May 2010

Game set to start at 3:45

UPDATE: The game is now expected to start around 3:45pm.

There was a heavy downpour for a little while, but it wasn’t as severe as expected, or as severe as the radar showed as the system was moving up Interstate 75. The thinking was that it was better to wait out this weather and then get going than it is to start the game, have it delayed minutes later and either have to go to the bullpen early or force the starting pitchers to warm up again.

Memorial Day: Tigers vs. Athletics

It’s a day off for Austin Jackson, with Don Kelly filling in for a day. Brennan Boesch returns to the lineup after two days off.

TIGERS

  1. Kelly, CF
  2. Damon, DH
  3. Ordonez, RF
  4. Cabrera, 1B
  5. Boesch, LF
  6. Guillen, 2B
  7. Inge, 3B
  8. Avila, C
  9. Santiago, SS

SP: Justin Verlander

ATHLETICS

  1. Rajai Davis, CF
  2. Daric Barton, 1B
  3. Ryan Sweeney, RF
  4. Kurt Suzuki, C
  5. Jack Cust, DH
  6. Kevin Kouzmanoff, 3B
  7. Gabe Gross, LF
  8. Adam Rosales, 2B
  9. Cliff Pennington, SS

P: Trevor Cahill

Agent: Dontrelle could use a fresh start

Just got off the phone with Dontrelle Willis’ agent, Matt Sosnick, who will be waiting with his client for the next week and a half or so to see if Willis is going to be traded — and Sosnick does anticipate there being some interest — or become a free agent who can pick and choose his club. Whatever happens, they’re feeling like a change of scenery should do him some good.
“On Dontrelle’s end, I think it’s going to be a relief getting a fresh start,” Sosnick said Sunday night. “If anything’s going to get him back, it’s going to be a fresh start.”
In that sense, Sosnick said, the move to designate Willis for assignment this weekend “probably played out this way at a good time.”
By no means was Sosnick criticizing the Tigers by saying his client needed to move on. Sosnick had complements for the Tigers and team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski, saying they did everything they could to try to set up a support network around the left-hander. But in the end, the struggles of the last two seasons just lingered over Willis’ 2010 campaign, and there was nothing either side could do about it.
“Wherever [Willis] goes next,” Sosnick said, “I think he hopes he can be successful without him being the guy that has all these issues as opposed to being [another pitcher]. His playing games in Detroit was kind of secondary to figuring out why he wasn’t the same guy who won the rookie of the year [in 2003]. …
“Every time he pitched well, it was [a story of] the guy who was pitching well in spite of all the stuff he was dealing with. That’s not to say it was anybody’s fault, because it wasn’t.”
That history put a huge amount of pressure on Dontrelle — not the pressure of pitching, but what he was associated with in Detroit, between the past couple years and the contract.
“I’d say he got an incredibly fair shot in Detroit,” Sosnick said. “They signed him to an incredibly good contract. Dontrelle feels terrible he didn’t give the team what they thought they were getting. It’s Dontrelle who had to go through it, but after the contract got signed, the guy who was the next most important person Dontrelle to pitch well was Dombrowski.”
While it certainly would benefit Willis to become a free agent and pick his next club, Sosnick said there could be a positive for both sides if the Tigers could get something in return for Willis in a trade.
In the end, no hard feelings. But it was a situation that, after the last couple years, proved impossible to overcome. Willis’ body language coming off the mound didn’t have the same energy his last few starts that he had in Spring Training. He was not happy, even when he would have a good inning or a good stretch.
“It was a really negative vibe for him,” Sosnick said. “It’s nothing that’s Detroit fault. It was a bad mesh.”
For now, Willis is going to wait out his situation and try to continue to throw off a mound to keep his arm in shape. Sosnick did not rule out the possibility that Willis would be willing to start out in the minor leagues for a little bit to get ready, but he feels like Willis can stay ready to pitch in the big leagues. Sosnick did not get into teams or locations, though it’s worth noting that Willis just bought a home in Arizona.
Like many, Sosnick believes his client can turn it around with a better situation. The stuff is there; it’s the walks that have hurt.
“I really do feel like he’s going to come back and be really good,” Sosnick said.

