March 5th, 2013

Boesch homers, goes 2-for-3 as DH in minor-league exhibition

Brennan Boesch said he felt Opening Day type nerves before he stepped to the plate against Western Michigan on Tuesday. The key for the Tigers in this minor-league Spring Training exhibition was that he didn’t feel anything in the oblique muscle that he strained two and a half weeks ago.

Boesch felt fine, going 2-for-3 with a home run and a walk in four plate appearances as the designated hitter.

“It felt great,” Boesch said. “I felt excited. I was even nervous before, you know, just getting back out there. It feels great to play a sport I love again. It’s been a while. To show up and have an injury, I had to wait for that. I’ve been patient in my return, and I’m glad it has paid off.”

The Tigers maneuvered the lineup so that Boesch could bat in each of the first four innings on a day when the rest of the big league camp was off. He grounded out to first base in the opening inning against sophomore right-hander Casey Hall before sending a ground ball through the right side for a single in the second.

Boesch worked a nine-pitch walk in the third inning, fouling off three consecutive full-count pitches from senior right-hander Nick Bradley. He tested out his oblique trying to steal second base, but was retired on a ground-ball force out.

“I had a chance to do everything except, obviously, field,” Boesch said. “I’m very pleased with how my body responded, which was the most important thing.”

Boesch’s home run came on a 1-1 pitch from sophomore righty Adam Jones and went over the corner of the indoor batting cage building in right field, just to the right of the scoreboard.

“It didn’t help the Tigers beat the White Sox or anything. Those feel a lot better,” Boesch said. “It’s just I’ve been working hard to get back, so it just feels good to be able to get through a couple at-bats and run around.”

The Tigers return to action Wednesday against the Blue Jays at Joker Marchant Stadium. If Boesch gets the start, either at DH or in the outfield, he’ll get to face his old college roommate from the University of California, Jays starter Brandon Morrow.

“As far as I know, I’ll hopefully be in there tomorrow unless I wake up and something’s completely messed up,” Boesch said. “I don’t expect there to be any lingering problems.”

Both Boesch and Morrow have been through their share of injuries and trade rumors in their careers, and they’ve turned to each other for advice. Boesch joked he might send in one more request.

“I’m going to text him and say, ‘Just please lay it in there for me, please,'” he said.

Monday wrapup: Where the closer situation and the Porcello situation intersect

Rick Porcello (AP)

This is what a lot of scouts at Joker Marchant Stadium were looking at on Monday. (AP)

One of the easiest ways to break up the Groundhog Day type of feel you get in the middle of Spring Training — you know, when every day feels the same — is a day when a lot of scouts arrive. It’s not just about trade rumors, though Rick Porcello’s situation is bound to create that. It’s about the discussion.

Yes, a lot of scouts came to Joker Marchant Stadium on Monday, more than a half-dozen, way more than you’d expect for a Tigers-Astros tilt. Part of the reason was a light schedule in the Grapefruit League, just five games with the Yankees, Blue Jays, Orioles, Nationals and Marlins off. Some scouts came in to get a head start on their organization reports. More scouts came on looking at Porcello. The Rangers had somebody there, as first reported by Ken Rosenthal, as did the Yankees, and the Phillies, and more teams after that.

Bring in a lot of scouts, and you get a lot of attention on the Tigers. You also get a lot of views on what the Tigers should do with their closer situation and with the Porcello situation.

While the Tigers took batting practice Monday morning, I talked with two veteran scouts who were at the park to do their work. Neither of them believe Bruce Rondon is ready to take over the closer role, and that was about it on what they agreed on.

One scout believes the Tigers probably can’t go into the season with their bullpen as is. He believes in a strong closer, a proven one for a veteran club, and believes they’d be better off trading for somebody than trying to piece together a closer mix from their existing parts. He also thinks Porcello could get them somebody — if not a proven closer, then somebody with the combination of arm and relief success to probably handle.

The other scout is a believer in the anyone-can-close philosophy. A good reliever, he says, can get you 25 saves in a season no problem, and he can cite examples. He says the Tigers will be fine with the group of veteran relievers they have, and that they should ease in Rondon with seventh- and eighth-inning work while others handle the closer work. He’s more concerned with the Tigers’ starting pitching depth than he is the closer situation. Not only should they not feel the need to trade for a closer, the scout argued, they shouldn’t feel the need to trade Porcello. Between the average number of starters a team uses over the course of a season, and the complete void he sees with insurance starters in the Tigers farm system, they should hold onto the depth they’ve got. He didn’t call trading for a closer a fool’s game, but he could tell you deals that backfired.

These two separate conversations with almost completely opposing views took place maybe 15 minutes apart while the Tigers took BP. They were the most interesting part of the day.

Neither of them combined the two arguments and suggested Rick Porcello as a closer. That came after BP when a reporter asked Jim Leyland about it. Nobody saw his answer coming, not when his long pause suggested somebody summoning his patience.

“I don’t know that that’s necessarily a wild thought,” Leyland answered.

That got some people looking up from their notepads. Considering Leyland is not an anybody-can-close believer, and even made the case Monday that outs 25-27 are way different than outs 22-24, the Porcello thing was stunning.

It doesn’t mean the Tigers are seriously looking at it, though Leyland mentioned as far back as the winter caravan in January that Porcello could end up in the bullpen if he didn’t win the fifth starter job. But if you’re one of those people who remembers the scouting reports about Porcello throwing in the mid-90s in high school, and you’ve wondered where that fastball went or if it ever existed, it’s quite a thought.

At least it got a better answer from Leyland than the Jose Valverde rumor did on Monday.

“That’s not in the picture,” Leyland said. “Trust me. That has not even been discussed.”

Personally, I doubt the Porcello idea has been discussed, either. If it had, somebody probably would’ve suggested to Porcello that he mix in more sliders by now to complement his fastball. Still, keep it in mind. If you can’t, don’t worry, because we’ll all probably remind you about it a few times as this closer saga — and this Porcello saga — chug along.

One thing for sure: That Groundhog Day feel to Spring Training was gone.