May 2009

The 40-game mark

I alluded to Sparky Anderson’s old milestone for evaluating a team when I was writing about last night’s game, a mark that basically gained steam from the Tigers’ 35-5 start in 1984. This year’s team isn’t anywhere near that, and they’re not using 40 games as a benchmark. Still, this season’s 24-16 record through 40 games is the fourth-best such mark since that ’84 squad. The ’06 World Series squad went 27-13. The ’93 and ’88 teams both went 25-15. The ’07 and ’85 Tigers also went 24-16. All of those teams finished with winning records, though only the ’06 team went to the postseason.

The thing that stands out about this year’s start is more than the record, but the way the Tigers have been winning. Detroit entered Saturday second in the AL in fielding percentage, barely behind Minnesota. The 3.96 ERA from the overall ranks third in the AL, and the 3.85 ERA from the starters is second only to the Angels. The Tigers have had quality starts in nearly half their games, 19 out of 40.

“If we continue to pitch and catch the ball, we’ll be OK,” manager Jim Leyland said.

The defense feeds into the pitching with outs they might not have otherwise had last year. The pitching feeds into the defense by working efficiently, especially with the much-improved Justin Verlander and the revelation that has been Edwin Jackson.

The other facet is how the Tigers basically transitioned their offense after the season started because of injuries and deals.

“It’s been interesting,” Leyland said, “because we’ve been a different type club recently than we were before. So when our other guys come back, we’ll be relying more on hitting the ball in the gaps and out of the ballpark and driving in big runs. But when we’ve had this group, we’ve relied a little bit more on some defense and speed. But the bottom line, the common denominator, is the pitching continues to pitch good.”

Magglio returns to lineup

There were some good reasons why Friday wasn’t the right time to bring Magglio Ordonez back to the lineup. Not swinging a bat for four days was one. Ubaldo Jimenez’s success against right-handed batters compared to lefty hitters was another, though it’s baffling why he doesn’t dominate lefties with the two-seamer he was unleashing inside on LH hitters Friday night. Plus, Ordonez was traveling earlier in the day Friday to return from his home in Florida, where his wife had surgery.

Today, obviously, is the day. Magglio’s batting fifth as the designated hitter, with Clete Thomas in right field and Ryan Raburn in left. Magglio had a very good session of batting practice Saturday, and he said today that he felt a lot more free and easy swinging the bat. He has some peace of mind now that he hasn’t had for a while.

TIGERS

  1. Granderson, CF
  2. Polanco, 2B
  3. Thomas, RF
  4. Cabrera, 1B
  5. Ordonez, DH
  6. Inge, 3B
  7. Raburn, LF
  8. Laird, C
  9. Everett, SS

P: Armando Galarraga

ROCKIES

  1. Dexter Fowler, CF
  2. Troy Tulowitzki, SS
  3. Todd Helton, 1B
  4. Brad Hawpe, RF
  5. Chris Iannetta, C
  6. Seth Smith, LF
  7. Garrett Atkins, DH
  8. Ian Stewart, 3B
  9. Clint Barmes, 2B

P: Jason Marquis

Bonderman to make another rehab start

Jeremy Bonderman will make another rehab start for Triple-A Toledo, this time at home Tuesday night. As mentioned last night, he took a shutout into the sixth inning Thursday at Gwinnett before giving up a five-spot in the sixth.

Manager Jim Leyland cited the reports that had Bonderman’s fastball ranging from 89-92 mph, another step up for him.

“The report was that he kind of ran out of gas,” Leyland said. “He didn’t necessarily feel that way, but he maybe kind of hit a wall. But up to that point, he was pretty good. He threw some pitches at 92, so I think it was a very positive outing for him.”

Bonderman apparently is still pain-free today after the outing.

“That’s a good sign,” Leyland said. “Hopefully his arm is being built back up to where he wants to get it and where we’d like to see it.”

Also feeling pain-free today, along those lines, is Edwin Jackson after his 132 pitches Thursday afternoon. He said just before going out for batting practice Friday that his arm felt as good as normal.

Jackson did not ice his arm after the outing. But as it turns out, he doesn’t ice his arm at all, hasn’t in a few years.

“I will if it hurts,” Jackson said, “but I probably haven’t iced in three or four years. I used to ice when I was younger because I thought we had to. Everybody would go and ice. But I asked the trainers one day, ‘If my arm doesn’t hurt, do I need to ice?’ They said, ‘Not really.’ So ever since then, I really haven’t iced unless I think I need to.”

On the bullpen side, Fernando Rodney is not available today after pitching all three games against Texas. Joel Zumaya would likely close if the situation arises.

Magglio returns, doesn't start

Magglio Ordonez was back in uniform for the Tigers as expected on Friday, but he was not in the starting lineup after four days off. Manager Jim Leyland had Clete Thomas in right field instead along with Jeff Larish at designated hitter and Ramon Santiago at shortstop, as he tried to load up the lineup with left-handed hitters. Rockies starter Ubaldo Jimenez is giving up a .308 average and .874 OPS to left-handed batters, compared with .207 and .530 against right-handed hitters.

TIGERS

  1. Granderson, CF
  2. Polanco, 2B
  3. Thomas, RF
  4. Cabrera, 1B
  5. Larish, DH
  6. Inge, 3B
  7. Anderson, LF
  8. Laird, C
  9. Santiago, SS

P: Rick Porcello

ROCKIES

  1. Dexter Fowler, CF
  2. Troy Tulowitzski, SS
  3. Todd Helton, 1B
  4. Brad Hawpe, RF
  5. Ryan Spilborghs, LF
  6. Seth Smith, DH
  7. Chris Iannetta, C
  8. Garrett Atkins, 3B
  9. Clint Barmes, 2B

P: Ubaldo Jimenez

Makeup game in Chicago

The Tigers’ next series at Chicago will now be a five-game, four-day series against the White Sox. They’ll make up their rainout from a few weeks ago on Monday, June 8 with a day-night doubleheader. First game is at 2:05 p.m. ET, with the night game at 8:11. It’ll be interesting to see how they work in a starting pitcher for that game, since it’s right in the middle of a two-week stretch without an off-day.

