July 2013

Brookens takes blame for Hunter missing cycle

For the second time in July, Torii Hunter missed out on the cycle by one measly hit. Instead of a single, as he missed July 6, he needed a triple Wednesday. He very nearly got it.

Maybe he should have.

Hunter gave it his best shot in the seventh inning dropping a ball into fair territory near the right-field corner. With Alex Avila on the bases, however, third base coach Tom Brookens held him up at third base, something Hunter didn’t anticipate until he was already around second base and the throw was coming in.

Hunter was caught off second base, leaving him with a second double. 

“I told the guys in the dugout, ‘If I hit the ball in the outfield, I’m running no matter what,'” Hunter said. “And I took off running, and I saw Avila slowing down at third. I was like, ‘Forget it. I’m going to keep going.’ I kept running and the non-selfish me just stopped, trying to go back. I should’ve just kept running until Avila had to take it on the chin.”

After the inning, Brookens was spotted in the dugout talking with Hunter. After the game, Brookens confirmed he wasn’t aware he had a chance to hit for the cycle.

“Had I realized, I probably would’ve sent Alex, knowing he would probably be out, but given him the chance,” Brookens said.

Avila, who apparently is dealing with a hip injury the Tigers had kept quiet until somebody spotted him hobbling during the game, said he would’ve done his best to score.

“I was running hard. I couldn’t go any faster than that,” Avila said. “I thought I got a good enough jump off the ball because I knew [Jayson] Werth wasn’t going to be able to catch it. I thought maybe I had a good enough jump where I was able to score, but as soon as I saw Brookie put the stop sign, as fast as I was going it’s not very hard to stop.”

Even on a play like that, though, Hunter could’ve still been credited with just a double if Avila had been thrown out at the plate.

Hunter has never hit for the cycle in the big leagues. He had one in the minors.

“That’s an individual goal, an individual achievement,” Hunter said. “A lot of guys aren’t looking for that. The guys in the dugout knew.” 

Downs struggles in rehab outing at Toledo

The good news at Triple-A Toledo is that Jair Jurrjens held his own in his first start for the Mud Hens, allowing three runs on seven hits over five innings with a walk and three strikeouts.

The bad news is that Darin Downs had a rougher outing in his second rehab appearance. He retired the first four batters he faced through the seventh, including back-to-back strikeouts, and into the eighth before back-to-back singles and a walk loaded the bases. The Durham Bulls emptied them off Jose Ortega.

Downs was scheduled to pitch two innings unless he hit his pitch count. He threw 33 pitches, 19 of them for strikes, before Ortega replaced him.

Downs could get one more outing for the Hens before the Tigers decide whether to activate him. The Hens are at home into early next week.

UPDATE: According to John Wagner of The Blade, Downs said that if he feels fine, he’ll pitch two innings or a pitch count for the Mud Hens on Saturday.

Tigers might not be finished dealing yet

The Tigers filled a huge void in right-handed relief with Astros closer Jose Veras, a move that paid dividends Tuesday night. They prepared for the possibility of a Jhonny Peralta suspension by trading for slick-fielding Jose Iglesias. And they still might not be done yet.

The buzz among teams Wednesday continued to include the Tigers checking on more relief help. They’ve been pursuing lefty relief options in recent days, including San Francisco’s Javier Lopez, and there are plenty of other southpaws potentially available. They could also add a right-hander for relief depth, though not necessarily a big-name setup reliever like they’ve been pursuing the last few weeks.

Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com reported Wednesday that the Tigers had been in touch with the Blue Jays on relievers. Toronto has veteran lefty Darren Oliver, who turns 43 this October, as well as All-Star setup lefty Brett Cecil and right-hander Steve Delabar.

Team president/general manager Dombrowski indicated late Tuesday night after the Iglesias deal that he was not expecting anything, but didn’t rule out pursuing another swap. The big question Dombrowski posed Sunday was whether the lofty demands teams had for relief pitching going into the week would drop at the deadline. If someone’s price drops, the Tigers could well make another move.

Wednesday’s lineups: Tigers vs. Nationals

The Tigers sat Miguel Cabrera out of their starting lineup Wednesday as he recuperated from the left abdominal strain he aggravated Tuesday night.

