June 30th, 2011

Oliveros reportedly to Detroit, Alburquerque to DL

As you may have heard by now, Lester Oliveros is apparently heading to the Tigers. The report originally came from Venezuelan media, and was followed by an update on Twitter, supposedly from his brother Rainer, congratulating him on his call-up. Finally, we have confirmation from John Wagner of the Toledo Blade from Fifth Third Field, where Oliveros’ locker is reportedly empty.

The first thought on this was that the Tigers were straightening out their bullpen now that Brayan Villarreal wasn’t needed as an emergency reliever. Then came the report from Wagner that Chance Ruffin is being promoted from Double-A Erie to take Oliveros’ spot. So either somebody is heading all the way down to Erie (unlikely, since Villarreal was in Toledo when he was called up to Detroit Wednesday), or somebody is headed off the active roster, either through the disabled list or the temporary inactive list.

The only known injury concern in the bullpen in recent weeks was Al Alburquerque and his previously sore elbow. As of Wednesday, however, it was supposedly no longer a concern, both Alburquerque and head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said. He was on a treatment program that worked well enough that he no longer needed it. Of course, that was before he threw 42 pitches Wednesday night, 21 of which were sliders. That’s actually less than his season average, a 3-to-2 ratio of sliders to fastballs.

UPDATE: FOXSports.com is reporting that Alburquerque is heading to the DL with right elbow inflammation.

Leyland makes final pitch for Avila

Tigers manager Jim Leyland has tried to stay out of the All-Star voting process. He thinks it comes down to a popularity contest and stuffing ballots. That said, he basically asked Tigers fans to do the same for his catcher.

“I’ve never really got into that, but I think it’s a no-brainer, and I hope that they do get behind him,” Leyland said. “It would be an absolute shame, in my opinion, if Alex Avila’s not on the All-Star team. That would be a shame. He deserves it, so I hope they stuff ballots, do whatever they want. I know I’m contradicting myself, but it would be a shame if he’s not on the team.”

Online balloting is the only way to vote now, and it ends tonight at 11:59 p.m. ET at MLB.com. The latest results as of Thursday afternoon suggest a late rally for Avila votes in recent hours, with close to 90 percent of votes over the last day going in his favor. If that holds, then it’s a question of how big the final-day vote is.

Coke to bullpen, Furbush to start Monday

The expected switch became official this morning: Phil Coke’s rotation stint is over. He’ll be back in the bullpen this weekend, and Charlie Furbush will be in the rotation starting Monday at Angel Stadium.

“It was not a tough decision,” manager Jim Leyland said. “It was a disappointing decision.”

It was one Leyland knew had to be made. He doesn’t know how Furbush will handle the assignment of being a starting pitcher in the middle of a pennant race, he admitted, but he knows it wasn’t working with Phil Coke.

The numbers from last night’s game recap tell the story. Add Wednesday’s damage to outings against the Diamondbacks and Rockies, and Coke has allowed 18 runs, 16 earned, on 22 hits over his last 13 2/3 innings. Though he tossed 6 1/3 scoreless innings against Tampa Bay before this streak, he gave up 10 hits and six runs, four earned, in five innings to the Rangers before that.

While three American League pitchers have suffered more losses than Coke (1-8) this year, they’ve all won more recently. His lone victory came April 14, and his stretch of 12 winless starts is the longest by a Tigers starter since the Tigers’ 119-loss team of 2003. Adam Bernero went 0-10 over a 17-start stretch that began June 15, 2002 and ended May 31, 2003. Just days before that, Mike Maroth ended his own 12-start winless streak.

Thursday: Tigers vs Mets

1. Austin Jackson, cf
2. Don Kelly, 3b
3. Brennan Boesch, rf
4. Miguel Cabrera, 1b
5. Victor Martinez, dh
6. Andy Dirks, lf
7. Jhonny Peralta, ss
8. Alex Avila, c
9. Ramon Santiago, 2b
P: Justin Verlander

Villarreal up, Schlereth down

Before Wednesday’s game, Jim Leyland seemed ready to stick it out with Daniel Schlereth and try to get his command right. Then came Wednesday’s 16-9 loss to the Mets.

Now comes Brayan Villarreal because, simply put, the Tigers need a fresh body in their bullpen in case this red-hot Mets lineup somehow knocks out Justin Verlander early.

Villarreal was scheduled to start for Triple-A Toledo on Thursday, having made the transition to the Mud Hens rotation as soon as the Tigers optioned him out earlier this season. He is 0-5 with a 4.41 ERA for Toledo, but he has better learned about using his changeup, as he said a few weeks ago.

Unless the Tigers have an injury, Schlereth can’t come back to the big leagues for at least 10 days. The question now is whether the Tigers might use the opening to bring back Brad Thomas when he’s ready, or maybe shift Phil Coke back to the bullpen. Leyland said Wednesday the Tigers have pondered some possibilities with Coke, but they haven’t made any decision.

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