April 2013

Thursday’s lineups: Tigers vs. Royals

Andy Dirks and Don Kelly have the exact same numbers against James Shields (both 1-for-3), but Kelly gets the start in left today. Everything else is the regular lineup.

It’ll be interesting to see how Jim Leyland uses his bullpen today, though Verlander’s start means he shouldn’t need his bullpen for many innings. Jose Valverde has pitched four of the last six days if you count his minor-league stint in Lakeland. Al Alburquerque says he’s fine after his hip tightened up on him last night, but Leyland did not sound like he wants to pitch him if he can help it.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF (5-for-13, 3 K’s off James Shields)
  2. Torii Hunter, RF (10-for-32, 8 K’s off Shields)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B (13-for-26, HR, 2 walks, 4 K’s off Shields)
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B (1-for-6, walk off Shields)
  5. Victor Martinez, DH (7-for-19, 6 K’s off Shields)
  6. Jhonny Peralta, SS (10-for-22, 3 HR, 2 walks, 5 K’s off Shields)
  7. Don Kelly, LF (1-for-3 off Shields)
  8. Alex Avila, C (4-for-15, HR, walk, 7 K’s off Shields)
  9. Omar Infante, 2B (2-for-16, 5 K’s off Shields)

P: Justin Verlander

ROYALS

  1. Alex Gordon, LF (10-for-47, 2 HR, 4 walks, 17 K’s off Verlander)
  2. Alcides Escobar, SS (5-for-22, walk, 4 K’s off Verlander)
  3. Billy Butler, DH (21-for-53, 2 HR, 4 walks, 7 K’s off Verlander)
  4. Eric Hosmer, 1B (2-for-20, 3 walks, 4 K’s off Verlander)
  5. Lorenzo Cain, CF
  6. Mike Moustakas, 3B (3-for-18, walk, 5 K’s off Verlander)
  7. Jeff Francoeur, RF (6-for-26, HR, 7 K’s off Verlander)
  8. Salvador Perez, C (3-for-8 off Verlander)
  9. Chris Getz, 2B (6-for-22, walk, 3 K’s off Verlander)

P: James Shields

Game 19: The return of the Big Potato

I have no idea how Jose Valverde’s return is going to work out. For people to look at Valverde not throwing a splitter on Wednesday night and point out that October weather is cold in Detroit, too, requires a huge presumption about Valverde closing.

This wasn’t a move made for October. The Tigers can find a closer for October at the Trade Deadline if they don’t think they have that guy in house then. This was a move made for now.

What I know is that the Tigers did not want to continue with a bullpen by committee. They wanted a set closer. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have scouted Jose Valverde a couple days after sending Bruce Rondon to Triple-A Toledo at the end of Spring Training, and a couple days before the season began in Minnesota.

This wasn’t an indictment of how Joaquin Benoit was pitching, or even about how Phil Coke was pitching. Once the Tigers signed Valverde to a minor-league contract, the question was simply whether he was pitching better than he did last year. Once they saw that, they didn’t need to run him through the motions at Triple-A Toledo. They saw all they needed.

Say what you will about the case for using your bullpen situationally the whole way through, using your best reliever in the eighth inning for the middle of an opponent’s lineup if those are the toughest outs. The Tigers were never going to be in that school of thought, right or wrong.

“Ideally, you’d like to have a one-person closer at the end of the game with a good club,” team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski told the Detroit Economic Club on Wednesday at their annual luncheon. “We looked at some different alternatives. It really didn’t fall into place with getting that one person.”

Jim Leyland can play matchups, but he feels better playing them from the sixth inning through the eighth than doing it into the ninth too.

That showed on Wednesday. With the ninth inning set, he used Al Alburquerque in the sixth inning for just the second time this season. He played the matchups in using Benoit against Mike Moustakas with two outs in the seventh, not only because Moustakas had good numbers against Phil Coke, but because he knew he’d want Benoit against the right-handed hitters that followed anyway.

With the ninth inning set, no matter who’s up, it lets Leyland focus on matchups with the seventh and eighth. With the ninth inning set, it lets Leyland avoid wondering what he’ll do if the leadoff man reaches base in the ninth.

