March 2010

Tigers option Thomas, set 25-man roster

The Tigers set their 25-man roster Wednesday by optioning outfielder Clete Thomas to Triple-A Toledo, thus making utilityman Don Kelly their final position player.

The move came after an MRI exam on Thomas’ injured right shoulder showed no serious damage. He’s expected to be ready in time for the start of the Mud Hens season opener. He hasn’t played since taking a pitch off his shoulder last week, causing a deep bone bruise on his shoulder blade.

Essentially, the choice had come down to Kelly or Thomas for at least the final week of camp. In the end, Kelly’s ability to play infield and outfield offered more to the Tigers, who have third baseman Brandon Inge and second baseman Scott Sizemore back from offseason surgeries.

With Kelly and Ryan Raburn, the Tigers have two superutility players who can play most positions on the field except for shortstop, catcher and pitcher. Kelly bats left-handed, while Raburn is a right-handed hitter. Both played all over the field in Spring Training.

“His versatility was a factor,” manager Jim Leyland said of Kelly.

Thomas can play all three outfield spots well, but does not play the infield.

Thomas has MRI on shoulder

The final spot on the Tigers roster is still undetermined, and possibly, so is the nature of Clete Thomas’ shoulder injury. It’s still classified as a deep bone bruise on the right shoulder blade, but he underwent an MRI exam this morning just to make sure.

Basically, he said, nothing has changed. He can hit fine, and has been taking batting practice the last few days, but he can’t throw. He said he’s probably going to try throwing during batting practice this morning, but so far I only see him doing underhand tosses when he gets to balls in the outfield.

The fact that the Tigers are holding off on finalizing their roster sure seems to suggest they want to wait and see if Thomas is ready for the start of the season, wherever that may be.

For what it’s worth, he’s taking the news pretty calm.

“It’s either going to be good or it’s going to be bad,” Thomas said. “Nothing I can do really.”

Fallout from Robertson trade

By now, you’ve heard about Nate Robertson being traded to the Marlins (with cash) for Jay Voss. Just came out of a gathering with Dave Dombrowski to talk about it. Here’s what it means:

  • Dontrelle Willis and Jeremy Bonderman are in the rotation. Willis will start the series finale at KC on Thursday, April 8. Bonderman, who can’t start that game because of his suspension, will start against the Indians on Saturday, April 10. While Dombrowski stopped short of saying Dontrelle and Bonderman had beaten out Robertson for the spots, he said they would’ve put Robertson in the bullpen had they not been able to pull off the trade. In other words, Bonderman and Willis were in the rotation regardless, according to Dombrowski.
  • With no starter needing to go to the bullpen, the bullpen is now set. Eddie Bonine and Brad Thomas are both on the team along with Jose Valverde, Joel Zumaya, Ryan Perry, Phil Coke and Fu-Te Ni.
  • Tigers have one more roster decision to make for the final position spot between Don Kelly and Clete Thomas. That decision will be announced after the game Wednesday or Thursday. The Tigers were originally saying they’d announce it after Tuesday’s game, which makes you wonder how much Thomas’ shoulder injury is forcing the delay. If the answer is quite a bit, that makes you wonder whether Thomas is the guy.
  • Here’s how unclear the Tigers’ rotation competition was for other teams. One longtime scout suggested earlier this month that Robertson would be the easiest for the Tigers to trade based on performance. Then another scout told me recently that Bonderman was the guy more teams wanted if the Tigers were willing to deal him. That was before the Robertson trade came down. Then there was supposedly a team that had a scout in attendance at Tuesday’s game specifically to watch Willis — not sure whether it was to gauge potential interest or simply assemble a scouting report on him for opposition purposes.

Tigers down to 27, Avila makes team

LAKELAND, Fla. — The Tigers’ catcher of the future will be their backup catcher of the present. Alex Avila will open the season in the big leagues, the Tigers decided Tuesday morning.

