July 2012

Tuesday’s lineup: Tigers at Red Sox

A slight switch tonight for the Tigers, who stack up left-handed hitters Brennan Boesch and Alex Avila back-to-back against Josh Beckett. Hey, why not?

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Quintin Berry, LF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B
  5. Delmon Young, DH
  6. Brennan Boesch, RF
  7. Alex Avila, C
  8. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  9. Omar Infante, 2B

P: Justin Verlander

Castellanos’ visit to Boston in quotes

Nick Castellanos took in the sights of Fenway Park on Monday, from the field during Tigers batting practice and from the stands during the Tigers-Red Sox game itself. He also gave a pretty wide-ranging interview to reporters before BP. The main piece with the highlights is in the notebook from the game. Here’s a more complete rundown:

  • On how the visit came about: “We were spending our off-day [in Manchester, New Hampshire], so Avi [Garcia] was looking up Tigers stuff and said, ‘They’re playing in Boston. Isn’t that close?’ So I looked it up and it was about 45 minutes away. So he called [Brayan] Villarreal and he said, ‘Yeah, yeah, we’ll get you tickets, come on over.'”
  • On having lots to learn in the outfield: “I’m picking it up quickly, but there’s definitely a lot of improvement. I’ve played there 15 games in my life, so there’s going to be improvement. Fly balls aren’t an issue. The big thing now is reading line drives.”
  • On following trade rumors: “Last year, I was able to avoid it. This year, no. This year, it’s been every day, all the time, in my face. I’m definitely ready for the trade deadline so I can just relax.”
  • On the stress of it: “The added pressure of trying to play a new position and also every time I walk into a locker room, all my teammates are saying you’re going somewhere else. You try to avoid it as much as possible, but it’s still going to linger.”
  • On untouchable status: “Whenever they come to town, a lot of the big guys are in town to see me play the outfield, so I talk to them. I have a really good relationship with the front office. And sometimes I’ll ask them, ‘Well, do you think?’ And it’s like, ‘Definitely not, but we can’t say it can’t happen, because if somebody comes up and makes an unbelievable deal, then no one’s untouchable.’ They said it’s very unlikely, but I still know that anything can happen. I’m just ready for this trade deadline to go.”
  • On possibility of September call-up: “I’ve heard about it. There’s been people like these guys saying, ‘Oh, get used to it. It’ll be your locker in September, joking around.’ And it’s awesome to hear these guys say it, but I know that it’s not real until it happens. I’m definitely taking this all in, but I definitely realize that it’s a visit. It’s not because I deserve to be here.”
  • On possibility of Arizona Fall League at end of season: “That’s a possibility. I’ve heard instructional league is a possibility. I’ve heard if we make the postseason and I keep hitting off lefties, I stay with the team into the postseason. So everything’s a possibility, and we’re just going to have to wait and see what happens.”
  • On who he hears stuff from: “A little bit of everybody. All the people that really matter, though, I haven’t heard anything from, because that’s always a last-minute thing.”
  • On seeing former teammate and close friend Rob Brantly get traded: “I miss him to death, but I’m really happy for him, because it’s such a better opportunity for him there, just for the obvious factor that we have Alex Avila, who needs no introduction. And he did go to Miami.”
  • On working with Al Kaline on outfield play: “Not yet, but I know he’s coming. It means a lot, because I know they’re really serious about me being here if they’re going to go through all that to make sure that I’m prepared in right field.”

Monday’s lineups: Tigers at Red Sox

Good to be back on the beat at Fenway, where it feels like the Tigers were just here a couple weeks ago, not a couple months ago. It’s a different looking lineup compared to then, but a familiar looking lineup to the past week or so in Cleveland and Toronto.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Quintin Berry, LF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B
  5. Delmon Young, DH
  6. Brennan Boesch, RF
  7. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  8. Alex Avila, C
  9. Omar Infante, 2B

P: Max Scherzer

RED SOX

  1. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
  2. Carl Crawford, LF
  3. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
  4. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
  5. Will Middlebrooks, 3B
  6. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, DH
  7. Ryan Sweeney, RF
  8. Kelly Shoppach, C
  9. Pedro Ciriaco, SS

P: Clay Buchholz

Bunt work helps Berry hit

Before the Tigers put on their normal hit show in batting practice, before Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera started taking their swings at the outfield seats in Progressive Field, Quintin Berry was putting down one bunt after another. Manager Jim Leyland and coach Tom Brookens were watching, offering tips, trying to get him to keep his bunts on the ground.

