March 2011

Phil Coke: No excuses

Phil Coke was asked before Thursday’s game about the feeling of going back out to the bullpen after working all spring to become a starter.

“It’s kind of like a reunion,” Coke said.

It was a familiar spot, but unfamiliar results when he entered.

Coke admitted it was “a little bit weird” being back in relief, but wouldn’t use that as an excuse for the 2-0 fastball he threw to Curtis Granderson, who sent it out to right field for a go-ahead home run. He didn’t make his pitches, he said, and in his eyes, he ended up costing them the game.

“I knew who I was facing,” Coke said. “It wasn’t about who I was facing. I just didn’t make my pitches, and I paid for it.”

Coke wouldn’t use the cold weather as a reason, either.

“So what? I can’t control that,” Coke said. “My job is to go out there and throw strikes, and I didn’t to the first guy I faced. And he ended up leaving the yard on me because I couldn’t throw a strike.”

Leyland said he turned to Coke in the seventh because of his experience. He said in the final days of Spring Training that there was one inning in the game that worried him. He wouldn’t say which, but given the way his bullpen shakes out and where Joel Zumaya would’ve fit, it isn’t a stretch to see the seventh as that inning.

“Really he was really our veteran guy down there,” Leyland said. “We felt like we might as well take advantage of that going into this game. He’s not going to pitch until [April] 9th, and he has the experience coming out of there moreso than some of the other guys. What happened to him is he just got behind Granderson and he left no doubt what was coming, and Grandy just kind of charged it.”

It’ll be interesting to see how Coke handles this, and the next week or so until he prepares for his April 9 start. Part of the challenge for him this spring was to shed the reliever’s mentality of focusing everything on one inning, and now he has to go back to it. He made the full-out sprint from the bullpen to the mound after God Bless America, and he was obviously beating himself up over the home run. That mentality, like his relief role, has to be temporary.

Scherzer makes fix in bullpen session

That regular-season urgency that was evident in Max Scherzer’s voice after his Monday debacle was much more laid back Thursday. He sounds more relaxed and relieved that the issues that helped him give up 12 runs over 2 1/3 innings against the Orioles in his Spring Training were fixed in a lengthy side session Wednesday afternoon at Yankee Stadium.

As he first suspected, he had the same mechanical issues that bothered him early last season and took a stint at Triple-A Toledo to fix. He knew how to correct them, but he had to step back and get into the bullpen to fix them. Once he made the changes, he could tell in his pitches that he was lined up right.

Just in case, Scherzer planned to throw again in the bullpen Thursday morning to polish up everything. The tweaks should give him back his fastball command at top velocity to mix with his changeup and an improved slider.

Scherzer makes his first regular-season start here on Sunday.

Leyland: Don’t try to factor in weather

The conditions at Yankee Stadium are really cold today. Temperatures might have crept under 40. It’s damp and it’s windy. Sounds like perfect conditions for two hard-throwing starting pitchers who can jam hitters inside, right?

Well, yeah. But that doesn’t mean it’ll necessarily be a low-scoring game, the way Jim Leyland looks at it.

“I found out a long time ago not to try to figure this thing out, because it just doesn’t work,” Leyland said. “Normally, you go into a game like today and you figure with the cold weather, maybe the pitchers have the advantage. You have two outstanding pitchers going. But I learned a long time ago, maybe an infielder gets a wet ball and throws one away, an outfielder slips with a couple runners on because of the wet grass or something. So I’ve never tried to figure it. It is what it is.”

Aussie Brad Thomas feeling Opening Day cold

Those aren’t Opening Day jitters for Tigers reliever Brad Thomas. He’s just that cold.
Thomas likes to brag that he never has a winter. The Australian left-hander enjoys summers pitching in the United States, then returns home in time for the warm season there.
Opening Day weather like Thursday’s cold, rainy conditions in New York really get to him. Heck, even the sunny, mid-40s conditions for Wednesday’s workout got to him.
“This is cold for me,” Thomas said as he debated how many layers of clothing to put on under his jersey. “I’ve had summer all year round for 15 years.”
There are parts of Australia that get snowy conditions, he said, mainly around the mountainous areas. But he lives on the coast, and he doesn’t ski, so he doesn’t go there.
“This,” he said, “is the coldest winter day at home.”
Thomas’ last real bout of winter, he said, would’ve come when he first signed to play in Japan in 2005.

Weather update: Getting ready for ball

It’s a damp, windy cold at Yankee Stadium, but the rain has lightened up, and it looks like they’re getting ready to pull the tarp. As of now, looks like they’re going to play ball, possibly on time. No announcements have been made here in the press box, so we’ll see.

Guillen, Zumaya to DL; Ciriaco outrighted

The Tigers have officially set their Opening Day roster. We already knew the 25-man roster, but the formality moves came Wednesday. Carlos Guillen and Joel Zumaya went on the 15-man disabled list, while infielder Audy Ciriaco was outrighted to Double-A Erie.

By outrighting Ciriaco, the Tigers clear a spot on the 40-man roster for reliever Enrique Gonzalez, who made the big club as a non-roster invitee in Spring Training. The Tigers officially purchased Gonzalez’s contract Wednesday.

