July 29th, 2011

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.

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