Is Valverde the man for that long term? No idea. He’s the man for now, and they’ll see how it works out. Remember, Santiago Casilla was closing games for the Giants at this time last year. The Tigers are on the hook for Valverde for just $2 million guaranteed, and have $3 million more tied to incentives. If they decide they want to go in a different direction this summer, they can. If they decide Bruce Rondon is ready in the summer, they can go that way, too. If they like what they see with Valverde, they can say he’s their guy and gear their bullpen around him.

Valverde’s stuff at least gives them hope he can handle the job right now. The fastball has new life. Whether it’ll have that same life after a couple months of closing, nobody really knows. If it does, the Tigers have to like what they have. If it doesn’t, the Tigers don’t have to sit around hating it.

One more note, and an ironic one at that: If one believes in the notion that any decent reliever can get you at least 25 saves without much problem, as one scout floated this spring, then one should believe that if Valverde has better stuff than he did at the end of last year, he can handle the job. Of course, if you believe in that theory, then you probably tuned out this closer debate a long time ago. Time will tell.

Wednesday’s lineups: Tigers vs. Royals

Same as yesterday.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF (1-for-8, walk, 2 K’s off Wade Davis)
  2. Torii Hunter, RF (3-for-7, 2 K’s off Davis)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B (2-for-10, 2 HR, walk, 2 K’s off Davis)
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B (0-for-1 off Davis)
  5. Victor Martinez, DH (1-for-9, 2 walks, K off Davis)
  6. Andy Dirks, LF (1-for-4 off Davis)
  7. Jhonny Peralta, SS (2-for-11, walk, K off Davis)
  8. Alex Avila, C (2-for-7, 2 HR, 2 walks, K off Davis)
  9. Omar Infante, 2B (0-for-4 off Davis)

P: Max Scherzer

ROYALS

  1. Alex Gordon, LF (7-for-18, HR, 5 walks, 3 K’s vs. Scherzer)
  2. Alcides Escobar, SS (4-for-19, 2 HR, 2 K’s vs. Scherzer)
  3. Billy Butler, DH (10-for-36, walk, 6 K’s vs. Scherzer)
  4. Eric Hosmer, 1B (4-for-14, walk, 3 K’s vs. Scherzer)
  5. Lorenzo Cain, CF
  6. Mike Moustakas, 3B (1-for-14, 2 K’s vs. Scherzer)
  7. Jeff Francoeur, RF (7-for-28, HR, 9 K’s vs. Scherzer)
  8. Salvador Perez, C (5-for-7, 2 HR vs. Scherzer)
  9. Chris Getz, 2B (3-for-9, walk vs. Scherzer)

P: Wade Davis

 

Duane Below designated for assignment

Whether or not you believe that Duane Below was the pitcher who deserved to be dropped from the 40-man roster, he’s somebody the Tigers had to believe stands a reasonable chance of sneaking through waivers. Thus, when it came time today to clear a spot on the 40-man roster Jose Valverde, Below was the guy designated for assignment.

If somebody claims him (hey, the Blue Jays have been claiming players left and right this month), then the Tigers will lose out on somebody who currently stands as an insurance starter for them at Triple-A Toledo. If not, he’ll return to the Mud Hens rotation next week, and the Tigers can purchase his contract back if they have the need to call him up this summer.

The 27-year-old Below has bounced back from a miserable Spring Training to put up four quality starts in as many chances at Toledo. His 1-2 record belies his 2.10 ERA and 15 hits allowed over 25 2/3 innings. He has walked four and struck out 15.

Evolution of the Tigers closer, November to now

First, there was no more Jose Valverde.

Then there was Bruce Rondon and other candidates.

Then there was the bullpen by committee.

Then there was the bullpen by committee without Rondon.

Then there was Joaquin Benoit at the head of the bullpen by committee.

Then, for a couple hours (but no game, thanks to the weather), there was the bullpen by committee with Rondon joining in.

Now, there’s Valverde. And there’s Rondon.

