August 20th, 2009
Eight days ago, Zach Miner walked into the visiting clubhouse at Fenway Park and found out he was the Tigers’ emergency starter. Eighty-two pitches on day’s rest followed.
Two days ago, Miner was flying back home to Florida to be with his wife for the birth of their second son, Jackson. Mother and baby are doing fine, by the way.
Yesterday, Miner was sitting in the airport at West Palm Beach for five hours while a maintenance crew drove down a spare landing tire from Orlando to put on the plane that would eventually fly him back home. He was worried he’d get in trouble for not getting back to the team in time for Wednesday’s game.
“I was actually more stressed sitting in the airport yesterday,” Miner said. “That was as stressful as anything.”
Today, Miner was quietly a hero in the Tigers’ comeback victory. His two hitless innings after the Mariners scored six runs off Jarrod Washburn gave Detroit a chance to eventually erase the deficit, not to mention, get back to the plate quickly.
Manager Jim Leyland, for one, appreciated it. He has been flustered by Miner at various times, but this wasn’t one of them.
“I wish Zach Miner would realize what a valuable piece he is,” Leyland said, “and I wish he understood how valuable we think he is. He’s a big part, an important part, as is [Fu-Te] Ni. I can’t pitch Perry and Lyon and Seay every day. Today, he was tremendous.”
For his first game outing since that spot start last Wednesday, he was remarkably solid.
Miner arrived at the park in time for extra innings if they happened, but it ended up a moot point. With Justin Verlander on the mound, the Tigers were fine without heavy bullpen use. But just to get his arm fresh, Miner played catch after the game.
Once a 58-minute rain delay Thursday ensured Washburn would’ve last past the sixth inning, those throws came up big for Miner, who hit the strike zone with 17 of his 26 pitches and reached just one three-ball count.
“I felt pretty sharp throwing in the bullpen,” Miner said. “I think throwing last night helped me out a lot.”
As for Leyland’s comments, Miner appreciated them. He hasn’t been shy about his desire to be a Major League starter, and the roller coaster he went on in Spring Training and into April was a rough one for that. Now that he’s in the bullpen, he has far from a defined role, everywhere from mopup to occasional setup to, in Thursday’s case, protecting a one-run deficit.
In his case, it’s nice to be valued.
“I think sometimes you overlook it,” Miner said, “because you sometimes think some people have more important roles than you.”
The Baltimore Orioles claimed Chris Lambert off waivers from the Tigers Thursday. Lambert was designated for assignment Tuesday after giving up 11 runs on 12 hits over 6 2/3 innings in two appearances with Detroit. He walked six and struck out four.
Dontrelle Willis will be examined by a doctor in Columbus today after leaving last night’s rehab start for Triple-A Toledo after just 1 1/3 innings with a recurrence of his sore right hip. The Tigers referred Willis to Dr. Grant Jones for diagnostic testing, after which the Tigers will decide the next step for the right-hander.
Wilkin Ramirez isn’t walking through the clubhouse doors today, so if the Tigers were going to give Curtis Granderson a day off today as planned, they were going to have to use somebody here. That somebody ended up being Placido Polanco, who’s batting leadoff for the first time since the season finale in 2007. Leyland confirmed he also plans on giving Granderson a second day off Friday at Oakland.
- Placido Polanco, 2B
- Marcus Thames, DH
- Ryan Raburn, LF
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B
- Magglio Ordonez, RF
- Brandon Inge, 3B
- Clete Thomas, CF
- Gerald Laird, C
- Adam Everett, SS
P: Jarrod Washburn
- Ichiro Suzuki, RF
- Franklin Gutierrez, CF
- Jose Lopez, 2B
- Mike Sweeney, DH
- Russell Branyan, 1B
- Kenji Johjima, C
- Jack Hannahan, 3B
- Jack Wilson, SS
- Michael Saunders, LF
P: Ryan Rowland-Smith
Though Curtis Granderson’s bat has been a concern off and on for much of the season, it’s clear that it’s a particular concern for manager Jim Leyland now. Granderson’s 0-for-4, two-strikeout game extended his hitless streak to 0-for-13 with seven strikeouts, bringing his batting average for the season back down to .254, its low point since the end of May.
Leyland came to his defense after the game, pointing out that he’s taking extra batting practice every day now, including the last couple days since Monday’s off-day. So far, it hasn’t quite clicked, and Leyland sounded like a manager who thinks his leadoff hitter and offensive catalyst might be pressing.
“I’m thinking about getting him out of there tomorrow against the left-hander,” Leyland said, referring to Mariners lefty starter Ryan Rowland-Smith. “I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I’ll probably get him a day off, maybe two days off.”
The second day off, if it happens, would be against another left-handed starter with Oakland’s
Gio Gonzalez slated to pitch Friday’s series opener out west.
The last time Leyland gave Granderson a day off, the Tigers called up Wilkin Ramirez from Triple-A Toledo for a day and started the right-handed hitting prospect in left to help pull it off. He probably doesn’t have that luxury this time, and it’s hard to see him sitting Granderson without starting another left-handed hitter in his place, whether it’s Clete Thomas in the outfield or Aubrey Huff at DH.