June 26th, 2011

Thoughts from Sparky’s #11 retirement ceremony

Sparky Anderson's grandchildren unveil his retired number on the Comerica Park wall (Getty Images).

Somewhat surprisingly, we didn’t hear a lot of stories about Sparky Anderson on Sunday, though the few that were told were pretty good. His daughter, Shirlee Engelbrecht, admitted that even she sometimes didn’t agree with her dad’s decisions to pull the starter.

“I did get caught a couple times booing when Captain Hook would come out,” she said Sunday morning. “I did get up, and one time he noticed when he was coming back [from the mound]. I was screaming with the crowd. But I think he set a trend, because there’s not a whole lot who start a game and finish it now.”

To family, he wasn’t Sparky. He was either George or dad. But he still had the ability to deal with people and get the best out of them.

“One time in fourth grade, I got three D’s, and I was petrified to tell my dad,” Engelbrecht said. “And my mom said I had to. He was sitting on the stairs, and I had to tell him. And I went over and I told him. He said, ‘Young lady, did you do your very best?’ I said, ‘Oh, yeah, of course I did.’ He said, ‘Did you study? Did you do all your homework assignments?’ And I said, ‘Aw, yeah.’ And then I started realizing what he’s getting at.

“And by the end, he said, ‘If those D’s are your best, those are A’s to me. And if it’s not your very best, then do something about it.’ And I did. I brought them up.”

Sparky’s kids brought out a side very few of us had heard about, but a reflection of what many knew all along, that he had a big heart off the field. His former players reflected that more in lessons than in quotes.

“I still live to this today: It’s not rocket science, as he used to put it,” Dan Petry said. “It’s just to treat people like you would want to be treated. That’s pretty easy. You don’t want to be treated poorly by people and be run over and abused. That’s the way Sparky lived each and every day, that no matter who you were or how high on the totem pole or anything, everybody was treated the same.”

The best quote of the entire weekend, I thought, came from Larry Herndon. When he asked if there was one big lesson he learned from Sparky, he summed it up like this:

“I was an average ballplayer,” he said, “and so my ability took me as far as I could go. But being around Sparky taught me I didn’t have to be an average man or an average person.”

Guillen to start rehab assignment at Lakeland

Just when you lose track of Carlos Guillen’s road back, he progresses to the point that he’s now headed out on rehab. He’ll start Monday at Class A Lakeland at designated hitter, then start progressing at second base by innings — five starting out, then increasing from there. The goal is to have him playing nine innings every time out by the end of the week.

“It’s very similar to what we’d be doing in spring training,” head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said. “Basically, you’re looking at a guy who hasn’t had a spring training.”

The reports on Guillen are more encouraging now then they were earlier. The back issues have cleared up, and the work he put in to strengthen his knee while he was sidelined with back issues have paid off.

“The next step is, he’s got to play,” Rand said.

Most likely, he’ll spend at least this week down at Lakeland, maybe longer, and progress to another level up the ladder to continue rehab. It will not be a short rehab stint, but I’m not sure how long they can make it. The fact that the All-Star break comes up in two weeks — not just in the Majors, but also the minor leagues — could serve as a big dividing point.

Sunday: Tigers vs. Diamondbacks

Jim Leyland had said Saturday night he planned to give Alex Avila the day game off following the pitches off his wrist the last couple nights. Victor Martinez gets the start behind the plate.

TIGERS

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

P: Brad Penny

DIAMONDBACKS

  1. Willie Bloomquist, 2B
  2. Stephen Drew, SS
  3. Justin Upton, RF
  4. Chris Young, CF
  5. Miguel Montero, C
  6. Wily Mo Pena, DH
  7. Xavier Nady, 1B
  8. Gerardo Parra, LF
  9. Melvin Mora, 3B

P: Joe Saunders

Verlander is on another level

This is what Jim Leyland was talking about when he talked about Verlander meeting his potential for so many years, when he talked about how good he can be. He obviously wasn’t the only one.

Verlander has gone on tears during June before. He has said in the past that he believes he had better stuff in the start before his no-hitter in 2007, starting a stretch in which he won four straight starts with four runs on 16 hits allowed over 29 innings, and struck out 35.

This is something different. If not for a 24-pitch eighth inning, he would’ve had a chance at his third straight complete game and his third shutout of the year. He’s 6-0 with a 0.72 ERA over his last six starts, allowing just 26 hits and five walks over 49 2/3 innings with 51 strikeouts.

Stretch it out to 10 starts, beginning with the no-hitter at Toronto, and he’s 8-0 with a 1.56 ERA, 43 hits allowed over 80 2/3 innings, nine walks and 73 strikeouts.

He’s leaving hitters guessing whether they’re going to get a hard fastball or a curveball that he drops in the strike zone. And on Saturday, you can make the case that the curveball was the more dangerous pitch. He threw the curve for a higher percentage of strikes (19-for-25, 76 percent) than he did with the fastball (33-for-50, 66 percent), according to brooksbaseball.net and MLB.com Gameday.

He threw eight of nine sliders for strikes, and 16-for-25 changeups.

The run he’s on is better than any stretch Jack Morris had in 1984. It was better than Mark Fidrych’s eight wins in eights in 1976, though it’s hard to top an 11-inning complete game.

To get a stretch like this, you might have to go back to Mickey Lolich in 1972. From April 25 to May 21, he went 7-0 in seven starts with a 1.14 ERA, allowing 48 hits over 63 innings, with 15 walks and 48 walks. And even that might not compare.

About that Avila hit …

If you thought Alex Avila saw home run on that eighth-inning drive off the left-field wall and didn’t run it out like an extra-base hit, you would be right.

“When I hit it, I thought it would either be over [the left fielder’s] head or out,” Avila said, “and I looked down. They say you’re never supposed to take your eye off the ball when you’re running, and I looked down and hit first base. And I looked up, and he was throwing it in, and by then I was gone. I was going to be out no matter what. I guess it just caromed right to him. That was a heckuva throw. He threw a bullet in there.”

It was an odd play for Avila, who has managed to run his way into some extra bases this year (two-triple game) that defy his image. But his teammates managed to have a little laugh over it.

“That was a little embarrassing,” Avila said, “but Miguel all year has been making fun of the way I run. He thinks it’s funny, so he was joking the way I look when I run was funny to him. But I’ve still got a couple steals over him.”

Avila also took another pitch in the dirt that hit him in his right wrist — right above where he took Ryan Perry’s wild pitch Friday night, Avila said. Jim Leyland said he plans on resting Avila on Sunday.

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