July 3rd, 2011

Rick Knapp out as Tigers pitching coach

The last time the Tigers gave up more than 51 runs in a five-game stretch, the year was 1996, and Detroit’s pitching staff was on its way to a 6.38 ERA for the season, an incredible number to consider nowadays.

This team wasn’t headed anywhere near that. This team has Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde. If it’s right, it has the chance to be the best pitching staff in the division. As it was, it had a 4.89 ERA aside from Verlander.

Rick Knapp, rightly or wrongly, took the blame for that. And when Jim Leyland called the performances this week “unacceptable,” it turned out to be a forewarning of what came down Sunday.

“Was there any signs? Well, the 15 runs last night, that was a big sign,” Knapp told MLB Network Radio Sunday evening. “And the 16 runs against the Mets, that was a bad sign. You know, it’s one of those deals where you feel like, if I had to be in their situation and maybe in their pressured shoes, that I might consider to make a change if I was the owner or the manager or the general manager. I can’t answer that.

“I came at it every day like it was Day 1, you know? There’s no difference. I put the hours in. I put the time in. I mean, there’s only so much waking hours that you have to put in. Wasn’t meant to be. That’s just the way it is.”

In the end, it’s hard not to see Knapp at least somewhat as a fall guy in a situation where it’s difficult to hone the blame on one particular person. His replacement as pitching coach, Jeff Jones, worked alongside Knapp with a lot of the pitchers in what has been described as a very good relationship. Together, they assembled a lot of the scouting reports, and a lot of the individual work.

The struggles of Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello, in particular, had to be frustrating. When Scherzer looked as lost mechanically on Saturday as he has been at any point since being sent down to Triple-A Toledo last year, it had to hurt. A year ago, Scherzer said he knew the mechanical change he needed to make, but just had to do it in a different setting. That doesn’t sound as obvious right now.

Porcello said the other day that he had become too predictable and needed to mix things up, and tried to do that Sunday in an outing that yielded three wild pitches and three hit batters, but also seven quality innings in what looked like a bizarre pitching performance.

It’s hard to see a dramatic change in message coming out of the coaching change. The main change might be the message sent by the coaching change itself, the reminder that this team and this regime is under pressure to win this year, and take a division that clearly looks like it’s there for the taking.

Leyland couldn’t remember making an in-season coaching change at any other point in his major league career. That might say a lot.

The ebb and flow of the season, the highs and lows, the pressures of trying and having to win, I think that what ended up happening, quite frankly, I think Max probably was underperforming and Rick Porcello was underperforming,” Knapp told MLB Network Radio. “That’s not to say that we hadn’t made strides or we weren’t moving towards a big second half. But in their eyes, I wasn’t the guy to lead them to the next level or where they want to be.”

That seemed to be the message coming out of the clubhouse. But there’s this comparison: When Knapp’s predecessor, Chuck Hernandez, was let go at the end of 2008, Leyland basically said he had the pay the price for the struggles. On Sunday, he said he and team president Dave Dombrowski were in agreement on Knapp.

“We just felt like it just wasn’t working,” Leyland said. “It was a joint decision between Dave and myself. We both agreed on the decision. We felt like it just wasn’t working, and that pretty much sums it up.”

Knapp, to his credit, didn’t burn any bridges. In the end, he just sounded exhausted, because the work he put in to try to work with the pithcers got him there.

“I’m proud of the stuff that we accomplished here,” Knapp said. “Justin has been an all-star all three years. He has a no-hitter. Last year, Galarraga had a no-hitter taken away from him. I mean, I feel like I don’t know what else I could’ve done other than made those guys good. Frankly, that’s the nature of the beast. You know, you get all the blame and I deflect all the credit. I wish the guys the best and I’m disappointed that it ended this way and frankly, I’m a little shell-shocked at the moment and I’m going to try to regroup here. Hopefully it’ll lead to bigger and better things. Who knows?”

Guillen leaves rehab game with soreness

Tons of stuff going on tonight, including me flying out to LA for the upcoming series against the Angels. Catching up now while on wifi on the flight.

First, courtesy of John Wagner and his Coop Scoop blog for the Toledo Blade, comes an update on Carlos Guillen, who left Sunday night’s game for Triple-A Toledo after one at-bat. Doesn’t sound like a setback, but does sound like caution.

“He felt a little soreness, so we decided to take him out and nip it in the bud before anything worse happened,” Mud Hens manager Phil Nevin said. “He’s going to go with us to Indianapolis, and I expect he will be in the lineup [Monday].”

Keep in mind that, barring some craziness (and haven’t we seen enough of that this week), Guillen will probably be rehabbing with the Hens up until the All-Star break in a week. So missing a game doesn’t exactly set him a back much, if it all. If he misses multiple games, it’s something else.

