July 2011

Was Aybar right to bunt?

There were plenty of contentious topics coming out of Sunday’s win, from what seemed like a misunderstanding from Jered Weaver over Magglio Ordonez’s home run to what looked like a threat from Justin Verlander to get Erick Aybar next year after keeping his poise on the mound all day. But one of the lingering questions was Aybar’s bunt leading off the eighth inning, and whether he violated baseball’s unwritten rulebook doing it.

Verlander tried to look at both sides, but the pitcher in him couldn’t hide his disdain for it.

“Very surprised,” Verlander said after the game. “It’s a three-run game, a close game, but there’s arguments both ways. Obviously, from a pitching standpoint, that’s kind of, we like to call it bush league. But there’s arguments both sides of it. It’s a three run game, if you get a guy on base, you never know what can happen. Those things work themselves out.”

Later, he tweaked his answer, albeit slightly.

“From a pitcher’s perspective, yes,” Verlander said when asked if that play was wrong. “From the Angels’ perspective, I doubt they feel that way. It’s a three-run game. You never know what can happen if you get a guy on base. I know there’s probably two vastly different opinions on that based on which side of the locker room you’re on right now.”

That would be correct, though both managers said Aybar had the right to try it.

“Beautiful play,” manager Jim Leyland said. “I’ll be in the minority with the people who didn’t like that, I disagree with that totally. They’ve got a good team with a lot of speed. They’re trying to win a pennant, just like we, are I don’t have any problem with that play whatsoever. He’s trying to get on base and as it turned out, it was a big play for them because that was one that got it going for them. I have no problem with that. That’s baseball. You’re supposed to play the game right. They play the game right.”

The score at the time, obviously, is the key.

“That’s a great baseball play,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “If the score’s 10-0, obviously it’s a different situation. We’re trying to get that trying run to the plate. Leading off an inning, you use whatever weapon you have.”

Closer Jose Valverde said it basically depends on which team you’re following.

“You know, it’s baseball,” he said. “There’s nothing you can do. Everything tries to do the most they can. Aybar, that’s part of his game. Everybody plays a different game. Do I like it? No, I don’t like it, because I want my guy to throw a no-hitter. But everybody plays a different game. There’s nothing you can do about that. If I play for Anaheim, I don’t like what Carlos did. But I like it, because Carlos plays on my team.”

Aybar’s response was pretty much on that point.

“That’s my game,” he said. “I don’t have a problem with that. Verlander was great today. So we tried to get back [into the game].”

Sunday: Tigers vs. Angels

Miguel Cabrera gets a day at DH, with Victor Martinez at first base. Don Kelly gets another start at third. So far as I know, Wilson Betemit is not injured. I do know he’s 1-for-8 against Jered Weaver.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Brennan Boesch, LF
  3. Magglio Ordonez, RF
  4. Miguel Cabrera, DH
  5. Victor Martinez, 1B
  6. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  7. Carlos Guillen, 2B
  8. Alex Avila, C
  9. Don Kelly, 3B

P: Justin Verlander

ANGELS

  1. Maicer Izturis, 2B
  2. Torii Hunter, RF
  3. Bobby Abreu, DH
  4. Vernon Wells, LF
  5. Alberto Callaspo, 3B
  6. Erick Aybar, SS
  7. Mark Trumbo, 1B
  8. Peter Bourjos, CF
  9. Jeff Mathis, C

P: Jered Weaver

Another Tigers trade? Maybe, but not big

Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski didn’t rule out another trade before Sunday afternoon’s non-waiver Trade Deadline. But judging from his remarks, if something does happen, it’s likely to be a smaller swap. The roster, for the most part, is set.

“I don’t know if we’ll do anything,” Dombrowski said Saturday afternoon after announcing the trade for Doug Fister and David Pauley.

“I mean, we continue to talk to people, see if there’s ways to make our club better. Again, you never tell what comes out of the blue at this point. Anything can come out of the blue. But our starting pitching, we feel this solidifies our starting rotation. We’re not going to make any moves with our positional players. The way our club settles is the way it is. I guess if there’s one spot that came out of the blue, it might be a bullpen situation, but if we finished here, we’d be happy.”

The Tigers reportedly remain in the mix for Colorado starter Ubaldo Jimenez, but it’s difficult to see them pulling off a deal unless the Rockies’ asking price drops dramatically. After reports Friday night suggested the Rockies wanted Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer, Dombrowski said Saturday that any trade discussion involving their current starters is and has been a non-starter.

