February 2010

Line of the day: Justin Verlander

It isn’t really a line so much as a proclamation, or a challenge, or just Verlander being competitive. But Verlander is calling it: He’s going to be perfect in PFP for the rest of camp, or at least when Jim Leyland is hitting PFP to him.

I can’t make this up.

“He won’t get me anymore this spring,” Verlander said, for quotation, Saturday afternoon. “He will not get another one past me.”

This came after Leyland got his second ground ball past him in as many days, and made no secret about it.

On Friday, the Tigers’ first workout, Leyland was crowing after putting some spin on a ball or two to get past Verlander. On Saturday, Verlander’s 27th birthday, Verlander called Leyland over to the PFP field to hit him some grounders.

Not only was Verlander bragging about being perfect himself, he pointed out that his entire group was perfect, including Zach Miner and Ryan Perry. Then Leyland put a sharp ground ball through the 5-hole on Verlander.

Seconds later, Leyland got one past Miner. But it was Verlander’s miscue that was the big deal.

“I got him two days in a row,” Leyland said. “We’ve only been here two days. I got him both days.”

Verlander is competitive, all right. But so is Leyland.

“He’s smart, though,” Leyland said of his ace. “There won’t be anything at stake until he goes perfect.”

Valverde: I can get maybe 74 saves here

Jose Valverde had been quoted in his native Dominican Republic as aiming for 50 saves this season with the Tigers. He reported to Spring Training on Saturday and raised that total by quite a bit.

“You know what? I can do maybe 74 here,” Valverde said.

Yes, he meant 74 saves. And yes, that would be a record, by far. Francisco Rodriguez saved 62 games with the Angels two years ago.

“This is a good team here,” Valverde said. “You look at everybody here. We have guys who guys who can hit 30, 40 home runs — Ordonez, Cabrera, all these guys. My guys in the bullpen here, Zumaya, all these guys. When the game’s on the line, Zumaya throws the eighth and he’s throwing 100, 101. This team is good. I think I can do 50 or more.”

Valverde is certainly a driven individual, and he has a high standard for what to expect from himself, and others. The same story in the Dominican last week said he was unhappy with his agents and their work on his free agency. He confirmed Saturday that he has cut ties with the agents at Beverly Hills Sports Council and gone somewhere else, reportedly to Scott Shapiro.

That shouldn’t affect how he performs with the Tigers, who signed him to a 2-year, $14 million deal last month.

“That’s over,” Valverde said. “You know what I mean? What’s in the past is in the past right now. I’m here for my team, and I support them.”

Too much pitching? Not according to Leyland

With eight or nine potential starting pitchers and a slew of relievers, speculation has percolated on what the Tigers might be able to do on the trade front by the end of Spring Training. Teams always need pitching, and the Tigers could use some offensive help, right?

Right, but there’s another statement that Leyland likes.

“The old adage that you can never have enough pitching will always hold true,” Leyland said Saturday morning.

“We don’t have too much pitching. I like what we’ve got. I’m really happy with what we’ve got. But the old adage still applies.”

That doesn’t mean that Leyland is against any trades. That’s Dave Dombrowski’s department. But clearly, Leyland likes to have as much pitching as he possibly can.

Leyland cited another phrase of his.

“There’s no such thing as a 12th pitcher for me,” he said. “If you’re going to be good, every pitcher is important.”

As evidence, he cited 2006, when Jason Grilli made some key appearances for them, and Zach Miner proved vital as a fill-in starter for Mike Maroth over the summer.

As far as the lefty relief corps, Leyland didn’t argue the point that they can probably only take three southpaws in the bullpen. But he did point out that Phil Coke and Bobby Seay both have a history of effectiveness against right-handed hitters.

More tidbits from Saturday morning:

  • Jose Valverde arrived at camp today and is working out, so all pitchers have reported. Max St. Pierre also reported, leaving Gerald Laird as the lone catcher not in camp yet.
  • Magglio Ordonez quietly came in today, quickly grabbed a bat and headed for the cages. He’s ready to go. Miguel Cabrera and Carlos Guillen aren’t here yet, but should be in the next few days.
  • On the top of relief pitching, Leyland mentioned a note he received following last year’s tiebreaker loss. “I got a letter from a lady chewing me out for not bringing in Verlander in relief,” he said. That wasn’t going to happen.
  • Leyland said he’ll use Valverde similar to how he used Fernando Rodney, bringing him in just for one-inning saves unless it’s an emergency situation, extra innings or he needs work to stay fresh.

