July 2012

Castellanos starting in RF for Erie SeaWolves

So much for just taking fly balls in the outfield. Tigers top hitting prospect Nick Castellanos in the starting lineup in right field for Double-A Erie in the SeaWolves’ first game out of the All-Star break tonight in Binghamton. Avisail Garcia, who had been playing in right, is starting in center field.

It will be Castellanos’ first outfield start since he was a freshman in high school, and it comes four days after he told us at the All-Star Futures Game that he has been taking fly balls in left field. The way he sounded Sunday, before winning Futures Game MVP honors, he did not sound like he was expecting to be moving immediately.

“I really don’t know,” he said Sunday. “I know the organization still loves me as a third baseman. They see me there in the future. They’ve also mentioned to get an outfielder’s glove, nothing too serious so far.”

Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski told the Detroit News’ Lynn Henning that they’ve had “a lot of discussions” on Castellanos and the outfield.

“It’s a situation with Miguel [Cabrera] at third base, and with him being very comfortable there and doing a good job, there’s the potential [Castellanos] could get some playing time in the outfield,” Dombrowski told the News for the story, which appeared last night.

One look at the long-term picture with the Tigers, and it was a matter of when more than if.

“We thought the move was inevitable. After discussing with our player development people, we all thought this was a good time to get him out there,” Tigers assistant general manager Al Avila told MLB.com in an email Thursday afternoon.

What does this mean for Castellanos’ immediate future? That’s hard to tell right now. Look at the talent level around other organizations, and Castellanos is more valuable to other teams as a third baseman than an outfielder. So it’s hard to look at this quick of a move as a showcase for other teams. Even with teams that have great third-base prospects, such as the Cubs, it’s unlikely a Castellanos audition in the outfield would be the key to a deal.

Another possibility would be that now that the news is out, make the move. See how he handles it, and get the transition moving so that he’s further along. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re looking at Castellanos as a possible call-up later this year. But then, when you look at their track record (Cameron Maybin’s sudden call-up in mid-August 2007 comes to mind) and then look at this move, it’s hard to rule it out.

Take note, too, that Castellanos is starting in right field. He had been taking fly balls in left.

Cabrera: Castellanos more athletic than me at that age

Miguel Cabrera seemed a little surprised to learn that Tigers top prospect Nick Castellanos has been tracking fly balls in the outfield at Double-A Erie. That wasn’t a position change he had been thinking about. But if that’s a position shift looming for Castellanos, Cabrera sounds confident he can do it.

Cabrera should know. He made the shift when the Florida Marlins first called him up in 2003 after spending all but three games at third base at Double-A Carolina (he played those other three games in left field).

“It was easy because I was young. I was able to do that,” Cabrera said Tuesday afternoon before All-Star batting practice. “I was surprised at the time, but it was an opportunity to play in the big leagues. When they gave me the opportunity, I wanted to work hard, not throw away the opportunity they gave to me and try to make it and try to be consistent in the big leagues.”

When asked about Castellanos’ potential move in the future, Cabrera said, “He’s more athletic than me back when I was that age. He’s faster than me.”

That is not a shallow compliment. At 20, a slender Cabrera was one of the best athletes in baseball, capable of many of the feats he does now but with more speed and agility.

Cabrera did not see Castellanos’ MVP performance in Sunday’s All-Star Futures Game; he had the Tigers’ first-half finale to worry about. However, he knows his ability well.

“He can hit,” Cabrera said. “We worked out in the offseason with him, with hitting. We were hitting together. We were able to see how he’s a smart hitter with his approach he had at home plate. I think if he’s able to do that, I think he’s going to be successful in the big leagues.”

Verlander, Granderson, Rodney teammates again for All-Star Game

The last time Curtis Granderson played center field behind Justin Verlander, he came up with a game-saving diving catch in the eighth inning. Fernando Rodney had already relieved Verlander at that point, on his way to his last save of a Verlander start.

That was the last scheduled regular-season game of 2009, a  Tigers win that kept them alive for the one-game AL Central tiebreaker known as Game 163. Everyone knows how that story ended, and the dealing that happened afterwards — Granderson traded to New York, Rodney lost to free agency.

For one All-Star Game, they’ll all be teammates again, along with Miguel Cabrera. It wasn’t lost on Granderson, now a Yankees star.

“Justin’s obviously a great competitor,” Granderson said Monday. “He’s been a great teammate coming up. We made the team together in ’06, got a chance to be a part of a World Series together, and he’s continued just to blossom and grow and be one of the best pitchers in the game right now. And there’s no question why he’s the starter tomorrow.