“We have never, ever contemplated trading anybody off our starting staff at this level,” Dombrowski said. “That never has been part of any conversations. Have we been asked for that? Yes. Have we ever contemplated or talked about that? No.

“And when you really stop and think about it, it would make no sense whatsoever, because you’re trying to plug a hole and you just created another hole.”

Conceivably, the Tigers could trade a starter and upgrade to another starter now that Fister is in the fold. But the core group of the Tigers rotation looks very much intact. When Dombrowski talked about his starting staff and where Turner fits in, he talked about them as a long-term group.

Ace Justin Verlander is under contract for three more seasons. Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer don’t hit free agency until the same time. With that in mind, part of the appeal for the Tigers with Fister was that they can keep him for four more years after this before he can become a free agent.

“We’re very happy,” Dombrowski said. “All of a sudden, you look forward and we’re in a spot where you have Verlander and Scherzer and Porcello, who we can see now starting to dial it up like he’s capable, and Fister, who’s a very good pitcher. Four young guys, four guys for an extended period, and we still have Jacob Turner behind them.”

The most likely area for a last-second deal would be the bullpen, where Charlie Furbush’s trade to Seattle removes arguably the most versatile piece of Detroit’s relief corps. More than a long reliever, Furbush was finding his way into specialist situations at times after moving out of the rotation, given his high-strikeout arsenal.

Daniel Schlereth now appears likely to stick around along with Phil Coke, but the Tigers still have to help David Purcey rediscover his command given his recent spat of walks. They could also yet find a seventh-inning arm to complement Al Alburquerque, who remains unavailable while the team medical staff addresses inflammation around his right elbow.

Tigers get Fister, Pauley

The Tigers’ month-long search for starting pitching is over. Detroit filled its most important need heading into Sunday’s non-waiver Trade Deadline by acquiring right-hander Doug Fister from Seattle on Saturday for a package of prospects.

The Tigers also get right-handed reliever David Pauley from Seattle, fortifying a bullpen that had been short on right-handed middle relief for most of the year. In return, Detroit sent left-hander Charlie Furbush, outfielder Casper Wells, third base prospect Francisco Martinez and a player to be named later, likely a prospect drafted last year. By rule, players cannot be traded until a year after signing their first professional contract.

Fister owns a 3-12 record, but it’s a better reflection of the Mariners’ struggles than the 27-year-old’s pitching. His 3.33 ERA ranks 20th among AL starters, ahead of every current Detroit starter not named Justin Verlander. His 1.17 WHIP ratio ranks 15th. His run support, on the other hand, ranks dead last.

He isn’t a high-strikeout pitcher by any stretch, but he’s someone who — ironically, given his record — will give his team a chance to win.

The 28-year-old Pauley owns a 5-4 record and 2.15 record, allowing 38 hits over 54 1/3 innings.  He has seven holds and one blown save opportunity.

Tigers calling up Turner, closing in on deal

Forget about Tigers top prospect Jacob Turner going to Colorado. It appears the right-hander is coming to Detroit. But if the Tigers can complete trade talks in the coming hours, it also appears that it won’t be a long stay.

Turner was abruptly scratched from his scheduled start for Double-A Erie last night and left the SeaWolves, who were in Akron for a weekend series. That move, which was confirmed Friday night, prompted speculation he was about to be traded, especially after a Foxsports.com report suggested the Tigers were willing to include him in a trade package for Rockies ace Ubaldo Jimenez.

Instead, he’s expected to be called up by the Tigers to start Saturday night against the Angels at Comerica Park in what would be his Major League debut. SI.com’s Jon Heyman first reported the call-up.

Now, that start is sounding more like a spot assignment. CBSSports.com’s Danny Knobler reports that the Tigers are hopeful of completing a deal today with the Mariners for right-hander Doug Fister. That trade could include Tigers left-handed prospect Charlie Furbush, Knobler reported.

It wouldn’t be the blockbuster some might have hoped the Tigers would do with Jimenez, but it would fill Detroit’s fifth starter void quite nicely without forcing Detroit to sell out its farm system. Though the 27-year-old Fister owns a 3-12 record, his 3.33 ERA ranks 20th among AL starters, ahead of every current Detroit starter not named Justin Verlander. His 1.17 WHIP ratio ranks 15th.

