March 4th, 2010

Thursday postgame: Dlugach on a power trip

dlugach.jpgCall it the product of a healthy offseason workout program, or the gusty winds in Florida the last couple days, or finally rounding out the offensive side of his game, but the Tigers’ leading hitter so far is Brent Dlugach.

At the moment, in fact, he’s statistically one of the top hitters in the Grapefruit League, sharing the league lead in homers with at least four others.

Sure, they’re just two games in. But it’s fun to point out, especially when it’s somebody who has had so little of a chance to show what he can do in the big leagues.

The Tigers drafted Dlugach in 2004 as a defense-first SS out of the University of Memphis. He had middling offensive stats at pretty much every stop on his way through the Tigers farm system except for a short stint at Double-A Erie in 2007. It was short because a shoulder injury ended it.

Dlugach underwent shoulder surgery in 2007 and missed most of 2008 in recovery. His first full season post-surgery came last, and it came with a big jump to Triple-A Toledo, where they needed a shortstop.

What happened in all that time off, what actually helped him, he said, was that he spent most of the previous year in the gym working out. He was stronger physically than at any other point in his pro career, and he could fight off pitches and punch line drives better than before. The result was a Triple-A All-Star season with a .294 average, 36 doubles, nine home runs and 59 RBIs.

He’s even stronger this year, quite a bit stronger, after another offseason working out. Because more time has passed since shoulder surgery, he could do more upper-body work. He also put on quite a few pounds of muscle, which would take him over the 200-pound mark for his 6-foot-4 frame. That doesn’t make him a power hitter by any means, but it’s starting to look like he can hold his own.

“He’s doing fine,” Leyland said. “He’s strong. He’s a pretty big kid.
He’s got some strength.”

What the Tigers do with Dlugach is going to be interesting, moreso down the line than out of this camp. He has options left and the Tigers have a shortstop opening at Toledo, so unless Ramon Santiago or someone else is injured in camp, he appears set to open the season as a Mud Hen again. But the left side of the Tigers infield is up for free agency at season’s end, and with the jury still out on Tigers shortstop prospects, it’s conceivable another solid year could open some eyes. For this camp, though, he’s likely to see a little more time at second and third base while Gustavo Nunez and Audy Ciriaco are in camp.

That sure glove is still there, too, and he’s starting to show it at those other positions. After entering Thursday’s game against the Blue Jays at second base, he made a nice play on a one-hopper with the infield in.

Bobby Seay update: Shoulder still hurts

Updated …

The Tigers aren’t anywhere near the point of saying Opening Day is at risk for injured lefty reliever Bobby Seay. Head athletic trainer Kevin Rand indicated they have plenty of time left in camp to get him ready for the season.

“Obviously, we’re just at the beginning of Spring Training,” head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said Thursday afternoon. “We have time, obviously still, to get him ready for the season. And, by the same token, we want to make sure that he’s right. There’s no sense rushing him and putting him in a position where you lose him for a longer period of time.”

They’re not willing to let him throw off a mound until he’s pain-free. And right now, his shoulder still hurts, partly from the bursitis in his left biceps, partly from tendinitis in his rotator cuff.

“Once I get loose, it feels OK,” Seay said Thursday afternoon. “It’s after the fact.”

It takes Seay quite a while get his arm loose. Once he throws, he feels good. As soon as he stops throwing and the arm cools down, the pain settles in again.

“The soreness comes very quickly,” Seay said, “and it seems to take longer to recover.”

It’s better now than it was a week ago, he said, but it’s not good enough. He’s scheduled to throw again on Friday. If it’s a problem still, it might become more of a concern.

Team doctors will be in town next Monday to conduct physicals on players for the start of minor-league camp. If Seay isn’t showing much improvement by then, Rand said, they could have him re-examined.

Likewise, Seay hasn’t said that Opening Day is a real concern for him yet. But he said he needs to get going to get what would be his normal amount of throwing in before the season starts.

“I think the work you put into Spring Training dictates your season,” Seay said. “I’m working hard, but I can’t do a lot as far as throwing. It’s obviously irritating to me, because I want to be here, I want to contribute and I want to be part of this team. Right now I feel like I’ve taken a step forward, but there are still lingering issues in the same area of my arm.”