Did you follow all that? I covered it, and I’m still not sure I followed all of it. But here’s my best shot at a recap:

When the World Series ended last fall, the Tigers bid farewell to Valverde. He became a free agent, and Dave Dombrowski said they would not sign him. Part of the reason behind it was to keep the competition open for Bruce Rondon to try to win it.

From Dombrowski’s end-of-season remarks:

This guy is a special potential closer with the makeup of a closer, and normally you’re not going to thrust that in a young guy’s hands and say automatically, ‘It’s your job.’ But it would not surprise me if he earned that job. With the number of good arms that are out there, there are not many arms like this, and he cherishes that type of role.”

Manager Jim Leyland, meanwhile, wouldn’t discount the possibility of having a set closer:

“I think we will have a closer. I think it might be a surprise closer, but I think we might have one.”

At the Winter Meetings in December, when agent Scott Boras was looking to talk about his top closer client, Rafael Soriano, he not-so-subtly referenced a “philosophical cliff” to treating prospects as known quantities. He also talked about the rarity of closers under age 23 putting together 30-save seasons.

Dombrowski, while not anointing Rondon, used Andrew Bailey, Neftali Feliz and Craig Kimbrel as examples of closers who succeeded as rookies.

“The reality is, it can be done,” Dombrowski said.

He wasn’t saying it would be, but at that point, he also made it clear they weren’t searching for a closer.

“We feel comfortable where we are at this point,” he said.

When Spring Training began in mid-February, Leyland left open the possibility of a bullpen by committee, but also noted Rondon as possibly the best candidate they had to hold the job outright. While guys like Phil Coke, Joaquin Benoit and Octavio Dotel could close a game, he admittedly wasn’t sure whether they could be the closer.

“Am I concerned about it? Yes. Am I excited about it? Probably moreso,” Leyland said. “I’m really looking forward to it. I like talent. I’m excited about it, I really am, and I know that I’ve got enough pieces to mix and match a little bit if I have to.”

He also made it clear he believes in the value of a set closer.

“Some writers in baseball, numbers guys and everything, don’t believe in the closer. But Jim Leyland does,” he said.

On March 4, after a Joel Sherman report for the New York Post said Leyland was pushing for the Tigers to re-sign Valverde but that the price tag was too high, Leyland said Valverde “has not been discussed at all.

Leyland said at that point he had been recommending Valverde to other teams, but that they had known all offseason Valverde wasn’t coming back to the Tigers. He also said nobody was writing off Rondon yet despite his early struggles.

Leyland also re-iterated the importance of the closer role as a different situation than simple relief pitching.

“There have been a lot of guys in baseball that could get outs 22, 23 and 24, but not 25, 26 and 27,” Leyland said.

Somewhere soon after that, the idea of Rondon as part of a closer by committee seemed to gain traction.

On March 6, Phil Coke questioned whether the Tigers had to have a set closer:

“I don’t understand why there’s a panic button. We’re not going to die. We’re not all going to die if we don’t have a closer. If we go out there and we need to have a guy step into a situation, we will. If it’s a closer by committee, it’s a closer by committee. If [Rondon's] the closer, he’s the closer.”

On March 10, Joaquin Benoit said the Tigers should have a set closer, pretty much the exact opposite. In hindsight, he might have had the best prediction of the spring, albeit an ironic one considering he briefly became the closer.

“I think we need to have a closer and we need to have the setup guys set,” he said, “because it’s going to be really hard on our bullpen if it’s do-by-committee. We need to get one person to step up and throw the ninth inning, for the rest of the guys just to know what they’re going to do in the game.”

On March 28, the closer by committee became a reality, and it didn’t include Rondon, who was optioned to Toledo to get some work.

“There’ll be a guy out there in the ninth to close games for us,” Dombrowski said. “We have guys that we feel very comfortable can close games. We may not have a closer anointed, but we have many guys that we think can close games. And so Jim will, kind of like he did in the postseason at times last year, mix and match.”

At that point, Leyland said, it was wide open.

“Any one of the seven could close a game,” Leyland said. “That’s just the way you have to look at it. I might call on anybody, and I’ll have a little meeting with them. You have to be ready to pitch at all times unless you need a day off. Any one of them might get the ball to get the third out in the ninth.”