Dontrelle designated

Dontrelle Willis’ Tigers tenure is over. The Tigers announced Saturday they are designating his contract for assignment to make room for Max Scherzer on the 25-man roster in time for Scherzer’s scheduled start Sunday.

From there, the Tigers will technically have 10 days to try to trade Willis or see if another team claims Willis on waivers. Neither option seems likely. With Willis all but certain to decline a minor league assignment, this essentially means the end of a pairing that went perplexingly bad from the start in 2008 and never saw Willis return to his Florida form.

“It never worked out the way we would’ve liked it to work out,” team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said in announcing the move. “I don’t think I really need to say any more than that. At the time, we thought we were getting a guy who would come in and be a very solid big league pitcher, and it didn’t work out for us. Those things happen at times. You’re never happy when they do. He’s put forward the effort. We know we’ve dealt with a lot of issues with him. It’s unfortunate.”

Willis went 2-8 with a 6.86 ERA over the last three years with the Tigers, covering 24 games, 22 of them starts. He missed stretches over the previous two seasons to the disabled list — a knee injury in 2008, then what was termed as anxiety disorder last year — but at the root, his Tigers tenure came down to a seemingly endless battle with finding the strike zone consistently.

The 28-year-old became one of baseball’s more encouraging comeback stories this spring when he won a job in the Opening Day rotation, beating out Nate Robertson and Armando Galarraga among others. He threw quality outings in three of his first four starts, including six scoreless innings with six strikeouts against the Twins in a big AL Central battle April 29 at Comerica Park.

For the season, went 1-2 with a 4.98 ERA in eight starts and a relief appearance, but it was his May struggles — 0-1 record, 6.52 ERA, 23 hits and 17 walks over 19 1/3 innings — that drew the Tigers to stick with the recently-recalled Galarraga in the rotation over Willis. He had solid stretches in a couple of those May performances, retiring 11 of the first 12 Dodgers he faced May 21 in Los Angeles, but had similarly rough stretches where he battled walks.

“I think probably the uncertainly is [a factor],” manager Jim Leyland said. “Not knowing what you were going to get was probably a key factor. I’ll leave it at that, because he gave a great effort and he was a great teammate. It’s sad, really.”

His performance Friday night against the A’s, giving up three runs on nine hits with four walks and five strikeouts, prompted a meeting among club officials Saturday afternoon.

“It’s difficult,” team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said. “For us and for me, because we had a meeting with the staff members today, it’s difficult, because he’s worked hard to try to overcome a lot. He’s made some strides, it became apparent, this year. For us, we just weren’t seeing the same progress we saw in the spring. At times you see, but not on a consistent basis.”

This team, a disabled list stint was not an option. The Tigers apparently had no such discussions with either Willis or his agent, Matt Sosnick, before they informed Willis of the move Saturday night.

For now, Willis will be in roster limbo, but could well be headed for a release. To claim Willis on waivers would involve taking on the rest of his contract. He’s scheduled to make $12 million this season, the final year of the three-year, $29 million contract he signed with the Tigers after they acquired him from Florida in the Miguel Cabrera trade.

Even with the Tigers picking up the rest of that money, a little more than $8 million, it would appear unlikely another team would give up a prospect for him in the way the Tigers were able to acquire a reliever for Nate Robertson at the end of Spring Training.

With Willis all but certain to decline a minor league assignment, as is his right, he could become a free agent in a week and a half, which would allow him to sign with another team for the Major League minimum and have the Tigers pick up the rest of his salary. More important for him, he’ll get a fresh start in a new organization.

