June 2009

Robertson has surgery, out at least a month

I’m not on the series in Oakland, but I received word that Nate Robertson had successful surgery to remove four small cysts from his left elbow. Dr. Stephen Lemos, team physician, performed the procedure here in Detroit. It’s a relatively minor surgery, but the hope is that it’s a big help for Robertson. Because the cysts were around his ulnar nerve, he was experiencing numbness in his left hand, as head athletic trainer Kevin Rand explained Sunday.

The timetable calls Robertson to wait 3-4 weeks before he can pick up a ball. From there, it’s a matter of how long his throwing program lasts. The timetable would seemingly suggest an August return at the earliest, or a September return when rosters expand.

Figaro sent down, French to start Friday

We have a rotation switch: Alfredo Figaro was optioned back to Triple-A Toledo after the game, and Luke French is coming back up. He’ll join the Tigers in Oakland, work briefly out of the bullpen there and then start Friday’s series opener at Minnesota.

“We just felt like giving French a shot against them,” manager Jim Leyland said.

The move seemed to have less to do with Figaro’s performance in Houston Saturday, though that certainly didn’t help, and a little more to do with the matchup. Adding French gives the Tigers a left-handed starter to put up against Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, though Leyland didn’t really want to talk about that.

French has been on an absolute tear recently, basically for the last month. He has given up four earned runs on 16 hits with 26 strikeouts over 23 innings in his last three starts, though he hasn’t won any of them. Further back than that, he has lasted at least 6 2/3 innings with two earned runs or less in five of his last six starts, bringing down his ERA for the year to 2.98.

Postscript on Figaro: Tipping pitches?

A day after the Astros roughed up Alfredo Figaro in his second Major League start, there was more dicussion about his pitch selection, and why a pitcher who made his mark throwing fastballs at Double-A Erie and in his Major League debut would go so often to a breaking ball.

“The normal reaction for a young pitcher when they see certain teams and names,” manager Jim Leyalnd said, “is that everybody up here can hit a fastball and they think you’ve got to trick them. And it’s the total opposite of that. He got caught in a trap.”

But there was also the thought that the Astros might’ve been picking up on something in Figaro’s mannerisms on certain pitches, in effect tipping his pitches. After all, if you look at the pitch selection, Houston pounded breaking balls and offspeed pitches, yet did next to nothing with Figaro’s fastball. It’s an amazing thought for somebody who just made his second Major League start.

Figaro talked about it after the game, but said he couldn’t tell.

Leyland dismissed the idea.

“He was trying to trick them instead of throwing the ball, but I don’t think there was anything they were picking up,” he said.

Still, just in case, Figaro might well end up doing some side work between starts to shore that up.

UPDATE: Any work Figaro does on that will have to come at Triple-A Toledo. The Tigers sent him down after the game and called up Lucas French to start in his spot Friday at Minnesota. Though no one would say it, they’re getting a lefty starter in there against a Minnesota lineup headlined by left-handed hitters.

Laird back in lineup

Gerald Laird’s back spasms eased up quite a bit thanks to some serious treatment during the game last night, enough that he’s back in the lineup for today’s series finale against the Astros. He’s part of a heavily right-handed lineup to face Astros starter Russ Ortiz, who’s giving up a .302 batting average to right-handed hitters this season compared to .215 versus left-handed batters.

TIGERS

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

ASTROS

  1. Michael Bourn, CF
  2. Jeff Keppinger, SS
  3. Lance Berkman, 1B
  4. Carlos Lee, LF
  5. Geoff Blum, 3B
  6. Hunter Pence, RF
  7. Ivan Rodriguez, C
  8. Kazuo Matsui, 2B
  9. Russ Ortiz, P

Robertson to DL; Ni in Houston

The Tigers placed Nate Robertson on the 15-day DL this morning with a mass in the medial portion of his left elbow. The move is retroactive to Saturday. To take his place, they purchased the contract of Fu-Te Ni from Triple-A Toledo. He flew to Houston this morning and should be available for the game today.

UPDATE: Robertson is flying back to Detroit to have his elbow checked out team doctor Stephen Lemos. Head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said the tissue mass in his elbow is like a cyst, and it has been aggravating his nerves, causing numbness and tingling in his ring and pinky fingers. They expect he’ll have to undergo minor surgery to have the mass excised, but they hope to do that along the same area where he had Tommy John surgery years ago. The timetable on any return depends on how that procedure goes.

As for Ni, he arrived in the clubhouse a little bit ago, as did his translator, Fox.

Laird leaves with lower back spasms

Tigers catcher Gerald Laird left Saturday’s game against the Astros in the first inning and is day-to-day with lower back spasms after coming out from behind home plate to corral a ball in the dirt.

Laird had to spring out from his crouch to get to Tigers starter Alfredo Figaro’s breaking ball in the dirt on an 0-1 pitch to Carlos Lee. He walked out towards the mound to talk with Figaro, but eventually hunched over in front the mound as manager Jim Leyland and head athletic trainer Kevin Rand emerged from the Tigers dugout.

Laird was walking around, but in obvious discomfort, and was moving slowly as he walked back into the dugout and towards the clubhouse. He was replaced by Dusty Ryan, who was called up last weekend from Triple-A Toledo to help spell Laird and provide some more days off to keep him from wearing down.

Rand attended to Laird during Friday’s series opener against the Astros, too, after Laird took a ball in the groin area. Laird stayed in the game.

Laird entered Saturday batting .233 on the season with three home runs and 17 RBIs in 62 games. He has thrown out 14 of 38 would-be basestealers this season, good for a 36.8 percent rate.