“You have to work just like you do hitting in BP,” Berry said. “You can’t just keep going every day with just getting one bunt down. You have to get out there. You have to work on it and practice it. I’ve been struggling as of late with getting my bunts down.”

The work paid off during the game, just not the way you’d expect. He didn’t get a bunt down. He still had three hits, all well-placed singles.

Go figure. As Berry explained, working on his bunts actually helps him as a hitter.

“That allows my eyes to see the ball deep,” he said. “I’ve noticed a lot in my career, days when I do that, I usually end up having pretty decent days. It kind of helps me see the ball. I think that helped a little.”

Berry entered the night batting 8-for-39 (.205) with two walks and 10 strikeouts since the All-Star break, with six of those hits clustered into a pair of three-hit games. He was making the most of his times on base, but he wasn’t getting on base nearly as well as he had been.

Add in a walk, and he was on base four times Wednesday. All three of his hits were opposite-field singles, a line drive in the first inning to advance Austin Jackson, a ground ball in the second to drive in Omar Infante, and another grounder just inside third base in the sixth to drive in Alex Avila with two outs.

It wasn’t what they were working on pregame, but it was what manager Jim Leyland wanted to see.

“We were talking about it before the game, sometimes he gets a little aggressive and tries to do a little bit too much,” Leyland said. “Tonight he was just laying the bat on the ball. He was working on his bunting before the game, dragging and pushing.”

Leyland was working with him, stopping him at a couple different points to try to make a point about technique.

“I was in the minor leagues a long time,” Leyland said. “I listened to a lot of guys and learned a little bit about instruction, how to do it and everything. I was always taught when you’re a left-handed hitter, which I wasn’t, you take that back leg and just as that back leg hits the ground, you should be making contact with the ball. That’s the only thing I was trying to show him. Brookie and Raffy were talking to him.”

Wednesday’s lineups: Tigers at Indians

Same as Tuesday, both sides. That means nine batters from the left side against Max Scherzer, who enters the day giving up a .312 batting average and .880 OPS to lefties this year (compared with .216/.651 for righties).

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Quintin Berry, LF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B
  5. Delmon Young, DH
  6. Brennan Boesch, RF
  7. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  8. Alex Avila, C
  9. Omar Infante, 2B

P: Max Scherzer

INDIANS

  1. Shin-Soo Choo, RF
  2. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS
  3. Jason Kipnis, 2B
  4. Michael Brantley, CF
  5. Carlos Santana, C
  6. Travis Hafner, DH
  7. Johnny Damon, LF
  8. Casey Kotchman, 1B
  9. Jack Hannahan, 3B

P: Derek Lowe

Two plays that cost Tigers on Tuesday

Yes, you can look at a few other reasons why the Tigers lost on Tuesday, including an 0-for-9 performance with runners in scoring position that allowed them to squander leadoff baserunners. Even so, after Miguel Cabrera’s two-run homer tied it, the game turned in Cleveland’s favor on two plays.

The first was Travis Hafner’s triple and the pursuit both center fielder Austin Jackson and left fielder Quintin Berry gave to it. Both went after the ball as if they had a chance to catch it. Neither peeled off to back up the other. While Jackson did pull up around the warning track, Berry continued into the wall, slowing up in time to avoid a major collision but still running into it as the ball hit to his right.

“It looked like, to me, Jackson thought Berry was going to catch it,” Leyland said.

Berry thought he was going to catch it.

“I didn’t think it was going to get all the way to the wall,” Berry said. “It’s one of those things where you’ve got a guy battling on the mound for you. You try to battle for him and give him everything you possibly can. We both went after it and neither one of us was backing up. I probably should’ve pulled up, tried to play it off the wall, but when you think you can get it, you try to go get it.”

