June 11th, 2012

Leyland planning to start Delmon in left on some days

Delmon Young returned to left field this past weekend out of necessity, thanks to Interleague play and National League rules. Turns out he might still get some starts there once the Tigers return home and get their designated hitter slot back next weekend against the Rockies.

Young went 2-for-13 with a solo homer, a double and four strikeouts over the three-game series in Cincinnati, where he started all three games in left field. He also made a costly misplay in left field Saturday on a ball he lost in the sunlight. His batting average for the season dropped from .261 to .254. However, he’s still batting better as a left fielder (.277 average, .759 OPS) than as a DH (.244, .640).

Young began the season playing in left field and struggled out of the gate in April. He missed a week on MLB’s restricted list in the wake of his arrest in New York City at the end of April on aggravated harrassment and hate crime charges, then returned in early May to find himself virtually a full-time DH.

Manager Jim Leyland isn’t promising Young a lot of play in the outfield, but would like to use him there a couple days a week, he said after Sunday night’s win.

“I talked to him a little bit about this — DH four or five times a week, but play the outfield a couple [times], but to break it up for him I think would help,” Leyland said. “I’ve talked about all these things. We’ve been making plans for it, but it seems like we have somebody different every day that can’t go, so we haven’t been able to do exactly what we wanted.”

Most of the starts in left will go to Andy Dirks once he returns from the 15-day disabled list, potentially later this week. Quintin Berry could stick with the team in a reserve role, though Young getting a start or two in left might work against the speedy Berry.

Leyland also didn’t commit full-time to Dirks returning to the second spot in the lineup. He said he could continue play Brennan Boesch there if he remains on a hot streak.

Tigers close to signing top pick Thompson

The Tigers won’t need to go to the July deadline to sign their top picks from last week’s First-Year Player Draft. Both second-round selection Jake Thompson and third-round pick Austin Schotts are on the verge of traveling to Lakeland for physical exams that should clear the way for them to agree to deals.

Thompson confirmed to MLB.com Monday afternoon that he’ll be flying on Tuesday to Lakeland, where the Tigers house their player development and spring training operations. He’ll undergo his physical Wednesday morning and should have everything finalized soon after that.

Thompson tweeted the information earlier in the day. He added that Schotts will be traveling with him for his physical.

The Tigers have a policy of not confirming deals with players until they have passed their physicals.

Both Thompson and Schotts are high school talents from Texas have scholarship offers to play college ball — Thompson at Texas Christian University, Schotts at Oklahoma State — but both have been widely expected to turn pro. With baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement setting firmer parameters and limits on signing bonuses, the Tigers considered signability one of the biggest factors in who they would draft.

With just over $2 million available under the new rules to spend on their top nine picks, they didn’t have the finances to gamble on prep athletes who were leaning towards going to college. They still found talent they liked in Thompson, a big right-hander with a good fastball with movement, and Schotts, a speedy shortstop from Centennial High School who projects as a center fielder but has the potential for above-average power.

The only real surprise in the expected deals is the speed with which they’re getting done. Though Thompson could have waited until closer to the deadline, he said his was not a difficult decision.

“It was pretty easy,” he said in a phone interview Monday afteroon. “Being the Tigers’ first pick, it made it a whole lot easier. I knew that if I went in a certain area in the draft, that I was going to sign.”

The signing will complete what has been a crazy week for Thompson, who was drafted a week ago and graduated from Rockwell-Heath High School in Texas later in the week.

Once Thompson’s deal is finished, he said he’ll report to the Tigers’ Gulf Coast League team, where he’ll spend the summer training and eventually pitching. That’s a major bonus on the accelerated signings under the new rules. When players signed in August under the previous deadline, they usually had no time left to get ready for the summer season, leaving them to wait until fall instructional leagues to begin work.

Thompson said the early work was a major factor in his decision to sign so early.

“I think it’s huge,” he said. “It’s just basically like you get an extra season. You get in the program faster and they get to work with you.”

Smyly leaves with ugly blister

Drew Smyly’s Sunday night on national television ended after just three innings when he sustained a blister on his left middle finger, adding to the multitude of Tigers injuries.

Smyly gave up three runs on four hits in three innings, including a Todd Frazier two-run single in the second and a Zack Cozart home run leading off the third. That’s the pitch, he said, where he first felt it.

“I had a mini-cut from my last start,” Smyly said, “but it wasn’t a blister or anything. So I had some type of stuff on it to keep it safe. It was holding all the blood in, so it was getting mushy. So every pitch, it was getting mushier and mushier, and it started going down my finger.”

Impressively, Smyly retired the middle of the Reds’ lineup in order after Chris Heisey’s third-inning double, using offspeed pitches to try to avoid breaking it open. As soon as he got to the dugout, he went to head athletic trainer Kevin Rand.

Once they went to manager Jim Leyland, he couldn’t believe what he saw.

“It’s the worst one I’d ever seen in my life,” said Leyland, who immediately called for Luis Marte to begin warming in the bullpen.

Rand, a longtime trainer in the big leagues, said it was “right there” among the biggest he had seen.

It’s the first injury in what has been a solid rookie season for the 22-year-old left-hander, who turned a non-roster invite to Spring Training into a spot in the rotation in just his second season as a pro. However, Smyly said he dealt with blisters several times in college and once last year at Class A Lakeland. Warm, humid weather, such as Sunday’s conditions in Cincinnati, seem to bring it out.

Judging from past blisters, Smyly doesn’t expect this should prevent him from making his next start.

For the team, though, it’s just the latest health concern on an injury-shortened roster. Right fielder Brennan Boesch was scratched from Sunday’s lineup hours earlier with a right ankle sprain. Fellow Tigers starter Doug Fister is on the 15-day disabled list for the second time this year with a left side strain. Center fielder Austin Jackson just returned from the 15-day DL with an abdominal strain, but left fielder Andy Dirks is still working his way back from Achilles tendinitis.

Detroit has used 40 players so far this season. If Fister can return later this week as hoped, they won’t need a callup to replace Smyly if his blister doesn’t heal in time.

Smyly’s next turn in the rotation would come Saturday at Comerica Park against the Rockies.