March 21st, 2012

Trade for fifth starter more likely? Hold on

While Andy Oliver walked five batters over 3 2/3 innings — and let’s be fair, that’s more of the question about his outing than the three-run homer — John Lannan tossed four scoreless innings for the Nationals Wednesday afternoon against the Braves. That was obviously a pretty big contrast in the question about the fifth starter job, though the tables were turned on Oliver and Lannan before that.

But then came the postgame word from Nationals manager Davey Johnson, who apparently gave the impression to reporters — including MLB.com’s Bill Ladson — that they’re not expecting Chien-Ming Wang to be ready for the start of the season.

John Lannan’s rumored availability on the trade market centered on the expectation that Washington won’t have a rotation spot for him. If Wang opens the season on the disabled list with his hamstring injury, then the Nats have a rotation spot to fill. One would expect they’d do it with Lannan.

Whenever the idea of trading for a starting pitcher has been mentioned, Lannan has been the oft-mentioned name. In fact, there aren’t a whole lot of names that have been mentioned after that. Some have speculated that Freddy Garcia could be available if the Yankees open the season with Andy Pettitte back in the rotation,  but even if he is, he isn’t a name that should be linked with the Tigers. Roy Oswalt doesn’t sound like a realistic option at this point.

At some point — and maybe you have already — you have to ask yourself: Is what’s out there on the market really better than what’s in the system right now? And if it is, is it important enough to go get right now?

Bottom line: I’m not so sure Oliver’s struggles Wednesday make a trade any more likely than it was 24 hours ago. Drew Smyly will get his shot to answer against Nationals minor-league hitters tomorrow at noon, and Duane Below gets a crack at the Yankees on Sunday in Tampa. After that, the Tigers still have nine days of Grapefruit League games left, essentially two more turns through the rotation. Two turns provides ample chances for a pitcher to bounce back from one struggling outing.

That’s not to say a trade won’t happen. It’s certainly not unthinkable anymore. But using one start as a reason for it seems like an overreaction.

What we learned today: That inconsistent command Andy Oliver had last year might not completely be in the past, though it would be incomplete to grade it now.

For what it’s worth, Jim Leyland said after the game that he felt like he noticed something that could help out Oliver, and he passed it along to pitching coach Jeff Jones.

What to remember: Austin Jackson’s stolen base on Liam Hendriks’ first pitch to Brennan Boesch wasn’t called. He had the green light, and he wanted to test out leads and reading pitchers. He wants to get some work in on that between now and the end of camp, which could be a good sign for Tigers fans who wonder why he hasn’t stolen more bases.

Hey, it’s only Spring Training: Brennan Boesch, who was belting the ball earlier this spring, is now batting .211 in Grapefruit League play after going 0-for-2 Wednesday. Here’s guessing he will not do that come the regular season.

Turner to throw Friday, “very unlikely” to make roster

Jacob Turner, sidelined for the past week with tendinitis in his right shoulder, played catch for the second straight day Wednesday, this time from 150 feet. He’ll have Thursday off before throwing a side session in the bullpen on Friday.

Turner will be re-evaluated from there and get another timetable, which should get him back on the mound soon barring setbacks.

“I’m happy that my arm’s feeling good right now,” Turner said. “That’s what I’m happy about.”

At this point, his health is the main thing to be happy about. With Andy Oliver, Drew Smyly, Duane Below and Adam Wilk now further along with their buildup towards the start of the season, manager Jim Leyland said Turner is “very unlikely” to make the Opening Day roster.

Wednesday: Tigers vs. Twins

So of course, the Tigers have Brandon Inge at third today. That’ll teach me about posting blog entries in the middle of the night.

For what it’s worth, Inge didn’t know he was starting at third base, so it doesn’t sound like any sort of master plan.

Ramon Santiago and his sunglasses get the start at second.

No Mauer nor Morneau for the Twins today on their bus ride from Fort Myers. Other than that, there are a surprising amount of regulars in their lineup today if you really look at it and realize who they’ve lost over the last year or so.

