March 2011

Rhymes is the starting second baseman

A few hours after Scott Sizemore went from a strong candidate at second baseman to Triple-A Toledo, manager Jim Leyland finished up the second base competition. 

“Will Rhymes will get the first shot,” Leyland said.
That includes, most likely, Opening Day against the Yankees and CC Sabathia.
In the end, Leyland cited Rhymes’ performance last year — a .304 average, 12 doubles, three triples, 19 RBIs and a home run off Zack Greinke — as a separating factor in the second-base scrum.
“I know he hit .304 in the big leagues last year, and he hasn’t done anything to show me he can’t play,” Leyland said. “He’s played his tail off this spring. He gets base hits and fights his tail off at the plate. He’s a little energy piece for us.
“But I want to make it perfectly clear that I was really, totally impressed with Scott Sizemore, totally different guy. I think it’s 100 percent that Scott Sizemore is a big leaguer now, and I’m not sure I could’ve said that before. I’m speaking for me personally. And Danny Worth is a big league player as well. There’s no doubt in my mind.”

Tuesday: Tigers vs. Mets

We’re getting closer and closer to what the Tigers lineup should look like. Peralta gets a day off, which he could probably use the way things have gone lately. Danny Worth starts at shortstop in his place. Will Rhymes bats second and plays second.

The Tigers are bringing some kids over from minor-league camp, Daniel Fields among them. He’s listed on the bench on the lineup card.
TIGERS
  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Will Rhymes, 2B
  3. Brennan Boesch, RF
  4. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
  5. Victor Martinez, DH
  6. Ryan Raburn, LF
  7. Don Kelly, 3B
  8. Alex Avila, C
  9. Danny Worth, SS
P: Brad Penny
METS
  1. Jose Reyes, SS
  2. Willie Harris, DH
  3. Angel Pagan, CF
  4. David Wright, 3B
  5. Jason Bay, LF
  6. Ike Davis, 1B
  7. Nick Evans, RF
  8. Brad Emaus, 2B
  9. Mike Nickeas, C
P: Jonathon Niese

Sizemore, Weinhardt among Tigers cuts

The latest round of Tigers cuts came this morning, and it included two pretty big surprises. Scott Sizemore and Robbie Weinhardt are headed to Triple-A Toledo, along with Clete Thomas. Fu-Te Ni and Max St. Pierre were assigned to minor league camp. The moves whittle Detroit’s roster to 28 players, with three more moves needing to be made by the time the Tigers break camp next Tuesday.

Until this past weekend, Sizemore seemed to be in a very good position to open the season at second base, though his batting average had dropped in recent days in .237 (9-for-37). Not only had he not started in the past three days, he had only one plate appearance in that stretch.
His return to Toledo for a third year as a Mud Hen came as Will Rhymes won the leaves Danny Worth and Will Rhymes as the two main contestants left in the battle for second base. Danny Worth remains in contention for an infield spot if the Tigers decide to keep another utilityman alongside Don Kelly and Ramon Santiago, rather than another extra outfielder.
Weinhardt, meanwhile, seemingly stood on solid ground to take one of the two or three openings in the bullpen as a right-handed ground ball specialist, having pitched in nine games this spring. But he also had three outings in which he gave up a run on two hits in an inning. His return to Toledo, and Brayan Villarreal’s standing in camp, makes Villarreal’s bid for a long relief look even better.
Villarreal and Enrique Gonzalez are the two right-handed pitchers left in camp without a roster spot assured. Lefty relief, meanwhile, appears to be down to Daniel Schlereth and Adam Wilk, with Brad Thomas looking all but set to break camp with the big club along with Jose Valverde, Joaquin Benoit and Ryan Perry. The Tigers could take both Schlereth and Wilk along with Villarreal and give themselves three lefties and another long man in their bullpen.
Ni made a good early impression in camp, looking physically stronger with better command. He allowed a run on four hits in 10 innings, but he also walked five, including two in one inning last Friday against the Red Sox.
Thomas’ camp was a victory of health, having shown no problems in his return from microfracture knee sugery. But he faced an uphill battle to try to win one of the two outfield spots left to be decided. Brennan Boesch, Andy Dirks and Casper Wells remain in contention for those jobs, with Wells’ position looking more secure as a right-handed hitter.
Both Boesch and Dirks bat left-handed, which put the left-handed hitting Thomas in a logjam of sorts. Thomas went 12-for-42 (.286) at the plate, but just two of his hits went for extra bases. 

