July 2010

Tigers promote Furbush to Toledo

Charlie Furbush’s breakthrough in the Tigers farm system is about to take him one step shy of the big leagues. The Tigers are promoting their sudden strikeout king from Double-A Erie to Triple-A Toledo. He’ll start Thursday night at Pawtucket.

It’s a quick step up for the 24-year-old left-hander after just five starts at Double-A. But in a year when the Tigers have been aggressive in promoting their top pitching prospects and giving him a challenge, this is the next step.
Furbush, the Tigers’ fourth-round Draft pick in 2007, began the season repeating Class A Lakeland, where he spent all last year after his comeback from Tommy John surgery. He went 4-5 with a 3.39 ERA with the Flying Tigers, but more impressive, he struck out 109 batters in 77 innings. An early-summer promotion to Erie yielded some early struggles, but he struck out 29 batters over 19 1/3 innings in his last three starts, pushing him to 37 strikeouts over 33 Eastern League innings.
Not only does Furbush lead all of Minor League baseball by a wide margin with his 146 strikeouts, he tops all of professional baseball, including the big leagues. Now he’ll try to deceive some more experienced hitters in the International League.
To say Furbush was not a highly-touted prospect going into the season would be fair. Now, in a year where Casey Crosby has been shut down with elbow soreness, Jacob Turner has just started to adjust to the Florida State League and others have had mixed results, Furbush has made a strong case for Tigers Minor League Pitcher of the Year.

Leyland sets mix at third base

Sorry so late on this. Scott Sizemore arrived at Comerica Park just before batting practice, but Don Kelly is getting the start nonetheless. Sizemore will start Thursday at third base against Blue Jays left-hander Brett Cecil, then again Saturday agaisnt Ricky Romero before settling into more regular time at third base as soon as next week.

What happens from there might well depend on the trade market and whether the Tigers find a deal for a third baseman or utility infielder at a reasonable cost. Yahoo’s Jeff Passan tweeted Wednesday that Detroit inquired about Blue Jays slugger and AL home run leader Jose Bautista, who can play third and the outfield.

There’s potentially an interesting dynamic at play with the fact that Brandon Inge is not only out for the next few weeks, but he’s a free agent at season’s end at a position where Detroit has no obvious successors. If Sizemore holds his own there and hits, does third base become a potential home for him in 2011? If the Tigers swing a deal, do they look beyond this season with it?

One more thing on the third-base situation: There’s a misconception that Carlos Guillen didn’t want to move to third base and forced the Sizemore shift. Guillen was willing to move to third if the Tigers asked, but it never got to that point. The Tigers made the decision themselves and left Guillen out of it.

Tuesday: Tigers vs. Rangers

First crack at filling in for Brandon Inge at third base goes to Don Kelly tonight. That does not mean, though, that he’s a longer-term option.

Leyland’s remarks when asked if this is an opportunity for Kelly seemed less than committal.
“I don’t know about that,” Leyland said Tuesday. “He is going to play some. We’ll see how things unfold here. He’s going to get a chance to play some.”
TIGERS
  1. Jackson, CF
  2. Damon, LF
  3. Ordonez, DH
  4. Cabrera, 1B
  5. Boesch, RF
  6. Raburn, 2B
  7. Avila, C
  8. Kelly, 3B
  9. Worth, SS
P: Armando Galarraga
RANGERS
  1. Elvis Andrus, SS
  2. Michael Young, 3B
  3. Ian Kinsler, 2B
  4. Josh Hamilton, DH
  5. Nelson Cruz, RF
  6. David Murphy, LF
  7. Bengie Molina, C
  8. Chris Davis, 1B
  9. Julio Borbon, CF
P: Tommy Hunter