That same day, Boras said that Valverde had thrown for scouts from three Major League teams back in his native Dominican Republic and was scheduled to throw for two more. He did not specify which teams, but it turned out the Tigers were one of the two.

The next Thursday, April 4, the Tigers signed a minor-league deal with Valverde. It came a day after the Tigers, mixing and matching with Benoit and Coke, blew a ninth-inning lead and lost to the Twins.

“We do not have a dominant closer and most clubs that have a chance to win have a closer,” Dombrowski said. “That doesn’t mean you can’t win by mixing and matching, either, but right now we’re in a situation where we’re mixing and matching and if the situation ends up being better with Papa Grande, with Rondon, with whomever it may during times, we’re open-minded to that.”

Dombrowski also said at the time that he and Boras had kept in touch on Valverde the past couple months, but that the breakthrough came when Valverde was willing to accept a minor-league contract with no guarantees.

On April 10, Leyland was getting tired of the bullpen questions, and he said he could anybody at any time.

“It’s safe for all of you guys to say just what I’ve been telling you all along — I’m going to use anybody at any time,” Leyland said. “So you might as well write that, and you can put it in your pipes and smoke it, because there’s nothing else to do.”

But he also said he’d like to use Benoit in the ninth if he could.

“On a lot of the days, if it’s doable, I think [Joaquin] Benoit is the most experienced and versatile enough against righties and lefties to pitch the ninth,” Leyland said. “But it’s not going to be doable every day. You’re liable to see anybody at any time … until something else happens, if it does happen.”

He did not reference what that something else might be, but you could figure it out.

On April 23, something else happened.

“One thing you know about him: He’s done it before, and he’s not afraid,” Leyland said of Valverde.

As for the order of the bullpen, the challenge he cited often with a bullpen by committee, Leyland said, “It reads better than it did before. Will it be better? I don’t know.”

Tigers call up Valverde to close again

The Tigers’ bullpen by committee is over. The Grande return of the closer is here.

Six months after the Tigers bid farewell to Jose Valverde, they welcomed him back on Tuesday, signing him to a one-year Major League contract. If they take a lead into the ninth inning Wednesday night, he’ll be welcomed back to the mound to try to close out a win.

Essentially, it’s a return to the bullpen setup they had for most of last season before Valverde’s postseason collapse forced them to make a change.

It’s a scenario that seemed impossible heading into Spring Training, and seemed improbable even after the Tigers signed Valverde to a minor-league contract on April 4. After three Valverde outings for Class A Lakeland over the last four days, however, the Tigers were sold on Valverde’s comeback.

“His stuff has been very good,” team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said Tuesday night. “We think he’s ready to come in and close games for us.”

Terms of the contract were not disclosed. Dombrowski and Valverde’s agent, Scott Boras, discussed the framework of a Major League deal when they put together the minor-league contract. Dombrowski said the big-league contract stuck to that framework, which is believed to include incentives.

The Tigers optioned young but mercurial right-hander Brayan Villarreal to Triple-A Toledo to make room for Valverde on the 25-man roster. Detroit still has to open a spot on the 40-man roster for him by game time on Wednesday.

Valverde, who turned 35 on March 24, saved 110 victories for the Tigers over the past three seasons, setting a franchise record with 49 saves in 49 chances in 2011 to win Delivery Man of the Year honors. He put up 35 saves last year, but saw most of his major pitching numbers slide.

Once he blew back-to-back save chances in the postseason — the first in Game 4 of the AL Division Series in Oakland, the second to open the ALCS in New York — the Tigers went to a closer by committee for the rest of the postseason. Valverde didn’t pitch again until a mop-up appearance in Game 1 of the World Series.

Dombrowski told Valverde at the end of the World Series, and the media a few days later, that the Tigers would not re-sign him as a free agent, opting to keep the job open and give hard-throwing prospect Bruce Rondon a chance to win it. Rondon was optioned to Triple-A Toledo at the end of Spring Training, and the Tigers signed Valverde to a minor-league deal a week later once he agreed to no Major League guarantees.