Said Leyland: “With those two guys, normally one of the two will catch that ball, I believe.”

It looked like that effort, and the lack of a backup as the ball got by Jackson, allowed Hafner the time he needed to take third base. So instead of a runner on second and one out, the Indians had Hafner on third, leading to Lou Marson pinch-running and Aaron Cunningham looking to bunt.

The Tigers saw it coming, obviously. The question was in which count.

“I thought he might wait to see if he got the count in his favor,” Leyland said, “but it was a great call by Manny [Acta]. He didn’t wait, he got it down and they got the run in. And obviously, that was the run that beat us.”

The bunt came on a 1-1 pitch from Doug Fister.

“It was a great call,” Leyland said. “We certainly were aware that it was a possibility, obviously. The combinations were pretty much set up for it. It’s a right-handed hitter, and all the rest of them are left-handed hitters. We didn’t pitch out, but I knew every time somebody was going to squeeze, I’d be a miracle man. Were we suspicious of it? Absolutely, but we didn’t pull the trigger on a pitchout. Give them credit.”

Tuesday’s lineup: Tigers at Indians

Omar Infante makes his return as the ninth hitter in the lineup, starting at second base. Quintin Berry stays in the second spot, as you would expect against a right-handed starter.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Quintin Berry, LF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B (9-for-23 off Ubaldo Jimenez)
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B
  5. Delmon Young, DH (9-for-20 off Ubaldo)
  6. Brennan Boesch, RF
  7. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  8. Alex Avila, C
  9. Omar Infante, 2B

P: Doug Fister

Tigers option Worth to make room for Infante

Danny Worth is a right-handed hitting middle infielder whose playing time lately consisted of part-time starts at second base, with an occasional pinch-running appearance. The Tigers traded for Omar Infante to be a right-handed bat in the order while taking over full-time at second base.

Look at it that way, and you could forecast what the Tigers’ move would be to make room for Infante on their 25-man roster. It became official Tuesday, when the Tigers optioned Worth to Triple-A Toledo.

With Infante taking over at second, Ramon Santiago — Infante’s old double-play partner on the 2002-03 Tigers — becomes a utility infielder again. Ryan Raburn, who wasn’t starting much at second anymore anyway, remains on the roster as Detroit’s lone right-handed hitting outfielder off the bench (unless you count DH Delmon Young, which nobody wants to do). Raburn hadn’t started at second since July 13 in Baltimore.

That lefty-righty status could make for an interesting decision when Andy Dirks to ready to come off the disabled list. Clearly, Raburn has had his struggles, and so far there’s no sign that usual midsummer tear from Raburn is coming. Yet if Dirks and Berry are on the same roster, both left-handed hitting outfielders, it arguably makes Don Kelly’s role redundant. However, Kelly has barely started this summer, entering more as a late-inning sub for Brennan Boesch. That role wouldn’t necessarily change. But that’s an argument that won’t be answered for a while, with Dirks likely on for a decent rehab assignment.

Thoughts on Tigers trading Jacob Turner

A year ago at this point, the Tigers considered Jacob Turner just about untouchable.

Six months ago, the Tigers wouldn’t have traded Turner straight-up for Matt Garza, let alone in a package for Garza, as one talent evaluator famously said.

Tonight’s lesson: A half-season can change perceptions. A lot. It’s not the high regard for Turner around baseball that changed (OK, it changed a little, but he’s still highly regarded) so much as the Tigers’ situation to deal him.

When the Tigers refused to offer up Turner to the Cubs last winter, they considered him a potential front-runner for the fifth starter’s job. The competition in Spring Training was his to win, though Drew Smyly was a darkhorse candidate.

You know the rest. By the middle of camp, Turner was shelved with shoulder tendinitis, and Smyly was pitching his way into a job in Detroit. By mid-May, Smyly was looking like the most promising young pitcher the Tigers had. And the Tigers could at least envision their rotation without Turner down the road.