Inge to DL, Fien recalled

The Tigers need an extra arm in the bullpen at the moment more than they need a third baseman to replace injured Brandon Inge. So Detroit placed Inge on the 15-day disabled list and recalled right-hander Casey Fien from Triple-A Toledo Tuesday afternoon to provide an extra arm while it ponders what to do at third base.
Inge is expected to be out 4-6 weeks after fracturing a bone in his left hand Monday night against the Rangers.
After Monday’s 14-inning loss to Texas, a fourth-inning exit from Andy Oliver Sunday afternoon and a day-night doubleheader that included another extra-inning game Saturday, Detroit’s bullpen has pitched 20.2 innings over five games in four days since the All-Star break. Five relievers pitched Monday night, including closer Jose Valverde for the second consecutive day.
That left the Tigers looking for an extra arm to handle work Tuesday night if Armando Galarraga can’t work deep into the game. Enter Fien, who was up with the Tigers for two days a few weeks ago before Ryan Perry returned. Fien pitched two scoreless innings June 30 at Minnesota.
Fien’s arrival means third base will fall to the Detroit’s utilitymen for at least Tuesday. With the Rangers starting right-hander Tommy Hunter Tuesday night, Don Kelly appears likely to get the start at third base for the second time in three days. Kelly gave Inge a day off Sunday at Cleveland and replaced him at third base in the fifth inning Monday. 
Once the Tigers get their bullpen back in order, they have a few options to replace Inge positionally. Jeff Larish has been the primary third baseman at Triple-A Toledo, and is batting .298 with 12 doubles, 10 home runs and 36 RBIs since June 1, but the Tigers didn’t consider Larish an everyday third baseman during his stints in Detroit. He was playing there to enhance his versatility.
Scott Sizemore, the Tigers’ Opening Day second baseman, has hit well since coming back from injuries and could feasibly return to the big leagues if the Tigers move Carlos Guillen to third. However, Sizemore just recently came off the DL with a hip injury, and Guillen hasn’t played third base since spending half the ’08 season there.
Guillen likely won’t have a problem moving again. How he does there remains to be seen. His middle infield instincts have allowed him to handle second base a little better than expected.
Detroit’s best defensive option could be to go with Kelly, an infielder by trade coming up through the Tigers farm system before adding outfield to his resume in recent years in the Pirates and Diamondbacks organizations. He’s batting .219 (25-for-114) with Detroit this year with three doubles, a home run and eight RBIs. Fellow Tigers utilityman Ryan Raburn also has experience at third base.

Players say Verlander has best fastball in baseball

The Tigers have had the reliever with the hardest fastball in the Majors for the last few years with Joel Zumaya. Not surprisingly, they also have the pitcher regarded by his peers as having the best fastball in the game.
The latest Sports Illustrated player poll asked 339 players which pitcher has the best fastball. Verlander drew 30 percent of the vote, nearly three times as many as any other player. Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton was the next-highest at 11 percent. Ubaldo Jimenez, Colorado’s 15-game winner, received seven percent of vote. Zumaya was in the same neighborhood as Felix Hernandez with six percent.
Verlander doesn’t get to lead the Majors in pitches over 100 mph, but he’s usually right up there for starters, and his average fastball velocity is usually in the top two or three. He’s second this year at 95.8 mph, according to fangraphs.com, trailing only Jimenez at 96.3. Jimenez was the only pitcher higher than Verlander last year, too.

Inge out 4-6 weeks with broken bone in left hand

The Tigers lost a key cog in their division hopes Monday, when Brandon Inge suffered a fractured bone in his left hand that is expected to sideline him for 4-6 weeks.
Inge was batting in the third inning with two men on base and two outs when Scott Feldman’s 1-1 fastball rode up and in on him. Inge shook off the injury and remained in the game for the fourth inning before Don Kelly replaced him at third base for the top of the fifth. 
X-rays taken on Inge revealed what the Tigers called a non-displaced fracture of the fifth metacarpal — essentially a fractured bone near the base of Inge’s pinky finger.
It’s a potentially big blow to a Tigers ballclub trying to stay close in the three-way race atop the American League Central. Inge tripled and scored in the second inning to raise his average to .263 on the season with six home runs and 40 RBIs. His defense, meanwhile, has been a big part of the Tigers infield since he regained his starting job at third near the end of 2008.
Inge was an All-Star last season but struggled over the final three months with meniscus microtears in both of his knees. He underwent double knee surgery last November and made it back in time for Opening Day, but only in the last month or so have his legs finally felt around full strength.
The Tigers don’t have an obvious replacement at the hot corner in the farm system. Most likely, the duties will fall on Kelly and Ryan Raburn, utilitymen who can count third base among the many positions they can handle. Kelly bats left-handed, while Raburn is a right-handed hitter.

Monday: Tigers vs. Rangers

The lineup is pretty standard, but the Tigers are obviously hoping the results are different than what they had over the weekend in Cleveland. Manager Jim Leyland, anticipating questions about the home-road splits, ran off a slew of statistics this afternoon. He couldn’t offer a reason for it, not even after checking with coaches to see if there’s any difference in the home and road routines that would suggest the dropoff, but he had numbers. Interestingly, though, the Tigers hit better on the road (.261) than the Major League road average (.256)

TIGERS
  1. Jackson, 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
P: Jeremy Bonderman
RANGERS
  1. Elvis Andrus, SS
  2. Michael Young, 3B
  3. Ian Kinsler, 2B
  4. Vladimir Guerrero, DH
  5. Josh Hamilton, LF
  6. Nelson Cruz, RF
  7. Chris Davis, 1B
  8. Matt Treanor, C
  9. Julio Borbon, CF
P: Scott Feldman