Essentially, it was a tryout, and the Tigers had until May 8 to evaluate. What they saw in four Class A outings and a few extended Spring Training appearances convinced them that his pitches were better than they were last year, both the velocity on his fastball and the use of the splitter that was an out pitch for him for years until he went away from it two years ago.

His fastball reportedly is touching 94-95 mph. His splitter had bite to it, though not necessarily consistency. That was what the Tigers wanted to see, more than the game experience.

“In my mind, it’s more about stuff,” Dombrowski said. “He knows how to close games.”

Or as Leyland put it, “One thing you know about him: He’s done it before, and he’s not afraid.”

The latter something the Tigers didn’t feel they had with their current crew. Detroit went 3-for-6 in save opportunities, though some of those blown saves came before the ninth inning. One save came from four innings of relief by Drew Smyly in an 8-3 home-opener victory. Another save came when the Tigers executed a relay to throw out the tying run at the plate in the 14th inning in Seattle.

The latter was the only save opportunity for Joaquin Benoit, who became Leyland’s preferred option to close two weeks ago. Getting leads to the ninth, meanwhile, was a matter of matchups.

Leyland remained committed to the committee format, but said regularly it was tougher to do than a set bullpen. With Valverde’s return, that set order is apparently restored.

“It reads better than it did before,” Leyland said of his bullpen order. “Will it be better? I don’t know.”

At this point, though, the Tigers felt it was a better option than what they had.

Tigers-Royals rained out

West Coast 020DETROIT — The Tigers had amazingly avoided the early-season postponements other teams have suffered this season despite the miserable Midwestern weather. That run is over.

Tuesday’s series opener between the Tigers and Royals was postponed due to rain. No makeup date was announced.

Though Monday night’s forecast called for a cold front to bring steady rain to Detroit for most of the evening and into Wednesday, the forecast was iffy on when the rain would begin. The hope was that the system would hold off long enough for the game to begin in dry weather, then play through the rain.

Those plans were thwarted when rain began falling on Comerica Park shortly before game time. Though a window of dry weather briefly appeared on the radar southwest of turn, it soon closed. The game was postponed less than 20 minutes later.

Tuesday’s scheduled starters, Max Scherzer and Wade Davis, will start Wednesday’s game instead. While the Tigers pushed everybody back a day in their rotation, the Royals will skip Luis Mendoza, who was originally scheduled to start Wednesday.

That sets up a Thursday afternoon battle of aces between Justin Verlander and James Shields.

The Royals come to town for weekend series in August and September, the earlier one a four-game series. The two teams could schedule a doubleheader during one of those series or try to schedule it on a common off-day. They both have an off-day Aug. 19 after the four-game series, but playing then would require player approval since it would have both teams playing about four weeks between off-days.

All paid tickets for Tuesday’s rainout for will be honored at the makeup game. No ticket exchange is necessary.

Tigers appear close to decision on Valverde

The Tigers appear to be on the verge of a decision on Jose Valverde. It isn’t necessarily the promotion to Triple-A Toledo many have expected.

Craig Custance, an NHL writer for ESPN, tweeted Monday afternoon that Valverde was on his flight Tuesday afternoon from Tampa to Detroit.  Valverde struck out the side in a scoreless inning for Class A Lakeland Monday night. A source close to Valverde indicated the report on his travels was accurate.

Custance then double-checked with Valverde on his way off the plane.

Normally, a player reporting to Toledo would fly into Detroit Metro Airport. It’s the closest major airport, less than an hour away from Fifth Third Field. However, the Mud Hens are on the road for the next week and a half, and began a four-game series Tuesday in Durham, N.C.

The Tigers, meanwhile, are at home through next Wednesday. Though it’s entirely possible the team would check on Valverde before promoting him to Toledo, Valverde isn’t a pitcher dealing with a health issue.

Though Valverde has been expected to get some time at Toledo before the Tigers made a decision whether to sign him, team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said last week that Valverde wouldn’t necessarily need time at Triple-A Toledo before the Tigers made a decision on him.

Valverde pitched three times in four days for Class A Lakeland, including back-to-back outings Friday and Saturday. He tossed three scoreless innings, allowing a hit and two walks while striking out four.

On Tuesday, Dombrowski referred questions on Valverde to a team spokesperson, who said the team has no move to announce at this time.

