July 2010

Tigers make minor trade, trade Ramirez

The Tigers’ big activity at the nonwaiver trade deadline was about as minor as they could get. Detroit traded outfielder Wilkin Ramirez to Atlanta for a player to be named later or cash.

The Tigers must choose the player or the cash by Nov. 20.

You may remember that the Tigers designated Ramirez for assignment on Wednesday to make room for Jhonny Peralta on the 40-man roster. Detroit had 10 days to try to trade him, but they got it done in three.

Thus, Ramirez went from the starting lineup in the Futures Game to the waiver wire to a new organization in less than three weeks. He entered Saturday with a .230 average between Triple-A Toledo and Double-A Erie, homering 19 times with 56 RBIs. He also has struck out 144 times in 400 plate appearances.

For all the ups and downs of Ramirez’s career over seven minor-league seasons, he’s still just 24 years old. A change of scenery could do him some good.

Saturday: Tigers at Red Sox

Tigers are taking batting practice as I blog, and as of now, nothing seems to be stirring as far as trades. That could change on a moment’s notice, though.

The bigger concern for the Tigers today is their positional situation. Johnny Damon said coming in today that his back felt the same as yesterday, which is to say it feels terrible. He’s not in the lineup, but neither is Ryan Raburn, who is in Florida today for a funeral following the passing of his grandfather. He’s expected back tomorrow.

The result is that not only are the Tigers heavy on rookies, they’re light on number of healthy players. Their top third of the lineup today is comprised of rookies, and their bench is down to two players, one of whom is the backup catcher Alex Avila.

“We’re scrambling for a lineup today, let alone being able to protect somebody,” Leyland said.

TIGERS

  1. Jackson, CF
  2. Rhymes, 2B
  3. Boesch, RF
  4. Cabrera, 1B
  5. Peralta, 3B
  6. Kelly, LF
  7. Frazier, DH
  8. Laird, C
  9. Santiago, SS

P: Max Scherzer

RED SOX

  1. Marco Scutaro, SS
  2. J.D. Drew, RF
  3. Kevin Youkilis, 1B
  4. David Ortiz, DH
  5. Victor Martinez, C
  6. Adrian Beltre, 3B
  7. Bill Hall, 2B
  8. Jeremy Hermida, LF
  9. Darnell McDonald, CF

P: Daisuke Matsuzaka

What is going on with Valverde?

When Jose Valverde threw just eight of his 20 pitches for strikes July 21 against Texas, it was a rare bad outing for him, one that seemed like an exception to an otherwise All-Star season. He had trouble gripping the ball, he adjusted, and that was that.
A week and a half later, everybody is trying to get a grasp on what Valverde’s problem is. And plenty of people were asking why manager Jim Leyland went to Valverde in the eighth inning Friday night and kept him in for 60 pitches to finish off a win.
Until Friday, Valverde’s season high was 27. His career-high pitch count was 48 in 2004. He hadn’t thrown more than 38 pitches in a game since 2006. Once Valverde got to 40 pitches Friday, he was still working his way into a jam, let alone trying to work his way out of it.
Valverde’s called third strike on Mike Cameron sealed the win with his 60th pitch of the night. Even if you take away four pitches for an intentional walk, his pitch total dwarts any long work he has pulled off before, and it left some fans wondering what Leyland was thinking.
Internally, Leyland was wondering a bit himself.
“That’s one of those catch-22s,” Leyland said. “I saw that happen with Joe Torre and [Jonathan] Broxton early in the season. You’re in a catch-22: Do you or don’t you? How many? 
“I don’t really know the answer, to be honest with you. I’d be lying if I said I had the exact answer. It certainly wasn’t something that we wanted to happen, but it did. We got the win. I’m sure he’s not going to pitch the rest of the series.”
To answer the first question first — what’s going on with Valverde’s struggles — the indications suggest it was more of the same as the earlier outing.
“He was just having trouble gripping, it looked like,” catcher Gerald Laird said. “He had no command, trying to find his command. That’s basically it. His velocity was good. His split had good action. He just couldn’t find his release point to put it in the zone.”
Valverde didn’t put it in those specific terms, didn’t want to talk about what might be wrong until he looks at video on Saturday. But when asked if this outing was similar to the other one, Valverde indicated his belief that it was similar.
“I didn’t have my command like I normally have,” Valverde said. “My pitches, my slider and fastball, I tried to throw to different sides. I’ll try to look at the video tomorrow and figure out what I’m doing wrong.”
Why Leyland kept with Valverde as the pitch count went up was a different question. Leyland had Ryan Perry warming up while Valverde loaded the bases and then watched David Ortiz emptied them. He kept Perry warming up. But he never showed any hint of going to him.
“I will say this: He did not pitch for four days either,” Leyland said. “So it wasn’t like he was pitched out. If he was pitched out a little bit, I would’ve never brought him in [the game] in the eighth. He hadn’t pitched for four days, so that was a good out for him to get. 
“The whole thing was throwing the ball over the plate in the ninth inning. It wasn’t so much getting hit. I mean, Ortiz got the big hit there, but it wasn’t hits. The control was the issue.”
Valverde won’t be available again until Tuesday’s day-night doubleheader against the White Sox, meaning his July numbers are finished. He gave up just two earned runs in 34 outings over the first three months. He gave up 11 earned runs in July on 14 hits in 12 innings with 11 walks and 18 strikeouts.
Suffice to say, if those numbers are a harbinger of a second-half slide, if Valverde can’t figure out what’s wrong with his grip or his command, the Tigers bullpen will fall apart from there. They’ve filled enough holes as it is, but they don’t have a ready-made fill-in closer. If he can regain effectiveness, if not the same dominance, Detroit still has a shot at a late-season rebound.
If it’s a matter of grip or mechanics, that’s one thing. If Valverde is wearing down, that’s trouble.