Turner scratched from Erie start … now what?

Jacob Turner was set to start for Double-A Erie on Saturday at Akron against Drew Pomeranz in a matchup of two of baseball’s top pitching prospects. It was going to be a scout’s delight, especially if that scout happened to be with the Rockies, whose ace Ubaldo Jimenez has drawn interest from Detroit and Cleveland.

Sounds like quite a showcase, except that Turner won’t be starting for Erie on Saturday, according to a source. Drew Smyly, the highly-regarded Tigers draft pick from last year who had been promoted to start for Erie on Sunday, will start on Saturday instead. It would’ve been his day to pitch on normal rest if he had stayed at Class A Lakeland anyway.

As for Turner, his whereabouts are unknown. He isn’t in Akron with the SeaWolves, having left the team Friday, and Tigers officials weren’t answering questions about his status Friday night. SI.com’s Jon Heyman reported early Saturday morning that the Tigers are calling up Turner. But Duane Below, the Tigers’ scheduled starter for Saturday, was spotted in the Tigers clubhouse after Friday’s game, and he wasn’t seen packing his bags.

That leaves three possibilities:

  1. Turner could be on the verge of being traded. A report from Foxsports.com’s Ken Rosenthal stated the Tigers are now willing to deal Jacob Turner in a package for Jimenez. But a report later Friday from Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com suggested the Tigers were out of the running for Jimenez for now. Unless the Tigers get a top pitching target for longer than a two-month rental, it’s unlikely they would trade Turner, who’s expected to compete for a rotation spot next spring.
  2. Turner could indeed be on the verge of joining the Tigers. Detroit just happened to move him up in Erie’s rotation over the All-Star break so that his start conveniently fell on the same day as the Tigers’ fifth spot currently held by Below. Tigers officials still said at the time that he wasn’t a consideration, but sources suggested there was some serious thought on the matter. At the very least, he became an insurance option. He has better stuff than most pitchers available on the trade market, and the Tigers ended Friday with seemingly no clear path on their trade pursuits.
  3. Turner is away from the team for other reasons. As crazy as that sounds, it’s conceivable if a family issue popped up or he had other personal reasons.

Friday: Tigers vs. Angels

TIGERS

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

P: Rick Porcello

ANGELS

  1. Maicer Izturis, 2B
  2. Erick Aybar, SS
  3. Torii Hunter, RF
  4. Bobby Abreu, DH
  5. Alberto Callaspo, 3B
  6. Howie Kendrick, LF
  7. Mark Trumbo, 1B
  8. Peter Bourjos, CF
  9. Bobby Wilson, C

P: Tyler Chatwood

Latest bullpen shuffle: Schlereth back, Ruffin down

Five days after the Tigers called up Chance Ruffin for his first shot with the big club, they sent him back down.

Meanwhile, a month after manager Jim Leyland said four left-handed relievers was really too many for his bullpen, he’s back to four for now.

By optioning Ruffin back to Triple-A Toledo, the Tigers made room for left-hander Daniel Schlereth, who was called back up to Detroit. With the Mud Hens at home this week, Schlereth had just a short drive to get to Comerica Park in time for Friday’s game against the Angels.

It might well be a case for the Tigers bringing up a fresh arm for the bullpen for this weekend after  burning through their relief corps Thursday and having Al Alburquerque’s elbow checked out Thursday. Or, it could be a matter of the Tigers needing a left-hander they can count on while David Purcey works out his command issues. The fact that the Angels don’t have a lot of dangerous left-handed hitters would strongly suggest the fresh-arm scenario.

By sacrificing Ruffin’s spot for Schlereth, the Tigers put themselves in an interesting situation with their bullpen. Until Alburquerque is available again, the only right-handers available in Detroit’s bullpen will be setup man Joaquin Benoit and closer Jose Valverde. Granted, Phil Coke has a track record of retiring lefties and righties alike, and Purcey’s numbers are actually stronger against right-handed batters, but the Angels bat six points higher against lefties for the season than they do overall.

Ruffin had an ill-fated major league debut, entering with the bases-loaded in a tie game Monday against the White Sox and ending up with two runs on three hits over 1 2/3 innings. But his two scoreless innings Thursday kept the Tigers close against the Angels until Purcey came in.

