May 2011

Tuesday: Tigers vs. Twins

Whoever figured on seeing Casper Wells in the lineup today against Brian Duensing is a winner. Not only is he starting in right field, he’s batting second for just the second time all year (not counting pinch-hit appearance yesterday). He’s 4-for-7 with two doubles off Twins starter Brian Duensing.

Brandon Inge is 6-for-17 with three doubles off Duensing. Miguel Cabrera has two homers as part of his 5-for-18. Can’t just be a righty-lefty thing, though, because Ryan Raburn is just 2-for-16 against him. He’s starting in left anyway.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Casper Wells, RF
  3. Brennan Boesch, DH
  4. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
  5. Victor Martinez, C
  6. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  7. Brandon Inge, 3B
  8. Ryan Raburn, LF
  9. Danny Worth, 2B

P: Max Scherzer

TWINS

  1. Denard Span, CF
  2. Alexi Casilla, 2B
  3. Justin Morneau, 1B
  4. Michael Cuddyer, RF
  5. Jim Thome, DH
  6. Danny Valencia, 3B
  7. Delmon Young, LF
  8. Rene Rivera, C
  9. Matt Tolbert, SS

P: Brian Duensing

About that interference call

Somebody in the Comerica Park box office put it best: No matter whether the umpires ruled on the eighth-inning interference call, whether Jhonny Peralta was allowed to score or had to stay at third base, one manager was going to get thrown out of the game.

Since Peralta came home with the go-ahead run and wasn’t sent back, it was Twins manager Ron Gardenhire getting tossed. And upon further review, he might have been right to react that way.

It was a very close play from a distance that no umpire usually has to make a ruling like that. And to be fair, I can’t be sure whether crew chief Gary Darlling actually meant that the fan in the orange shirt committed the interference that was called, or whether he was one of the people who touched it after one of the fans leaning over the railing touched it. The latter makes more sense, and from the camera angles available during the game, I thought it was hard to tell. It seemed like the indication on the field was that the second fan leaning over the railing might have touched it. One would think it would’ve been easier to tell from field level.

But if it really was the fan in the orange who was the first to touch the ball, replays showed he wasn’t leaning out into the field of play to do it. He really wasn’t leaning out at all until after the ball hit the boy beside him. That’s the difference between an interference call and a ground-rule double, which is the difference between an umpire’s discretion to allow a runner coming around third to score, and an automatic two-base ruling which would’ve left Peralta at third.

“I don’t care who it hit,” Gardenhire said. “When it hits a fan in the stands, it’s a ground-rule double and you don’t score. However you want to call it, that guy doesn’t score. So it doesn’t make sense to me, and what they told me didn’t make any sense, either.”

I’ve seen people on the message boards make the case that Delmon Young paid for giving up on that play too quickly, that he was supposedly too lazy to run it down and make a play at the play plate. Sorry, but whatever the ruling, I’m not buying that. Every player I can think of on highlights like that goes for the interference signal as soon as they notice it. I’ve never heard anybody coached not to do that. The sooner the signal, the sooner the call, the better chance of getting the runner held at third. If the two sides were reversed and it’s, say, Ryan Raburn or Andy Dirks in left field and he plays through the play, he would be crucified for not making it clear that ball was interfered with.

Let’s be honest: That’s a play where, based on how the umpires rule, whichever team benefits from the call supposedly did everything right to sell it. And on the other side, somebody will use it as further evidence for expansion of replay review.

Remember all the calls that went against the Tigers last year around this time? Jim Joyce? The phantom strike three on Johnny Damon in Atlanta? Well, this one went in their favor.

A few other notes before I finish up what’s left of this holiday weekend:

  • If you thought Brad Penny was throwing a lot more curveballs than usual, you would be right. According to brooksbaseball.net, using data from MLB.com Gameday, 28 of Penny’s 105 pitches were curveballs, or about 26 percent. That’s double the percentage of curveballs from all his previous outings this season, according to fangraphs.com. Both Penny and Alex Avila said the curveball was working well and they wanted to establish it early, then it waned a bit later. By contrast, brooksbaseball.net had him with only 14 sinkers today, a lot less than he’s been throwing it lately. But fastball command probably played into that.
  • Jim Leyland talked after the game about guys needing to expand their strike zone just a bit when they get into two-strike counts in situations where they need to put the ball in play to get a run in. He said that comes with experience. Still, it’s hard to accuse Austin Jackson of not expanding his strike zone, sometimes a little too much in some situations.
  • For all that will be made of Leyland’s decision to hit Casper Wells in place of Andy Dirks, it’s very difficult to dismiss the righty-lefty idea in that situation, especially with Phil Dumatrait on the mound. Wells played with Dumatrait at Triple-A Toledo early last season. For Wells so far this season, the splits are reversed, he has actually been a little better against right-handers than left-handers, and his strikeout rate is higher against lefties.