Leyland not talking about contract

At least, he won’t be talking about it anymore. The question came up this morning before the Tigers worked out, and it was put down.

“If we do all right, I assume I’ll be here. If we don’t, I probably won’t be.”

Leyland, of course, is in the last year of his contract, as is team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski. But there has been a lot more speculation about Leyland’s situation than Dombrowski’s situation. And, well, it’s safe to say Leyland has been reading.

“People write about all this pressure,” he said. “There’s no pressure on me other than to win games. I love to win baseball games. I want to win a division and get to the postseason. Other than that, there’s no pressure on me whatsoever. I’m not going to listen to that silly stuff about the last year of my contract. I’ve been going through that for a hundred years. I don’t really give a care about that, and I’m not going to discuss it.

“I’ve been reading all this and that. It’s simple. If you don’t win, people point fingers. Sometimes it’s the manager. Sometimes it’s the players. Sometimes it’s the general manager. But it doesn’t make any difference to me. We’re out here to win games. If we’re in the middle of a game, we’re not thinking about our jobs. We’re thinking about how to beat the other team, win as many games as we can. That’s what we do for a living.

“So I’m not going to discuss all that silly stuff. That’s for the writers to gossip about and put in the paper and all that. I’ve been reading that stuff for a while now. I don’t pay any attention to that. I mean, they know in Japan that this is the last year of my contract, because it’s been written about enough.”

The quotes came out of a question about his status, but also out of a question about the high expectations the Yankees always seem to have. Leyland bristled at the notion of World Series or bust expectations for any manager, but he also kind of talked about expectations in Detroit.

“I can’t tell you how it’s going to play out. I think we have a very, very good ballclub. I’m very happy with it. We all know we did some things, we spent some money. So did some other teams. But it doesn’t always correlate to winning. But I feel very comfortable with what we did. We accomplished two of the things that were right at the top of our list in the offseason thanks to Mr. Ilitch and Dave. We were able to land a couple players. But I don’t know how it’s going to play out. It’s not going to change how we go about our business.

“I’ve been doing the same thing for 21 years as a manager. You give your best effort every day and you put your team out there and you compete. It’s nothing different. Nothing’s going to change. I’ve been under one-year contracts. I’ve been under five-year contracts. And it’s never changed anything I do, and it never will.”

Later, he brushed off the idea of being occupied with the contract.

“I learned a long time ago from my dad, it was the best advice I ever had: If you go to work worried about your job, you don’t have a job. And I’ve never worried about a job. All I’ve worried about is doing the best I can and trying to manage my tail off, and that’s never going to change. And if somebody thinks I’ve done a good enough job managing, I’ll continue to manage. If they don’t, I won’t. It’s that simple.

“But that’s the end of that stuff for the whole year. I’m not talking about that.”

Opening Day lineup

After figuring Jim Leyland would go with Victor Martinez behind the plate and an extra right-handed hitter against CC Sabathia, he threw a change and went with his standard lineup. Alex Avila will catch. Will Rhymes will bat second and play second. Ryan Raburn will bat sixth.

The lineup:
1. Austin Jackson, CF
2. Will Rhymes, 2B
3. Magglio Ordonez, RF
4. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
5. Victor Martinez, DH
6. Ryan Raburn, LF
7. Jhonny Peralta, SS
8. Brandon Inge, 3B
9. Alex Avila, C
Starting pitcher: Justin Verlander

One more thing: Leyland indicated that Brennan Boesch will be in left Saturday.

Workout day at Yankee Stadium

It’s a beautiful morning in New York — cool, but not cold, and plenty of sun to go around. Great day for players to work out and get used to the northern climate again as they adjust to leaving Florida, where it was the upper 80s just a few days ago.

The forecast for tomorrow, on the other hand … yikes. We might find out why they schedule an off-day after the season opener, just in case they need to postpone.


Guillen to see Clete Thomas’ therapist

Clete Thomas had surprising success in his rehab program coming back from microfracture surgery on his knee. Now, the Tigers are hoping the same physical therapist can help Carlos Guillen bounce back from a similar procedure.

While the Tigers break camp and head north, Guillen is going to consult with Tampa-based physical therapist Jeremy Maddox, who worked with Thomas over the offseason after his surgery last summer.

“We’re going to go with a program very similar to that, hoping to get [Guillen] over this hump,” head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said Tuesday morning.

It’s not as simple as looking at different roads back from the same surgery. Thomas had his surgery in early June; Guillen’s surgery took place in September after injuring his knee in mid-August. The injuries that prompt the surgeries are different, even if the procedure is the same.

The difference is that while Thomas was able to progress back with relatively little trouble, Guillen continues to have trouble with his surgically repaired left knee when he gets to a certain point. The Tigers aren’t treating it as an alarm that something has gone wrong, but it’s definitely a halt to the progress he had enjoyed coming into Spring Training and in the first couple weeks of camp. He took batting practice a few days ago and has taken ground balls.

“He had some increased soreness when we restarted [his program] again,” Rand said. “It’s just going to be one of those rehabs where you just have to treat him symptomically. The symptoms allow you to progress his activity. When you have to back off, you have to back off.

“It takes time, and nobody has a crystal ball as to how long that takes.”