March 2013

Rondon decision coming after rough Wednesday

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.”

Kelly has made the team, Worth still in camp

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.

 

Wednesday: Tigers vs. Phillies

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.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Torii Hunter, RF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B
  4. Prince Fielder, DH
  5. Victor Martinez, 1B
  6. Matt Tuiasosopo, LF
  7. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  8. Alex Avila, C
  9. Omar Infante, 2B

P: Justin Verlander

PHILLIES

  1. Ben Revere, CF
  2. Kevin Frandsen, 3B
  3. Michael Young, DH
  4. Laynce Nix, 1B
  5. Carlos Ruiz, C
  6. Pete Orr, 2B
  7. John Mayberry Jr., RF
  8. Freddy Galvis, SS
  9. Ender Inciarte, LF

P: Cole Hamels

Berry optioned to Toledo

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.

Leyland: Tuesday was Rondon’s best outing

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.

Does this week’s pitching reveal next week’s rotation order?

Long answer short: Not sure, but there are some clues.

Jim Leyland said Tuesday he still wasn’t ready to reveal his rotation order after Justin Verlander’s Opening Day assignment, even after announcing Rick Porcello will complete the rotation. This is now getting into bizarre territory; usually when the Tigers open a season on the road, Leyland announces his starter for the home opener shortly after his Opening Day starter, if not at the same time. At this point, we still don’t know who that might be. Whether it has anything to do with the Twins having not announced their starters yet is anyone’s guess.

What we have right now, though, is a pitching order for the final games of Grapefruit League play. Justin Verlander will get his final spring tuneup on Wednesday, then Anibal Sanchez on Thursday, then Max Scherzer on Friday, then Doug Fister on Saturday. Verlander is starting on an extra day of rest Wednesday so that he can be on turn for Monday on his regular four days’ rest.

It’s possible the Tigers could slot Sanchez, Scherzer and Fister in order from there and have them all pitching on an extra day’s rest. It’s also possible Scherzer and Fister could close out the series in Minnesota on four days’ rest each, though it seems unlikely they’d make Sanchez wait more than a week before his first regular-season start. All we can gather for sure is that there’s no way Fister could go from wrapping up his spring training on Saturday to starting off his regular season on Wednesday, especially the way he has pitched.

The widespread belief in recent weeks has been that Scherzer would start the home opener as a reward for last season. However, he has been very good pitching at Target Field the last couple years (3-0 in 3 starts, 4 runs, 14 hits, 19 1/3 innings, 23 strikeouts). Now, he would be on six days’ rest going into the home opener, two more days than normal. Fister doesn’t have that same history in Minnesota, though he has been good at Comerica Park since becoming a Tiger.

To get back to the original question: You can read quite a bit into this week’s order and come up with a good guess at the rotation. I wouldn’t be ready to swear to that quite yet, though.

Kelly will not exercise opt-out clause

The much-chronicled (my bad, guys) opt-out clause in Don Kelly’s minor-league contract will not be exercised. It could’ve come into play today and forced the Tigers into a decision, but Kelly said after Tuesday’s 4-for-4 performance that he will not use it.

Instead, he said he has an informal agreement with the Tigers front office. If Kelly doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski will try to find Kelly another team with a big-league job for him. If not, Kelly will accept an assignment to Triple-A Toledo.

Why not test the open market? One reason Kelly cited was the familiarity with the organization. Another was the situation in Toledo, both the facilities and the proximity to his home just outside Pittsburgh.

By this point, the contract issue was a little much for Kelly.

“This is all contractual stuff,” he said. “I’m just trying to go out and get hits.”

Porcello rotation move takes him off rumor mill

Rick Porcello is off the rumor mill and back in the Tigers rotation. The way he pitched this spring, it was the easiest choice for the Tigers to make.

After all the reported trade discussions, all the clusters of scouts at his spring outings, and all the questions afterwards, Porcello will begin the season back in the same place he has started the last four seasons. Manager Jim Leyland made it official on Tuesday, putting Porcello in the rotation and slotting second-year left-hander Drew Smyly in the bullpen.

The announcement, at least for now, quiets three months of speculation on Porcello’s potential departure, which once seemed inevitable after Detroit re-signed Anibal Sanchez. It could be rekindled soon enough this season, depending on the Detroit’s needs, but the Tigers are going to find out whether Porcello can translate some of the best pitching this spring into the regular season.

“The general manager gives you the players, the manager has something to say, the coaches have something to say, but inevitably, at some point it’s up to the player,” Leyland said Tuesday. “That’s just the way it is. Production is important up here, and it’s up to the players when they get their opportunity to produce.”

