March 2009

USA, Venezuela advance

Team USA's comeback in the bottom of the ninth Tuesday night pushed the Americans past Puerto Rico and into the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic. Venezuela already advanced the previous had advaced a night earlier.

Big step forward for Verlander

I know Verlander said after his outing last week that he was working on his delivery, but still, no pitcher wants to fly past the 50-pitch mark after two innings, even if it’s just a Spring Training game. So after going six innings in less than 70 pitches (I had him at 68), Verlander was understandably pleased, and so were the Tigers.

“It was a big step forward, no doubt,” said Verlander, referring to his mechanical tweaks. “I think it kind of worked itself into my delivery quicker than I expected.”

Verlander’s velocity is up compared to the same point as last spring. More important, he said, is that he’s throwing harder without too much effort.

Manager Jim Leyland said he thought Verlander’s curveball today was probably better than he had all last season. And he was encouraged that Verlander used it first pitch at times for called strikes to get ahead of hitters.

“Today, you saw an outstanding Major League pitcher,” Leyland said, “and what he should be most of the time.”

Other notes …

  • Marcus Thames and his strained abdominal muscle are on track to return to action as soon as this weekend.
  • If you read the Twitter page today, you might have seen that Polanco fell and stayed down on Geoff Blum’s pop-up behind first base, which ended up being a sac fly. Polanco hit his head on the track, but he was fine and stayed in the game for a few more innings.
  • Leyland on Casey Fien: “He likes to play. As a pitcher, he’s a ballplayer. He’s the [Will] Rhymes of the pitching staff.” Also said that he’s in the mix for a bullpen job.
  • That’s nine innings of one-run ball so far for Eddie Bonine.

Robertson on Friday, Porcello Saturday

The cut on Rick Porcello’s right index finger continues to bleed when he tries to throw, so his next outing has been pushed back from Friday to Saturday, when the Tigers visit the Yankees. It’s possible, Jim Leyland said, that they’ll need to push him back again. He needs to be able to throw a side session before they send him out in a game, and that hasn’t happened yet.

The ripple effect means that Nate Robertson will start Friday against the Nationals instead of Thursday in a camp game. Supposedly the camp game is now canceled, so there won’t be much of anything going on around the complex Thursday afternoon.

As usual, the Twitter page is up and going at http://twitter.com/beckjason.

Tuesday: Tigers vs. Astros

Happy St. Patrick’s Day. The Tigers will be wearing green caps today.

TIGERS

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

PITCHING: Justin Verlander, Kyle Bloom, Fu-Te Ni

ASTROS

  1. Kazuo Matsui, 2B
  2. Michael Bourn, CF
  3. Hunter Pence, RF
  4. Carlos Lee, DH
  5. Miguel Tejada, SS
  6. Geoff Blum, 3B
  7. Darin Erstad, 1B
  8. Brian Bogusevic, LF
  9. Humberto Quintero, C

PITCHING: Ex-Tiger Brian Moehler, Clay Hensley, Chris Sampson, Chad Paronto

Miner growing frustrated

Zach Miner hasn’t been putting up solid numbers in his starts, and as Spring Training heads into its final few weeks, he very much appears to be on the outside of the fifth starter competition. For someone who believes he can be a starter on this staff and would very much prefer that over relief, it’s building some frustration from him. Monday’s outing, which he gave up a four-run opening inning, percolated it some more.

“Oh yeah, I’m clearly frustrated,” Miner said. “I’ve been working hard. I got here two weeks early to Spring Training to start working. It’s just the last few outings, things haven’t been going my way. That’s frustrating, because you’re putting the work in and you feel good physically. Whether it’s the delivery out of sync or you just don’t make the pitches when you need to or balls fall in, it gets frustrating.

“You can handle it once or twice if you don’t get the results that you want, but after a few of them, it’s kind of like, ‘All right. Uncle.’”

In Miner’s case, it’s three out of his last four outings in which the numbers haven’t been strong. And this was the first one of the bunch in which he struggled with walks, three in as many innings. In terms of his pitches, though, he says he feels strong.

“”If I wasn’t fighting for a job, despite the numbers, I would feel great about myself getting ready for the season,” Miner said. “I’m throwing strikes. I’m feeling good physically. My pitches are coming around. It’s one of those things where if your spot’s guaranteed, nobody seems to worry about Spring Training if you don’t get the results or your numbers don’t look good.”

Roster cuts not a surprise

By now, I’m guessing you’ve heard about the roster cuts — Hollimon, Lambert and Wells to Toledo, Simons to Erie, and Iorg and Avila to Minor League camp. All of them were expected to happen at some point in camp. The Wells move likely means that we’re going to see plenty of Raburn, Clevlen and Ramirez until the starting outfielders come back from the World Baseball Classic or until Clete Thomas is cleared to play in games.

One interesting point is the moves that didn’t get made. A lot of relievers are still in camp, including Perry, Ni, Fien, Bonine and Bloom. I would expect Perry to be in camp for at least as long as Zumaya is out. The longer he’s in camp, the more of a chance he gets to make an impression.

Hollimon still shapes up to be the Tigers’ insurance if one of their middle infielders goes down to injury during the season, but he needs to get some playing time. With Adam Everett and Placido Polanco playing regularly and Ramon Santiago playing quite a bit, Hollimon wasn’t going to get it in big league camp. Leyland had hoped to get Hollimon into Sunday’s game, but didn’t get a chance.

If you have a chance to watch this game on TV back home or online wherever you are, you’ll be glad to know that the Cardinals sent a very representative squad up to Lakeland. We’ll have some sort of chatter going on Twitter at http://twitter.com/beckjason.