Monday: Tigers vs. Twins

The Twins got into town from Minneapolis last night and are taking batting practice this morning as I write this. The Tigers, having been at the ballpark all day and half the night yesterday, are hitting inside. We’ll see if there’s any difference in energy level with the way the weekend unfolded differently for these two clubs.

The Twins arrive in town with the worst record in the Majors, and among American League clubs, there’s no one in their neighorhood. Minnesota has 17 wins; nobody else in the AL has fewer than 23. It’s a pretty competitive league in general, and then there’s the Twins. Leyland says they’ll be back in it, because they always are. You wonder, though, at what point they have to show signs of getting back in it before Minnesota starts thinking about next season. I’m not talking about signs of contention. I’m talking about at least not having the worst record in the AL, on which the Twins own a five-game deficit. They need to get some players back, obviously, and Joe Mauer is at the top of the list, though it sounds like Nishioka is close.

The encouraging sign for them is that their starting pitchers are coming around, with a 2.79 ERA and .218 batting average allowed in their last 12 games, and seven-inning performances in nine of them. Over that 12-game stretch, though, the starters are 3-3.

A couple ugly numbers for the guys in the Tigers lineup against Nick Blackburn: Brandon Inge is 4-for-22, while Jhonny Peralta is 3-for-20. On the flip side, Miguel Cabrera is 11-for-24 with two home runs off Blackburn, while Austin Jackson is 3-for-10.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Andy Dirks, LF
  3. Brennan Boesch, RF
  4. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
  5. Victor Martinez, DH
  6. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  7. Alex Avila, C
  8. Ryan Raburn, 2B
  9. Brandon Inge, 3B

P: Brad Penny

TWINS

  1. Denard Span, CF
  2. Alexi Casilla, SS
  3. Jason Kubel, RF
  4. Justin Morneau, 1B
  5. Michael Cuddyer, 2B
  6. Jim Thome, DH
  7. Delmon Young, LF
  8. Danny Valencia, 3B
  9. Rene Rivera, C

P: Nick Blackburn

Coke on track to return June 8

I speculated about this last night, but Jim Leyland confirmed it this morning: Phil Coke is on track to make a rehab start for Triple-A Toledo on Friday at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, then return from the disabled list five days later, June 8, at Texas. That’s the first day he’s eligible to come off the DL.

No word yet on a pitch count for that rehab outing, but considering he threw the equivalent of three innings in his bullpen session a couple days ago, I would assume they’ll stretch him out. He has another full bullpen session today before throwing a side session tomorrow.

Andy Oliver will get one more start. The Tigers could have skipped Oliver next weekend if they wanted, thanks to Thursday’s off-day. But with Justin Verlander now on track for an extra day of rest after 132 pitches, Oliver will start on turn Friday at Chicago. It’ll be a good test for him on what’s being forecast as a warm evening at U.S. Cellular Field.

As for Coke, he’ll start against one of his old stops in the Yankees farm system.

Nightcap on FSN Detroit locally

Ok, here’s the deal on the TV situation for the second game of the doubleheader: It’s on FSN Detroit in Michigan and NW Ohio, and NESN in Boston. It’s also on MLB.TV everywhere else. So one way or another, it should now be available just like any other game. That came as a result of talks with ESPN to waive their exclusivity clause for this one.

Sunday night: Tigers vs. Red Sox

As mentioned earlier today, the infield looks a lot different for Game 2. No last-minute changes in addition to that, though.

Jose Valverde said he’s available for Game 2 after taking the loss in the opener. Leyland said Benoit and Purcey should be available as well. Of course, he’d probably prefer Verlander to eat up more innings than that. We’ll see.