Bonderman's rehab outing for Toledo

We’ll wait and see what the reports say, but the numbers showed a decent night for Jeremy Bonderman that turned into a rough ending in his rehab start for Triple-A Toledo Thursday at Gwinnett. He took a two-hit shutout and a duel with Braves uber-prospect Tommy Hanson into the sixth before Gwinnett put up a five-spot on Bonderman in the sixth with three doubles, a single, a walk and a home run.

The totals: Bonderman gave up five runs on seven hits, five of them for extra bases, over six innings with two walks and four strikeouts. He threw 62 of his 98 pitches for strikes. Again, we’ll wait and see, especially on his velocity, but one would think he might need some time.

Magglio back for Friday's game

The Tigers announced after the game that they’re activating Magglio from the family medical emergency list for Friday’s game and optioning Wilkin Ramirez back to Toledo. Leyland said this morning that Magglio’s wife was reportedly got through surgery all right, but that Ordonez would not be able to get back in time for the game today.

Pitch count facts

Edwin Jackson’s 132 pitches are the most by a Tigers pitcher in the Jim Leyland era. The last Tiger to throw that many in a game was knuckleballer Steve Sparks, who threw 132 pitches against the Mariners on Aug. 21, 2002.

The last non-knuckleballer to hit that count? Remember Felipe Lira, who threw 135 on Aug. 11, 1996. He gave up nine runs on 14 hits in 6 1/3 innings that game.

The 132-pitch mark is also a first in the Majors this year, topping the 131 pitches from Pittsburgh’s Ian Snell on April 29.

Manager Jim Leyland has not put as big an emphasis on the number of pitches as much as the situation and the strain with which they’re thrown. Still, he usually tries to avoid racking up high pitch counts in back-to-back starts for a pitcher. Jackson went 97 pitches in his last outing May 15 against Oakland after topping 100 in his previous four outings.

The biggest thing to remember is that Leyland wanted to rest Joel Zumaya today after back-to-back outings.

Thames nearing rehab stint

The Tigers are aiming to put outfielder Marcus Thames on a rehab stint with Triple-A Toledo next week while the Tigers are on the road.

Thames, on the disabled list since April 19 with a left rib cage strain, is taking batting practice with his teammates this week as he works back into full activities. The Tigers hope to have Thames head to Toledo after Detroit’s upcoming series against the Rockies and meet the Mud Hens when they return home Monday for an eight-game homestand. Under that timetable, he could be ready to be activated from the DL when the Tigers begin their next homestand June 2.

“He needs to get about 30 at-bats or so,” manager Jim Leyland said. “I really think that, because of the injury in spring training, he hasn’t really gotten in sync at all to begin the season, so I think it’ll do him wonders. We’ll just have to play it by ear to see when he’s ready.”

Thames missed nearly three weeks in March with a strained abdominal muscle, then battled a stiff back early in April. Once thought to be the main beneficiary in at-bats when the Tigers released Gary Sheffield in the final week of spring training, Thames instead received just 18 at-bats over six games before he hurt himself taking extra batting practice one afternoon during the Tigers’ series at the Angels last month.

The Tigers have rolled along without Thames with a combination of young left-handed hitters such as Josh Anderson and Clete Thomas. Carlos Guillen  and Magglio Ordonez were taking the bulk of the time at designated hitter with Thames out before Guillen went on the DL with a sore right shoulder and Ordonez left the team a few days ago to be with his wife as she awaited surgery.

Guillen is not expected to be ready for a rehab stint when the Tigers leave town. He said he hasn’t heard whether he’ll stay back or travel with the club and take swings under the watch of team medical staff and hitting coach Lloyd McClendon.

Not as righty-heavy as expected vs. Millwood

When last night’s game ended, Tigers manager Jim Leyland was thinking about loading his lineup with right-handed hitters for today’s meeting with Kevin Millwood due to the splits — .283 avg with a .773 OPS against right-handed bats, .194 with a .591 OPS vs. lefty bats. Well, Leyland backed off that idea after looking further back before 2007 and seeing the splits not that vast. Plus, the right-handed hitters who have hurt him this year have generally been pretty good — Orlando Cabrera, Miguel Cabrera, Frankin Gutierrez, Carlos Quentin among them. Thus, you get your usual assortment of left-handed hitters in the lineup today.

Also back in the lineup today is Dane Sardinha, catching for the first time since he injured his finger last Wednesday at Minnesota. Leyland said on a local morning show today that he might play Sardinha a little more than he has been, because he worries he’s been wearing down Gerald Laird with the amount of playing time he’s been getting. So that’ll be an interesting situation to watch in the days ahead.

TIGERS

  1. Granderson, CF
  2. Polanco, 2B
  3. Thomas, RF
  4. Cabrera, DH
  5. Larish, 1B
  6. Inge, 3B
  7. Anderson, LF
  8. Everett, SS
  9. Sardinha, C

P: Edwin Jackson

RANGERS

  1. Ian Kinsler, 2B
  2. David Murphy, LF
  3. Michael Young, 3B
  4. Hank Blalock, DH
  5. Marlon Byrd, CF
  6. Nelson Cruz, RF
  7. Chris Davis, 1B
  8. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C
  9. Elvis Andrus, SS

P: Kevin Millwood

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