Tigers rotation for opening week

As you probably already know, Jim Leyland said today that Phil Coke would be the extra starter moved to the bullpen for the start of the season until the Tigers need a fifth starter over the weekend of the first home series. Brad Penny will be the fourth starter.

What you might not remember, though, is how Penny’s starts now fit with the rest of the Tigers starters. So here’s a chart for the Tigers rotation:

March 31 (Opening Day) at Yankees: Justin Verlander
April 2 at Yankees: Brad Penny
April 3 at Yankees: Max Scherzer
April 4 at Orioles (O’s home opener): Rick Porcello
April 6 at Orioles: Justin Verlander
April 7 at Orioles: Brad Penny
April 8 vs. Royals (home opener): Max Scherzer
April 9 vs. Royals: Phil Coke
April 10 vs. Royals: Rick Porcello (presumably)

Magglio day-to-day with tight hamstring

Magglio Ordonez is day-to-day with tightness in the IT band in the hamstring area, head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said Monday morning. He missed his second straight game Monday, but Rand indicated it doesn’t appear to be serious.

You may remember that Ordonez missed four days around the start of the month with a hamstring spasm. This new issue, Rand said, is different. It’s not really the hamstring, but it’s part of the hamstring area, more along the outside part of his leg.

Brad Penny is going to pitch inside

The Tigers and Twins have enough history over the last few years that they have quite a rivalry going. Nothing that could happen in Spring Training is going to change that. It’s mid-March in Lakeland, the Twins have a travel roster, and the Tigers have plenty of things to figure out on their own to get ready for the season.

Brad Penny hasn’t even been a part of this rivalry, having never pitched in the AL Central. Still, it was tough to ignore just a little bit of competitiveness between Penny, who was trying to establish the inside part of the plate, and the Twins, who had two Major League hitters take pitches on the arm.
Young was hit up his left arm by a Penny pitch in the third inning and barely got to first base when he was replaced by a pinch-runner. No lengthy consultation with the trainer or anything. Young himself had a surprised look on his way into the dugout. With most teams, veteran hitters who make a long road trip in the Grapefruit League usually get to play most of the game, if not all nine innings, to justify the trip.
Alexi Casilla seemed a little riskier when he took a pitch around his right elbow. He also seemed quite motivated to steal second base, taking a big lead when Penny looked over and then taking off on his first pitch. Alex Avila’s throw in the dirt hit him on his left leg and bounced away, allowing him to take third and eventually score on Ben Revere’s triple.
When asked about taking Casilla out of the game, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire told reporters he was “disappointed.” 
From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:
“Both of them could have continued playing if it was during the season,” Gardenhire said. “I was a little disappointed we got drilled there, so whatever.”
Penny said he was working on the inside part of the plate now to get his control going.
“I’m just trying to move their feet,” Penny said. “If I hit them, I hit them. I don’t want to miss over the plate.”
Don’t make too much of this particular deal. After all, we’ve seen pitchers retaliate for hit batters by hitting someone on the other team, even in spring training. Remember the Red Sox-Tigers fracas from a few years ago in Lakeland? Or Nate Cornejo hitting Ricky Ledee intentionally years ago in Clearwater, drawing a suspension for both himself and manager Alan Trammell?
Neither Gardenhire nor Twins pitchers and hitters those that route. And neither Young nor Castilla made any motion in Penny’s direction after being hit.

Wednesday: Tigers vs. Twins

Tigers have a stacked lineup for this division clash, but it’s a long trip for the Twins. Add in the fact that Joe Mauer is catching Carl Pavano in a minor-league game, and it’s a little different look. Victor Martinez remains out with a sore neck; he’s day-to-day.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Ryan Raburn, LF
  3. Magglio Ordonez, DH
  4. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
  5. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  6. Brandon Inge, 3B
  7. Casper Wells, RF
  8. Scott Sizemore, 2B
  9. Alex Avila, C

P: Brad Penny

TWINS

  1. Ben Revere, CF
  2. Tsuyoshi Nishioka, 2B
  3. Delmon Young, LF
  4. Jason Kubel, DH
  5. Danny Valencia, 3B
  6. Luke Hughes, 1B
  7. Jason Repko, RF
  8. Rene Rivera, C
  9. Alexi Casilla, 2B

