August 2011

The predicament with Porcello

Rick Porcello wasn’t exactly cruising through three innings Sunday, but he was showing signs of working past the mechanical problems that plagued him the past couple starts. His sinker, while not consistent, had some bite to it, and he had a feel of changing speeds and mixing in sliders.

Then came the long rest of a seven-run third inning for the Tigers. And out came a different looking pitcher.

“He just got away from what he was doing,” manager Jim Leyland said. “I’m not defending him, because he’s got to close that game down. I’m not making any excuses, but he did sit there for a seven-run inning. But he got away from what he was doing. He started getting hurt with his slider. He had sinkers on the ground for the most part of the day, and then he went away from that, left a couple sliders up and they got hit.”

Leyland has to have patience with Porcello, because for almost three seasons of experience, he’s still just 22. Still, a little bit of frustration was fair, because a seven-run lead is normally a situation to cruise. And Leyland could see the inning unraveling, which is why he made the move as quickly as he did to Duane Below.

“Let’s face it, if he’s throwing really good and it doesn’t look like he’s in trouble, you might say, ‘Ok, I’m going to let him go ahead.’ But I didn’t like the way things were going,” Leyland said. “I didn’t like it. I felt like we had a better chance to come out of the inning with nothing more with the left-hander facing Choo, Cabrera and Hafner, than we did the things were unraveling on Porcello. I didn’t think Rick Porcello had a chance of coming out of that inning without giving up more runs, and I still believe that. Doesn’t mean I don’t have confidence in Rick Porcello. It just means today, that’s what you go on.

“The starting pitcher didn’t get the job done. I can’t hide from that. I’m not mad. I’m not being critical. That’s the facts. He’s gotta shut that down for a couple more innings and give us a chance to add on runs. I mean, we were milking outs from the fourth inning on.”

Before the game, I had asked Leyland about all the side work Porcello had put in (3-4 sessions worth) before this start. The real test, he pointed out, would be the game. He didn’t mean that critically, but that side sessions aren’t always an accurate gauge.

Now, Porcello and pitching coach Jeff Jones have four days to get him ready for Friday night’s series opener at Minnesota, and somehow figure out how to make the mechanics stick.

It’s a situation watch for the Tigers, who benefitted greatly from his five wins last month. Flat out, they need him effective if they’re going to go anywhere in October. They’ve obviously seen his best very recently. Even if it might feel like he’s spinning his wheels in recent days, he pretty much has to work through it here.

On the arm of Austin Jackson

Austin Jackson began Sunday’s game by ending his streak of games without a strikeout. He ended it on a strike to the plate.

For someone who has never been known for his throws home, his throw to beat Kosuke Fukudome home was a thing of beauty. Usually, his assists home have been one-hoppers, a few times off the mound. Sunday’s throw was one of his rare throw from him that had air under it.

“I’ve had that play a couple times this year and I didn’t get it all the way in the air,” Jackson said. “On that one I was able to get a lot of air on it.”

According to ESPN, Jackson is the first center fielder to assist on a double play to close out a one-run victory since Pittsburgh Pirates great and former Tigers coach Andy Van Slyke on Sept. 27, 1988. That Pirates team, of course, was managed by Jim Leyland.

It was one play where comparing Jackson to his predecessor, Curtis Granderson, doesn’t open a pandoras box. Granderson wasn’t known for his arm when he roamed center field at Comerica Park, but when he needed to be could put everything into a ball. This was the first time I can remember seeing that from Jackson.

As it is, that’s three times in a span of about two weeks that Jackson has made a defensive play that helped alter the course of a game. Whatever your opinion of his offensive season or his role in the lineup, he’s showing why he deserves to be out there.

Sunday: Tigers vs. Indians

Here are the lineups for Por-baldo, part II:

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Brennan Boesch, RF
  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. Ramon Santiago, 2B

P: Rick Porcello

INDIANS

  1. Michael Brantley, LF
  2. Shin-Soo Choo, RF
  3. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS
  4. Travis Hafner, DH
  5. Carlos Santana, 1B
  6. Kosuke Fukudome, CF
  7. Jason Donald, 2B
  8. Jack Hannahan, 3B
  9. Lou Marson, C

P: Ubaldo Jimenez

Saturday: Tigers vs. Indians

As expected, Magglio Ordonez and just-recalled Brandon Inge are in the Tigers lineup today against Cleveland left-hander David Huff. As suspected, the lineup critiques are probably going to come in about why Leyland isn’t playing his best possible lineup in the middle of this AL Central showdown.

But here’s the thing: There’s a pretty decent chance that Leyland is doing just that.

Leyland said he looked at this matchup earlier in the week and decided this was a spot for Ordonez. He’s 2-for-5 off David Huff. So is Inge. They’re small sample sizes, obviously, but they’re also feeding into a righty-heavy lineup against Huff. His stats through four starts for Cleveland this year actually show he’s been better against righties than lefties, but his numbers through 18 starts for Triple-A Columbus show right-handed hitters hit him for more damage and more power, even though batting average favored left-handed hitters.

Wilson Betemit, meanwhile, is batting .235 against left-handed pitching this year, compared to .309 against right-handers, with nearly a 300-point difference in OPS.

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. Brandon Inge, 3B
  9. Ramon Santiago, 2B

P: Doug Fister

INDIANS

  1. Michael Brantley, LF
  2. Shin-Soo Choo, RF
  3. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS
  4. Travis Hafner, DH
  5. Carlos Santana, C
  6. Kosuke Fukudome, CF
  7. Matt LaPorta, 1B
  8. Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B
  9. Luis Valbuena, 2B

P: David Huff

What Inge’s return means for Tigers

Brandon Inge’s return from exile will come a little earlier than expected. Not only will the Tigers purchase his contract from Triple-A Toledo Saturday, they’ll put him in the starting lineup against Indians lefty starter David Huff Saturday night. From there, a very interesting mix at third base is going to unfold for the stretch run.

