March 2012

Tigers option Turner, send out five others

The Tigers optioned top prospect Jacob Turner to Triple-A Toledo Monday morning as part of a half-dozen roster cuts from camp, whittling their Spring Training roster to 32 players.

Outfielder Quentin Berry, who had made an impression with his speed and defense as a non-roster invite, was sent to minor-league camp along with right-hander Chris Bootcheck, first baseman Ryan Strieby and infielders Audy Ciriaco and Argenis Diaz.

Turner’s move came exactly five weeks after he came into camp as arguably the favorite to win the open spot in a stacked Tigers rotation. He made three starts for the Tigers last season and arguably had some of the best pure stuff of any arm here, including those on the roster. But he struggled with command in early games before being sidelined with tendinitis in his right shoulder.

If the early struggles didn’t doom his chances at the Opening Day roster, the time lost to injury did. Though he’s just about ready to pitch in games again, nearly two weeks after his last pitches against hitters, that return outing will have to take place across the street at the Tigertown minor-league complex.

Turner made three starts last August for the Mud Hens after making his Major League debut July 30 in Detroit. He could be the front man for what projects to be a formidable Hens rotation once the Tigers find their fifth starter and farm out the other candidates.

Berry joined the organization over the winter on a minor-league contract as a 27-year-old speedster with just four games above Double-A, but stuck around a lot longer than expected. By the end, he showed just enough to make

Manager Jim Leyland, for his part, strongly hinted that he would have felt comfortable with Berry as the last position player on his roster, saying there were four or five he felt comfortable with. But while that was a big boost for Berry, he wasn’t going to nudge through the battle between Andy Dirks and Clete Thomas, both of whom have spent time in the big leagues.

Berry batted 9-for-27 this spring. He hit a grand slam Friday against the Pirates, accounting for four of his seven RBIs on the spring. He also made two highlight catches Sunday against the Yankees, one of them an outstretched diving catch to send the game into extra innings.

Berry could end up joining the others at Triple-A Toledo, where Diaz and Strieby spent all of last season and Ciriaco spent 14 games. Bootcheck seems like a candidate to serve as the Hens closer, having filled the role at Triple-A Indianapolis in the Pirates organization three years ago.

Leyland: More than two guys for last roster spot

Jim Leyland is referring to the open positional spot on the Opening Day roster as the 25th man, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t placing some importance on it. It’s a tough decision, and to hear Leyland discuss it, it’s not than either-or decision with Clete Thomas and Andy Dirks, either.

“Most people are talking about two guys,” Leyland said Sunday morning before the Tigers’ split-squad tilt with the Yankees. “There’s definitely more than two guys, I can promise you this.”

Considering the guys still in camp, they aren’t all outfielders, either. Quintin Berry remains in camp and has made an impression on Tigers people as a non-roster invite; the math suggests he’s the one extra outfielder in the mix. There are guys beyond that, Leyland suggested.

That would seemingly include infielder Danny Worth. Audy Ciriaco remains in camp, as does Argenis Diaz. Ryan Strieby has drawn raves from Leyland, but his playing time has been extremely limited.

“I could go with four or five guys for that 25th man and be very comfortable,” Leyland said.

If Worth is one of those four or five, then it backs up the idea that Brandon Inge is on the team.

About the only thing Leyland guaranteed is that the last positional guy won’t be a catcher.

“I’ve got four catchers — two emergency, and two catchers,” Leyland said.

The two emergency catchers, Leyland said, are Don Kelly and Inge.

Sunday splits: Tigers at Yankees

They split up the squads pretty evenly for the trip, which probably wasn’t too big of a challenge since Tampa is such a close drive.

On the flip side, if the Tigers wanted a test for Duane Below, well, they’ve got it. With a couple exceptions, this looks awfully close to an Opening Day lineup for the Yankees.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Ramon Santiago, SS
  3. Clete Thomas, RF
  4. Alex Avila, C
  5. Delmon Young, DH
  6. Ryan Strieby, 1B
  7. Brandon Inge, 2B
  8. Quintin Berry, LF
  9. Danny Worth, 3B

P: Duane Below

YANKEES

  1. Derek Jeter, SS
  2. Curtis Granderson, CF
  3. Robinson Cano, 2B
  4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
  5. Mark Teixeira, 1B
  6. Russell Martin, C
  7. Andruw Jones, DH
  8. Eduardo Nunez, RF
  9. Brett Gardner, LF

P: Michael Pineda

Fifth starter, three candidates left

Max Scherzer (AP)

Jim Leyland is down to three candidates for his Tigers’ open rotation spot now that Adam Wilk has been optioned to Triple-A Toledo. He likes those three candidates, even though they’ve combined to make nine Major League starts between them, and none from the guy with the best statistics right now.

“There’s three guys left, basically,” Leyland said. “I think Jacob is going to be ready when he’s ready, which I don’t think is going to be in time probably to compete for this at this stage. So you’re basically talking about Oliver, Smyly and Below, or somebody outside [the organization].”