How quickly those lingering issues disappear has a big effect on the Tigers bullpen. Detroit has plenty of depth in lefty relief, but not so much in veteran relief. Phil Coke’s role in the bullpen becomes all the more vital with Seay gone, as does potentially Fu-Te Ni. The door opens a crack further for Brad Thomas, whom the Tigers regard as a veteran reliever because of his time overseas. And Daniel Schlereth’s power lefty arsenal becomes  a little more appealing in a later-inning role.

Boesch doing well after injury

Talked this morning with outfielder Brennan Boesch, whos doing better than one might expect after taking a fly ball just above his eye Tuesday against Florida Southern. His eye is still swollen a little and definitely red, but he says he can see fine. He hopes to be cleared to play tomorrow, when the Tigers have a B game and a regular game against the Astros. Good news.

Thursday: Tigers vs. Jays

Think of it as the second leg of the home-and-home, with the higher aggregate score advancing. Or think of it as Game 2 of the seven games these two teams will play this spring, way more than usual. By comparison, they usually play six times in the regular season, though they’ll have eight matchups this year.

Lineup’s pretty standard except for Ciriaco at third base, the reason for which I do not know. The Jays are starting a lefty for the second straight day, and Brent Dlugach has played a lot the last two days. Don Kelly and Kory Casto both bat left-handed.

TIGERS

  1. Jackson, CF
  2. Damon, LF
  3. Ordonez, RF
  4. Cabrera, 1B
  5. Guillen, DH
  6. Laird, C
  7. Sizemore, 2B
  8. Everett, SS
  9. Ciriaco, 3B

P: Rick Porcello

BLUE JAYS

  1. Mike McCoy, 2B
  2. Jeremy Reed, CF
  3. Brian Dopirak, DH
  4. Randy Ruiz, 1B
  5. Chris Lubanski, RF
  6. Jarrett Hoffpauir ,3B
  7. Jose Molina, C
  8. Travis Snider, LF
  9. John McDonald, SS

P: Marc Rzepczynski

Postgame from Wednesday

While the bulk of the pitching story from Wednesday’s win over the Blue Jays belonged to starter Jeremy Bonderman, two other intriguing situations followed him. First was the first spring outing for Nate Robertson, who had a solid third inning before struggling in the fourth. Next was Ryan Perry, who got an unexpected test and pitched his way out of a jam.

Robertson said he had a mechanical flaw pitching out of the stretch that came up during the fourth, which kept him from stopping the bleeding for a while. Five straight Blue Jays reached base safely on him, leading to two runs as well as a bases-loaded, no-out jam.

“I was yanking [the ball] a little bit,” Robertson said. “Other than that, I felt great. I’ve got to make that adjustment, though, a little bit quicker. And it took me until I got the the strikeout [of Travis Snider] to walk off the mound.”

The strikeout of Snider for the first out ended up being his last pitch, but more directly out of pitch count than who was coming up. Leyland said later that Robertson was three pitches shy of his limit, so he didn’t want to risk pushing him past that in his first outing of the spring to get one more outs when he needed two outs to get out of the inning.

Plus, as Leyland thought about it, he felt it would be a good test for Ryan Perry, who’s vying for setup work in the revamped Tigers bullpen.

“This is a perfect situation for Perry,” Leyland said.

On came Perry, and back in he came to the dugout soon after that with an inning-ending double play grounder. He stayed in to pitch a scoreless fifth.

Other tidbits from Wednesday:

  • Brent Dlugach gave himself a birthday present Wednesday by smacking a solo homer as part of a two-RBI, two-hit day. He had a little help from the wind gusting out, but it was also an opposite-field shot for him that was hit very well regardless.
  • Wilkin Ramirez again showed why he can be an all-around offensive catalyst if he can stick in the big leagues. He helped the Tigers score one of their ninth-inning runs without a ball getting out of the infield. He beat a throw for an infield single, stole second, took third on an error, then scored on another ground ball for an out. “There is no substitute for speed,” Leyland said. “He created a run just with his legs. That’s nice.”
  • Leyland on the comparatively chilly, windy weather in the area Wednesday: “It’s just like Opening Day in Detroit.” The Blue Jays announced the first-pitch temperature as 48 degrees with winds around 25 mph, while weather.com listed the temperature in Dunedin at 52 with 30 mph winds.
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