Cabrera told MLB.com Wednesday morning that he was feeling better than he did Tuesday night, when he had to leave the game against the Nationals in the eighth inning. By sitting him ahead of Thursday’s scheduled off-day, however, the Tigers give him two days of rest to get him ready for their divisional clash with the White Sox beginning Friday night at Comerica Park.

Cabrera has been dealing with aches and pains for about a month, from a left hip flexor and sore back to the abdominal. The injuries seemingly cooled Cabrera a bit from the torrid pace of the season’s first three months.

The abdominal strain is something that shouldn’t keep Cabrera off the field long-term, but might force him to miss a day here and there when he aggravates it. Moving side to side shouldn’t be a problem, but charging in and running at full speed — as he did on Chad Tracy’s infield grounder Tuesday — could.

“It’s the type of thing that’s something he’s going to feel, and as long as he’s able to work through that, he’s OK,” Rand said. “If he can’t, he’ll take a breather.”

Assuming Cabrera doesn’t pinch-hit Wednesday, he’ll finish July batting .288 for the month with seven home runs and 17 RBIs. He continues to lead the Majors with a .359 average on the season, while his 99 RBIs had him tied with Baltimore’s Chris Davis. Cabrera’s 32 home runs rank second behind Davis.

In all three categories, Cabrera is actually topping his pace from his Triple Crown numbers last year. Whether he can keep on that pace at less than full strength will be a saga to follow over the final two months of the season.

Ramon Santiago, who moved over from second base to replace Cabrera at third Tuesday night, started in his place Wednesday against Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez. Jose Iglesias, acquired late Tuesday night in a three-way trade from Boston for Avisail Garcia and Brayan Villarreal, has shown he can play third well. His availability there, however, depends on Jhonny Peralta’s status once Major League Baseball completes its Biogenesis investigation.

TIGERS (career numbers vs. Gio Gonzalez)

  1. Austin Jackson, CF (0-for-6, walk, 2 K’s)
  2. Torii Hunter, RF (3-for-13, HR, walk, 3 K’s)
  3. Matt Tuiasosopo, LF (1-1, HR)
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B (3-for-8, walk)
  5. Victor Martinez, DH (9-for-26, HR, 3 walks, 6 K’s)
  6. Jhonny Peralta, SS (8-for-27, 2 walks, 6 K’s)
  7. Hernan Perez, 2B
  8. Ramon Santiago, 3B (1-for-2)
  9. Alex Avila, C

P: Justin Verlander

NATIONALS (career numbers off Verlander)

  1. Denard Span, CF (15-for-42, 3 K’s)
  2. Bryce Harper, RF
  3. Ryan Zimmerman, DH (0-for-3, 2 K’s)
  4. Jayson Werth, RF
  5. Adam LaRoche, 1B
  6. Ian Desmond, SS (0-for-2, K)
  7. Anthony Rendon, 2B
  8. Kurt Suzuki, C (6-for-23, walk, 3 K’s)
  9. Steve Lombardozzi, 2B

P: Gio Gonzalez

Quotes on Iglesias deal

Comerica Park was just about empty except for the press box and the front offices by the time the Jose Iglesias trade was announced right around midnight. Most of the media had stuck around hoping there would be some sort of official acknowledgement after rumors for just about an hour.

There was an acknowledgement, all right — not just of the trade, but of the concerns about Jhonny Peralta’s status that led to it. After withholding comment on Major League Baseball’s investigation into the Biogenesis scandal for weeks, Dombrowski — while not wanting to comment on the case — commented on the uncertainty it created to their postseason hopes and the reactions they’ve been having to the news reports about potential suspensions and the chances for an appeal.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty facing the situation which concerned me, especially with our scenario trying to win a championship,” Dombrowski said. “I don’t really know what’s going to happen as far as timing is concerned, but I also think that when there are enough things being discussed, you get a little concerned about those things.

“My problem ends up being that after 4 o’clock tomorrow, I cannot aggressively try to do anything that’s assured. Because after 4 o’clock, if anything happens, and people know we’re looking for a shortstop, there are shortstops that aren’t going to make it through waivers. So it contributes, but we wouldn’t have made a deal that we weren’t comfortable making to this magnitude unless this type of player was involved coming back.