Porcello was not available for comment before the Tigers game against the Braves Tuesday afternoon.

Essentially, the competition between Porcello and Smyly left the Tigers with six very good starters. Given the rate of injuries among Major League pitchers, they’d rather have one starting candidate too many than one too few.

Porcello reported to camp seemingly on borrowed time given the roster makeup. However, he brought a more consistent delivery and a surprisingly good breaking ball with him, the product of offseason work with pitching coach Jeff Jones.

Once Porcello ditched the slider for the curveball as his breaking ball of choice, he seemed more comfortable, and he gained confidence with each outing.

A Juan Francisco three-run home run Feb. 27 was the only damage Porcello allowed over his first four starts before the Blue Jays and Marlins hit him a bit over his final two outings. More impressive than the stinginess in scoring, however, was the walk-to-strikeout.

Porcello did not walk a batter in 24 innings of Grapefruit League. His only two walks came in a Class A start March 20 on the back fields at Tigertown. With 21 strikeouts, however, he was doing far better than pitching to contact, a difference that came largely on a better mix of curveballs and fastballs to go with his sinker.

All the while, Porcello sidestepped questions about his future and focused on his own pitching, the lone factor he could control.

“I think he’s shown a lot of character in the way he handled the rumors, the way he approached his job this spring,” Leyland said. “I think he’s a very good Major League pitcher that’s getting better.”

He was good enough this spring that even his competitor acknowledged he would have been tough to keep off the squad.

“I knew we were both pitching great,” Smyly said. “They know what they have in Rick. He’s been starting for them for four years. He deserves it. I still see myself as a Major League starter. I want to be a starter. But it just shows how much talent we have on this team. It’s an honor for me to make it.”

Smyly started off his spring with three consecutive scoreless starts, covering nine innings of three-hit ball. He gave up seven runs over 8 2/3 innings in his next two starts, but settled down for five innings of one-run ball with five strikeouts against the Nationals on Sunday.

The Tigers could have taken that success and said he needs to stick as a starter and work at Triple-A Toledo as an insurance policy. In the end, a few factors argued towards keeping him in Detroit.

“One, we felt like he’s one of our 12 best pitchers,” Leyland said. “Two, we felt like the fact that he’s built up to 100 pitches this spring, with the weather conditions and everything where you might have delays and you could have to take a starter out, he can still come in and pitch four or five innings and do that for a period of time.”

That could change later in the season, Leyland said, if Smyly isn’t getting enough innings to stay fresh. For now, however, he’ll serve a similar role to the bullpen spot he held last postseason, covering long relief but also potentially finding himself in specialized opportunities. Depending on the makeup of the rest of the bullpen, he could be the second left-hander behind Phil Coke.

“It’s an honor to make the team. Porcello, he deserves it,” Smyly said. “All along, I just wanted to be on the team. I wanted to help this team win. Just to know that I’ll be here, I’m really excited about it.”

Porcello to rotation, Smyly to bullpen, Tuiasosopo on team

Take Rick Porcello off the trade market, at least for now. The right-hander will open the season in the Tigers rotation, manager Jim Leyland announced Tuesday. Drew Smyly, who was battling for the spot previously held by Porcello, will open in the bullpen as a long reliever, with maybe some other relief work mixed in.

Matt Tuiasosopo, meanwhile, will be on the Opening Day roster barring an unforeseen move at the end of camp. He has won the right-handed hitting left fielder job to get starts against some lefties.

Still to be decided are one or two bullpen spots, plus the last positional spot on the bench. Leyland said he hopes to resolve those by Thursday, though it’s no guarantee.

Tuesday: Tigers vs. Braves

Today is the day Shawn Hill gets his last start in camp. Presumably, there could be a roster move coming on him afterwards, either later today or tomorrow. Interestingly, Don Kelly gets the start in left field on the day he can apparently exercise his opt-out clause.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Torii Hunter, RF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B
  5. Victor Martinez, DH
  6. Don Kelly, LF
  7. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  8. Brayan Pena, C
  9. Ramon Santiago, 2B

P: Shawn Hill

BRAVES

  1. Andrelton Simmons, SS
  2. Jason Heyward, DH
  3. Justin Upton, LF
  4. Freddie Freeman, 1B
  5. B.J. Upton, CF
  6. Dan Uggla, 2B
  7. Juan Francisco, 3B
  8. Reed Johnson, RF
  9. Gerald Laird, C

P: Tim Hudson

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