“He’s dominant and he’s a guy that everyone talks about has the ability to throw a no-hitter every time he steps on the mound, and that’s a credit to him working hard and continuing to set the bar high.”

Verlander was a 19-game winner back then, a budding young arm still finding his full repertoire of pitches. He has found it in the two-plus years since Granderson became a Yankee.

“I would say, if anything, he’s found more ways to get you out,” Granderson said. “He used to trust, ‘Hey, I’m going to throw the fastball by you and I’m going to have a lot of success,’ but now he kind of messes with you a little bit.

“He knows he’s got the fastball. He’s got different fastballs now, some that are 91-93 [mph] and some that are 98-99. And any one can come out at any time. He’s got the changeup working now. He’s got the big curveball that he’s always had. And he can do it at any time. It doesn’t matter if you’re a lefty or a righty, if you’ve had some hits off of him or if you haven’t, he’s got a good chance to get you out every time you step out there.”

Granderson, too, has blossomed, from one of the game’s great young center fielders into an All-Star starter and one of the most recognizable Yankees outside of the core group that has been there for years.

As for Rodney, that 2009 season was supposed to be his career year, a 37-save season that saw him blow only one save chance. He got the final four outs of that Verlander win, then tossed 48 pitches over three-plus innings two days later at Minnesota. At the very least, it was his payday season, drawing a two-year, $11 million contract offer from the Angels that winter. He recorded 17 saves over the course of that contract.

This year has been better, earning him his first All-Star selection. He’d still like one more chance to save a Verlander win.

“I’d like to be back in again to close behind Verlander,” Rodney said. “Whatever I have to be, I want to be the pitcher they go to.”

Verlander officially named AL All-Star starter

The Tigers have turned to Justin Verlander for wins at Kauffman Stadium for seven years. Why wouldn’t the American League All-Stars?

Statistically, AL manager Ron Washington could’ve justified several choices for starting Tuesday’s All-Star Game, from Major League ERA leader and 2011 All-Star Game starter Jered Weaver to AL wins co-leader David Price to White Sox sensation Chris Sale. In the end, he turned to the man many recognize as the nastiest pitcher in baseball.

“He is one of the best pitchers in all of baseball, not just the American League,” Washington said of Verlander at a Monday press conference at Arrowhead Stadium. “The joy that I have of giving him the ball tomorrow, he’s well-rested. I expect a lot out of him, and I know he expects a lot out of himself.”

Thus, a year after Verlander made the All-Star team but couldn’t pitch amidst a season that earned him MVP and Cy Young honors, he gets to make the first pitch.

“What an honor it is to start my first All-Star Game,” Verlander said Monday. “I’ve been to a few in the past and some I haven’t had the opportunity to pitch like last year and some I’ve pitched out of the bullpen. But this is something different, and I’m going to relish every moment and hopefully play a part in helping the American league win.”

Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder will bat fifth for the AL All-Stars. Former Tiger Curtis Granderson will start in center field behind Verlander for the first time since Game 162 (the game before the tiebreaker) of the 2009 season.

Verlander enters the All-Star break tied for the Major League lead with 128 strikeouts and topping the big leagues with 132 2/3 innings pitched and five complete games. His 2.58 ERA ranks him fourth among AL starters, while his nine victories put him two off the league-leading pace.

His WHIP ratio — walks plus hits to innings pitched — is 0.95, 96 hits and 30 walks over 132 2/3 innings. He’s averaging 0.7 home runs per nine innings, actually better than last year.

Verlander tossed a complete-game four-hitter last Wednesday to beat the Twins, his fourth win in his last five starts, then said he didn’t want a 2011 achievement award, starting an All-Star Game based on last year.

“Yeah, I had a good year last year, but I shouldn’t be [awarded] for that,” Verlander said last week. “If I get to start in the All-Star Game, I want to know it’s because I’ve been the best pitcher up to this point. …

“You’re not owed anything in this game. Whoever’s the best pitcher up to this point is owed that. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the opportunity last year. And who knows if I’d have had it anyway? [Jered] Weaver was really good up to that point as well.”

This numbers say he shouldn’t have to worry about that. As a result, Verlander will add an All-Star start to a resume that includes the 2006 AL Rookie of the Year award, a World Series start as a rookie, a Cy Young and an MVP, all before he turns 30 next February.

Verlander will be pitching on five days’ rest, and he won’t pitch again until Sunday in Baltimore, meaning he should be good for two innings of work if Washington wants that.

His history in Kansas City is impeccable, with a 9-2 record and 1.83 ERA. He hasn’t lost at Kauffman Stadium since 2009, going 4-0 in five starts. He tossed a 131-pitch complete game there April 16, during which manager Jim Leyland made the now-famous mound visit to tell his ace he was going to get him fired for leaving him in that long.

