September 5th, 2009

9/5 pregame happenings: Zimmer, Rodney, Kelly

ST. PETERSBURG — Tigers manager Jim Leyland has spent the last couple of days visiting Rays senior advisor and old friend Don Zimmer in the hospital, as he recovers from four-hour back surgery he had on Wednesday. Leyland said Zimmer is doing better. How does he know this? “He’s still grumpy,” joked Leyland, who shared an assortment of Zimmer stories before Saturday’s game. 

* Leyland confirmed he’ll give Fernando Rodney a day off after throwing 35 pitches on Friday night. The 32-year-old right-hander has pitched in four of the last six days. Either righty Brandon Lyon or lefty Bobby Seay will likely get the ball if Saturday presents a save situation. Leyland is kicking around probably giving Rodney Sunday off, too. That would give him at least three days without entering a game, with Monday being an off-day.
* Leyland on Rodney chucking the ball into the press box after his latest save: “It doesn’t bother me at all because … obviously, there was no intent to do anything wrong. I’ve seen 30 balls thrown in the stands during batting practice every night, I’ve seen third-base coaches throw them into the stands, over the dugout. I don’t pay any attention to that kind of stuff.”
* The rotation after this series: Rick Porcello on Tuesday, Justin Verlander on Wednesday, Jarrod Washburn on Thursday and Edwin Jackson (Sunday’s starter) on Friday. Porcello would be on normal rest for Sunday, possibly leaving Saturday open for either Armando Galarraga or Nate Robertson. Leyland said Robertson is “on hold.”
* Utility man Don Kelly, recalled from Triple-A Toledo on Saturday, was in the visiting clubhouse at Tropicana Field. He’ll be a welcome addition after the Tigers used all four of their lefty hitters on Friday. The Tigers were originally planning on bringing him up on Tuesday, but after what happened Friday, they hurried him along.  
* The Tigers likely won’t be calling up any more players this month, but Toledo Mud Hens manager Larry Parrish will join the club at some point.
* Dontrelle Willis will make one more start for Triple-A Toledo tonight, as their season comes to an end on Monday. 
— Alden Gonzalez

Tigers at The Trop, Game 2

ST. PETERSBURG — The Tigers and Rays went into the series opener with identical records, but while Tampa Bay looks like a playoff longshot at this point, Detroit is almost on cruise control for another postseason berth. 

After Friday’s win, Tigers manager Jim Leyland had some good things to say about the Rays, a team that’s lost three of its last four and finds itself six games back of the Red Sox for the American League Wild Card lead going into Saturday’s game.
“This is the defending champion of the American League,” Leyland said. “It’s an outstanding team. And everybody says, ‘Well, what happened to the Rays?’ Nothing happened to the Rays, except for the fact that the Yankees were able to do what they can do. 
“They”ve got a great team. They’re very athletic. A lot of action. They can run, they can hit with power. They’re very impressive.”
On to the lineups. Magglio Ordonez is back in there for the Tigers, while catcher Gerald Laird and shortstop Adam Everett get the night off. 
For the Rays, Evan Longoria, who drove in two runs on Friday night and is 2-for-5 with a homer in his career against Tigers starter Armando Galarraga, is batting … sixth?
Curtis Granderson, CF
Placido Polanco, 2B
Carlos Guillen, LF
Miguel Cabrera, 1B
Aubrey Huff, DH
Ordonez, RF
Brandon Inge, 3B
Alex Avila, C
Ramon Santiago, SS
SP: Galarraga (RH)
Jason Bartlett, SS
Carl Crawford, LF
Ben Zobrist, RF
Carlos Pena, 1B
Pat Burrell, DH
Longoria, 3B
Akinori Iwamura, 2B
Gregg Zaun, C
Fernando Perez, CF
SP: James Shields (RH)
— Alden Gonzalez

More on Verlander …

ST. PETERSBURG — I touched on this a little bit in last night’s game story, but let’s rehash just how much work — good work — Justin Verlander has put in this season, shall we? 

After his eight-inning, one-run gem on Friday night, Verlander is now sixth in the Major Leagues in innings pitched (197), is tied for first in starts (29) and has cranked out a triple-digit pitch count in 24 of his 29 starts this season — with 15 being for 115-plus pitches.
The 26-year-old right-hander needs just five more innings to notch a career-high in innings pitched (his high-water mark is the 201 2/3 he pitched in 2007), and he’s scheduled to make at least five more starts before the regular season comes to an end. 
Considering he’s averaging about seven innings per start (6.79, to be exact), Verlander’s innings total by the time the season comes to an end projects to be at 232. 
And let’s not forget he’ll be counted on to be a huge factor in the postseason, too. 
The Tigers currently have six potential starters, and if their six-game lead in the division continues to grow and they clinch early, perhaps they can shut down Verlander early, too. But that has yet to be decided.
When asked if he’s worried about Verlander’s fatigue and pitch count, Leyland said, “Sure. Yeah, I am.” But Verlander, who owns a career 4.44 ERA in September/October, didn’t come off as concerned. 
“I feel fine,” Verlander said Friday night. “I said before, I consider myself an old school-type pitcher. The guys in the old days used to throw a lot more pitches than I’ve thrown now, and they used to be fine with it. I think it’s what you condition yourself for, and I think this whole year, I’ve conditioned myself to throw in excess of 100 and still be strong.”
On Friday, after giving up his only run in the second, Verlander retired 14 of 15 batters and 10 in a row at one point, finishing with his 16th win (tied for the American League lead) after scattering four hits and a walk with seven strikeouts. 
In seven starts since Aug. 1, Verlander’s ERA is 3.66. And what’s impressed Leyland is his consistency, saying, “If you’ve looked at a few of his outings, they almost clone one another.”
Verlander has a chance to notch 20 wins for the first time in his career, and he’s making his case to take home his first AL Cy Young Award, too. 
On top of being tied for the league lead in wins with CC Sabathia, he’s fifth in ERA, first in strikeouts and tied for fourth with three complete games.
Despite that workload, could he be getting better as the season gets older?
“He’s probably at his best right now,” Verlander’s catcher, Gerald Laird, said. “He’s just going out there determined — you can see it in his eyes. Every outing, you know what you’re going to get. He’s definitely turned the corner here.”
— Alden Gonzalez

Kelly recalled from Triple-A; other moves

ST. PETERSBURG — The Tigers made Armando Galarraga’s addition to the active roster official on Saturday, recalling him from Triple-A Toledo so he can start later tonight. Along with Galarraga, the club called up Don Kelly from the Mud Hens.

In 19 games for the Tigers this year, Kelly hit .250 (12-for-48) with three RBIs. In Triple-A, the 29-year-old raked, hitting .331 with a .404 on-base percentage and .869 OPS in 105 games. Kelly also added six home runs, 40 RBIs and 27 stolen bases.
Kelly played everywhere but pitcher and catcher in Triple-A and gives the Tigers another lefty bat off the bench. 
Detroit also recalled first baseman Jeff Larish and transferred him to the 60-day disabled list. Larish, 26, is out for the year after right wrist surgery last week.
— Alden Gonzalez