
  7. Ramirez, LF
  8. Gomez, CF
  9. Treanor, C

NATIONALS

  1. Lastings Milledge, CF
  2. Nick Johnson, 1B
  3. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B
  4. Elijah Dukes, LF
  5. Austin Kearns, RF
  6. Javier Valentin, C
  7. Wily Mo Pena, DH
  8. Alex Cintron, 2B
  9. Alberto Gonzalez, SS

Bonderman gets through outing

Two innings and 29 pitches will be it for Jeremy Bonderman in his first Spring Training outing. He gave up two hits and two walks while getting ground balls for five of his six outs. Fastball around 89-91 mph with a couple good offspeed pitches.

Dontrelle Willis is up next.

Zumaya plays catch

Joel Zumaya played catch today from about 60 feet, the start of his throwing program to get back to game ready. No real comment from the Tigers on what this means for his timetable as far as being ready for Opening Day. Still, the timetable shows that he hadn’t thrown since March 2 against Florida Southern. From a stamina standpoint, he has a ways to go to build himself back up, almost like coming back from a DL stint.

From here, assuming he feels fine tomorrow, Zumaya has another session of catch to do, probably from 90 feet. After that, he would presumably start throwing off of a mound in some bullpen sessions. So it’s very conceivable that he’ll be pitching in games by the end of Spring Training. Will be he stretched out at that point? We’ll see.

“When he comes back, whenever it is, I want him to be ready,” Jim Leyland said.

The thing that Leyland and the Tigers want to avoid is Zumaya trying to rush himself back.

Other injury news …

  • Rick Porcello threw a side session without problems today and is set to pitch Saturday against the Yankees in Tampa.
  • Marcus Thames took a few rounds of hitting in the cages today before the Tigers left for Disney World. The Tigers are hoping to get him back into games this weekend.
  • Macay McBride is playing catch at this point. As I wrote in the story this afternoon, Thursday’s move to outright him to Triple-A Toledo had some procedural implications. Any player still on the 40-man roster as of Saturday would have to go on the Major League disabled list if they’re injured. By outrighting him now, the Tigers stood a better chance of passing him through waivers while he’s still hurting rather than trying to do it when he would come off the DL.

Lineups …

TIGERS

  1. Inge, 3B
  2. Polanco, 2B
  3. Perez, LF
  4. Larish, 1B
  5. Laird, C
  6. Clevlen, CF
  7. Raburn, RF
  8. Everett, SS
  9. Bonderman, P (Could he bat? Only if he hasn’t reached 30-35 pitches by then.)

BRAVES

  1. Jordan Schafer, CF
  2. Omar Infante, 3B
  3. Kelly Johnson, 2B
  4. Greg Norton, 1B
  5. Jeff Francoeur, RF
  6. Yunel Escobar, SS
  7. Matt Diaz, LF
  8. David Ross, C
  9. Javier Vazquez, P

Guillen at 3B tonight for Venezuela

Remember when Carlos Guillen said a few weeks ago that he would only play for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic if he was to play in left field? Well, his first game in the field in the Classic is apparently going to be at third base instead. With Melvin Mora injured, manager Luis Sojo talked to Guillen, who agreed to start at his old position.

“I talked to Carlos before the tournament,” Sojo told reporters a little while ago. “I don’t want any distraction. It’s a new position for him. And he said, ‘Luis, we came over here to win. If you want me to be DH, I’ll be happy to do so.’ Today we’ve got this situation with Melvin. He’s not going to start. We needed a third baseman. I talked to Carlos and he said, ‘I’m the guy.’

“That’s what you want to hear from your players, especially Carlos. He’s a very versatile guy. He plays so many different positions. If Melvin was playing today, there’s no doubt in my mind that Carlos would play left and Magglio would be the DH.”

It has been an evolving situation with Tigers players and the Classic. You might remember when Curtis Granderson was named to Team USA that the plan reportedly was to have him be part of an outfield rotation, one that changed as other players came on and off the roster. He has only started twice so far, but will start in center field tonight as an injury to Kevin Youkilis puts the American roster on shuffle again.

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