April 15th, 2013

Valverde tosses two hitless innings in scrimmage

Jose Valverde tossed two hitless innings Monday afternoon in his second outing at Tigers extended Spring Training, striking out four with no walks in a scrimmage against a Canadian junior national team of 16, 17 and 18 year olds at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex.

This was the second of two scheduled outings for Valverde, who reported to extended Spring Training last week after signing a minor-league contract with his old team a week and a half ago. What happens from here hasn’t been announced, but team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said the day they announced the signing that Valverde would most likely get his test against Triple-A hitters at Toledo before the Tigers made a decision. Whether that would happen now or he might get another spring outing isn’t clear, but statistically, he has had little trouble against hitters in Florida, though the latest group of hitters consisted of teenagers — some of them likely headed for the MLB draft, some of them committed to college programs in the U.S. — who were probably surprised to see a veteran Major League closer on the mound. Among those in the other dugout were 18-year-old right-hander Nathan Borges.

Valverde has an opt-out clause in his contract that he could exercise if he’s not in the Majors by May 5.

Fielder wins AL Player of the Week

It’s still way, way too soon to make a case that Prince Fielder is on his way to becoming the Tigers next American League Most Valuable Player, but some people around the Tigers are thinking about it already. Winning AL Player of the Week is a very good start.

The way Fielder hit last week, especially in Oakland over the last few days, it wasn’t much of a contest. Fielder went 12-for-19 (.632) over six games with four doubles, two home runs and 11 RBIs. Add in nine walks, two of them intentional, and a hit by pitch, and the 28-year-old first baseman reached base safely at a .733 clip.

Both of Fielder’s home runs came over the weekend in Oakland, where his three-run homer accounted for all of Detroit’s runs in Friday’s series opener. Fielder went 4-for-5 in that game, then added a solo shot Saturday in a 2-for-3, two-walk performance. His RBI double contributed to a 10-run Tiger outburst in the series finale on Sunday.

Fielder went into Monday leading the American League with a .429 batting average, tied atop the league with 19 RBIs, and second with a .527 on-base percentage. It’s the kind of start of a year many believe could take his game to another level for several reasons.

Fielder has had a year to get to know AL pitchers and how teams around the league defense him, and still batted .313 last season. Just as important, he has protection behind him in the lineup that he didn’t have last year with Victor Martinez back from last year’s knee surgery.

Martinez hasn’t been a major deterrent for teams to pitch around Fielder so far, but he made the A’s pay for intentionally walking Fielder in the first inning Sunday by delivering a two-run single off Jarrod Parker.

How often Fielder walks this season could impact whether he could contend for a hoe run or RBI title. Even if it does, some in the organization believe he’s a good enough pure hitter to contend for a batting crown.

His teammates have already started building his case for MVP, putting him on the path that Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera took over the last couple years.

“I don’t think it’s any stretch of the imagination that he has a good chance of being an MVP in this league,” Verlander told reporters on Saturday.

Player of the Week honors are nothing new for Fielder, who won four of them in the National League during his time with the Milwaukee Brewers. This is the first AL honor for Fielder, having been arguably overshadowed last year by Cabrera’s historic Triple Crown season.

If Fielder keeps up anywhere near this type of hitting for a good stretch, he’s going to be difficult to ignore, either for more of these awards or for the MVP conversation at year’s end.