Magglio out of lineup

It isn’t completely related to Friday’s performance, and it isn’t a benching, but Jim Leyland decided to go with Don Kelly over Ordonez for Saturday’s matchup with Astros starter Felipe Paulino.

“This guy’s firm and wild, so I didn’t think it was a good matchup [for Ordonez],” Leyland said.

Leyland emphasized that Ordonez will be back in the lineup Sunday against Russ Ortiz.

TIGERS

  1. Granderson, CF
  2. Polanco, 2B
  3. Cabrera, 1B
  4. Thames, LF
  5. Kelly, RF
  6. Inge, 3B
  7. Laird, C
  8. Santiago, SS
  9. Figaro, P

ASTROS

  1. Michael Bourn, CF
  2. Jeff Keppinger, 3B
  3. Miguel Tejada, SS
  4. Carlos Lee, LF
  5. Lance Berkman, 1B
  6. Hunter Pence, RF
  7. Kazuo Matsui, 2B
  8. Humberto Quintero, C
  9. Felipe Paulino, P

Guillen update (and it's good news)

Good news on Carlos Guillen from head athletic trainer Kevin Rand: Guillen began playing catch Thursday in Miami and is set to begin hitting off a tee Monday.

Guillen, sidelined since early May with inflammation in his right shoulder, is making three sets of 25 throws each at 45 feet. According to Rand, he’s feeling good and throwing without any restrictions.

“We’re in the pain-free stage,” Rand said. “It’s now a question of addressing the [arm] strength.”

Guillen will stay in Miami next week while the Tigers are on the road. Now that he’s doing more baseball activity, however, he’ll likely be back in Detroit when the team returns home a week from Monday.

Pudge on Leyland: "He's a great person"

pudgeleyland.jpgAfter Jim Leyland suggested Thursday that he cares for Pudge despite the disagreements that they had, Pudge acknowledged as such  and said it was an emotional conversation they had when he was traded.

“I love him, man. He’s a great person,” Rodriguez said Friday. “I think that the little things that we have, I think it was for the best. He taught me a lot of things. I have no complaints.

“When I got traded [last] July, it was a surprise, because I thought I was going to be there until the end of the season. When that happened, he called me to the office and wished me the best. He almost cried when he talked to me. For me, that’s something I’ll never forget. He talked to me as if I was his son when that happened. And that was the end.

“In the offseason, he called me to say hello. He called me when I signed with Houston to congratulate me. And then a couple of days ago, I called him to tell him I looked forward to seeing him here in Houston. He’s a great person, great manager. It was an honor for me to play for him for three years. In the three years I played for him, he taught me a lot.”

Leyland talked to Rodriguez at a time when not many teams were calling. It was a difficult offseason for him waiting to find a team, believing he could still play and knowing he had to convince a team. In that sense, this season should feel like redemption for him, proof that he can still play as a regular catcher in the Major Leagues.

pudgemagglio.jpg“It was tough, free agency,” he said. “But at the same time, I’ve got great support from my wife, my family, my kids. I’ve got a brother that keeps me in good shape, throwing me batting practice, working out with my trainer again. It was a tough free agency, but at the same time, I was just waiting for the opportunity. And Houston gave me the opportunity. I’m here and playing, pretty much playing every day. I’m feeling great.

“Physically, I’m feeling good. Mentally, I’m feeling great. And I love what I do. When you love what to do, you have to keep doing it. Basically, that’s how I feel.”

He still believes in what he said last year, that he can play until he’s 40. He has the ability, he said, and he has the will to do, even now that the record for games caught is his.

“This is a great sport,” he said. “It’s an unbelievable thing to do, to play something that you love and be able to play for 18 years. But I still have a lot left. I’m still only 37. I’m not that old in this game. Everybody has to remember that my first game was when I was 19. It seems like I’ve been in baseball for a long time, but basically, I came up to the big leagues at a very young age.

“Physically, I feel great. Age doesn’t bother me at all. I’m feeling great physically and mentally. As long as I feel like this, I go out and do the best that I can do.”

He has another goal left in his mind: He wants a chance at 3,000 hits. He’s a little more than 340 hits away at this point, so it would take more than another full year for him to get there.

“That’s a goal,” he said. “I’m not too far away. I can do that. I have to take one at-bat a time, just keep doing what I’m doing, just try to put the ball in play.”

He’d like to do that with the Astros, but he’s willing to move on if need be. All the while, he continues to track the Tigers.

“I still follow them,” he said. “I see Brandon Inge has a different batting stance, and it works. Miggy, he’s talented, and he’s always killing the ball. They’re doing great. Justin is dealing. He’s pitching great. Jackson is pitching. I always pay attention to Detroit. I love those guys. The organization was great. I spent 4 1/2 very good years. Great group of people.”

Thames in left, Magglio in right

Just got back from the Astros clubhouse at Minute Maid Park and a good chat with Pudge, who looks and sounds rejuvenated a bit here in Houston. Look for highlights of that on the blog a little later tonight.

As for the game, you’ll see in the lineup that Marcus Thames is in left. Jim Leyland said he had weighed starting him or Ryan Raburn, but wanted to put in Thames for the quick at some quick offense against Wandy Rodriguez. Magglio, meanwhile, is back in right.

As for Curtis Granderson, he said he isn’t as worried about the hill in center field as he is about playing the short dimensions in left. Keep in mind, the Tigers played two games here at the end of Spring Training last year.

TIGERS

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

ASTROS

  1. Michael Bourn, CF
  2. Jeff Keppinger, 3B
  3. Miguel Tejada, SS
  4. Carlos Lee, LF
  5. Lance Berkman, 1B
  6. Hunter Pence, RF
  7. Ivan Rodriguez, C
  8. Kazuo Matsui, 2B
  9. Wandy Rodriguez, P
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