Here are the lineups:

TIGERS

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

PITCHING: Miner, Lyon, Seay, Dolsi, Perry

CARDINALS

  1. Skip Schumaker, 2B
  2. Rick Ankiel, DH
  3. Albert Pujols, 1B
  4. Chris Duncan, LF
  5. Ryan Ludwick, RF
  6. Khalil Greene, SS
  7. Joe Thurston, 3B
  8. Jason LaRue, C
  9. Colby Rasmus, CF

PITCHING: Todd Wellemeyer, Mitchell Boggs, others

Space Coast Stadium — Definitely worth the trip

shuttle.jpgNormally, I leave the postgame blog to reacting to what happened on the field. However, I was able to finish up the stories with enough time to get to Indian Harbor Beach and watch the Space Shuttle launch. Absolutely amazing. To be close enough to watch it gain altitude is cool enough, but the change of colors with the sunset is incredible. You don’t get many chances to be like a tourist when you’re working Spring Training every day, but this was so worth it. I’ll post a photo album when I have a chance.

As for the game, the work of the pitching staff was obviously a huge story. But I didn’t want to overlook the at-bat that Wilkin Ramirez had to drive in the go-ahead runs. With the bases loaded and one out, he got a steady diet of breaking balls from Nationals right-hander Steven Shell in hopes of getting the strikeout, understandably given Ramirez’s history against movement. Ramirez checked his way behind in the count, but fouled off three two-strike sliders to string along the at-bat. Finally, Shell left one up enough for him to line through the left side and plate two runs.

“You’re talking about eight breaking balls in a row,” manager Jim Leyland said. “So if he was ever going to hit one, that was it.”

I’ve mentioned it more than a few times this camp: Ramirez is a spectacular athlete. Baseball has plenty of tremendous athletes who have problems making contact between bat and ball, reminding us why it’s so hard to do. Moments like this give you encouragement that Ramirez can make the leap. Brent Clevlen had a similar quality at-bat earlier to lace an opposite-field liner for a single, also with two strikes, so his camp contact continues.

Other notes …

  • Got the pitching rotation for the next week, and indeed, Dontrelle Willis and Nate Robertson will pitch in separate games. However, they’ll pitch on the same day. Robertson will pitch in a camp game Thursday afternoon at 12:30 p.m. at Joker Marchant Stadium. Willis will follow Jeremy Bonderman in the Thursday night game against the Braves at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex.
  • With plenty of other pitchers needing innings, the Tigers decided to simply let Rick Porcello pitch his next turn in the rotation, which comes up Friday against the Nationals in Lakeland.
  • Look for a few roster moves tomorrow, none of them major according to Leyland.

Leyland: Zumaya doubtful for Opening Day

The news on the injury front was pretty good today. It’s believed Jeremy Bonderman felt fine this morning after his camp game outing Saturday. Rick Porcello would not have been available today after all, but they’re written him in for his next turn on Friday. Marcus Thames is improving.

Then there’s Joel Zumaya.

No, there’s no additional setback on Zumaya. In fact, the Tigers put him on a medication pack that they hope will relax the muscle cramp between his shoulder and neck after a couple of days.

The issue now, according to Leyland, is the timetable for getting him ready for the season once he’s cleared to throw.

I doubt very much whether he’s going to be ready for Opening Day unless something happens in a hurry,” manager Jim Leyland said. “That’s just the way it is. I only say that because he really hasn’t pitched for two years. If he had been pitching the last two years and then had a little setback like this, he might be able to get himself ready. But when a guy hasn’t pitched for that long, let me put it this way: It’s in the gray area now, unless something happens.”

There’s your news. The Twitter page is going at http://twitter.com/beckjason.

TIGERS

  1. Santiago, 2B
  2. Thomas, DH
  3. Larish, 3B
  4. Kelly, 1B
  5. Raburn, RF
  6. Clevlen, CF
  7. Ramirez, LF
  8. Treanor, C
  9. Everett, SS

PITCHING: Alfredo Figaro (remember, no Porcello today), Fernando Rodney, Juan Rincon, Scott Williamson, Zach Simons and Fu-Te Ni

NATIONALS

  1. Lastings Milledge, CF
  2. Cristian Guzman, SS
  3. Ryan Zimmerman, DH
  4. Nick Johnson, 1B
  5. Josh Willingham, LF
  6. Ronnie Belliard, 3B
  7. Javier Valentin, C
  8. Ryan Langerhans, RF
  9. Anderson Hernandez, 2B

PITCHING: Collin Balester, Gustavo Chacin, Wilfredo Ledezma, Garrett Mock, Steven Shell

Porcello scratched for Sunday

Just got back from the clubhouse, where the Tigers announced that Rick Porcello will NOT start on Sunday. He cut the nail on his right index finger on a ground ball during PFP, and will be held back for two or three days. Jim Leyland said he was told it was a 50-50 shot that he would be able to play.

“Fifty-fifty is not good enough,” Leyland said. “I wouldn’t pitch anybody who had that situation.”

Alfredo Figaro will start Sunday against the Nationals instead.

Statement from Ilitch family on Davidson

As you probably know by now, Pistons owner Bill Davidson passed away yesterday. Tigers owner Mike Ilitch and his wife Marian put out a statement this afternoon:

“We are saddened by the passing of Bill Davidson and extend our condolences to his wife and family, the Pistons and Shock organizations and all of his employees.

“We always found Bill to be a very personable, friendly and warm person. He was a tremendous businessman, owner and competitor. His commitment to our community and his passion for innovation will leave a lasting legacy.”

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