Line of the day: Bobby Seay

Someone asked how getting a line of the day going, so I figured I’d contribute something. I was talking with Bobby Seay about the first day of workouts, and he said he usually keeps his throwing to long toss and flat ground until he gets to camp. So I asked him: How does your arm feel when you’re throwing your first bullpen session:

Seay’s answer: “You have to really question if this is what you do for a living. I’m serious. The first week you throw, it’s just foreign.”

Mr. Damon, meet Mr. Guillen

Now that the White Sox have apparently put a deadline on their dealings with free-agent outfielder Johnny Damon — really, it sounds more like a Sunday deadline for Damon to accept their offer rather than pulling the offer — the long-running saga of where Damon is going to play might finally be reaching an end. And the discussion might start turning to how adding Damon might affect other Tigers on the roster.

Actually, it seems like it already has. And one of the oft-discussed questions being thrown around is how Carlos Guillen would react to being displaced from left field. After all, Guillen was vocal in his desire for an everyday position in interviews with MLB.com last October, once last season ended, and reached the point that Tigers officials scrambled to call him in Venezuela and agent Peter Greenberg in New York to reassure Guillen of his role.

Guillen hasn’t reported yet, so it’s hard to ask him. But here’s my take: I don’t think it’ll be as big of an issue as some might think.

For all the buzz Guillen made with his remarks last fall, including how a player can’t be productive when he’s moving around all the time, there was a timing to it. He had been simmering about it since early September, when he started switch-hitting again despite his shoulder injury so that he could get a chance to play against left-handed pitchers. He was frustrated then, but he didn’t want to be public about it. He wanted to wait until the season was over, because he didn’t want it to be a distraction while the team was in a playoff race.

If this team has a chance to win again — and with Damon, it’s hard to argue that the Tigers aren’t a division contender — I don’t think Guillen wants to be a rotten apple before the season even begins. He understands the situation, and he understands his trade value is next to nothing until he proves he can stay healthy.

Tigers still talking on Andres Galarraga

As I posted on Twitter this morning, Johnny Damon isn’t the only spring training arrival the Tigers haven’t finalized yet. Though Andres Galarraga said during the Caribbean Series a couple weeks ago that he’s weighing an offer from the Tigers to come to camp as an instructor/mentor, both Jim Leyland and Dave Dombrowski said there’s nothing final.

Dombrowski said the Tigers are trying to reach out to Galarraga’s agents to see if there’s a deal to be worked out, but with arbitration hearings and other contracts to negotiate, it’s been a busy time for both sides. The news came out quicker than the Tigers probably would’ve liked.

“I’m not sure if it’s going to take place or not,” Dombrowski said. “I have not talked to Andres.”

Said Leyland: “I think there’s some hesitation maybe, not on our part. … I just don’t think anything is a slam dunk just yet.”

There’s still an open locker in the clubhouse, right in front of Leyland’s office. Maybe Galarraga can take it. Maybe Damon might like it.

For what it’s worth, the only Venezuelan in Tigers camp right now is the other Galarraga, Armando. He reported early, and nearly suckered an unnamed youngster in camp that he had to show up early on reporting day — like 7 a.m. early. Not as good as the card tricks, but still pretty good. Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen and Miguel Cabrera are not here yet and don’t have to be until next week.

Few Tigers delayed to camp (Damon not included)

The good news for the Tigers on reporting day is that they don’t have another Francisco Cruceta situation on their hands. You remember him from 2008, right? He was the reliever who was stuck in the Dominican all spring with visa problems after he was supposed to be a big solution to the Tigers’ bullpen depth. Instead, Denny Bautista opened the season as Detroit’s setup man.

The bad news for the Tigers is that they have a few guys who are going to be a little late to camp:

  • Closer Jose Valverde is expected to get in on Saturday. He’s dealing with a personal situation, according to manager Jim Leyland.
  • Catcher Gerald Laird won’t be around until early next week, probably Tuesday. His sister is getting married this weekend.
  • Catcher Max St. Pierre is also expected to arrive Saturday. He and his wife are expecting their first child, if she hasn’t already given birth.

Other than that, I think all the pitchers and catchers are in. Leyland joked that he might have coach Gene Lamont don catching gear again if they need an extra body to catch bullpen sessions. Brandon Inge definitely won’t, not with his knees.

