May 4th, 2011

Wednesday: Tigers vs. Yankees

Jim Leyland’s plan to shuffle his lineup gets his first run today, despite Magglio’s two-hit game last night. Ordonez bats sixth, with Brennan Boesch up to third in front of Miguel Cabrera.

So why not bat Cabrera third if they’re going to drop Magglio, you ask? The point Jim Leyland made when asked about that debate Tuesday is that he still wants the best shot possible of getting men on base in front of him. Boesch gives him a little better shot. If things were really desperate and Leyland wanted to get Cabrera a better chance at an extra at-bat above all else, he hinted, he might do it.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Scott Sizemore, 2B
  3. Brennan Boesch, LF
  4. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
  5. Victor Martinez, DH
  6. Magglio Ordonez, RF
  7. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  8. Alex Avila, C
  9. Brandon Inge, 3B
P: Max Scherzer

Zumaya to have exploratory surgery after all

Joel Zumaya’s 2011 season sounds likely over before it ever began. The Tigers announced that the hard-throwing, but injury-riddled reliever will undergo exploratory surgery next Tuesday to determine what is ailing in his right elbow.

The move is expected to sideline him for the rest of the season. Head athletic trainer Kevin Rand put Zumaya’s chances of pitching this year at “doubtful.”

The decision, Rand said, was Zumaya’s call. He phoned Rand a couple days ago to let him know he wasn’t feeling any improvement at all in the elbow over the last two weeks. The plan was to have him rest and rehab for six weeks before checking on how he felt.

It was the second time they were trying rest and rehab, and it basically one last shot to try to avoid surgery. But even last time, which didn’t work, Zumaya’s elbow supposedly felt better a week into it. Not this time.

“This time, he doesn’t feel any different than he did two weeks ago,” Rand said.

If Zumaya doesn’t return this summer, his 2011 season will have consisted of an encouraging preseason rehab and one Spring Training outing, during which his elbow flared up. He underwent season-ending surgery last summer to repair a fractured bone at the tip of his elbow, but hasn’t thrown off a mound since that Spring Training appearance Feb. 27.

Multiple MRI exams and other tests have shown no major structural damage in his elbow, but the pain pops back up when he tries to throw. The surgery, which Dr. James Andrews will conduct at his office in Pensacola, Fla., will figure that out once and for all.

If he doesn’t return this season, his last pitch as a Tiger might well be that fateful delivery on the mound in Minnesota last June, when his crumbled to the ground in pain with the fracture.

Zumaya is eligible for free agency this winter. His hope was that a strong 2011 season would vault him into a strong position on a reliever market that yielded big contracts for setup men in recent years. What happens with him this winter is unclear.

It’s an incredible position for someone who looked like one of baseball’s best young relievers when he broke into the Majors as a rookie in 2006. His 6-3 record, 1.94 ERA and 97 strikeouts over 83 1/3 innings played a major role in Detroit’s surprise run to the World Series that year.

Zumaya pitched in 62 games that year. He has pitched in 109 games over the last five years combined as injuries took their toll. Each time, he came back with the same 100 mph fastball. But each time, a different injury would sideline him — a ruptured tendon in his right middle finger in 2007, a damage AC joint that required reconstructive surgery that winter, a stress fracture in his shoulder in 2008 and 2009, and the elbow last year. His 31 appearances in 2010 marked his highest total since his rookie year.

The Tigers prepared themselves for not having Zumaya last winter, signing free agent Joaquin Benoit to a three-year contract and guaranteeing a contract for high-strikeout minor leaguer Al Alburquerque out of winter ball in the Dominican Republic.

Penny, Schlereth save depleted bullpen

Give this to Brad Penny: Even when he doesn’t have his best stuff, he finds a way to get through innings. He had two quality starts in his first six outings leading into Tuesday’s rematch against the Yankees, but he pitched into the seventh inning in half of his starts, including seven-inning performances in each of his last two outings.

It took some work, and a little help, but he got through six innings when the Tigers arguably needed them most. Once he did, Daniel Schlereth turned what was essentially a three-man bullpen Tuesday night into a two-man job to cover the final three innings.

Even Penny wasn’t quite sure how they pulled it off.

“They had me on the hook early,” Penny said. “They had me [looking at a] five-inning start. You better believe it. And I don’t know, the second time through, every one of them were swinging first pitch, second pitch. Today my stuff wasn’t great, and they bailed me out.”

The first two innings took 49 pitches out of Penny, almost evenly split between them. He faced four full counts his first time through the Yankees batting order. After that, though, the long at-bats seemed to disppear, and early outs seemed to emerge.

It’s possible Penny wasn’t giving himself enough credit for it, because others did.

“He knows what he’s doing; mixes it up a little bit,” Derek Jeter said. “Early on, we got his pitch count up pretty good, but we just couldn’t get too many things going. When he first came up, he’d just rear it back and throw it by you. And now it seems like he’s pitching a little bit more.”

He’s pitching, all right, with a slightly different arsenal.

“The second time through the order, we kind of changed speeds a little bit,” Avila said. “He threw a few more offspeed pitches, a few more curveballs earlier in the count, and we were able to get a lot of first-pitch outs that way. But the thing with him: He’s been able to find a two-seamer, a sinker. When he’s been able to locate that, that’s his best pitch. When he’s able to locate his fastball, it just makes everything else better.”

What saved him more pitches in his later innings, and certainly saved the Tigers some potentially tough decisions on whether to go to the bullpen, were the outs on the basepaths. The Yankees tried an ill-advised test of Casper Wells in right field, seemingly not knowing the arm Wells had to throw out Andruw Jones at the plate. More valuable were the back-to-back outs that Robinson Cano and Jorge Posada made between first and second.

Penny, it turns out, was dealing with a sore intercostal muscle at the time. He insists he could’ve pitched another inning, but Leyland wanted to be cautious.

“We caught a break, and we took advantage of it,” manager Jim Leyland said. “But that was huge.”

Interesting to ponder whether Joe Girardi would’ve been so aggressive had he known about Wells’ arm, and especially about the Tigers’ bullpen and Penny’s nagging injury. But then, while Schlereth knew about the Tigers’ bullpen woes Monday, he didn’t know he’d be the solution of them.

With two innings and two hits, Schlereth inherited a 4-1 lead and left at 4-2, having filled two innings. He allowed a Mark Teixeira home run, but made sure no one else was on base for it.

“I knew I was going to throw the seventh probably,” Schlereth said. “And then with the right-handers coming up and with their switch-hitters coming up, I wasn’t totally sure Skip was going to keep me in there or not. But after coming into the dugout, he asked me if I was all right.”

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 215 other followers