P: Jeff Manship

On Robbie Weinhardt and pitching opportunities

I went to the ballpark this morning fully planning to write about the Tigers’ stingy pitching numbers this spring and when they go from pitchers being ahead of hitters in Spring Training to some pitching staffs being ahead of other pitching staffs. I should have known better as soon as I saw Albert Pujols on the Cardinals travel roster.
Funny thing, though, is that I still ended up writing about the pitching, each step along the way until finding one of the few Tigers bright spots of the entire game.
Phil Coke said he felt good until his fourth and final inning, but realistically, he was pitching damage control for much of his day before losing it in the fourth with back-to-back walks. He made no secret of wanting another shot at Albert Pujols after retiring him twice already, but back-to-back walks to load the bases and force in a run took that opportunity away from him.
“I feel like if you leave me out there, I could’ve gotten Pujols again,” Coke said. “But that’s just me. That’s my competitive nature. His at-bats were the ones I physically felt best in. He’s a very dangerous hitter, but I was locked in.”
His walks put Adam Wilk in almost a no-win situation when he entered the fourth inning with the bases loaded and Pujols up, but it’s a test for a reliever. Two innings later, Daniel Schlereth’s four straight walks put a big blemish on his spring pitching line, but it created an opportunity the Tigers no doubt valued for testing ground-ball specialist Robbie Weinhardt. 
Weinhardt didn’t get the ground-ball double play, but a strikeout and a ground ball allowed him to escape the jam without giving up an inherited runner. But he obviously never would’ve gotten that opportunity to prove himself without Schlereth’s control issues.
That’s how Spring Training outings can work out for players, whether they’re ready or not. One guy’s rough afternoon is another pitcher’s opportunity. And through it all, there always seems to be a story. It just might not be the story you planned on writing this morning.

Leyland: Decision on rotation coming soon

Lost in the battles for the final bullpen spots and the second base job is the fact that the Tigers haven’t decided yet who will start the second game of the season or the last game in Baltimore before the home opener. Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello already have their assignments, but Phil Coke and Brad Penny do not. One of them is expected to make those two starts, and the other will either be held back or work out of the bullpen for the first week of the season.

“Somebody’s going to be skipped a turn,” Jim Leyland said this morning. “That’s going to be worked out shortly.”
It’s a short-term decision made necessary by having two off-days in the first week. Once the Tigers get back to Detroit, they have a long stretch of games without an off-day, and the five starters will slot in turn. But the decision could have a big impact on the road trip and what kind of momentum they take home with them.
Coke (who starts today) and Penny (who starts Thursday against the Twins) have been starting back-to-back this spring, so you can’t make out anything from the pitching order. Penny would have to take an extra day of rest to fall in line for the March 2 game at Yankee Stadium. Coke would have two extra days, so he might throw an extra side session or something.

Martinez scratched with stiff neck

Victor Martinez was walking around the clubhouse Wednesday, but his stiff neck is going to keep him out of the starting lineup as a precaution. John Murrian, just sent to minor-league camp Tuesday, heads back across the street today to start at catcher.

Leyland confirmed Magglio Ordonez and Jhonny Peralta are getting days off. They were here for the workouts, but they’ll be heading out shortly.
The new Tigers lineup:
TIGERS
  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Will Rhymes, 2B
  3. Clete Thomas, RF
  4. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
  5. Brennan Boesch, LF
  6. Brandon Inge, 3B
  7. Alex Avila, DH
  8. Ramon Santiago, SS
  9. John Murrian, C
P: Phil Coke, Adam Wilk, Ryan Perry, Jose Valverde, Daniel Schlereth, Robbie Weinhardt.
CARDINALS
  1. Ryan Theriot, SS
  2. Colby Rasmus, CF
  3. Albert Pujols, 1B
  4. David Freese, 3B
  5. Lance Berkman, DH
  6. Allen Craig, RF
  7. Skip Schumaker, 2B
  8. Yadier Molina, C
  9. Jon Jay, LF
P: Chris Carpenter, Brian Tallet, John Gast, Joe Kelly, Lance Lynn, Raul Valdes
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