Four Tigers All-Stars, possibly another

Alex Avila’s campaign for All-Star votes, as led by teammate Justin Verlander, paid off in the end. In his first year as the Tigers’ everyday catcher, he’ll be starting behind the plate for the American League in the All-Star Game.

His starting nod highlights four All-Stars for the Tigers, the second time in three years they’ve had that total. Miguel Cabrera, Jose Valverde and Justin Verlander will join Avila in Phoenix for the Midsummer Classic July 12.

Victor Martinez will have the chance to join them if he can win the All-Star Game Final Vote. Balloting for that began today at MLB.com and runs through Thursday.

For all but one of them, it’s a return to the All-Star Game. For Avila, the first time might well be the sweetest. He becomes the first Tiger voted by fans into the All-Star lineup since 2007, when Ivan Rodriguez, Magglio Ordonez and Placido Polanco all made it. Miguel Cabrera started last year’s game at first base, but did so after Justin Morneau was scratched due to injury.

Avila led all American League catchers in almost every major offensive category, short of home runs. Still, Russell Martin’s hot opening month as a New York Yankee earned him a slew of early votes once fan balloting began in April and May.

The Tigers soon picked up Avila’s cause. Then came Verlander, whose work with Avila as his catcher has resulted in a no-hitter and several close calls already this year. Verlander took to Twitter and just about any other medium he could find to try to encourage fans to vote Avila.

Avila slowly began catching up Martin, but still trailed by more than 400,000 votes as of the last balloting update earlier this week. But Avila garnered the vast majority of the votes at catcher this week before online balloting closed Thursday night.

“Thanks to all the non-Tigers fans who chose the best player,” Verlander wrote Sunday afternoon on his Twitter account. “To all the Tigers fans, thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Best city, best fans.”

Verlander likely won’t get the chance to catch him in the game itself. Though he was an obvious choice for players to vote onto the AL pitching staff, he won’t be eligible to pitch in the Midsummer Classic if he starts for the Tigers at Kansas City next Sunday to close out the season’s first half, as he’s scheduled to do.

With an 11-3 record, 2.32 ERA and just 88 hits over 135 2/3 innings, he would’ve been a strong candidate to start in the game. Still, he’ll be recognized with his third straight All-Star selection, and his fourth overall.

Cabrera makes the All-Star team for the sixth time, the second time as a Tiger. His .329 average entering Sunday ranked third in the AL to go with 17 homers and 56 RBIs. Valverde, 19-for-19 in save chances entering Sunday, is a three-time All-Star.

Verlander, Valverde and Cabrera were all All-Stars last season. It’s the first time three Tigers earned back-to-back All-Star selections since 1985 and ’86, when Lou Whitaker, Lance Parrish and Willie Hernandez made the teams.

Sunday: Tigers vs. Giants

Victor Martinez is back in the lineup after leaving Saturday’s game with a bruised right shoulder. He said this morning he’s feeling fine.

Jhonny Peralta and Austin Jackson both get the afternoon off. For Jackson, it’s his third game out of the starting lineup in Detroit’s last 11 games, something that hasn’t happened all season. Again, Leyland pointed to the stretch that they’re on, with 37 games in 38 days.

TIGERS

  1. Andy Dirks, cf
  2. Brennan Boesch, lf
  3. Magglio Ordonez, rf
  4. Miguel Cabrera, 1b
  5. Victor Martinez, dh
  6. Alex Avila, c
  7. Ryan Raburn, 2b
  8. Ramon Santiago, ss
  9. Brandon Inge, 3b

P: Rick Porcello

GIANTS

  1. Aaron Rowand, CF
  2. Emmanuel Burriss, 2B
  3. Pablo Sandoval, 1B
  4. Aubrey Huff, DH
  5. Cody Ross, LF
  6. Nate Schierholtz, RF
  7. Brandon Crawford, SS
  8. Miguel Tejada, 3B
  9. Chris Stewart, C

P: Ryan Vogelsong

Wilk up, Villarreal down

For the second time in four days, the Tigers have to call up a pitcher from Toledo to serve as a fresh arm for a beleaguered bullpen. This time, it’s Adam Wilk, who was sent down just before this current homestand. He returns after the minimum 10-day stay in the minors. Brayan Villarreal, who struggled mightily out of the rain delay Saturday night, returns to Toledo after a three-day return to the Tigers.

Unlike when Villarreal arrived Thursday, the Tigers have a potentially serious need for a fresh arm. Rick Porcello has struggled and exited early in his last three starts, and he takes the hill Sunday. Justin Verlander pitched Thursday.

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