March 27th, 2013
Remember the CBSSports.com piece from a few days ago, quoting Justin Verlander saying he didn’t want any contract negotiations during the season? Well, he doesn’t want any questions regarding contract negotiations starting … right … about … now.
The question on his contract came up as expected after his 5 2/3 innings of work Wednesday against the Phillies.
“I’ve got no comments on contract anything,” Verlander said. “We’re one start away from Opening Day and I’d prefer to talk about that.”
Does that signal anything going on, considering Verlander has taken questions on his contract status all spring? At this point, there are no signs that anything is close. The Tigers haven’t commented on Verlander’s contract status all spring, other than GM Dave Dombrowski saying he’d like to keep Verlander in a Tiger uniform for a long time. Verlander’s agent, Mike Milchin, is known for not saying much of anything to the media on negotiations.
It could also be that Verlander didn’t want to take questions on contract talks on this particular day.
Here’s the thing about Verlander: Though the Tigers don’t close spring training until Saturday, when they wrap up Grapefruit League play against the Rays at Tropicana Field and then fly to Minneapolis, Verlander goes into regular-season mode starting Thursday. His final spring start was moved to Wednesday so that he could start Opening Day on his standard four days of rest. He is a creature of routines, and his regular-season routine starts now.
It’s hard to tell whether there’s any room for Verlander to take on contract talks in the midst of that routine. The fact that Verlander isn’t talking about it could suggest that he is, or it could suggest he’s just shutting everything down now. It’s hard to tell with him.
The spotlight that has been shining on Bruce Rondon every outing for the last five weeks finally can come down. Now comes the judgment whether he’s ready to pitch, or close, in the big leagues.
Wednesday’s outing against the Phillies didn’t make the decision process any simpler.
“From an organizational standpoint, we’re evaluating a couple of these last decisions we have to make,” manager Jim Leyland said. “We evaluated yesterday and we evaluated today, and we will discuss those evaluations in both instances.”
Without saying as much, Leyland was acknowledging the difference in the two days, and the complication in putting together a judgment as a whole. A day after Rondon put together what Leyland calls his best pitching of the spring, he struggled to try to get through his inning of work Wednesday.
Neither of the back-to-back singles Rondon allowed leading off Wednesday’s seventh inning was hit particularly hard, though Ben Revere’s ground ball single was hit hard enough to elude Danny Worth’s diving attempt at third base. With runners at the corners and nobody out, Rondon rebounded to fire fastballs past Troy Hanzawa for the first out, but Michael Young’s grounder to short sent Jhonny Peralta just far enough to his left to leave him without a play at the plate.
It also moved the speedy Revere to third, and that’s where Rondon’s outing seemed to come apart. A walk to Laynce Nix put runners at the corners for Carlos Ruiz when a balk cost him another run.
Catcher Alex Avila took the blame for the balk, saying they had a mix-up on signs. When Avila threw down another sign, Rondon stopped in his delivery, drawing the call and sending Revere home with another run.
“Alex said he messed it up. I don’t worry about that,” Leyland said.
Ruiz’s ensuing walk drew Leyland out of the dugout as soon as Rondon snatched the toss from Avila. Rondon had hit his pitch count, and Leyland did not want to go much past that on Rondon’s second straight day of pitching.
“He wasn’t as sharp, obviously,” Leyland acknowledged, “but he wasn’t <i>bad</i> bad.”
That said, Leyland acknowledged it’ll be part of the evaluation.
Publicly, Leyland and Avila said, Rondon has been evaluated on a game-by-game basis. It’s part of the spotlight a closer goes through, but it’s something the 22-year-old Rondon hadn’t experienced before.
“Obviously [Tuesday] he was lights-out, but I think everybody has unrealistic expectations,” Avila said. “I mean, every time he pitches, you guys ask how he did. It seems like everybody expects him to have a 1-2-3 inning with three strikeouts every inning. That’s never going to be the case.
“But I thought he threw all right [Wednesday]. He was a little bit more wild than he was yesterday. He still made some real good pitches. … Overall, I thought he pitched OK. Obviously there’s room for improvement.”