Does that justify trading Turner in a package for soon-to-be-free-agent starter Anibal Sanchez and second baseman Omar Infante? Not necessarily. But it justifies the Tigers changing their stance on listening to offers on Turner.

The thing to consider is the rotation as a whole. Justin Verlander is under contract through 2014, which is also the same amount of time Max Scherzer has before he’s eligible for free agency. Doug Fister and Rick Porcello aren’t eligible for free agency until 2015. Yes, Turner takes a future starter — potentially a front-line one — out of the system, but health permitting, the Tigers might not have a pressing need for one for a while. Even if Sanchez bolts as a free agent this winter, Smyly could simply slot back in.

It won’t be cheap to keep that rotation together. Traditionally, the time to talk contract with top starters is two years out from free agency, not one, so this winter might be the time for the Tigers to talk with Verlander and his agent to feel out the chances for a contract extension. Porcello and Scherzer are both going to become increasingly expensive through arbitration, and Fister’s eligible for arbitration for the first time this winter.

Smyly, though, gives them one good young arm. Dombrowski also pointed to Casey Crosby, whose future as a starter or reliever might have just been answered.

“We do feel we have a couple of young starters who are there in Smyly and Casey Crosby, so we do have a little bit of depth in that area,” team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said on Monday night’s conference call.

Andy Oliver is also still at Toledo, though it’s hard to say if he’ll ever put things together to be considered a big-league starter again.

Depending on how next summer’s draft unfolds, too, the draft pick the Tigers acquired from Florida at the end of the first round could turn into another starting prospect.

Does that justify making this deal? Not necessarily. But if Monday’s reports about the Ryan Dempster trade are true, that the Cubs would get Braves pitching prospect Randall Delgado in return, then the price tag for pitching on the market just went up.

If the Tigers had gone back to the Cubs and packaged Turner with a prospect (say, Brantly) for Matt Garza, they might have pulled it off. But they still would’ve needed a second baseman, and they would’ve had less to offer. They would’ve had Garza for an extra year, but they wouldn’t have had a second baseman.

As for Brantly, Dombrowski said, “We’ve still got a young starting catcher in Alex Avila. You aren’t going to have both of them in the organization at some point, because you usually aren’t going to have two left-handed hitting catchers at the Major League level.”

The Tigers’ depth at catcher in their system helps. The fact that Brantly was regarded as the best of the bunch, far and away better offensively, doesn’t.

Ultimately, what Sanchez does down the stretch — the fact that he has never pitched in the American League makes this part interesting — will go a long way towards determining whether this trade was worth it. How Turner does in the coming years will determine the rest. In the end, though, you can at least see the Tigers rotation without Turner a little easier than you could six months ago.

Does that mean Nick Castellanos could be expendable soon? Hard to see that happening, unless the Tigers suddenly shore up their outfield for years to come. That’s one factor. The fact that owner Mike Ilitch loves star players, and Castellanos has both the game and the personality to become a star, is another.

Saturday’s lineups: Tigers vs. White Sox

Right-handed batters are hitting .207 off the pride of Lakeland, Chris Sale. Left-handed hitters are at .209. But at least the righties have hit for some power. So aside from Prince Fielder and Brennan Boesch, the Tigers are going righty-happy today with their lineup. That includes sitting Quintin Berry, who has quietly gone 0-for-10 since his three-hit outburst Monday. Ryan Raburn, 1-for-4 with a home run off Sale since 2010, gets another chance to break out of a 5-for-36 July.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Ryan Raburn, LF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B
  5. Delmon Young, DH
  6. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  7. Brennan Boesch, RF
  8. Gerald Laird, C
  9. Danny Worth, 2B

P: Rick Porcello

WHITE SOX

  1. Alejandro De Aza, CF
  2. Kevin Youkilis, 3B
  3. Adam Dunn, DH
  4. Paul Konerko, 1B
  5. Alex Rios, RF
  6. A.J. Pierzynski, C
  7. Dayan Viciedo, LF
  8. Alexei Ramirez, SS
  9. Gordon Beckham, 2B

P: Chris Sale

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