Tigers send out Oliver to make room for Galarraga

The Tigers made their expected rotation tweak a day ahead of time, sending rookie left-hander Andy Oliver to Triple-A Toledo Monday afternoon to make room for right-hander Armando Galarraga.
The move brings back Galarraga ahead of his scheduled start Tuesday against Texas. The Tigers optioned Galarraga to Toledo a week and a half ago with the express intent of getting him some pitching time last week before rejoining the rotation. Galarraga pitched three scoreless innings of relief Friday at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
With Oliver out, Rick Porcello officially remains in the Tigers rotation after returning for what was originally characterized as a spot start Saturday night at Cleveland. The Tigers haven’t said when Porcello would start next, but his rotation spot would fall Thursday afternoon against the Blue Jays at Comerica Park. Porcello pitched his way back with eight innings of one-run ball with six strikeouts against the Indians, by far the best performance by a Tigers pitcher over the weekend.
For Oliver, the move ends a five-start stint in the big leagues that showed his potential as a power left-handed starter, but also showed the learning curve he still has to make in his first  full pro season. The 22-year-old gave up two earned runs over six innings in each of his first two starts, but lost them both, before struggling in each of his last three outings. He went 0-4 with a 7.36 ERA, allowing 18 earned runs on 26 hits over 22 innings with 13 walks and 18 strikeouts.

Galarraga now starting Friday for Toledo

The question no doubt came up after Armando Galarraga was seen with umpire Jim Joyce at the ESPY awards Wednesday night, but what happened with his scheduled start for Triple-A Toledo Thursday? Well, it was pushed back to Friday, a decision that came down before Galarraga went out to Los Angeles.

Galarraga is still on schedule to return to the Tigers rotation Tuesday, which means he’ll be going on short rest, which means he’ll most likely be on a pitch count Friday at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
I can’t say if the decision was made in correlation with ESPN’s invitation to Galarraga to appear at their awards ceremony, though the Tigers don’t normally bring back pitchers to Detroit to start on short rest. For what it’s worth, Billy Buckner started for the Mud Hens on Thursday and gave up nine runs on seven hits and two walks in just two-thirds of an inning. The Diamondbacks have parted ways with Dontrelle Willis, who agreed to a minor league deal with the Giants. Buckner, the man the Tigers acquired in the Willis trade, has given up 60 hits over 37 1/3 innings, including eight home runs, to go with a 9.40 ERA. 

Upbeat outlook for Wilkin Ramirez

Wilkin Ramirez arguably had reason to hang his head wonder about his place after starting the season back in Double-A and watching fellow Tigers outfield prospects Brennan Boesch and Casper Wells get their shots in the big leagues. Instead, he’s happy for Boesch to be breaking through and using it as proof that youngsters can get an opportunity in Detroit.

Likewise, Ramirez could’ve treated his second Futures Game appearance in three years as a repeat trip. But he looks at it as a new vote of confidence from Tigers management.
“I started my year in Double-A,” Ramirez said. “When you move backwards, you have that little thing in your mind. Getting invited here, it gives you a lot of confidence. I thank the Tigers for that. I feel pretty good.
“I want to thank the Tigers and whoever made the decision to pick me to be here. It gave me a lot of confidence, and I feel very good. At the beginning, I felt left out. It gave me a lot of confidence, and I’m happy to be here.”
Ramirez went 1-for-2 with a single and a fly out in Sunday’s Futures Game. It was a midseason honor in what has been a mixed bag of a season for the 24-year-old multi-tooled prospect.
His athleticism has always wowed. As team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski put it a couple weeks ago, when the Futures Game rosters came out, “He’s the type of guy that you’re always hoping that at some point he’s just going to put it all together. If he does, then he has the chance to be a star.”
His stats reflect the potential. His strikeout totals are astounding, 128 of them over 356 plate appearances between Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo. Yet exactly half of his 76 hits have gone for extra bases — 18 home runs, 14 doubles and six triples.
“Especially at the beginning of the year, I was more aggressive, because I think I was trying to do too much,” Ramirez said. “I didn’t really want to be there. I wasn’t expecting to be there, so I wanted to do the best I can, so I was trying too hard.”
An early-season vote of support from Erie manager Phil Nevin, he said, gave him a boost. Renewed confidence from Mud Hens manager Larry Parrish and hitting coach Leon Durham have helped, too.
He admits he has a problem with strikeouts, but he’s trying to focus on making sure his swings are productive. He swung at all three pitches he saw Sunday, and put two of them in play.
He doesn’t look at the Tigers roster picture as an opportunity passed up. He looks at Boesch as inspiration.
“You know what? I’m so happy for Boesch, that he’s doing that good,” Ramirez said. “Every at-bat, every home run that he hits, it makes me feel good myself. Boesch works so hard. Boesch played at Double-A last year, and that showed a lot of people that young people can go to the big leagues and do very very good. And that made me so happy that he’s doing that.”
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