September 2011

Monday: Tigers vs. Indians

As you can read below, Wilson Betemit isn’t ready yet. So Don Kelly gets another start at third base. Other Tigers are simply getting a day of rest, including Jhonny Peralta and Austin Jackson.

TIGERS

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

P: Doug Fister

INDIANS

  1. Kosuke Fukudome, RF
  2. Jason Kipnis, 2B
  3. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS
  4. Travis Hafner, DH
  5. Shelley Duncan, LF
  6. Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B
  7. Matt LaPorta, 1B
  8. Ezequiel Carrera, CF
  9. Lou Marson, C

P: Ubaldo Jimenez

Betemit’s knee flares up again, not ready yet

UPDATE: Team doctors examined Betemit later Monday afternoon. According to Betemit, everything was fine aside from the inflammation. He’s hoping for good news Tuesday.

Wilson Betemit came to Comerica Park early on Monday with a plan to start at third base, his first start in a week and a half. It was supposed to be his first of three games to get ready for the postseason. Then he tried to push off with his left knee moving for a ball.

Now, his situation is a question mark once again, and his manager is increasingly concerned.

“He’s not right,” Leyland said. “I’m worried about Betemit. And I’ll leave it at that.”

Betemit sounded a little less concerned as he tried to clear up his own situation, but nonetheless anxious. He played in three straight Division Series with the Braves and Dodgers from 2004-06, and he has a very good chance to start for the Tigers in this one coming up. But he has to be healthy to do it.

He thought he was. Right now, he said, his knee’s “so-so.”

“I went out today to go work on the field,” Betemit said. “and I felt something push on my knee.”

Betemit was diagnosed a week ago with inflammation in the knee after injuring it on a slide Sept. 16 at Oakland. He still has swelling on the inside of the knee, which is where he felt the problem when he went to push off. He also feels discomfort, he said, when he goes into an all-out sprint. He feels fine when he’s batting.

“Hopefully I’ll be fine,” Betemit said, “because, man, I want to play. I have to do everything I can to play.”

With Betemit out, Don Kelly started at third base for the third time in the last four days and the fifth time in Detroit’s last eight games. Cleveland has right-handed pitchers starting every game in this series to end the regular season, so it’s uncertain whether Brandon Inge, Detroit’s defensive replacement and part-time starter at third, might get a start.

Once the postseason begins, that question becomes a lot more interesting, depending on the opponent. The Yankees, for instance, are expected to start lefty CC Sabathia to open their Division Series, then have a handful of right-handed candidates.

Leyland is keeping pretty mum on his postseason roster, and he isn’t going to map out how the Tiger would replace Betemit if he can’t go. While team officials met Monday to discuss the roster, among other topics, they didn’t announce anything. Kelly could be a big part of it, but dedicating him to third base would also take a candidate out of right field. The Tigers also have infielder Danny Worth, but he has played all of four innings at third base this month since rejoining the club from Triple-A Toledo.

Maroth returns to Tigers as Lakeland pitching coach

Mike Maroth had been looking to get back into baseball after injuries ended his pitching career last winter. He’ll get his start in coaching with the same organization where he broke into the Majors as a pitcher.

The Tigers announced Monday that they’ve hired Maroth as their pitching coach at Class A Lakeland. He replaces Joe Coleman, who was let go a few weeks ago.

It’ll be the first pro coaching job for Maroth, who brings a wealth of experience and a strong work ethic into the role. The obvious point that will be made is that if you’re looking for a coach who can help prospects deal with struggles for often the first time in their careers, Maroth can relate. He’s best remembered for his 21-loss season on the Tigers’ 2003 team that lost 119 games, and drew national attention for the way he handled it and bounced back.

There’s a side beyond the numbers, though, and it starts with somebody who became a pretty crafty pitcher and adapted his game without a power pitch in his arsenal. He knew how to pitch, just not throw. He also has a high character that seems natural for a coaching job.

Maroth, who lives in Orlando, had been interested in a coaching career after he finally had to end his comeback attempt last winter.

Cabrera takes lead in AL batting race

Miguel Cabrera went into the weekend at least seven points behind Adrian Gonzalez in the American League batting race, and talking about how happy he’d be to see his old Marlins minor league teammate Adrian Gonzalez win the crown. He wasn’t even second at that point; Michael Young owned that honor.

As he came out of the weekend, Cabrera now has a three-point lead over Young and Gonzalez with three games to go against a team he has hit well this year. Put the matchups together, he’s potentially on the doorstep of becoming the second Tigers batting champ in five years, joining Magglio Ordonez with the honor.