Leyland and the Tigers front office have three options for their fireballing reliever. They can name him the primary closer, they can start him out in the bullpen as part of a closer by committee, or they can option him to the minors for more seasoning. Leyland was giving no hints on what he might do Wednesday.
Coming into the day, the second option appears like the strongest option. As guarded as Leyland was in his praise the last couple weeks, he has been measured in his critiques during his two rough outings over the past five days.
“He wants to make the team and he’s trying his fanny off to make the team,” Leyland said, “and everything’s been written so much about it. It’s got to affect him a little bit. I think he’s handled things pretty darn well.”
Turns out Quintin Berry’s option to Toledo means that Don Kelly is on the team, barring an unforeseen acquisition in the next few days.
“We made the decision based on what we felt was best for our team at this particular time,” Leyland said.
It also turns out that the decision on Kelly does not fill out the positional roster. Not yet. With Danny Worth still in camp, that apparently suggests either the utility infielder job is in play, or that the Tigers are waiting to see if they end up trading Ramon Santiago in the coming days.
An American League source seconded the tweet from ESPN’s Buster Olney last night that Santiago is on the trade market. He was also on the market last offseason, and his name came up during the winter meetings. His $2.1 million salary is an obvious impediment to other deals.
Assuming the Tigers don’t work out a deal for Santiago, it appears highly unlikely they would eat $2.1 million to put Worth on the team.
Could this be the Tigers’ regular-season lineup against left-handed pitching (except for Fielder at DH and V-Mart at first base, of course)? It’s getting the call against Phillies lefty Cole Hamels.
Reminder: Today’s game is on ESPN starting at 1pm ET.
- Austin Jackson, CF
- Torii Hunter, RF
- Miguel Cabrera, 3B
- Prince Fielder, DH
- Victor Martinez, 1B
- Matt Tuiasosopo, LF
- Jhonny Peralta, SS
- Alex Avila, C
- Omar Infante, 2B
P: Justin Verlander
- Ben Revere, CF
- Kevin Frandsen, 3B
- Michael Young, DH
- Laynce Nix, 1B
- Carlos Ruiz, C
- Pete Orr, 2B
- John Mayberry Jr., RF
- Freddy Galvis, SS
- Ender Inciarte, LF
P: Cole Hamels
The race for the last positional spot on the Tigers roster is down to two after Detroit optioned Quintin Berry to Toledo. That leaves Don Kelly and Danny Worth as the only two position players left without spots assured, though an AL source seconded Buster Olney’s report from last night that Ramon Santiago is apparently available for trade depending on how much of his $2.1 million salary Detroit would eat.
Berry played a big role in the Tigers’ late season charge last year, but Don Kelly’s hot spring and the time Berry lost to patellar tendinitis severely hurt his cause. Jeff Kobernus’ return to the Nationals seemingly should have helped Berry’s cause, because it left him as the only speedy runner left as a bench option for a team that supposedly wanted a late-inning pinch-runner. However, that wasn’t enough reason to keep him.
As long of a Spring Training as this has been, and as up-and-down as it has been at times for Bruce Rondon, I think it’s safe to say Tigers manager Jim Leyland has been guarded in his praise for the potential rookie closer. On Tuesday, after Rondon sent down the middle of the Braves lineup in order and struck out both Upton brothers, Leyland didn’t hesitate in his praise.
“Well, I think that’s probably the best he’s thrown this spring,” Leyland said after the game. “He had a good day today. … He was aggressive. He was in the strike zone consistently. He mixed his pitches well. He threw two or three pitches by design that we wanted to see.”
Rondon took the step of starting off hitters with sliders and then going to his fastball. He struck out Justin Upton swinging at a slider before using a similar pitch to get a second strike on B.J. Upton, setting up the fastball for strike three. In between, Freddie Freeman flew out meekly to left.
He topped out at 100 mph on the Joker Marchant Stadium radar gun, but that wasn’t the most important part of his outing this time around.
Rondon won’t have to wait long to try to follow up on it. He’s scheduled to pitch again Wednesday against the Phillies as he gets his spring drill of pitching on back-to-back days.