Jim Leyland made the announcement on the Inge move, and he explained it as this: The Tigers expect to see four or five left-handed starters between now and Sept. 1, when Inge was expected to come up. Inge has been pounding left-handed pitching while with the Mud Hens, 15-for-38 (.395) with three home runs and nine RBIs against lefties when you add in his rehab assignment in June. Yes, those are Triple-A lefties rather than David Price, whom the Tigers are scheduled to face next week. But they’re also signs of a comfort level.

Though Wilson Betemit’s a switch-hitter, his splits are much stronger against righties (.313) than lefties (.238, 34 strikeouts in 90 plate appearances). He also had been giving up starts to Don Kelly for defensive purposes.

Leyland floated the idea Wednesday. He followed through on Friday.

The move to send down Andy Dirks is more procedural than performance. The Tigers can option him out and bring him back Sept. 1 with no problem, and they should might be able to get him eligible for a postseason roster spot if they choose, in case of a player on the DL. And with the slate of lefties they have ahead of them, though Dirks has fared pretty well against southpaws, they’re not going to sit Austin Jackson, Brennan Boesch, Delmon Young or Magglio Ordonez to get Dirks a spot against them.

Friday: Tigers vs. Indians

Jim Leyland offered up his reasons today for his lineup choices. Wilson Betemit starts at third over Don Kelly because he’s 7-for-15 with two home runs off Josh Tomlin. Ryan Raburn starts at second because of the other starting pitcher: Max Scherzer is more of a fly ball and strikeout pitcher, rather than someone who relies on ground balls, so Leyland opted for offense at second base. That’s an exception to Leyland’s usual preference.

“If there’s ever a situation where the offensive part is even, whether it’s Betemit, Kelly, Raburn, Santiago or whatever, normally, I’ll play the better defender,” Leyland said Friday afternoon.

Look for more on Leyland explaining some of his lineup decisions in the notes tonight.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Brennan Boesch, RF
  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

P: Max Scherzer

INDIANS

  1. Michael Brantley, LF
  2. Shin-Soo Choo, RF
  3. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS
  4. Travis Hafner, DH
  5. Carlos Santana, C
  6. Kosuke Fukudome, CF
  7. Matt LaPorta, 1B
  8. Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B
  9. Luis Valbuena, 2B

P: Josh Tomlin

 

Alburquerque out at least another week

Friday marks one week since Al Alburquerque took a line drive off his head during batting practice and went on the seven-day concussion disabled list. But while though he’s now eligible to be activated, the word from the Tigers medical staff is that he won’t be ready for at least another week.

Alburquerque was examined by an MLB-certified specialist on Friday, which he has to be before he can be cleared to play again. The word from the specialist is that he’s still showing mild symptoms, so he was certified to remain on the concussion DL.

“He feels still just a slight bit of pain in front of his ear,” head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said, “and it’s enough that it’s cause for concern. In this day and age, there’s a lot of research out there.”

Inge could be back in mix at third come September

The topic came up innocently enough, with Jim Leyland asked about Wilson Betemit’s contributions since the trade and his role going forward.

“Probably the ideal situation for us is to mix and match a bit,” Leyland said.

That’s what he has been doing with Betemit, Don Kelly and Ryan Raburn lately. Once rosters expand in September, that could be what he’s doing with Brandon Inge as well.

When the Tigers designated Inge for assignment and later outrighted his contract to Triple-A Toledo, they did it with the understanding that Inge would be back in Detroit once rosters expand Sept. 1, if not sooner. Inge probably would have opted for free agency without that. What role, if any, he would take in September has been more of a question.

Leyland didn’t set it as the plan, but he said Wednesday he’s considering using Inge in the third-base mix against left-handed pitching, as well as for late-inning defense. That could change, but it’s a sign that he’ll be doing more than watching games in uniform.

Inge entered Wednesday batting .316 for the Mud Hens with five home runs and 17 RBIs in 21 games since being outrighted. Granted, it’s against Triple-A pitching, but it’s a sign of encouragement. The numbers against lefties are particularly so, going 15-for-34 (.441) with three homers and nine RBIs.

Wednesday: Tigers vs. Twins

As Jim Leyland suggested last night, Andy Dirks is starting in center field, with Austin Jackson off. He’s healthy, but he’s getting a night off ahead of the off-day. Alex Avila is back behind the plate.

TIGERS

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

P: Brad Penny

TWINS

  1. Ben Revere, CF
  2. Trevor Plouffe, 2B
  3. Joe Mauer, C
  4. Justin Morneau, 1B
  5. Jason Kubel, RF
  6. Jim Thome, DH
  7. Danny Valencia, 3B
  8. Rene Tosoni, LF
  9. Tsuyoshi Nishioka, SS

P: Carl Pavano

Mariners take Chance on Ruffin as PTBNL

With Chance Ruffin now one year past his signing, he’s officially eligible to be traded, and he’s off to Seattle. He was the player to be named in the Doug Fister trade. The Mariners immediately called him up and designated Aaron Laffey for assignment to make room for him. He’ll join Casper Wells and Charlie Furbush in Seattle.

Ruffin is the second relief prospect to be moved in as many days, though technically he was dealt long before the Delmon Young trade Monday that sent Lester Oliveros to Minnesota yesterday. Ruffin is the bigger loss; at worst, he was seen as a quality middle relief candidate with a chance for setup work.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 24,778 other followers