He isn’t downplaying any of them, and he isn’t eliminating the possibility that they could still choose none of the above and trade for somebody. But he seems happy with the way things have unfolded.

“I still believe the fifth starter is in this camp,” Leyland said Saturday morning, “but I also have always left myself open, because of my general manager. If he doesn’t think so, he makes the final decision. And if somebody would pop up that he felt made us better, whether he would or would not make a pitch for him, I can’t really answer that. That’s why I’ve always left that little tiny margin of decision open [for a trade]. …

“I’m not trying to create a major story here that the Tigers might go outside. Please don’t put headlines like that, because I don’t think that’s going to happen. I’m just saying I’m leaving that little thin line there open, because I don’t know what my general manager [might decide]. My general manager has a tendency to surprise you. When they call you up and tell you they signed Prince Fielder, that’s a pretty big surprise.”

The reports on how little that line is conflict a little. CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman reported a couple days ago that the Tigers are still showing interest in John Lannan, but Danny Knobler suggested Saturday that the Tigers aren’t fond of Lannan and will indeed stay in-house for their fifth starter.

It’s getting to a time of year when every spring training start seems crucial, and Duane Below’s upcoming outing against the Yankees would seem bigger than most. Leyland is trying to downplay the expectations, but he isn’t denying it’s a nice test.

If it wasn’t a big deal, he wouldn’t be going to Tampa to watch the game. He’d be staying back in Lakeland to monitor Justin Verlander.

“We’re going to make this judgment not based on somebody’s first three outings, not based on somebody’s fourth outing,” Leyland said. “We’re going to base it on what we see as professional people that are supposed to be pretty good at what we do and say, ‘OK, what all of a sudden touched you or you or you, that says this is my guy?’

“It’s only natural that some people saw Oliver walk five guys the other day and said, ‘Oh, he’s out. He’s out of the competition.’ It’s totally false. Don’t fall for that.”

What we learned today: Max Scherzer can rack up strikeouts without a high pitch count. If he can have outings like this in the regular season, racking up eight strikeouts over seven innings in just 88 pitches, he could be really, really effective.

What to remember: Scherzer’s two-seam fastball isn’t necessarily a swing-and-miss pitch, despite the strikeout totals today. He had a fair number of strikeouts on offspeed pitches, including a changeup that had Robinson Cano fooled for a fourth-inning K during a stretch of four strikeouts in six batters. Ideally, Scherzer’s two-seamer is a quick-out pitch.

Hey, it’s only spring training: Raul Ibanez was 1-for-36 for the Yankees this spring before Scherzer left a fastball up to him. He’s now 2-for-37 with a two-run homer. It was his first base hit in two weeks. We’re guessing he won’t go that long between hits once the regular season rolls around.

The highlight play you missed: Take your pick of Don Kelly plays. He made a sliding catch in front of the Yankees dugout on a Mark Teixeira foul ball in the fifth, then made a diving stop and throw from the third-base line to rob Ramiro Pena an inning later.

Up next: Another round of split-squad games for the Tigers, but this set has two very different storylines. While Justin Verlander tries to continue rounding into regular-season shape in Lakeland when he faces the Phillies, Duane Below will be trying to help his case for the rotation spot in Tampa by staring down the Yankees lineup. Both games start at 1:05pm. The Tigers-Yankees tilt will be on radio in Detroit at 97.1 FM and online at MLB Gameday Audio.

To-do list for Sunday: Sort out what Below can do with a vaunted Yankees lineup, even if it is spring training. I will be at that game.

Saturday: Tigers vs. Yankees

They’re expecting a sellout crowd at Joker Marchant Stadium today, including a packed environment on the left-field berm. They’ll see pretty close to a regular lineup for the Tigers, injured Miguel Cabrera notwithstanding, and a few of the stars from the Yankees. Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira made the trip, as did Raul Ibanez. Curtis Granderson and Derek Jeter did not.

TIGERS

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

P: Max Scherzer

YANKEES

  1. Eduardo Nunez, 3B
  2. Francisco Cervelli, C
  3. Robinson Cano, 2B
  4. Mark Teixeira, 1B
  5. Raul Ibanez, DH
  6. Chris Dickerson, CF
  7. Cole Garner, LF
  8. Colin Curtis, RF
  9. Ramiro Pena, SS

P: Freddy Garcia

Wilk optioned to Toledo

The competition for the two open spots on the Tigers pitching staff is down one. Detroit optioned lefty Adam Wilk to Triple-A Toledo this morning.

Wilk was seen as a candidate for the rotation and the bullpen, having pitched in Detroit down the stretch last year, but he did not have a particularly strong spring, allowing 10 runs on 19 hits in 12 innings over five appearances. Much of that damage came in his last two outings, yielding seven earned runs on 12 hits over just 5 1/3 innings against the Cardinals and Twins.