The move became official Tuesday morning once the team assigned veteran backup catcher Robinzon Diaz to minor league camp. Avila received the call from his father, Tigers assistant general manager Al Avila, Monday night over dinner.

The Tigers also optioned shortstop Brent Dlugach to Triple-A Toledo. Infielder/outfielder Jeff Larish and relievers Josh Rainwater and Robbie Weinhardt were assigned to minor league camp. The moves reduce the Tigers’ roster to 27 players; they have until Sunday to finalize their 25-man roster, but are expected to do that within the next day or two.

The moves with Dlugach and Larish leave the battle for the final positional roster spot down to utilityman Don Kelly and outfielder Clete Thomas. That decision could come in the next 24 hours. The one decision left after that is the pitching staff, where Dontrelle Willis, Jeremy Bonderman and Nate Robertson are battling for the final two spots in the rotation.

For the backup catching spot, the choice was essentially a decision on Avila, who has had only one full season as a pro after converting to catcher a few years ago at the University of Alabama. Avila started at DH Monday against the Blue Jays and went 2-for-3 with a double and a walk in what should be his final action before he finds out where he’ll open the season. The Tigers know he can hit in the big leagues, and his .394 average this spring hasn’t disappointed.

The Tigers had to make their best judgment whether he was better off catching a couple days per week in Detroit behind starter Gerald Laird or catching every day at Toledo.
Diaz was essentially the backup option if the Tigers chose the latter.

Avila spent the final two months last season with the Tigers and provided an offensive boost with his left-handed power bat. However, he caught only sparingly in September behind Laird, whose defense and game-calling skills made him a regular option despite his offensive struggles last year.

Laird has shown strong signs of being a better hitter this spring, but the Tigers still value Avila for his bat. He’ll also likely work on his catching on the side in Detroit.

Two of the three rotation candidates start Tuesday. While Jeremy Bonderman starts in a Triple-A game at Tigertown, Dontrelle Willis will be with the big club facing the Orioles Tuesday afternoon in Sarasota, Fla. It’ll be his first road start this spring, and it’ll be a good test if the Tigers needed it in their decisions.

Nate Robertson is scheduled to make his final spring tuneup Thursday against the Braves at Joker Marchant Stadium. By then, the decision will most likely have been made. What happens with the guy who doesn’t make the rotation, whoever that is, is another matter.

Roster decisions imminent

By this time Wednesday, the Tigers’ 25-man roster should be known. Manager Jim Leyland said Monday afternoon that roster moves Tuesday to whittle the roster down to about 26, including a decision on the final position player and the backup catcher.

“By this time tomorrow, we’ll be down to probably one guy [over the limit],” Leyland said. “I think the picture will be almost totally clear for everybody by tomorrow.”

The one decision that will be left will be in the rotation. That, Leyland said, should be decided Wednesday, or Thursday at the latest. Dontrelle Willis and Jeremy Bonderman both start Tuesday — Willis against the Orioles in Sarasota, Bonderman in a minor league game. Nate Robertson is scheduled to start Thursday against the Braves. You can read into that, I suppose, what that means for Robertson’s chances.

Leyland said Sunday he has in his mind what his roster would be, but that it wouldn’t necessarily be the final roster. Dave Dombrowski has the final say on that. So what follows now is a discussion with Dombrowski, Leyland, the coaching staff and other members of the front office on the baseball side.

The final roster spot is essentially down to Don Kelly or Clete Thomas. The backup catching decision essentially comes down to whether the Tigers want Alex Avila catching a couple times a week in Detroit or every day in Toledo for development’s sake, which would most likely put Robinzon Diaz on the team. The fact that roster decisions are coming Tuesday seemingly indicates the Tigers don’t expect to grab another backup catcher on the waiver wire or in a trade.

Tigers vs. Blue Jays: One more time

Technically, the Tigers have already won the best-of-7 Spring Training series against the Blue Jays. But that means nothing when there’s a chance to take a fifth game here in Dunedin today.