“I definitely have seen some strides forward from last year to this year,” catcher Gerald Laird. “He’s close. He’s going to bounce back and get with another club, and he’s going to get right. It’s tough to see a guy leave like that. But they felt like the decision needed to be made to better the ballclub, and they did it. It’s one of those things you hate to see, but it’s part of the game and we all understand that. He does, too.

“His career is far from over. You are going to see him back somewhere.”

Ok, now Scherzer is starting Sunday

Disregard the last post completely. After saying the plan was for Galarraga to start Sunday, now Jim Leyland said this afternoon that Max Scherzer is indeed coming back to the Tigers and will start Sunday. He would not say what the rotation move is, or any roster move for that matter, but one would expect to see that coming after the game. Im actually off this weekend, but you can check on tigers.com for more info once this whole thing clears up.

Galarraga still on for Sunday

Tweeted this last night, forgot to blog, but Armando Galarraga’s relief appearance Friday night changes nothing about his scheduled start for Sunday. He’s still on to pitch that outing, and Max Scherzer is going to remain at Triple-A Toledo for now.

Essentially, Friday’s outing was a second side session for Galarraga, who also threw in the bullpen during Wednesday’s game at Seattle. He did a lot of work on his slider Wednesday, and he took that work into Friday’s outing. With seven days between starts, he had the time to throw on the side twice, though I’m not sure how long manager Jim Leyland would’ve allowed him to go had he gotten in trouble in that seventh inning.

“I just felt we needed to get him out there,” Leyland said after the game. “He hadn’t been out there for a while. He’ll be fine. He didn’t throw that many pitches. We were a little short tonight, obviously. You have to be careful how to use your bullpen, so I thought it was a good time to put him in there.”

Asked then whether Galarraga is still on for Sunday, Leyland said, “I would plan on that.”

Miner to have Tommy John surgery

Zach Miner will undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery to reconstruct the ulnar colateral ligament in his right elbow, ending speculation that he might try to rehab through it.

The Tigers announced the news Wednesday after Miner consulted with noted orthopedic surgeon Dr. Lewis Yocum, who will perform the surgery Friday in Los Angeles.

Miner was diagnosed two weeks ago with a partial ligament tear after dealing with elbow problems since the middle of Spring Training. The question he faced with a partial tear was whether to try to rehab and pitch through it by strengthening the surrounding muscles or to undergo surgery now.

A typical rehab process takes the better part of a year, usually 9-12 months, before the pitcher is throwing in games again. With that in mind, Miner had to think about next season as much as this one. In the end, he opted for the surgery, ending what has been a frustating few months for him.

Miner came into the season primed for a major role in Detroit’s bullpen after doing everything from spot starting to long relief to occasional setup duty last year. He went 7-5 with a 4.29 ERA in 2009, but had the bulk of his success as a reliever.

Miner came into camp healthy, but the 27-year-old was shut down from pitching after five outings with what was originally believed to be tendinitis in his elbow. He opened the season on the disabled list but was expected to be back in Detroit quickly.

A slow recovery process to get the pain out of his elbow soon changed those plans. Miner returned to Detroit to let doctors re-examine his elbow with another set of tests once his pain returned during an extended Spring Training appearance.

Wednesday: Tigers at Mariners

Not only do we know this game is going to be played, but there will be no debate today whether to open the roof. Unless something dramatically changes, it’s staying closed. Been raining most of the morning, and though it’s supposed to become more scattered in the afternoon, it’s still a good chance for rain.

The only changes in the lineup are geared towards facing M’s left-hander Jason Vargas. Ryan Raburn replaces Don Kelly at first base, and Johnny Damon takes the second spot that Ramon Santiago had been occupying.

TIGERS

  1. Jackson, CF
  2. Damon, DH
  3. Raburn, 1B
  4. Ordonez, RF
  5. Boesch, LF
  6. Inge, 3B
  7. Laird, C
  8. Worth, 2B
  9. Everett, SS

P: Jeremy Bonderman

MARINERS

  1. Ichiro, RF
  2. Chone Figgins, 2B
  3. Franklin Gutierrez, CF
  4. Milton Bradley, DH
  5. Mike Sweeney, 1B
  6. Jose Lopez, 3B
  7. Josh Bard, C
  8. Josh Wilson, SS
  9. Michael Saunders, LF

P: Jason Vargas

Now pinch-hitting … Dontrelle Willis?

