May 16th, 2013

Thursday’s lineups: Tigers at Rangers

The Tigers go back to their standard lineup (sans Austin Jackson) for the showdown with Yu Darvish. Don Kelly returns to center field, batting eighth.

Keep in mind as you watch Justin Verlander tonight: He said yesterday that he did some “fine-tuning” between starts after his struggles with fastball command doomed him last Saturday against the Indians, but the work was no major adjustment by his standards.

“Just trying to get my body in sync,” Verlander said Wednesday.

With the routine he maintains between starts, especially when he’s on normal rest, any major side work mechanically would be out of the ordinary for him.

“It’s never anything major with me,” he said. “Just fine-tuning.”

TIGERS

  1. Andy Dirks, LF (1-for-3, walk, K vs. Darvish)
  2. Torii Hunter, RF (6-for-18, HR, walk, 6 K’s vs. Darvish)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B (2-for-8, walk, 2 K’s vs. Darvish)
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B (2-for-6, HR, 3 walks, 2 K’s vs. Darvish)
  5. Victor Martinez, DH
  6. Alex Avila, C (1-for-7, 2 walks, 4 K’s vs. Darvish)
  7. Jhonny Peralta, SS (1-for-9, K vs. Darvish)
  8. Don Kelly, CF (1-for-3 vs. Darvish)
  9. Omar Infante, 2B (2-for-3, K vs. Darvish)

P: Justin Verlander

RANGERS

  1. Ian Kinsler, 2B (5-for-30, 6 walks, 8 K’s off Verlander)
  2. Elvis Andrus, SS (4-for-22, walk, 3 K’s off Verlander)
  3. Lance Berkman, DH (1-for-3, 3 walks, K off Verlander)
  4. Adrian Beltre, 3B (12-for-41, HR, 9 K’s off Verlander)
  5. Nelson Cruz, RF (4-for-21, 2 HR, 6 K’s off Verlander)
  6. Mitch Moreland, 1B (2-for-12, walk, 7 K’s off Verlander)
  7. Geovany Soto, C (0-for-3, K off Verlander)
  8. David Murphy, LF (7-for-22, 2 walks, 5 K’s off Verlander)
  9. Leonys Martin, CF

P: Yu Darvish

Are Tigers already looking for more bullpen help?

Could the rumor mill on potential Tigers relief help be cranking up again already? Wasn’t the Jose Valverde signing supposed to stop this for a couple months?

Well, yes. Problem is, the Tigers’ relief issues have to do with a lot more than Valverde.

On Thursday, CBSSports.com’s Danny Knobler cited a source in contact with Tigers management saying Detroit is “looking hard” for relief help on the trade market.

It’s not an isolated observation. Another AL evaluator said Thursday that Tigers have scouts looking for potential bullpen options. It’s not necessarily a closer at this point, but depth, that the Tigers are believed to be seeking.

A look at the current Tigers bullpen shows the team trying to plug holes in middle relief behind Valverde and setup man Joaquin Benoit. Octavio Dotel’s injury has left a gaping hole behind Benoit in right-handed middle relief, which took Al Alburquerque out of his strikeout specialist’s role and into one- or two-inning relief.

Now, Alburquerque is headed to Triple-A Toledo to work on his command. Brayan Villarreal and Bruce Rondon are already down there. All three were expected to pitch significant roles in Detroit’s bullpen going into the season. In their place are Jose Ortega, who is about to get some pretty serious middle relief work, and Evan Reed, a waiver claim after the season began.

If the Tigers can get one or two guys ready in Toledo sometime soon, they can weather their bullpen woes for a little bit while their starters are pitching deep into games. At some point, though, they have to get things settled, something they haven’t been able to do all season for one reason or another.

The problem is that it’s rare to see any significant trade in May or even June. Very few teams identify themselves as sellers this early, and those that do usually are in that spot in part because their starters are struggled to do the job and their bullpen has had to pick up innings.

Tigers option Alburquerque to Toledo

Al Alburquerque’s struggles commanding the strike zone not only cost him his manager’s trust on Wednesday, it also cost him his spot in the Tigers bullpen. The Tigers optioned Alburquerque to Triple-A Toledo on Thursday and called up Evan Reed, who will join the team in Texas.

It’s a stunning move considering the way Alburquerque looked a few weeks ago and the role he was carving in the bullpen with Octavio Dotel on the disabled list. It was less stunning considering Leyland’s remarks after Wednesday’s loss to the Astros.

Alburquerque was enjoying maybe the best stretch of his career three weeks ago, delivering five scoreless innings on one hit with 10 strikeouts over three appearances on the Tigers’ West Coast trip last month. Half of those strikeouts came in two innings against the Angels, throwing 17 of his 20 pitches for strikes, which Alburquerque called the best outing of his career.

A mechanical tweak Alburquerque made with help from pitching coach Jeff Jones had him throwing not only with more consistency, but more deception. Sometime after that, though, Alburquerque’s command went haywire.

The strikeouts are still there, 10 of them over 5 1/3 innings in six outings since then. However, Alburquerque has allowed three runs on seven hits with nine walks. He threw just 56 percent of his pitches for strikes in that stretch, compared to 65 percent in his first nine games.