Three days flipped the race. Cabrera went 8-for-12 in the last three games against Baltimore, raising his average from .333 to .341. Gonzalez, meanwhile, went 2-for-12, including 1-for-8 in Boston’s day-night doubleheader at Yankee Stadium Sunday. His average fell modestly from .340 to .338, but it was enough to give Cabrera a few points of breathing room. Young went 4-for-7 against the Mariners before getting Sunday off. He bumped his average up a few points.

Now, it’s entirely possible that Gonzalez has one more charge left in the race. As Cabrera points out, Gonzalez has a wild card race to play for, and a Red Sox offense to ignite after a week they’d like to forget. He’s batting .500 (31-for-62) with eight doubles this season against the Orioles, who finished out their season against the BoSox the next few days. He went 10-for-16 against them last week at Fenway Park, which allowed him to charge into the batting lead in the first place by bumping his average from .333 to .341. He 11-for-27 (.407) at Camden Yards this year.

Young, meanwhile, gets three games at Angel Stadium, where he’s batting .500 (14-for-28) this year.

The one big difference is that Cabrera has been the hottest hitter in baseball over the last month. Nobody’s batting batter over the last 30 days than Cabrera’s .427 clip or 1.280 OPS. He went from batting in the .3-teens in mid-August to more than 20 points higher, and he has just six hitless games all month.

His Sunday performance included a first-inning home run, a big two-out single that extended the fifth inning for Victor Martinez’s go-ahead three-run homer and a hard-hit line drive in his final at-bat. He left after that with dizziness, something manager Jim Leyland said teammates brought to his attention, but word from the clubhouse after the game was that it isn’t anything serious. He should be available Monday.

If he can keep on hitting, he’ll have pulled off a career Triple Crown with three league titles in four years as a Tiger. He led the AL in home runs his first season in Detroit in 2008, had an stellar year in 2009, then led the league in RBIs last year. It counts as a Triple Crown only if you do that all in the same year, but doing it this way still puts him in the company of Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez.

Sunday: Tigers vs. Orioles

Word now from Jim Leyland is that Wilson Betemit will start on Monday against Cleveland — weather permitting. Leyland had said he would probably start Sunday, but that was determined before it became clear that lefty Brian Matusz would be filling the TBA slot as Baltimore’s starter. That development earned a start for Brandon Inge, 2-for-3 with a homer off Matusz.

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: Brad Penny

ORIOLES

  1. Matt Angle, CF
  2. Robert Andino, 2B
  3. Chris Davis, 3B
  4. Vladimir Guerrero, DH
  5. Jake Fox, 1B
  6. Nolan Reimold, RF
  7. Kyle Hudson, LF
  8. Pedro Florimon Jr., SS
  9. Craig Tatum, C

P: Brian Matusz

Saturday: Tigers vs. Orioles

Wilson Betemit is getting one more day. Jim Leyland said he’s going to go through all the drills today, including side-to-side movement, and then start Sunday if he’s ready. They don’t sound particularly worried, but as mentioned, the time is winding down.

With Betemit out, Don Kelly will get his fourth start at third base in the Tigers’ last six games.

One start that was planned is Magglio Ordonez and Ryan Raburn against right-hander Jeremy Guthrie. Ordonez is 7-for-13 with a home run off Guthrie. Raburn is 5-for-12 against him. Whether they would start against a right-hander in the Division Series, I don’t know, but the matchups here all but demanded it. Ordonez, in particular, could be an interesting call for the postseason given his experience.

Verlander, of course, is trying to become the first pitcher to 25 wins since Bob Welch in 1990. But Jeremy Guthrie is trying to avoid becoming the first 18-game loser since Daniel Cabrera in 2007, also with Baltimore. Guthrie also lost 17 in 2009. The last AL pitcher other than Guthrie to lose 17 in a season? That’s none other than Justin Verlander back in 2008. He’s 61-23 since then.

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. Don Kelly, 3B

P: Justin Verlander

ORIOLES

  1. Matt Angle, LF
  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. Robert Andino, 2B

P: Jeremy Guthrie

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.

Tigers rotation order just about set

We already knew that Justin Verlander would start the Division Series opener next Friday and a potential Game 5. Today, Jim Leyland told Tigers radio play-by-play broadcaster Dan Dickerson that Doug Fister will start Game 2, regardless of opponent. That has been confirmed. That would leave Max Scherzer to start Game 3.

The fourth starter hasn’t yet been revealed. Rick Porcello is set to pitch tomorrow and then stay on turn to pitch the regular-season finale Wednesday night. If that sticks, it would put Porcello in line for five days of rest before Game 4. Brad Penny’s final regular-season start is scheduled for Sunday.

That order will stick, Leyland said, regardless of who the Tigers play in the Division Series.

Thursday: Tigers at Orioles

Omir Santos caught Jacob Turner at Triple-A Toledo. So if he’s going to catch one more game this year, this was the one that makes the most sense.

TIGERS

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

P: Jacob Turner

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: Zach Britton

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