January 2013

Morris, Trammell left out of Hall again

The last time the BBWAA didn’t vote anyone into the Hall of Fame, the ballot included a half-dozen eventual inductees. We’ll see if that’s much consolation for Jack Morris, who is once again left on the outside looking in, this time in his next-to-last year on the ballot.

Morris fell 42 votes shy of the 427 needed for induction this year, garnering 67.7 percent. His 385 votes represented a bump of just three votes from last year. He was one of five players to be named on half the ballots submitted, joining Craig Biggio (68.2%), Jeff Bagwell (59.6%), Mike Piazza (57.8%) and Tim Raines (52.2%). Biggio and Piazza were on the ballot for the first time, Bagwell the third, Raines the sixth.

Morris, by contrast, has only one more chance to get to the magic number of 75 percent. He’s going to need a major jump to do it, like the one he got from 2011 to 2012. The last chance on the ballot would normally be a factor, but next year’s crowded ballot might counteract that. Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Frank Thomas and Mike Mussina all join the ballot, and voters have a limit of 10 players they can select on their ballot.

The hope for Alan Trammell, meanwhile, seems all but extinguished. After a 50 percent jump in votes last year, he was in position where another big jump would put him in the conversation. Instead, his vote percentage dropped, from 36.8 to 33.6. That’s 20 fewer votes. Four fewer total ballots were turned in this year than last.

Tigers spring training dates are set

If you’re planning on a February visit to Florida for spring training, or if you’re just looking forward to having actual baseball news other than hot stove stuff (I know I am), the dates are set for the Tigers’ first spring training workouts. Pitchers and catchers hold their first formal workout on Tuesday, Feb. 12. The first full-squad workout is set for Friday, Feb. 15.

They’re earlier dates than usual for a couple reasons. First is the World Baseball Classic and the desire to get players into camps and working out with their Major League teams for a while before some of them report to their respective national teams. The other factor is the April 1 start date.

The Tigers don’t really list official reporting dates anymore, because it’s a non-issue. So many players report early nowadays, especially pitchers, that there’s nothing to enforce. A lot of players also get their physical exams out of the way early, like when they’re in Detroit in January for TigerFest and the Winter Caravan. As long as players show up for the first workout, they’re fine.

No ESPN for Tigers opener this year

Not sure if this is really news, but after back-to-back Opening Day appearances on the ESPN family of networks, it’s worth mentioning: This year’s Tigers season-opening tilt at Minnesota will not be on ESPN. The network released its Opening Day schedule of four broadcasts, as well as its Sunday night opener with the Rangers at the Astros for Houston’s American League debut.

Part of the reason the Tigers had been a national draw the past two Opening Days was their opponents. They began their 2011 campaign at Yankee Stadium, then hosted the Red Sox last year to start off. This year, the Yankees and Red Sox are facing each other in a 1pm tilt. That will be on ESPN.

The Tigers and Twins are scheduled for a 4:10pm ET start on Monday, April 1 at Target Field. ESPN has a Dodgers-Giants matchup scheduled in that slot.

With ESPN out of the picture, one would assume the primary broadcast will be on Fox Sports Detroit, with Mario Impemba and Rod Allen on the call.

The Tigers home opener is Friday, April 5, against the Yankees in an ALCS matchup. No word yet on whether that could end up being a national broadcast somewhere.

Villarreal shut down from winter ball

After vacation time (except for a day to cover the Anibal Sanchez signing), then holiday time, I’m back on the beat, which means I’m catching up on some of the things that happened while I was off. There’s a lot of stuff, but one that didn’t get a lot of attention was an elbow scare for Brayan Villarreal. Thanks to eltigrevenezolano for pointing it out in the comments section on the last post.

The Tigers had Villarreal pitch winter ball in his native Venezuela with the idea of getting him about 15 innings of work, all in relief. It would be just enough to get him to work on some things and get some early preparation for spring training, but not enough to really tax him.

Vilarreal joined the Caribes de Anzoategui in early December and pitching in three games, pitching three scoreless innings on one hit with a run and a strikeout. He complained about some arm problems in mid-December and was sent back to the U.S. to have his elbow checked out, according to the Venezuelan newspaper El Universal. The tests reportedly revealed inflammation, but no structural damage.

The Tigers confirmed he was checked out but showed nothing serious. While Villarreal was reportedly was expected to be sidelined until January, word from the Tigers was that they reached an agreement with Villarreal to shut him down for the rest of the winter and have him get ready for spring training, rather than have him return cold for the Venezuelan playoffs.

If elbow inflammation sounds familiar for Villarreal, that’s because he was diagnosed with the same thing in August after some discomfort. He returned from that scare after six days and picked up where he left off with some very good outings, but then struggled through September before being left off the postseason roster.

Considering how well Villarreal pitched when he was at his best during the summer, it’s hard to overestimate how important he is to the 2013 bullpen as it’s currently constructed. He isn’t viewed as a closer in the making, not now anyway, but he has the stuff to play a big role in the later innings, especially if someone else from the setup ranks steps up to close. On a team that didn’t have a consistent lefty reliever, Villarreal held left-handed hitters to a .190 batting average (12-for-63, 19 walks, 18 strikeouts). If he corrals his stuff like Fernando Rodney eventually did, he has tremendous capability. But of course, he can’t do it if he’s hurt, which is why the Tigers are watching him closely.