Yes, Jim Leyland said, he really was prepared to let Dontrelle Willis bat in the ninth inning. He was not simply a decoy, though he ended up being a pretty good one at that.

It was a piece of National League strategy that most American League teams never pull out in Interleague Play, especially in a nine-inning game. But Detroit’s bench was down one hitter with Austin Jackson out. Leyland used Ryan Raburn as a pinch-hitter for Rick Porcello in the seventh and lost another bench player when he put Don Kelly into the game as a defensive replacement in left field in the bottom of the eighth.

That left Alex Avila and Adam Everett on the Tigers bench when the pitchers spot came back around for the ninth. Once Brandon Inge drew a leadoff walk, Leyland got Dontrelle Willis ready to hit.

Willis was on deck when Danny Worth’s single put runners at the corners with one out, making it an RBI situation.

“I felt like I wasn’t going to waste a player unless I had to,” Leyland said.

Willis’ hitting prowess from his National League days is well-known, enough that some critics have wondered whether Willis could become a position player if his past pitching struggles proved unshakable. He’s a .232 career hitter with 10 doubles, five triples, eight home runs and 35 RBIs in 354 at-bats. Even better, he’s 5-for-11 in his career with a runner on third and less than two outs, and he’s 6-for-18 as a pinch-hitter.

The vast majority of those chances, however, came in the National League. He has barely hit over the last two years. However, he had two at-bats in his start against the Dodgers Friday, so he was fresh.

It was serious enough that manager Joe Torre went to the mound and replaced right-hander Ronald Belisario with left-hander George Sherrill. Leyland immediately countered by pulling back Willis and sending Adam Everett to the plate.

After swinging at the first pitch and taking two others to get ahead in the count, Everett laid down a well-placed squeeze bunt, scoring Inge. But Leyland said he wouldn’t have hesitated to let Willis hit had Torre kept Belisario in.

“If he hadn’t brought the lefty, I would’ve let Dontrelle hit,” Leyland said. “I felt comfortable with him swinging the bat. He hit what would’ve been two sacrifice flies probably [Friday]. Then if something happens to an infielder, I’ve still got Everett.”

Asked if that could happen again, Leyland said, “I think you could possibly see that in Interleague Play if we were short of players. I doubt that you’d see it in the American League.”

By contrast, he rarely ever feels comfortable with the squeeze bunt, never has. But it was something to try there.

“I hate the squeeze play,” Leyland said. “I’ve always hated the squeeze play. I hate it putting it on. It seems like it’s an hour before the pitch is delivered. But you try it with Adam Everett. We just took a shot. He got a decent pitch to bunt. He bunted it to the middle of the field, which is what you’re supposed to do, and we picked up an extra run on it. We were fortunate.”

Jackson could be back Tuesday

As I wrote on the site today, Austin Jackson’s left eye was almost completely swollen shut this morning, putting serious question into how many days he’ll be out of action. After Sunday’s win, however, Leyland said head athletic trainer Kevin Rand was optimistic they could get him ready for Tuesday’s series opener at Seattle.

“Kevin seems to
think he’ll be ready Tuesday,” Leyland said. “He thinks if you really work at
it, it’ll be fine by Tuesday. But I’ll take all precautionary
measures.”

That would be a huge gain for Leyland, who already has to figure out how to get through the Seattle series without cleanup hitter Miguel Cabrera. Add Jackson back at the top of the lineup, and you can potentially move Johnny Damon down towards the middle of the order if Leyland doesn’t want to bat Boesch cleanup. Ramon Santiago could stick in the second spot for a couple days.

At the very least, it helps give Leyland options, not to mention his center fielder back.

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