TIGERS

  1.  Austin Jackson, CF
  2.  Brennan Boesch, RF
  3. Clete Thomas, DH
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B
  5. Delmon Young, LF
  6. Alex Avila, C
  7. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  8. Brandon Inge, 3B
  9. Ramon Santiago, 2B

P: Andy Oliver

TWINS

  1. Denard Span, CF
  2. Jamey Carroll, SS
  3. Danny Valencia, 3B
  4. Chris Parmelee, 1B
  5. Ryan Doumit, C
  6. Luke Hughes, DH
  7. Joe Benson, RF
  8. Ben Revere, LF
  9. Alexi Casilla, 2B

P: Liam Hendriks

Game 18: What’s next for Tigers at third base

Jim Leyland’s answer to the question of how he’ll handle third base while Miguel Cabrera is out lasted five words.

“I’ve got plenty of coverage,” he said Tuesday morning.

That he does. Between Danny Worth, Don Kelly, Audy Ciriaco and yes, Brandon Inge, Leyland has no shortage of guys who can play over there this spring. Who he plays will likely say a lot about how long the Tigers expect Cabrera to be out.

Inge has had a ton of playing time at second base this season to try to get him acclimated, with surprisingly good results. The Tigers and Leyland have made it abundantly clear that Cabrera is the third baseman now, a message that has grown stronger as Spring Training has unfolded and Cabrera has more than held his own at the hot corner. It would seem unlikely the Tigers will move Inge back to third unless they have to — in other words, if they have a reason to believe that Cabrera would miss time at the start of the season.

If they had to make an adjustment on the fly, they could get Inge ready at third with very little lead-in time. As Leyland said early this spring, Inge could play third in his sleep. So the idea of Inge needing time as an insurance policy doesn’t really hold in this situation.

So while Cabrera is out, the biggest impact could be on Kelly, getting more time at third to fill Grapefruit League innings and more at-bats to get himself ready, as well as Worth, who has been trying to make his case as an extra infielder for some time now. It also could keep Ciriaco in camp a little longer, continuing what has been a decent spring for him.

What we learned: While Ryan Raburn and Delmon Young have been belting balls all spring, the common refrain has been that they’ve been feasting on early spring pitching, when hurlers are usually focusing on their fastballs and rarely mixing in their good secondary pitches. Raburn’s sixth home run of the spring came on a breaking ball from Jair Jurrjens, whose rough spring continued. Young’s ball came on a pitch with more velocity on it.

Either way, their hitting is starting to outgrow the early spring training phrase.

“I don’t know how to explain it. It just seems like Delmon and Raburn get a good pitch to hit, they hit it pretty hard and a lot of times pretty far,” Leyland said. “But I don’t really know how to explain it.”

Hey, it’s only spring training: Justin Verlander said Tuesday was his first real jam in which he had the situation to try to gear up his fastball. He got it up to 96 mph on the radar gun at Joker Marchant Stadium, maybe another tick on other scouting guns.

“The velocity was getting up there, and that’s the first time it’s done that,” Verlander said. “A little harder to control for me, but the more I do it, the better it’ll get.”

At some point, that fastball will gear up to the upper 90s. It’s not there yet, but that’s not something he’s trying to get there at this point in the spring.

The highlight play you saw: Not really a highlight, but you saw a lot of the Lakeland grounds crew working on the mound. Both Verlander and Jurrjens pointed around their landing spots on the front of the dirt.

“It caused a little bit of issues,” Verlander said. “I felt like that might have led to some of the walks. A couple walks, I was slipping a little bit. Obviously, it was a bit more of a problem for Jair than it was for myself.”

At one point between innings, they were both around the mound looking at the trouble spot.

“I was telling him he was doing it, and he was telling me I was doing it, creating that big old hole,” Verlander said. “But I don’t create much of a hole when I pitch, if any of a hole. That’s what I was telling him. … It was weird, because I think them fixing it might have caused more a problem for him, because then his original hole wasn’t there anymore. That’s when he started slipping, I think.”

Up next: With the Tigers scheduled for their lone off-day of the spring on Thursday, they juggled their rotation a bit for Wednesday. Andy Oliver moves up a day to make the start against the Twins at 1:05pm at Marchant Stadium, putting him in a pretty good test that also happens to be the first broadcast of the spring for Fox Sports Detroit. Rick Porcello will pitch in a minor-league game earlier.

To-do list for Wednesday: Stretch out Oliver and get a look at how Twins hitters react to him the second and, maybe in a couple cases, third time into the order. He probably won’t get deep into a third turn, not with a pitch limit around 75 or so, but guys will get a chance to adjust from their first at-bats.

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