The move drops Detroit’s pitching ranks in camp to 16, not counting injured Al Alburquerque. Manager Jim Leyland said Friday that the decisions on the fifth starter and seventh reliever will go “real late” in camp.

If, as Leyland has said, Turner is all but out of the rotation running after being shut down with shoulder tendinitis, then the rotation spot is a three-man race between Duane Below, Andy Oliver and Drew Smyly. Below could also be part of the bullpen mix if he doesn’t win a starting job, but with three lefties competing to start, right-handers Brayan Villarreal and Luis Marte would seemingly have an edge there, with Chris Bootcheck still around to make things interesting.

Leyland discusses three roster decisions looming

Jim Leyland was asked before Friday’s game if all of his roster questions could come down to the same day near the end of spring training, or if they could stagger them.

“I think they possibly could all funnel down to one day,” Leyland said, “but I think you could possibly make one of those decisions sooner than the other two. You could get your position players [set], but the bullpen spot and the fifth starter spot are going to go real late, because we don’t know. We have no idea.”

Leyland has talked about the outfield decision they have to make, and he has played Andy Dirks and Clete Thomas accordingly in an effort to get them both ample at-bats.

“I think Dirks and Thomas are real close,” Leyland said earlier in the week. “I’m happy with it.”

Of course, Leyland also has played Ryan Raburn and Brandon Inge quite a bit at second base, and now Inge at third while Miguel Cabrera is out in an effort to get Inge as many at-bats as possible. He also has talked about second base as a mix.

“Second base is not a problem,” Leyland said March 12. “It might be a problem figuring out who’s going to play there, but it’s not a problem, because I’m covered three ways for sure.”

The positional issues — or issue — could get a little bit of clarity coming up next week. Leyland also said Friday that he hopes to use a day next week against a left-handed starting pitcher to test out his Opening Day lineup, including the batting order he’ll likely use April 5 against Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester. Third base could be tricky that day, assuming Cabrera isn’t yet back to game action by then, but the DH slot for that day could be telling, whether it’s Ryan Raburn or Delmon Young or somebody else.

Fister leaves with right middle finger soreness

Tigers right-hander Doug Fister left his start Friday against the Pirates in the fifth inning with what the team classified as right middle finger soreness. He’s listed as day-to-day.

Fister had retired leadoff hitter Clint Barmes in the fifth and had thrown a pitch to pinch-hitter Yamaico Navarro when catcher Gerald Laird signaled for head athletic trainer Kevin Rand. Manager Jim Leyland followed Rand to the mound and after a quick look at his right hand, pulled Fister from the game as a precaution.

Relief candidate Brayan Villarreal finished out the inning, completing Fister’s pitching line with 4 1/3 innings on four hits with no walks and four strikeouts. The only damage off Fister was a two-run home run from Matt Hague.

Detroit has just under two weeks before opening its season April 5 against the Red Sox at Comerica Park, which should be plenty of time to get Fister back on the mound if it’s nothing more than soreness.

Friday: Tigers at Pirates

With Miguel Cabrera out and Prince Fielder not on the trip, Jim Leyland gets to pull out the card that says you can play the hot bats in the middle of the order in Spring Training. Ryan Raburn is batting cleanup today, with Delmon Young batting fifth. Interesting to see Jhonny Peralta hitting third, but that might just be a situation to get him an extra at-bat early before getting him out of the contest.

Brandon Inge starts at third base for the second straight game.

The Pirates are not using the designated hitter.

TIGERS

  1. Andy Dirks, CF
  2. Brennan Boesch, RF
  3. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  4. Ryan Raburn, 2B
  5. Delmon Young, LF
  6. Don Kelly, 1B
  7. Clete Thomas, DH
  8. Brandon Inge, 3B
  9. Gerald Laird, C

P: Doug Fister

PIRATES

  1. Jose Tabata, RF
  2. Nate McLouth, LF
  3. Andrew McCutchen, CF
  4. Neil Walker, 2B
  5. Casey McGehee, 3B
  6. Matt Hague, 1B
  7. Rod Barajas, C
  8. Clint Barmes, SS
  9. Charlie Morton, P

Verlander plays big role in MLB ad campaign

If you’ve been watching MLB Network or ESPN tonight — or maybe this weekend, if you’re watching Michigan State tonight — you might have noticed MLB’s new commercials looking ahead to Opening Day. If you have, you saw Justin Verlander saying he’ll throw 107.

mlb.mlb.com/shared/flash/video/share/ObjectEmbedFrame.swf?content_id=20239185&topic_id=19224580&click=fancave_video&width=400&height=254&property=mlb

We’re thinking he’s kidding, unless he meant 107 pitches rather than 107 mph. Hey, he threw 114 pitches on Opening Day last year.

If you go to MLBFanCave.com, you’ll find a few bonus clips on Verlander, including …

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