August 2011

Valverde goes 40-for-40, sore back and all

If you were expecting a special celebration for Jose Valverde going 40-for-40 on save chances, you were probably a little disappointed. If you were expecting drama, you weren’t.

One out away from an orderly ninth  inning, Chris Getz’s single put the potential tying run on base. One strike away from leaving him at first, Valverde couldn’t get pinch-hitter Brayan Pena to chase fastball outside.

That was partly by design. It wasn’t an intentional walk, but it was essentially the Tigers opting to face Alcides Escobar instead. Manager Jim Leyland had gone to the mound after a first-pitch ball to give his closer a message.

“Pena was 3-for-4 off him,” Leyland said, “So I just told him, ‘Look, whatever you do, don’t give in to him. If you walk him, I don’t care. … If you get behind, whatever you do, don’t throw strikes.'”

Valverde wanted to face him. Once the count went full, however, he didn’t risk it.

“Everybody knows Pena has good power, and I threw a sinker away,” Valverde said. “That’s what I had to do, and face Escobar. Everybody knows Escobar is a good player, but he doesn’t have the power that Pena has.”

Escobar had enough power to loft a fly ball into right field. He did not have enough power to make a threat out of it.

With that, Valverde had his 40th, the longest streak ever by an American League closer to start a season. The only longer streaks both come from the National League — 55 by Eric Gagne in 2003, and 41 from Brad Lidge in 2008.

Stretch streaks into multiple seasons, and Valverde’s 42 consecutive saves put him alone in fourth place on the all-time list. Gagne saved 84 in a row from 2002-04, Tom Gordon had 54 in 1998-99, and Lidge saved 47 straight from the end of 2007 until the start of 2009.

It was a rather subdued celebration from Valverde, who admitted he has been dealing with a sore back.

“My boy here, [Joaquin] Benoit, I made him a promise,” Valverde said. “I said if I do 50, I’ll do something special. … I promise, if I get 50, I’ll have something special for you.”

If he gets there, hopefully, his back should be fine. It’s still a little issue, Valverde said, but nothing serious.

“What I want to do is compete all the time. … I want to go on the mound every day, no matter what happens,” Valverde said. “My back, my neck, my arm, I want to compete and go to play for my teammates.”

Wednesday: Tigers vs. Royals

The Tigers had an abrupt adjustment in approach when starting pitcher Felipe Paulino was scratched with back spasms. Nate Adcock gets the start, but it doesn’t change the approach. Ramon Santiago gives Jhonny Peralta a day off at shortstop, while Don Kelly starts in right field.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Ramon Santiago, SS
  3. Delmon Young, LF
  4. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
  5. Victor Martinez, DH
  6. Alex Avila, C
  7. Wilson Betemit, 3B
  8. Ryan Raburn, 2B
  9. Don Kelly, RF

P: Rick Porcello

ROYALS

  1. Alex Gordon, LF
  2. Melky Cabrera, CF
  3. Billy Butler, DH
  4. Eric Hosmer, 1B
  5. Jeff Francoeur, RF
  6. Mike Moustakas, 3B
  7. Johnny Giavotella, 2B
  8. Salvador Perez, C
  9. Alcides Escobar, SS

P: Nathan Adcock

Marte gets call to Detroit as bullpen addition

The Tigers don’t have to worry about playoff roster eligibility with their September call-ups, since they can turn disabled list spots from Joel Zumaya and Brad Thomas into open spots to add guys who aren’t on the active roster until September. However, guys have to be added to the 40-man roster before they can become September call-ups. That’s apparently happening with right-hander Luis Marte, who’s turning a statistically big season in the Double-A Erie bullpen into what would be his first Major League stint.

Word from the SeaWolves after Tuesday’s game is that Marte is being called up to Detroit. He’s expected to be a September addition. The Tigers have not yet announced their September call-ups, and likely won’t until Thursday.

The numbers from the 25-year-old speak for themselves. With a 5-foot-11 frame and a nasty breaking ball, Marte allowed just 29 hits over 53 innings, walking 18 and striking out 68. He did that over just 23 games, including seven August appearances that all lasted two innings or longer. With that kind of role, his 1.70 ERA looks more significant.