As for the weather, well, it looks like nasty weather coming. Guessing they’ll wait for the storm to pass rather than risk losing Verlander and Beckett after an inning or two, but that might depend on how quickly this system goes through.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Andy Dirks, LF
  3. Brennan Boesch, RF
  4. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
  5. Victor Martinez, DH
  6. Don Kelly, 3B
  7. Alex Avila, C
  8. Ramon Santiago, SS
  9. Danny Worth, 2B

P: Justin Verlander

RED SOX

  1. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
  2. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
  3. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
  4. Kevin Youkilis, 3B
  5. David Ortiz, DH
  6. Carl Crawford, LF
  7. Drew Sutton, SS
  8. J.D. Drew, RF
  9. Jason Varitek, C

P: Josh Beckett

Sunday afternoon: Tigers vs. Red Sox

The good news here at Comerica Park is that the sun is out and the temperature feels like summer has arrived. The bad news, of course, is the chance of rain later today, but it sounds like they have a good chance to get in the game. Depending on the forecast, the rain could arrive either late in the day game or between games.

As far as I’m concerned, it can pour between games if that’s what happens. Just get in the games.

I was thinking this yesterday, but Rod Allen made the point those morning: If the Tigers have any chance of slowing down this Red Sox offense, Andy Oliver might be able to do it. Boston’s numbers against right-handed pitchers compared to lefties this season aren’t as different as you might imagine after watching the first two games of this series, not to mention their two games at Fenway last week. But twice, the Tigers have had a lot more success with their lefty long relievers against Boston than their right-handed starters.

Oliver is a different style pitcher than Charlie Furbush or Adam Wilk, or Phil Coke for that matter, more of a power pitcher. But if he can get his slider working, he could present a similar challenge. Oliver had been doing that with Toledo, and he’d been getting some quicker ground-ball outs as a result. But doing that against Triple-A hitters is a lot different than doing that against these guys.

Look for an infield rotation in Game 2. While Jhonny Peralta and Ryan Raburn are the double-play combination for the day game, Jim Leyland said that Ramon Santiago and Danny Worth will get the nightcap. Don Kelly is expected to start at third base in Brandon Inge’s place. Victor Martinez and Alex Avila are going to alternate games behind the plate, as one would expect.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Andy Dirks, LF
  3. Brennan Boesch, DH
  4. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
  5. Victor Martinez, C
  6. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  7. Don Kelly, RF
  8. Ryan Raburn, 2B
  9. Brandon Inge, 3B

P: Andy Oliver

RED SOX

  1. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
  2. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
  3. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
  4. Kevin Youkilis, DH
  5. Jed Lowrie, SS
  6. Carl Crawford, LF
  7. Drew Sutton, 3B
  8. Mike Cameron, RF
  9. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C

P: Clay Buchholz

Rained out. Again.

Once again, the Tigers have a rainout on their schedule. This time, they won’t lose an off-day for a makeup game, but they’ll have a long holiday weekend of baseball on their hands.

Saturday’s game against the Red Sox will be made up as part of a day-night doubleheader. The first game was begin as scheduled at 1:05pm ET. The makeup game will be a 7:05 start.

Unfortunately for those planning to watch at home, that Justin Verlander rematch opposite Josh Beckett is now going to go on without the cameras. Saturday’s scheduled starters, Andy Oliver and Clay Buchholz, will start Sunday’s afternoon tilt, which will be on FSN Detroit and TBS. Verlander and Beckett have been pushed back to the nightcap, which won’t be on television because it falls within ESPN’s exclusive window for its Sunday Night Baseball broadcast.

Saturday: Tigers vs. Red Sox

Well, if Ryan Raburn’s season starts today, as manager Jim Leyland famously stated, then happy Opening Day.

Raburn is indeed at second base, as expected. However, he is further down in the order, batting eighth.

“I want to back off Raburn a little bit, let him relax,” Leyland said.