Damon scratched from lineup

Johnny Damon’s reunion with Fenway fans in a Tigers uniform will have to wait. The former Red Sox star turned Detroit outfielder was scratched from Friday’s series opener with what the team called upper back spasms.

Damon was scheduled to return to left field, the area he manned for years before going to the Yankees, and bat third in the Tigers lineup. However, he was pulled just after batting practice. He’s considered day-to-day.

Damon’s return meant no day off for slumping off Brennan Boesch, whom manager Jim Leyland was hoping to sit for a night against Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester. Instead, not only was Boesch back in the lineup, he hit third. It marks the first time he has hit anywhere but fifth this year in a Tigers uniform.

That switch in itself might take a little pressure off of him. The Rays intentionally walked Cabrera to pitch to Boesch the previous three nights at Tampa Bay. All three situations came with runners at first and second in a one-run game in the seventh inning. Rays relievers retired Boesch all three times.

Friday: Tigers at Red Sox

After a cancelled flight in Tampa, a scramble through the airport in Atlanta and a crawl through traffic in Boston and wading through the crowd outside Fenway Park with my suitcase and my laptop, I’ve finally arrived at the park to find Jeff Frazier at DH and Johnny Damon playing left field, batting third. Not surprisingly, Damon’s experience with balls off the Green Monster played a role in that .Will Rhymes is in the second spot.

J.D. Drew was a late scratch from the Red Sox lineup. That leads to something you don’t see very often: A team’s starting outfielders all in the bottom third of its lineup.

TIGERS

  1. Jackson, CF
  2. Rhymes, 2B
  3. Damon, LF
  4. Cabrera, 1B
  5. Raburn, RF
  6. Peralta, 3B
  7. Frazier, DH
  8. Laird, C
  9. Worth, SS

P: Armando Galarraga

RED SOX

  1. Marco Scutaro, SS
  2. Jed Lowrie, 2B
  3. Kevin Youkilis, 1B
  4. David Ortiz, DH
  5. Victor Martinez, C
  6. Adrian Beltre, 3B
  7. Jeremy Hermida, RF
  8. Mike Cameron, CF
  9. Eric Patterson, LF

P: Jon Lester

Peralta here, Frazier up, Larish and Sizemore down

By now you already know Jhonny Peralta was in uniform soon after first pitch at Tropicana Field, and Scott Sizemore was optioned to Triple-A Toledo to make room. After the game came word that the Tigers swapped bench bats, designating Jeff Larish for assignment and purchasing the contract of Jeff Frazier from the Mud Hens.

Frazier is batting .273 in Toledo with 32 doubles, 23 home runs and 68 RBIs in 104 games. Eight of those home runs have come in July, including a two-homer game Wednesday against Pawtucket. It’s a good story for Frazier, a former Tigers draft pick who left and came back via trade a few years ago and was hoping his numbers to get him a call-up this season, as John Wagner chronicled in The Blade this morning.

The big plus for Frazier that helped get him the call is the fact that he’s a right-handed power bat. With Damon and Boesch and Kelly, the Tigers had enough left-handed bats available in the outfield, but kind of a shortage from the right side now that Raburn is pretty much playing close to every day. Detroit will face left-hander Jon Lester Friday night and then is on track to fellow lefties John Danks and Mark Buehrle next week.

Larish was out of minor league options actually has an option left, so they had didn’t have to designate him. If he passes through waivers, the Tigers will be able to outright him to Toledo.

Thursday: Tigers at Rays

Manager Jim Leyland was theoretically waiting to see if Jhonny Peralta could get to Tropicana Field in time for Thursday’s matinee. Realistically, though, he would’ve had no time to stretch pregame. Eventually, Leyland wrote out his starting lineup without him and without Sizemore. Thus, with lefty David Price on the mound, Danny Worth starts at third base.