As for the Damon thing, I can confirm that there’s an open locker in the corner of the Tigers clubhouse, right in front of Leyland’s office. It belonged to Casper Wells last year, but he’s been moved over to the other side. Still, that doesn’t mean Damon’s going to fill it. Considering it sits next to Cabrera, it could also go to Andres Galarraga. Really, if I were going to put Galarraga in the clubhouse somewhere, that’s where I’d put him.

Coke wishes he could call Damon

Don’t expect Phil Coke to go for a round of golf with Johnny Damon, but as a teammate with the Yankees last year, he’s a believer in the buzz about what he brings to the club.

“You have to understand something: When you have an opportunity to play on a championship team, there are a bunch of players around the league that have come together on one team whose careers speak for themselves,” Coke said. “I don’t know what your personal opinion is of Johnny, and your opinion might not match mine because you don’t know him like I do. I mean, I love Johnny. He’s an amazing person, on and off the field. It doesn’t matter where he’s at. He’s the same guy. He’s a great clubhouse guy. He’s a great dude to go hang out with, on and off the field. He’s an all-around good guy.”

Coke understands the limitations on Damon, but he also understands what’s at the heart of him.

“He still moves really good,” Coke said. “He has his struggles in the outfield, but that’s because he sacrificed himself year after year for the game. I can’t tell you I’d want anybody else in the clubhouse except for a guy like that. I’ve been told that growing up in the game of baseball — Little League, high school, junior college, guys that are willing to sacrifice themselves for the game, for the team, those are the guys you want to play with. They don’t necessarily have to be the best, but they’re going to give you everything they’ve got, every single day.”

So would he be a recruiter for the Tigers?

“I wish I had his number,” Coke said, “because I’d be like, ‘Hey, man, quit messing around.”

Robertson coming off offseason groin surgery

Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski had referenced surgery for Nate Robertson at an offseason radio interview. Couldn’t get it confirmed by Robertson this winter, but he confirmed it on Wednesday. It was a procedure to repair a torn muscle in his left groin, and it was a problem that had bothered him for much of the season’s second half.

Dr. William Meyers, who performed hernia surgery on Magglio Ordonez in 2005, performed this procedure in mid-November. Robertson says he’s fully recovered now and was able to do a relatively normal offseason routine.

Leading off at leadoff: Austin Jackson

What if the Tigers signed Johnny Damon to help out the top of their batting order, and ended up batting rookie Austin Jackson up there anyway?

It’s not as far-fetched as you might think.

Though manager Jim Leyland said Wednesday he still hasn’t written out a set lineup and still doesn’t know what he’ll do with his top two spots, he sounded a little more committed than before to the idea of batting Jackson up top.

Jackson will get the first crack at leading off in Spring Training, as Leyland hinted at before. But he also sounded a little more confident that Jackson fits there.

“I’d like Jackson to lead off, if I could,” Leyland said. “I’m really kind of looking for a two hitter. But I think Jackson — if he’s here, and you’re going to play him some — he’s probably got to lead off. Probably, as we stand right now. But I don’t know that for a fact. We’ll find out.”
Admittedly, when he said that, he wasn’t including Damon in the thought process. As Leyland put it, “I don’t ever anticipate we’re going to get somebody.”

But he sure sounded like he was coming around on Jackson as a fit up there. And he definitely sounded like finding a No. 2 hitter, as the roster stands now, is a tougher decision for him.

“I have to figure out some kind of a two-hole hitter,” Leyland said. “I don’t know how that’s going to work out, unless you change our style of play. You hate to do it, although I think the game’s getting back to it, where the smaller things are meaning more again.

“Maybe you move some runners early on or something with the second hitter. Maybe you don’t just slug it like you do sometimes. Polanco was so good because he could drag a bunt or hit in the hole or hit-and-run or hit a home run. He was a really professional hitter.”

Maybe that’s something rookie Scott Sizemore can do. Maybe it’s something Adam Everett could do. Or maybe, if Johnny Damon does come to Detroit, it’s something he does.

Don’t read Leyland’s comments on the game changing, though, and figure that he’s angling towards it.

“I’m not saying I’m going to do that,” Leyland said. “I don’t want to do that.”

One thing for certain is that both Jackson and Sizemore, as long as they’re healthy, are going to get a lot of playing time this spring. It isn’t just about getting them acclimated to the big leagues as much as you can in Spring Training. It’s about Leyland and the coaching staff seeing them enough to judge them.

“I’ve never been a big Spring Training judge,” Leyland said, “but you have to do what you have to do.”