The last straw for Leyland came Wednesday, when he turned to Alburquerque with two runners on and two out in the eighth to strike out Chris Carter. Alburquerque ran the count full before striking out Carter chasing a slider in the dirt, but but then walked J.D. Martinez on five pitches to lead off the ninth.

With back-to-back switch-hitters due up, the kind of situation that normally favors Alburquerque, Leyland pulled him in favor of Phil Coke, knowing Coke’s struggles against right-handed hitters.

“You can’t let [Alburquerque] walk them,” Leyland said. “I mean, that’s depressing. If I had felt like he was going to throw the ball over the plate, or had shown any signs that he was going to throw it over the plate, I would’ve obviously left him in. But when you’re having trouble and you’re bouncing the ball, that’s not real comfortable.”

The forthcoming seventh-inning situations might not be easy on him, either. Dotel is nowhere close to a return, by Leyland’s admission, and Leyland doesn’t want to wear down Joaquin Benoit early, which was why Alburquerque was pitching in the ninth inning in the first place.

This might be the chance for Jose Ortega to claim a valuable role in the bullpen. He has thrown 6 2/3 scoreless innings on two hits with six strikeouts since coming up from Triple-A Toledo a few weeks ago. The Tigers had been stretching out Ortega to be a multi-inning reliever.

They’ll also see what they have in Reed, a waiver claim from the Miami Marlins last month who has racked up 28 strikeouts over 21 innings at Triple-A Toledo. The 27-year-old will get his first Major League work in his seventh pro season.

Game 38: Avisail Garcia’s first MLB home run

The scouting report long before Avisail Garcia made it to the big leagues last August was that his power hitting would come. That thought stayed even after Garcia recorded 15 hits down the stretch last season without one going for extra bases. He finally rounded first base with a double in the ALCS.

He can put on an occasional show in batting average, but his very limited track record was more mini-Magglio with opposite-field singles than mini-Miggy with home runs. Then he connected with a hanging curveball from Dallas Kuechel on Wednesday.

As first home runs go, it was a tape-measure drive, clearing the visiting bullpen in left-center field and landing in the seats.

“It was an amazing moment for me, my first home run in the big leagues,” Garcia said. “I was waiting for that.”

The reaction on the dugout, especially from Miguel Cabrera, punctuated it.

“The most exciting of my career was last year when we won the American League championship,” Garcia said. “Now it’s this one, hitting my first home run.”

It doesn’t mean he’s about to break out on a power tear. He hasn’t shown that in the minor leagues yet, and that has been with everyday play, which he doesn’t have yet in Detroit. Still, it’s a reminder that he’s much more than a line-drive slasher.

It’s also a bright spot in a game the Tigers seemed to have in hand for a brief while but ended up losing to the Astros, finishing the season series 6-1.

Leyland said before today that he could end up starting Garcia twice during the four-game series in Texas, potentially first against one of the right-handed starters they’ll face over the first three games, then for sure against left-hander Derek Holland on Sunday night.

It was in Texas where Brennan Boesch had his breakout series as an early-season injury replacement three years ago, so you never know. At this point, though, that’s nowhere close to the front of the Tigers’ minds.

He has been working in the cage with hitting coach Lloyd McClendon, he said, trying to get his approach down. Keep in mind, he only played eight games at Triple-A Toledo before getting the call-up, having missed a month with a bruised right heel.

With a distance shot off a curveball, the extra work paid off.

Play of the game: Marwin Gonzalez made a slick play to get his face out of the way of Victor Martinez’s grounder and make an overhand stab to grab it and throw him out at first for the second out of the second inning. The Tigers went on a their four-run rally right after that.

Out of the game: For someone who hadn’t played at Comerica Park before, Brandon Barnes did an excellent job to realize how much room he had in front of the out-of-town scoreboard in right-center field as Miguel Cabrera’s opposite-field blast kept carrying. As much of a question as the distance was, it wasn’t all that easy of a catch, and Barnes made it crashing against the scoreboard to end the game.

Strategy: I focused a lot of the game story on the site on Jim Leyland’s decision to hand the ball to Phil Coke against switch-hitting Carlos Corporan after a leadoff walk in the ninth. Coke’s struggles against right-handed hitters are well-known, but most Detroit fans also know Alburquerque’s struggles to throw strikes lately.

Leyland knew the track record, but he also knew Coke was far more likely to throw strikes and at least make Corporan hit it. As Leyland has said many times, when you’re hoping your pitcher throws a strike, that’s not good.

“We knew that Cokey would probably throw strikes,” Leyland said. “Today, they just hit them.”

Should the Tigers have had another right-hander warming up in the bottom of the eighth? They did. It was closer Jose Valverde in case Detroit took the lead.

Should the Tigers have turned to Valverde in the ninth, since there wasn’t going to be a save situation? That’s a philosophical question that has been debated a few times with Leyland, but it’s not so simple when you consider he would have been working with a runner on first base (at least until he had stolen second).

Line of the day: Matt Tuiasosopo enjoyed his second career three-hit game in the big leagues, going 3-for-3 with an RBI and a run scored. He’s now batting .375.

Stat of the day: 6 — Walks from Al Alburquerque to lead off an inning this season. Those are the only leadoff men he has allowed to reach base; they’re 0-for-9 hitting against him.

Print it: “In this stadium?” — Miguel Cabrera when asked if he thought his ninth-inning ball had a chance to get out. He had to laugh.

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