If the Tigers opt to add Valverde, they would have to sign him to a Major League contract and add him to the 40-man roster to make room.

The Tigers just made a bullpen move on Tuesday, recalling Bruce Rondon from Triple-A Toledo to take the place of Octavio Dotel, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list. However, manager Jim Leyland said Tuesday that Rondon — who was a closer candidate in Spring Training — will not close games starting out.

So far, the decision process on Valverde so far has been independent of any immediate decisions in Detroit.

Tuesday’s lineups: Tigers at Royals

The Tigers have hit four home runs in 19 1/3 innings off Wade Davis over the last two seasons, including three homers in two starts in 2011 when he was in the Rays rotation. However, Davis comes to town on a roll with the Royals, having shut down the Twins and Braves in his last two starts, both Royals shutout wins. Those 12 shutout innings have seen him allow just two extra-base hits, both doubles, while striking out 13.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF (1-for-8, walk, 2 K’s off Wade Davis)
  2. Torii Hunter, RF (3-for-7, 2 K’s off Davis)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B (2-for-10, 2 HR, walk, 2 K’s off Davis)
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B (0-for-1 off Davis)
  5. Victor Martinez, DH (1-for-9, 2 walks, K off Davis)
  6. Andy Dirks, LF (1-for-4 off Davis)
  7. Jhonny Peralta, SS (2-for-11, walk, K off Davis)
  8. Alex Avila, C (2-for-7, 2 HR, 2 walks, K off Davis)
  9. Omar Infante, 2B (0-for-4 off Davis)

P: Max Scherzer

Dotel placed on DL, Rondon promoted

The Tigers’ closer of the future didn’t need long to become the relief help of the present. Bruce Rondon, whose triple-digit fastball made him a candidate to head up the bullpen out of Spring Training, earned his first call to the big leagues Tuesday to replace injured Octavio Dotel.

The Tigers placed Dotel on the 15-day disabled list with right elbow inflammation. They recalled Rondon from Triple-A Toledo, where his season-opening stint as Mud Hens closer produced the dominant right-hander who skyrocketed up the Tigers farm system last year.

It’s not immediately clear how Rondon’s arrival will affect the Tigers’ closer situation. Manager Jim Leyland has said for the past two weeks that he doesn’t have a set closer, but that he’d like to use Joaquin Benoit in the ninth inning if he can.

As the Mud Hens closer, Rondon has settled into a rhythm and shown the command that seemed to come and go in Spring Training. His 7 2/3 shutout innings include five hits allowed, two walks and nine strikeouts. He’s 3-for-4 in save opportunities, the exception coming when he couldn’t shut down a bases-loaded jam April 15.

Even so, he struck out four batters over 1 2/3 innings in that outing, and didn’t allow a walk. He hasn’t walked a batter in his last four appearances, covering 4 2/3 innings.

That control likely played a major role in the Tigers’ decision to promote him now rather than let him continue his Triple-A education. He joins a Tigers bullpen that could use his help after relievers have covered 20 1/3 innings over Detroit’s last five games, including a 13-inning loss Sunday against the Angels.

Dotel was unavailable Sunday, which helped put the Tigers in the precarious position of having just left-handers left as the game rolled into extra innings.

Dotel said after that game that the elbow inflammation that sidelined him the previous weekend hadn’t gone away.

“It’s still there,” Dotel said. I’m just trying to get through that, but it’s still there and hopefully we just found out a way to get it out.”

Dotel suggested at the time that they would see how his elbow felt on Tuesday.

The 39-year-old has pitched just 4 2/3 innings over six outings so far this year, but his average fastball velocity is down about three miles per hour from last year according to fangraphs.com. That said, the Tigers have been bringing him along slowly since spring because of his limited work in Spring Training and during the World Baseball Classic.

Dotel has pitched Friday against the Angels, so the DL move was made retroactive to last Saturday. He’ll be eligible to come off the DL on May 5, the last day of a four-game series in Houston. If Rondon is overpowering big-league hitters when Dotel is ready to return, the Tigers will have a decision to make whether Rondon is ready to stick in the Majors.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 23,998 other followers