The starting outfielders are off of this trip, so the Tigers have an entire outfield of converted infielders. Alex Avila is also at DH to get some more at-bats.

TIGERS

  1. Inge, 3B
  2. Everett, SS
  3. Sizemore, 2B
  4. Cabrera, 1B
  5. Laird, C
  6. Raburn, RF
  7. Kelly, CF
  8. Larish, LF
  9. Avila, DH

BLUE JAYS

  1. Jose Bautista, RF
  2. Aaron Hill, 2B
  3. Adam Lind, DH
  4. Vernon Wells, CF
  5. Lyle Overbay, 1B
  6. Edwin Encarnacion, 3B
  7. Travis Snider, LF
  8. Raul Chavez, C
  9. John McDonald, SS

Inge feeling good in the field

For all the tests Brandon Inge has been through this spring, his sliding stop and throw at third base Saturday was his first acrobatic play since coming back from surgery on his knees. And he came through it feeling fine, much to his relief.

“When I say I’m 90 percent [certain I'm healthy], it’s stuff like that I’m not sure about,” Inge said Sunday morning.

Inge had Sunday’s game off after playing in 12 games over the previous 15 days. He’ll be back in action Monday against the Blue Jays in Dunedin.

About that last roster spot …

The Tigers roster isn’t set yet, but manager Jim Leyland has a very good idea how it would play out if it was solely his choice.

“If I was to write down the team today, I could write it down,” Leyland said Sunday. “That doesn’t mean it would be the team. I don’t have the final say.”

He isn’t telling what it is, but he’s giving an idea that versatility is
important. Jeff Larish, he said, would have a better chance if he could play center field.

What went unsaid, of course, is that Don Kelly and Clete Thomas can. They’ve been the other candidates under consideration for the final bench spot. Thomas can play all three outfield positions, while Kelly plays all three outfield spots, third, second and first base. How Leyland feels about Brandon Inge and Scott Sizemore, and how often he’ll want to rest them early in the season, could have an impact. But then, something similar could be said of Austin Jackson and Magglio Ordonez for different reasons.

Shooting down the Sizemore rumor

If the Tigers are looking to upgrade at second base, as one unnamed official from another club was quoted as saying in a published piece on Spring Training trade rumors, it’s news to them, including the guy in charge of trades. Team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said Sunday morning that the rumor was “absolutely not true,” and that the Tigers have been happy with Sizemore this spring.

The only question on Sizemore going into the final week of Spring Training is whether he hits seventh or eighth. For that matter, the rest of the Tigers starting lineup is set.

“A lot of clubs have been calling on our pitching,” Dombrowski said. “But as far as Scott Sizemore, we’re happy.”

Sunday: Tigers at Yankees

The Tigers start a three-day, three-game road trek today, the kind of trip that can be difficult for the final week of Spring Training — Tampa today, Dunedin tomorrow, then Sarasota Tuesday to effectively wrap up the road slate. By the time the Tigers play in Lakeland again, it’ll pretty much be decision time.

Jim Leyland is trying to make it a little bit more manageable by splitting up the first couple trips. The starting outfielders made the trip today; the starting infield will go back to Dunedin tomorrow.

TIGERS

  1. Jackson, CF
  2. Damon, LF
  3. Ordonez, RF
  4. Raburn, 2B
  5. Guillen, LF
  6. Dlugach, 3B
  7. Larish, 1B
  8. Avila, C
  9. Santiago, SS

P: Max Scherzer

YANKEES

  1. Derek Jeter, SS
  2. Nick Johnson, DH
  3. Mark Teixeira, 1B
  4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
  5. Robinson Cano, 2B
  6. Jorge Posada, C
  7. Curtis Granderson, CF
  8. Nick Swisher, RF
  9. Brett Gardner, LF

P: Andy Pettitte

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