His success there prompted Verlander to joke what kind of reception he might get when he’s introduced.

“I can’t wait to see if I get booed or cheered,” he said last week. “It’s in Kansas City, but it’s AL, so they should be cheering for us. But it’s a division rival.”

He won’t have to wait long to take the field and find out.

Tigers’ Futures Game display in quotes

Futures Game MVP Nick Castellanos on his three-run homer and 3-for-4 performance:

“I think the biggest thing that I’m happy with is that, as big of the stage that I was set on, with as many good players that are here, I was able to just remember my game and just stay within myself, stay with my old routine, stay with what I do good, which is just hitting line drives, getting base hits. Don’t think just because I hit a home run I tried to press or do anything different in this game. It just happened to go out. I’m just really happy that I was able to stay within myself and do what I can do.”

Castellanos on his reaction to his home run:

“I think I gave a couple first pumps rounding second, and I remember saying to myself, ‘That’s huge. That’s awesome.’ It was a great at-bat. The pitcher pitched me really well. I worked a 3-2 count and he left I think a two-seamer that got in. And I was able to get the good part of the bat to it, and it got enough to get out. That at-bat’s definitely up there with the greatest at-bats I’ve had in pro ball.”

Castellanos on his bat going to the Hall of Fame:

“The bat’s probably the coolest thing ever. That’s right up there with playing in this game. I don’t even think I’ve taken that in yet, that the bat I used is going to Cooperstown. I went to Cooperstown when I was 12 for a tournament and I was just walking around. The names that are in Cooperstown and that my bat’s going to Cooperstown, saying that out loud is pretty cool. …

“First time I used that bat was to bunt in batting practice today, so it’s a good stick.”

Catcher Rob Brantly, who doubled in Castellanos in sixth inning and threw out a baserunner:

“I’m so proud of him. That’s my brother over there. To see him have that sort of success, it lifts my spirits. It’s great to finally be playing with him. I got excited when I got to play with him one day in Double-A and then I got moved up. But when we’re in the lineup together, I don’t know what it is, man. It’s just something kind of electrifies him, and we get it going.”

Reliever Bruce Rondon, who hit 102 mph on one pitch on the Kauffman Stadium radar gun and hit 101 on three others:

“It was a beautiful experience, something I’ll never forget. It wasn’t the score that I wanted, but it was a great day. This is such a beautiful stadium I look forward to playing in one day. This is what I dream about. This is what I want my family wants and everybody who loves me wants. I am so happy and I’m healthy. What else can I ask for?”

Brantly on the thought of potentially facing Rondon:

“I think everybody was thinking about that at the beginning of the game. I don’t know if you guys saw the radar gun there, he didn’t throw anything below 101. Guys were coming out of their shoes early. They were looking forward to getting out of the box — single, home run, whatever. He pounded the zone, so kudos to him. I’m proud of him.”

Castellanos taking fly balls in left field with Erie

Nick Castellanos broke into the U.S. starting lineup for the All-Star Futures Game as the designated hitter. He might also have provided a hint for where he could eventually fit in as a Tiger if Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder stay on the corners for the foreseeable future.

Actually, the hint came from Tigers minor-league instructor Kevin Bradshaw, who talked with Castellanos shortly before his promotion to Double-A Erie.

“Get an outfielder’s glove,” Castellanos said he was told. “Just to have one, it’s not a bad idea. So I went out and got one. I haven’t been getting specific instruction there yet. He just said to get out there, start getting a little different view.”

Once Castellanos made the jump to Erie little more than a month ago, he began tracking fly balls in left field during pregame batting practice — not specific drills, he said, but a way to get accustomed to that angle.

“A lot of it is pretty getting used to seeing the way the ball comes off [the bat] to lefties, comes off to righties, making sure I’m getting behind the balls when I’m running after them instead of running forward and then having to adjust backwards. That’s pretty much it,” Castellanos said Sunday before the All-Star Futures Game in Kansas City.

By all accounts, no move is imminent. All of Castellanos’ game action has been at third base, with the occasional start at designated hitter to get him off his feet. But with Miguel Cabrera seemingly at third base for the foreseeable future while Prince Fielder is at first, and the Tigers potentially having an opening in left field as soon as next season, though Castellanos won’t necessarily be ready at that point.

When asked about where his future lies, Castellanos said nothing definitive.

“I really don’t know,” he said. “I know the organization still loves me as a third baseman. They see me there in the future. They’ve also mentioned to get an outfielder’s glove, nothing too serious so far.”

Cabrera broke into the big leagues with the 2003 Marlins as their left fielder because that’s where their void was. They had Mike Lowell at third, though Lowell missed most of September that year and Cabrera filled in at third.