Marte basically heated up around midseason. Add together his last 10 outings, and he allowed three runs on 15 hits over 27 2/3 innings, with six walks and 35 strikeouts.

The Tigers will have to purchase Marte’s contract to add him to the 40-man roster. However, they have an open spot still left over from Chance Ruffin’s trade to Seattle, so they won’t have to make any return move.

Answering question about postseason rosters

The question came up by chance today, but it’s been asked by readers for the last week or so: Will the Tigers make any roster moves before Sept. 1 to make sure guys are eligible for postseason rosters?

The answer is that they don’t have to. As long as the Tigers have players on the disabled list at season’s end — and with Joel Zumaya and Brad Thomas, they’ll have two — they can technically use those spots to add players to the postseason roster who weren’t up with the team on Aug. 31. In past years, they would’ve had to use a pitcher to replace a pitcher on the DL. They no longer have to do that.

Thus, for example, if the Tigers were to want Andy Dirks on the roster for the Division Series as an extra roster, they can still wait until Sept. 1 or later to call him up. They can use the rule and “replace” Zumaya with Dirks, and use Thomas’ spot on somebody else. As long as they’re in the organization before Sept. 1, they can be used as a replacement.

Tuesday: Tigers vs. Royals

Ryan Raburn said his jammed finger is feeling fine now, and he’s back in the lineup to give the Tigers another right-handed bat against Royals lefty Jeff Francis. Magglio Ordonez gets the start in right field for the same purpose.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Magglio Ordonez, RF
  3. Delmon Young, LF
  4. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
  5. Victor Martinez, DH
  6. Alex Avila, C
  7. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  8. Ryan Raburn, 2B
  9. Brandon Inge, 3B

P: Doug Fister

ROYALS

  1. Alex Gordon, LF
  2. Melky Cabrera, CF
  3. Billy Butler, DH
  4. Eric Hosmer, 1B
  5. Jeff Francoeur, RF
  6. Mike Moustakas, 3B
  7. Johnny Giavotella, 2B
  8. Salvador Perez, C
  9. Alcides Escobar, SS

P: Jeff Francis

Alburquerque throwing, Boesch not swinging

Mixed news on the Tigers injury front today. The good news for them came from Al Alburquerque, who was cleared to begin throwing again and was set to throw a side session this afternoon. Jim Leyland told MLB Network Radio that they hope to have him ready to come off the 15-day disabled list around Sept. 1, and he echoed that sentiment to reporters later.

Alburquerque hasn’t pitched in a game since Aug. 9. While he has been out, Phil Coke has found his old form to take over a big role in setup duties, and Ryan Perry has made an impression with his consistency. Add Alburquerque to this group, and the Tigers bullpen looks a lot deeper than it did a couple months ago.

“That would be music to our ears if we could get him going,” Leyland said.

The flip side of that is the situation they face with Brennan Boesch, who has been diagnosed with a partial tear of the ulnar colateral ligament in his right thumb. He’s going to need surgery, but the Tigers are hoping they can get it comfortable enough that Boesch can play out the season and then have offseason surgery.

“What we’re trying to do,” head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said Monday, “is work with the stability of the thumb.”

Monday: Tigers vs. Royals

Sounds like Ryan Raburn is still out with that finger injury, and Brennan Boesch is still unavailable. Don Kelly gets the start in right field.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Ramon Santiago, 2B
  3. Delmon Young, LF
  4. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
  5. Victor Martinez, DH
  6. Alex Avila, C
  7. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  8. Wilson Betemit, 3B
  9. Don Kelly, RF

P: Max Scherzer

ROYALS

  1. Alex Gordon, LF
  2. Melky Cabrera, CF
  3. Billy Butler, DH
  4. Eric Hosmer, 1B
  5. Jeff Francoeur, RF
  6. Mike Moustakas, 3B
  7. Johnny Giavotella, 2B
  8. Salvador Perez, C
  9. Alcides Escobar, SS

P: Luke Hochevar

Saturday: Tigers at Twins

TIGERS
1. Austin Jackson, cf
2. Ramon Santiago, 2b
3. Delmon Young, lf
4. Miguel Cabrera, 1b
5. Victor Martinez, dh
6. Alex Avila, c
7. Jhonny Peralta, ss
8. Wilson Betemit, 3b
9. Ryan Raburn, 2b rf
P: Justin Verlander

TWINS
1. Ben Revere, cf
2. Trevor Plouffe, ss
3. Justin Morneau, 1b
4. Jason Kubel, dh
5. Danny Valencia, 3b
6. Rene Tosoni, lf
7. Luke Hughes, 2b
8. Jason Repko, rf
9. Drew Butera, c
P: Carl Pavano

Turner terrific in Toledo … what’s next?

