Opponents know what Jake Westbrook is going to throw at them, how he’s going to try to get them out. Brandon Inge, for one, has known it for years. But on days when he’s on, it doesn’t matter. They hit the sinker into the ground, and Westbrook gets quick outs.
Against a team trying to be aggressive at the plate to get the offense going, it’s perfect. The Tigers didn’t stand much of a chance. Westbrook threw one sinker after another, and they kept hitting them, to the point where Westbrook got through 7 2/3 innings with 106 pitches — not as efficient as Bonderman’s eight innings on 100 pitches, but very good against a much better offense.
“He comes right at you and he gets quick outs with the sinker,” manager Jim Leyland said. “He’s been around a long time. He knows what he’s doing. He doesn’t normally make a lot of mistakes. You have to try to make him get the ball up a little bit. When a sinkerball is down, it looks like it’s a good pitch to hit and it’s usually a ball you put on the ground at somebody. When he’s sharp, he stays down and he’s got pretty good control.”
Inge didn’t necessarily want to heap on the praise, but he had to.
“He’s always going to have good sink,” Inge said. “What I noticed about him today was, when we did get a pitch that was good, there was nobody on and nobody out, and he would go after you, which you’re supposed to do as a pitcher. Those are the only balls that you could really drive, and some of them, guys would get good wood on them, but maybe popped them up. You can’t knock that, it’s a matter of a couple millimeters.
“When he did get guys in scoring position, when he did get into some sort of a jam with runners on, he didn’t throw you much to hit, and he was really good. He was throwing strikes — quality, down where you had to swing at it. He just didn’t give me anything. So when his back was against the wall, he did a good job.”
With just five hits allowed over 7 2/3 innings, and only one of those hits for extra bases, his back wasn’t against the wall very often.
There was a time when the Tigers absolutely owned Westbrook, when they quietly looked forward to seeing him, but that hasn’t been lately. His career ERA against the Tigers stood at 5.99 entering the night, but most of that damage came in 2005 and 2006. He was pretty effective against them in 2007, before injuries cost him the next two seasons, and he would have two quality starts against them this year if he only could’ve gotten one more out earlier this season.
Again, it’s nothing the Tigers haven’t seen from him before. It’s a different pitching motion, more sidearm now than before, but it’s getting results. So why mention this? Because he’s pitching well lately on an Indians team that’s clearly in rebuilding mode. He has quality starts in three of his last five outings, and has pitched at least seven innings in three of his last four. He has been the source of speculation as the next Indians veteran to go, and if he continues to pitch like this, he’s going to be an interesting name to watch on the market as an alternative to big-name hurlers Roy Oswalt and Cliff Lee, the names everyone else wants to link to the Tigers.
Westbrook isn’t those guys, and he isn’t Jarrod Washburn. He’s more in the mold of Carl Pavano, a veteran pitcher on a comeback from injuries with enough savvy to work with what he has. Pavano helped win the Twins a division crown last year. He has an $11 million salary this season, the last year of a three-year, $33 million extension he signed before 2008, but no options or anything after that. He actually makes more than Lee, but he likely wouldn’t require the same category of prospects. If you’re a team that already has front-line starters and needs veteran help, it’s just something to think about.