“All those guys are great,” Castellanos said. “I’m just going to have to keep on grinding it through and hopefully I’ll force them to put me somewhere.”

Another example is Albert Pujols, who played both corner outfield and infield spots as a 21-year-old rookie in 2001 before spending most of the following two years as the Cards’ primary left fielder.

“If you hit,” the 20-year-old Castellanos said, “they’re going to find a spot for you.”

Smyly throws Royals a curveball (or a slider, or a slurve)

If you read the game story from last night on the site, you’ve already read plenty about the adjustments Drew Smyly made to get out of his midseason doldrums, his breaking ball foremost among them. He says he tweaked it, but did he maybe come up with a different pitch?

His breaking pitch has sometimes been described as a slider, but the movement on it last night looked more like a curveball. Moreover, Smyly called it a curveball.

“Tonight it was a curve,” Smyly said after the game. “I think I got away from what I was throwing, and it was kind of slurvy. But over the past couple weeks, me and [pitching coach Jeff Jones] have been working on staying closed [in my delivery]. When I fly open, that’s when things start to get kind of flat. When I stay closed, it makes is more [overhand].”

The break was sharper, but just as important, the delivery makes it look like he’s about to throw a fastball.

“I threw a lot of them in the dirt and they were swinging at them over and over,” Smyly said. “That tells me they were thinking it was something else.”

According to data on MLB.com Gameday and brooksbaseball.net, Smyly threw 43 breaking balls, nearly matching his fastball total (48). He got 28 strikes from it, and eight swings and misses, more than he got on his other four pitches combined.

It was a huge difference against the Royals, who struck out just four times in six innings against Smyly April 17 at Kauffman Stadium. He threw 63 fastballs and 18 sliders in that outing, and got just two swings and misses out of the latter.

Smyly believes he can throw it both styles and essentially give himself an extra pitch midway through his rookie season.

“I’m still working on mixing in both of them, both the slurve and the curveball,” he said. “It’s the same pitch, but you can just kind of throw it softer and harder. Today was the best it’s been in a while, and I was really throwing hard. I was able to control it. I was throwing for strikes, too. That really helped me out.”

Saturday: Tigers vs. Royals

Just arrived in Kansas City for All-Star festivities (the Futures Game, for one, is Sunday night), but here’s the lineup for today’s game against the Royals. Berry is back in the lineup against another lefty, though Bruce Chen is a far different style pitcher than Jonathan Sanchez. Brennan Boesch sits for a second straight game.

TIGERS

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

P: Doug Fister

Friday’s lineups: Tigers vs. Royals

As Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com pointed out, so many people (including me before spring training) figured Miguel Cabrera would be a designated hitter by this point, and yet tonight will be just the third game at DH for Cabrera this year. He gets a day out of the field, with Delmon Young moving to left. Quintin Berry gets back into the lineup in right field against the lefty, with Ryan Raburn at second base. Ramon Santiago is the third baseman tonight in Cabrera’s place.

TIGERS

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

P: Drew Smyly

ROYALS

  1. Alex Gordon, LF
  2. Alcides Escobar, SS
  3. Eric Hosmer, 1B
  4. Billy Butler, DH
  5. Yuniesky Betancourt, 2B
  6. Mike Moustakas, 3B
  7. Jeff Francoeur, RF
  8. Brayan Pena, C
  9. Jason Bourgeois, CF

P: Jonathan Sanchez

Thursday’s lineups: Tigers vs. Twins

Leyland told reporters in his office this morning that he had a tough time weighing whether to start Quintin Berry today against Scott Diamond, who has given up a .324 batting average and .940 OPS to left-handed hitters this year. Ultimately, the fact that Raburn has seen Diamond before — and he’s supposed to hit lefties — won out.

“I tossed and turned with it today to play Berry or Raburn. I ended up playing Raburn,” Leyland said. The thought process is if Raburn doesn’t help us against left-handers then we have issues. You give him the benefit of the doubt to see if you can maybe get him going a little bit.”

It sounds very much like Leyland is sticking with the idea of using this stretch to see if Raburn can turn it around.

“I’m kind of playing the string out right now to see if Raburn’s going to do something,” Leyland said.

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. Ramon Santiago, 2B

P: Rick Porcello

TWINS

  1. Denard Span, CF
  2. Ben Revere, RF
  3. Joe Mauer, DH
  4. Ryan Doumit, C
  5. Justin Morneau, 1B
  6. Trevor Plouffe, 3B
  7. Darin Mastroianni, LF
  8. Brian Dozier, SS
  9. Jamey Carroll, 2B

P: Scott Diamond

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