Jacob Turner was on an innings limit and a pitch count Friday for Triple-A Toledo in his first start on regular rest since he made his spot start in Detroit. Whether the innings were perfect or not, he wasn’t going to go beyond six, as specified by the Tigers. If he hit the pitch count before then, he would’ve been out.

Instead, he made his innings pretty impressive, going six scoreless on four hits with a walk and six strikeouts. He needed just 66 pitches and 47 strikes, including nine-pitch innings in the fifth and sixth, and first-pitch strikes to 14 out of 22 Buffalo Bisons. His only three-ball count was his only walk, that to Triple-A veteran Valentino Pascucci. Take away that walk, and he had just three other two-ball counts, and two of those ended in strikeouts.

In short, Turner looked like a guy on his way to catching up with the International League.

“Just coming back on five days, I think, made a difference,” Turner said after the game. “My stuff was a little sharper. … Everything was kind of in sync tonight.”

As good as the numbers were, the pitches might have been better. He threw consistently tight, sharp curveballs and got swings and misses. Most of his strikeouts came off that pitch. By my count, only one guy made solid enough contact off of it to get a base hit, and he had to reach for it.

“Really, my last start in Double-A, I think I got a good feeling for it,” Turner said. “And then it just kind of carried over from then on. It’s been a little bit crisper than it had in the past. The break’s been a little bit sharper, and I think that’s helped me get a lot more swing-and-misses with it. It’s been a lot more consistent.”

As Mud Hens manager Phil Nevin put it, Turner was “outstanding.” He was also good enough to probably go for a complete game in 100 pitches or less if not for the innings limit.

The limits set him up for at least one more start, and it won’t be on that extra-long rest. The question now is where that will happen. The plan, Nevin said, calls for Turner to start for the Hens in five days, and Turner said his understanding was the same.

On the other hand, there’s the mystery in Minneapolis, where Tigers manager Jim Leyland has an open spot for a starter on Sept. 1, the day rosters expand. Leyland is giving Justin Verlander an extra day’s rest before his next start Sept. 2 against the White Sox. The Sept. 1 game is a makeup contest against the Royals.

According to Chris Iott of Booth Newspapers, when Leyland was asked about the starter for Sept. 1, his answer was, “Stay tuned.”

Andy Oliver is scheduled to start for the Mud Hens Saturday, which would put him on a timetable where his regular turn would come up again Sept. 1. But he also has had a wild summer, most recent seven innings of one-run ball with nine strikeouts despite five walks.

Keep in mind, when Turner got his spot start for the Tigers in July, he was the scheduled starter for Erie all week until the day before, when he suddenly was scratched. The Tigers had called up Drew Smyly and written him in for the next day before suddenly moving him up a day. The Tigers, meanwhile, had indicated weeks earlier that Turner wasn’t an option to start in Detroit, though that was more about the rotation than about a spot assignment.

Friday: Tigers at Twins

I’m off this weekend, but here’s your lineup for the opener at Target Field. No Brennan Boesch, as expected, due to the thumb. On the flip side, no Joe Mauer for Minnesota.

TIGERS
1. Austin Jackson, cf
2. Magglio Ordonez, rf
3. Delmon Young, lf
4. Miguel Cabrera, 1b
5. Victor Martinez, dh
6. Alex Avila, c
7. Jhonny Peralta, ss
8. Ryan Raburn, 2b
9. Brandon Inge, 3b
P: Rick Porcello

TWINS
1. Ben Revere, cf
2. Trevor Plouffe, ss
3. Justin Morneau, 1b
4. Michael Cuddyer, rf
5. Jason Kubel, dh
6. Danny Valencia, 3b
7. Rene Tosoni, lf
8. Matt Tolbert, 2b (Nishioka scratched)
9. Drew Butera, c
P: Scott Diamond

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