Schlereth, meanwhile, fared quite well in Toledo, allowing a run on six hits over 11 2/3 innings with five walks and 18 strikeouts.

What to make of Penny, Martinez

Brad Penny and Victor Martinez have a failure to communicate (Getty Images)

The day the Tigers introduced newly-signed Brad Penny to local media on a conference call back in February, Penny went out of his way to praise Victor Martinez, with whom he had worked in Boston two years earlier:

“What I liked about Victor is he was never negative in any way,” Penny said. “If you’re struggling and he comes out to the mound and talks to you, it’s all positive. I mean, you can see he just knows you’re going to get out of it and do good. You can see it in his eyes. I mean, like I said before, what a great teammate. You guys are going to be really impressed with him as a person, not only as a player.”

On Thursday, after Penny gave up seven runs on nine hits over 3 1/3 innings, he was trying to defuse what became a very public disagreement between him and Martinez on the mound in the middle of his fourth and final inning.

“He hadn’t caught me in a while,” Penny said. “It had nothing to do with pitch selection or anything like that. With a runner on second, I like come set taking signs. That way, the hitter can’t look at second base and anything there. I’ve pitched my whole career that way and he didn’t want me to do it. I know there’s no other way for me. I guess it’s a habit. It’s natural. I’ve done it my whole career. It’s not that big of a deal. Me and Victor have been friends for a while now and that happens when you’re competing.

“It’s not that he wasn’t used to catching me. That had nothing to do with pitch selection or how I pitched today. It was totally the complete opposite of that. It was just when I was coming set taking signs.”

Martinez, for his part, wasn’t talking about it.

The calendar shows Penny has a point: Martinez hadn’t caught him since June 26 against Arizona. Alex Avila had caught Penny’s past four starts until Thursday. That said, pitchers and catchers have disagreements around baseball, and very few of them result in them yelling in each other’s direction.

There’s no sign of any escalating problem between Penny and Martinez, or Penny and anybody. But it seems entirely safe to read a frustrated Penny. If that back-and-forth didn’t show enough, Penny’s handing of the ball to Lloyd McClendon before he even reached the mound to make the pitching change two batters later probably did. He has taken a beating his last two starts, and Thursday’s loss saw him give up his second-highest total of extra-base hits this season. His ERA rose from 4.51 to 4.89.

Penny has had good and bad second-half numbers over the years, so there’s nothing consistent to read there. But his location issues over the last couple starts have been problematic. He had the time to work those out last start, and he eventually settled down to go seven innings. His problems in the fourth weren’t going to allow him that luxury this time. His frustration level Thursday was unlike anything he had shown all year.

No team chemistry problems have been obvious; in fact, Penny has been anything but isolated in the clubhouse. Still, it’ll be interesting to see how this incident plays out in his next few starts. The Tigers can’t catch Avila every game, and Martinez has caught Penny more than he has caught any other starter. If Martinez and Penny don’t work together for a while, he’ll have to catch Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello or the fifth starter, because Avila and Justin Verlander simply work together too well to break up.

Alburquerque day-to-day with mild inflammation

The good news for Al Alburquerque is that the elbow issues that left him unable to pitch Wednesday don’t appear to be anything serious. An examination from the team medical staff Thursday morning revealed what head athletic trainer Kevin Rand characterized as mild inflammation around his elbow, which he hopes they can clear up with a little rest over the next few days.

“The flexor tendinitis, that’s fine,” Rand said. “He’s just got some mild inflammation around the joint now that we’ve just got to work through. It’s all inter-related.”

The bad news is that it’s a reminder that the Tigers still need to watch how their rookie relief sensation is used. As nasty as his slider can be, the temptation to overuse him can be a risk.

To be fair, the inflammation is a separate issue from the flexor tendinitis that landed him on the disabled list a few weeks ago. That was more around the forearm, though it was related to elbow. Still, the two different symptoms point towards the same reason to exercise caution with him.

Alburquerque hasn’t pitched since tossing a scoreless inning Sunday at Minnesota, but Rand said no issue popped up until Wednesday. The Tigers have been careful to watch his use since his return from the disabled list after the All-Star break. He has 4 1/3 scoreless innings with four stranded runners, a walk and six strikeouts since then.

The flexor tendinitis forced Alburquerque to the DL on July 1, leaving a hole in Detroit’s middle relief corps. But his stay on the DL was a minimal one, consisting mainly of rest for the arm.

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