September 23rd, 2011

Friday: Tigers vs. Orioles

The plan was for Wilson Betemit to start at third base tonight. Rain all day around Detroit changed the plan.

“Damp, cool night, didn’t want to take the chance,” Jim Leyland said this afternoon.

Too bad, too, because Betemit is 3-for-3 with a home run off O’s starter Alfredo Simon. Brandon Inge homered off Simon in their only meeting, but Don Kelly gets another start at third tonight, batting second.

The Orioles don’t have a lot of left-handed bats to test Rick Porcello tonight, just two lefties and a switch-hitter. But the guys they have — Nick Markakis, Matt Wieters and Chris Davis) are pretty good.

TIGERS

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

P: Rick Porcello

ORIOLES

  1. Robert Andino, 2B
  2. J.J. Hardy, SS
  3. Nick Markakis, RF
  4. Vladimir Guerrero, DH
  5. Matt Wieters, C
  6. Adam Jones, CF
  7. Mark Reynolds, 1B
  8. Chris Davis, 3B
  9. Nolan Reimold, LF

P: Alfredo Simon

Updating the potential roster picture: Friday

What ended up being a regrettable finale for Jacob Turner ended up being a good day for helping the Tigers sort out their bullpen. Al Alburquerque got the inning he needed, and while he wasn’t as sharp as he’ll need to be come postseason play in a week, he was healthy. He’ll sit on Friday, then Jim Leyland hopes to test him with an inning each on Saturday and Sunday.

Assuming Alburquerque gets through that, I’d say he’s pretty much a lock for the postseason roster, leaving Leyland and the Tigers with one less bullpen decision. If you count the guys who are good to go (Valverde, Benoit, Schlereth, Coke, Alburquerque if he’s healthy), it could leave with maybe only one or two.

“I don’t think there’s any secret we’re looking,” Leyland said. “That’s as simple as it is. There’s no sense in trying to hide that from the players. There’s no sense in trying to hide that from the media, the fans. At some point, we’re going to have to decide on a roster.”

Some of that could depend on who the Tigers face. A meeting with the Yankees or Red Sox could place a premium on lefty relievers for a pitching staff that doesn’t have a lefty starter. Granted, the Tigers like some of their righties against left-handed hitters, especially Benoit and Alburquerque, but that doesn’t mean they’ll try to leverage that strength rather than play an opponent’s weakness.

Duane Below isn’t a lefty reliever by the stereotype, but he’s a lefty. And while lefties have hit him a little bit harder, his strikeout-to-walk ratio against them in his limited time is much stronger. It’s that skill that would be a stronger ticket onto the postseason roster than long relief, which becomes less of a necessity in a short series but still potentially useful for damage control later in the series. If the Tigers have to reliever Justin Verlander or Doug Fister early in one of the first two games, they have much deeper trouble than long relief.

That same issue seemingly doesn’t play in Pauley’s favor, being right-hander. But while he took the loss, Leyland said he looked better.

“In fairness to him, he really hasn’t gotten to pitch a whole lot since he’s been here,” Leyland said. “So we’re trying to get him some work as well.”

Perry, Leyland said, looked better as well. He’s had more good outings lately, Leyland said, than subpar ones.

“But he still needs a little more consistency,” Leyland said.

For a postseason pitching staff, if the decision’s on talent, there’s a spot for Perry, the former first-round pick with a penchant for quick, solid innings. But he might help his case just as much of he can avoid breakdowns like he had in Oakland, though that one admittedly came the afternoon after the Tigers’ division celebration.

The Tigers still need to know more on Wilson Betemit and Carlos Guillen before they can make decisions on the positional roster. If Betemit’s fine, their decisions whittle down tremendously. Guillen said he isn’t sure about his readiness for the postseason in a week. He can neither run nor swing a bat yet, and his Thursday work was limited to therapy.

Betemit, meanwhile, has hopes of playing Friday. Assuming he’s ready for the postseason, he slots in well as part of a third-base mix with Brandon Inge. Right field could be a three-man mix with Magglio Ordonez, Don Kelly and Andy Dirks. Yes, Dirks and Kelly both bat left-handed, but if the Tigers choose to keep Dirks, that could free up Kelly for a late-inning role in the outfield or third base. Dirks also brings some speed to him.

Add the Santiago/Raburn mix at second, and if the Tigers keep Dirks, they’re left with one more position spot, and a few different ways they can go.

- They could protect themselves at catcher by keeping Omir Santos. Yes, they have the option of making a roster move mid-series if Alex Avila were to be injured. But if they did that, by rule, he would have to miss the next round. That’s a huge conundrum if Avila were to have a day-to-day injury. Leyland said Thursday he can catch Martinez if he wanted, surprising all of us. But the fact remains that he hasn’t, not even for an inning in a blowout.

- They could go with another runner with Will Rhymes, and a batter who can lay down a bunt in a key situation. That might make better sense in the later rounds than it does now, but it’s still possible.

- They could add Guillen if he’s healthy. That’s sounding like a big if right now.

- They could add Danny Worth, but that would seemingly make more sense if Betemit or another infielder isn’t able to go.

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