June 2011

Best Leyland argument ever?

Jim Leyland doesn’t argue very many calls, at least not as many as his personality would suggest. If he’s coming out of the dugout to talk with an umpire, he’s more likely looking for an explanation than a fight. He knows he isn’t going to change anybody’s mind, so what’s the point? He doesn’t believe in ejections as motivational tools for his team.

And then there are times like Monday.

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There was Leyland, arms flailing, head bobbing as he shouted at Ed Rapuano. There was rookie outfielder Andy Dirks in the background of the camera shot, and it was hard to tell if he was looking on in shock or trying to keep a straight face.

Yes, I remember when Leyland took an argument into the seventh inning stretch and stopped for God Bless America before picking it up. I also remember Leyland last August at Yankee Stadium and hearing the famous line, “They’re going to the playoffs, I ain’t going anywhere.”

To me, Monday topped that. The theatrics are the difference. There was a split second when I half-expected Leyland to stomp on first base. Thankfully, he didn’t.

It wasn’t the call he was arguing, but the method in which the call was reached. And that actually contributed to the theatrics.

Monday: Tigers vs. Blue Jays

Austin Jackson gets the night off after his two-strikeout eighth inning Sunday. Andy Dirks gets his first start in six days, and bats leadoff. Don Kely gets a start at third base and bats second.

“You don’t want to forget about him,” Jim Leyland said today. “I just want to give him a game.”

Reminder: Today’s game is at 6:05 p.m., not 7:05. The move was made with tonight’s fireworks downtown in mind. If you’re going to the game tonight and you’re reading this from home, you might want to pick up the pace.

TIGERS

  1. Andy Dirks, CF
  2. Don Kelly, 3B
  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. Ryan Raburn, 2B

P: Max Scherzer

BLUE JAYS

  1. Yunel Escobar, SS
  2. Eric Thames, LF
  3. Jose Bautista, RF
  4. Adam Lind, 1B
  5. Aaron Hill, 2B
  6. Corey Patterson, DH
  7. Jose Molina, C
  8. Jayson Nix, 3B
  9. Rajai Davis, CF

P: Zach Stewart

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.

Saturday: Tigers vs. Diamondbacks

With no Don Kelly to bat there and not a lot of confidence in Ryan Raburn right now, Jim Leyland takes his two third-spot candidates and pairs them up. Boesch moves up to second, while Magglio bats third.

TIGERS
1. Austin Jackson, CF
2. Brennan Boesch, LF
3. Magglio Ordonez, RF
4. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
5. Victor Martinez, DH
6. Jhonny Peralta, SS
7. Alex Avila, C
8. Brandon Inge, 3B
9. Ramon Santiago, SS

Leyland on Raburn: “He’s pressing”

Ryan Raburn has established a pattern over the past month, ever since getting his average back over the .200 mark on June 4. He’ll hit his way close to .210, fall back to around .200, and then hit again. He has been up and down about three times now.

His average is now back at .201 after his 0-for-3 performance Friday night before Don Kelly pinch-hit for him in the ninth, and he’s in an 0-for-10 slump. His manager, meanwhile, is trying again to get him to loosen up.

“It’s obviously at the stage now where he’s pressing,” Jim Leyland said after Friday’s loss to Arizona. “I talked with him today. We had a good chat today, and I think he’s obviously pressing at this point.”

As Leyland pointed out, his 0-for-3 really had next to nothing to do with the way Friday’s loss unfolded, though his error certainly didn’t help. Still, if Raburn’s in a slump, the question about his role is certain to come up.

Raburn started all six games on the Tigers’ recent Interleague road trip, in part because his ability to shift from second base to left field made him an easy double-switch maneuver. It also allowed Leyland to insert Ramon Santiago in the middle of a game where he saw fit, as he did quite a bit on the road without a DH. Now that the Tigers are back to American League normalcy, it’ll be interesting to see how the mix changes.

Santiago’s switch-hitting bat and sure glove could be back into a mix. Don Kelly is back at utility work, as you might have heard, but he literally hasn’t played a single inning at second base since 2009. Danny Worth, of course, is back at Toledo. Will Rhymes, the opening day starter at second base for Detroit, is batting .294 with the Hens with one good small-ball numbers, though he has been struggling lately.

Sparky’s ceremony set for 12:45 Sunday

Waiting on a final list of former players expected to attend, but the Tigers announced that the Sparky Anderson #11 retirement ceremony on Sunday will start at 12:45 p.m. ET ahead of the 1:05 game time. His three children and their spouses will be there, as well two grandchildren and one nephew. Owner Mike Ilitch and team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski will also take part, representing the team.

Dan Dickerson will emcee the ceremonies.

The Tigers will also start selling the Sparky Anderson memorial patch at the Tigers retail shops at the ballpark. Price is $11, with proceeds going to CATCH, the charity Sparky founded in 1987 to help improve quality of life for kids receiving care at Children’s Hospital of Michigan and Henry Ford Hospital.

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