TIGERS

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

P: Rick Porcello

RAYS

  1. Sean Rodriguez, 2B
  2. Carl Crawford, LF
  3. Evan Longoria, 3B
  4. Carlos Pena, 1B
  5. Matt Joyce, RF
  6. Willy Aybar, DH
  7. Reid Brigniac, SS
  8. Kelly Shoppach, C
  9. Gabe Kapler, CF

P: David Price

Tigers acquire Peralta from Indians

The Tigers made a move to bolster their injury-riddled offense Wednesday night, adding third baseman Jhonny Peralta from the Indians for minor-league left-hander Giovanni Soto.

The Indians also sent cash to help cover the remainder of Peralta’s salary for this season. He’s under contract at $4.6 million this season with a $7.25 million club option for 2011 or a $250,000 buyout.

The Tigers have played against Peralta for years as AL Central opponents. Now they’re hoping he can give them at least some boost down the stretch in their hopes to stick in the race for the division. He’s batting .246 in 91 games this season for the Tribe, with seven homers and 43 RBIs.

The 28-year-old Peralta will take over at third base while the Detroit awaits the return of Brandon Inge from his broken left hand. His original timetable a week ago called for him to miss 4-6 weeks, but team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said Wednesday in announcing the trade that they’re now optimistic Inge can beat the timetable, possibility getting back in two weeks.

Whenever Inge returns, Peralta will become an option at shortstop, where Detroit has been platooning veteran utility infielder Ramon Santiago with rookie Danny Worth. Scott Sizemore, Detroit’s Opening Day second baseman, and utilityman Don Kelly have been handling third in Inge’s place.

The Tigers made room for Peralta on the 40-man roster by designating outfield prospect Wilkin Ramirez for assignment. They’ll add Peralta to the 25-man roster once Peralta gets to the Tigers, hopefully in time for Thursday’s series finale against the Rays at Tropicana Field.

Dombrowski said he’s still searching for help on the trade market ahead of Saturday afternoon’s nonwaiver trade deadline. For now, however, he said, “I don’t have anything else in the works.”

Tuesday: Tigers at Rays

OK, that lineup could’ve gone better Monday. Now what?

Well, the Tigers have a few changes at the bottom of the order. Alex Avila gets the start behind the plate, Scott Sizemore slots in at third, and Ramon Santiago is back at short. They’ll be facing James Shields, who has spent July going six innings or so and giving up three or four runs.
TIGERS
  1. Jackson, CF
  2. Rhymes, 2B
  3. Damon, DH
  4. Cabrera, 1B
  5. Boesch, RF
  6. Raburn, LF
  7. Avila, C
  8. Sizemore, 3B
  9. Santiago, SS
P: Justin Verlander
RAYS
  1. Ben Zobrist, 2B
  2. Carl Crawford, LF
  3. Evan Longoria, 3B
  4. Carlos Pena, 1B
  5. Matt Joyce, RF
  6. Willy Aybar, DH
  7. John Jaso, C
  8. B.J. Upton, CF
  9. Jason Bartlett, SS
P: James Shields

Bonderman to be skipped this weekend

Had a question pop up yesterday asking whether the Tigers would start Max Scherzer or Justin Verlander this weekend in Boston. Turns out, the answer is both.

The Tigers have released their rotation for this weekend’s series against the Red Sox, and Jeremy Bonderman will have his spot skipped. The rotation order would’ve brought up his spot Friday or Saturday, depending on whether Jim Leyland wanted to start him or Armando Galarraga first.

Instead, Galarraga will pitch Friday night at Fenway, then Scherzer, then Verlander. It also means Verlander will not pitch next week against the White Sox.

Manager Jim Leyland said Tuesday afternoon that he wanted to keep Scherzer and Verlander on their regular four days of rest. Verlander talked last month about how he has trouble pitching on extra rest. Scherzer said it doesn’t really make a difference with him.
Leyland added that Bonderman will start on three days’ rest after his next outing. Next Tuesday’s day-night doubleheader against the White Sox left the Tigers with a choice — calling up a spot starter or going with a bullpen start. This gives them Plan C.
“What we wanted to avoid,” Leyland said, “is sending somebody down and bringing somebody up.”
Bonderman is 1-2 with a 5.00 ERA in five career starts at Fenway, but he has only pitched there twice since 2004 — a start each in 2006 and ’08. Of greater concern for the Tigers would be Bonderman’s recent struggles: He’s 2-2 with a 7.29 ERA over his last six starts, allowing 46 hits over 33 1/3 innings and giving up seven home runs.

Bonderman’s road numbers have been bad for most of the year, but all four of his July starts came at home, and he went 1-1 with a 7.77 ERA in those.

It isn’t an easy decision either way. One philosophy would suggest saving one of your front-line starters for the White Sox, especially in a series that starts with a day-night doubleheader. A Verlander start Tuesday sets you up to conserve your bullpen for the nightcap. On the other hand, the way the Tigers have struggled lately and struggled on the road all year, there’s a case to be made to give the team any chance it can to win this weekend.

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