Meanwhile, Andy Dirks moves up to second because, as Leyland put it, they don’t really have any other realistic options. He doesn’t want to move Avila up, and second wouldn’t make sense for him anyway.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Andy Dirks, LF
  3. Brennan Boesch, RF
  4. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
  5. Victor Martinez, DH
  6. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  7. Alex Avila, C
  8. Ryan Raburn, 2B
  9. Brandon Inge, 3B

P: Andy Oliver

RED SOX

  1. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
  2. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
  3. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
  4. Kevin Youkilis, 3B
  5. David Ortiz, DH
  6. Jed Lowrie, SS
  7. Carl Crawford, LF
  8. Mike Cameron, RF
  9. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C

P: Clay Buchholz

Tigers trade Sizemore to Oakland for Purcey

By Jason Beck / MLB.com

DETROIT — Scott Sizemore was the Tigers’ second baseman of the future a year and half ago, as Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said after the 2009 season. On Friday, he became part of the solution for the Tigers’ relief help of the present.
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Detroit’s deal sending Sizemore to Oakland for left-handed reliever David Purcey was very much a here-and-now trade, as Dombrowski indicated when he talked with reporters. They don’t have a clear-cut replacement at second base at the moment, more like a group to platoon that now includes just-recalled Danny Worth. But they felt they needed to do something about a bullpen that has been bleeding runs lately and doesn’t have a clear seventh-inning order to it.

“The problem we have, of course, is that we’re trying to win games,” Dombrowski said. “We’re trying to help our offense. But one way I look at it is right now, [our scouts] all think that he can make our bullpen stronger. And as you know, we need to make our bullpen stronger. So hopefully, if this helps us with another step of that, and we get [Joaquin] Benoit throwing the way he’s capable of throwing, we’re [better].

“We’re in a spot that we do have other alternatives at second base at this time. And unfortunately, if he was out there hitting a bunch, I’m sure we would be having a different conversation. We just haven’t been successful in getting him going.”

They found their bullpen help with an arm Dombrowski said he had been pursuing since last winter. Purcey was a former first-round pick of the Blue Jays who tried and failed as a starter in Toronto before finding a home in relief last year. He posted a 1-1 record with a save and a 3.71 ERA in 33 games, but the secondary stats were more impressive.

Left-handed hitters batted just .163 (7-for-43) against Purcey last year. Right-handed batters didn’t fare terribly better with a .235 average (19-for-81). The ERA became elevated with help from 15 walks over 34 innings.

Purcey opened the season in a Jays bullpen that had an abundance of left-handed talent. After he gave up three runs on two hits and a walk in a third of an inning April 11 at Seattle, however, Toronto designated him for assignment, leading to a deal to the A’s.

Purcey found his better form in Oakland, where he limited opponents to a .191 average while scattering three runs on nine hits over 12 2/3 innings. He walked three and struck out seven.

“He has an above-average arm, good breaking ball and a good changeup,” Dombrowski said. “We’re looking at somebody who can probably pitch in middle relief, seventh-inningish I would think, somebody that can fit in leading up to [Benoit and Jose Valverde].”

Purcey is expected to fly to Detroit Saturday morning and should be available for that night’s game. He’ll join another lefty-loaded bullpen, but Dombrowski said they see him as more than a lefty specialist.

Sizemore, meanwhile, is headed to join Triple-A Sacramento. It’s another stint for him in the minor leagues at a level where he showed in April he can hit. But it demonstrates a point Dombrowski made, that a return to Toledo made little sense.

Sizemore arrived from the Mud Hens earlier this month with a .408 average (31-for-76) over 23 games and enough extra-base potential that Detroit called up him to replace Will Rhymes at second. He went 3-for-4 with a double in his first game up, but hit just 11-for-59 (.186) in 16 games since. All of those hits were singles.

“Just couldn’t really find my stride,” Sizemore said. “I felt like I was starting to swing good for a couple days, then had a setback or two. Just couldn’t really get it to click, and that happens over the course of a baseball season. You’re not going to hit good forever. You’re going to have hot streaks. You’re going to be in slumps. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to carry out my hot streak long enough up here. I guess this is the result of it.”

Add it together, and his .222 average is two points lower than his average with Detroit last year, when he was coming back from ankle surgery.

“He had that nice short swing, hitting the ball to the opposite field the first day he was here,” Dombrowski said. “All of a sudden, it’s not the same swing — a little longer, taking some pitches on the outside part of the plate that he [once] drove. We’re not putting any pressure on him to drive the ball or anything like that. It’s just, I don’t really know the answer. We don’t know the answer. It’s just right now, I think if he would just settle in and be comfortable, then eventually it could happen for him. But we don’t have that luxury.”

For now, they’ll mix Worth with utility infielder Ramon Santiago and Ryan Raburn, both of whom has started at second in Detroit this year.

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