“We’ve had some other people throw some names at shortstop for us that we didn’t see fitting in for us. Maybe they were a short-term solution but not a long-term solution and asking for the same caliber of player. We were not interested in that. It just did not make sense. But we have always thought at some point that we may have to trade one of our young outfielders for another hole that we would have for the future. And so, there were a lot of contributing factors here, but the biggest thing was we got a real good player that we think could play for us a real long time.”

One more telling quote on the investigation:

“I do think there are some things are going to take place,” Dombrowski said, “but what is going to take place, I’m not 100 percent sure.”

More quotes from Dombrowski on how the deal went down:

“We had some contact that went nowhere really this morning around 11 o’ clock and then we started around 2 o’ clock just another something. Then around 3 o’clock, we were not really anywhere seriously discussing things. It didn’t really start taking place until close to game time. You know they are deep at shortstop, they got Drew at short now, they got Iglesias, who they like, they have Bogaerts coming. And so for them they are deeper there, they are one of the clubs that we looked at for the future, at the end of the year, when Jhonny did become a free agent that we kind of identified that could have some depth at shortstop.

“They asked us about a couple other players that we weren’t willing to do, not that we wanted to give up Garcia, but it came along pretty quickly. And Ben was open, as we got to that closer to game time, saying this would be a three-way deal, and would I have a problem with that. And I said basically, I don’t want to see Avisail Garcia play against us 18, 19 times a year for the next 10 years, but if we also come up with a real good player at shortstop, and we’re deeper in outfield, which we are. We still have Castellanos down at Triple-A, [Tyler] Collins and [Daniel] Fields. And we think that we’re getting a real good player, and we traded a real good young player for another real good young player but at a position that which we need right now or potentially could need, and I know that we’ll need next year.”

On trading a very good prospect to a division rival:

“I’ve never been hesitant with that. That doesn’t phase me. And I fully expect Garcia to be a really good player. I don’t really want to watch him play 18 times a year, and I’m sure he’s going to beat us at some times during that time period, and there will times when people say that Dombrowski was not very smart when he does that. But I think it’s more important about the player that you get in return. As long as we get a player that helps us at the same time be a real good player, then that’s what you can get, I hope it helps everybody.”

Dombrowski did say that the Red Sox asked them for another player earlier in talks that he was not prepared to give up. It’s not clear whether or not that might have been Nick Castellanos, or if the Tigers had to choose one or the other to trade. The quote near the top seemed to hint towards that.

Another quote later in the session strongly hinted that the Tigers are not going to mortgage the future to win this year, a quote that some might have suspected but needed to hear someone in the organization say:

“I think for us as you look forward, you look where you have holes, where you have potential free agents, and where you can cover yourself. Without getting into where we are next year, we know we have a free agent at second base, a free agent at shortstop and some free agents in the bullpen, and all of a sudden where I wasn’t so sure where we’d be going with that. I think we’re in a spot where our goal is not only to be good this year and the last couple of years, but to continue to be good for years to come. And I think that this is a situation that all of a sudden if you do lose some players, we’ve got some good young guys that can help us fill those spots and are ready to play right now, just like Castellanos. I think he’ll be ready next year to play. Will he play? I don’t know, because I don’t know how the club will come together. But all of a sudden you start talking about guys such as Perez, Iglesias, Castellanos and Rondon, who we talked about, that’s a pretty good group of young guys that you can complement with some of the veteran players that we know who will be with us that are in the prime of their careers.”

On Peralta’s status:

“Peralta is our shortstop unless he’s ruled not our shortstop. When I talked to Jose, his agent [Fern Cuza, who is also Miguel Cabrera’s agent] happened to be there with him, and he asked him how much playing time is going to get. Will he be playing everyday? And right now, I can’t answer that question. I don’t really know. We think he will be a very valuable part of our club, we think he’ll be a very valuable part as we go in the long-term. But right now, Peralta is our shortstop, and we’ll just see happens. The value with him also is he can play third, he can play second very well too.”

On whether Biogenesis investigation rushed them into a deal:

“I don’t feel rushed into the decision. It’s not like we’re sitting back there without all of our reports being read and being thoroughly looked at. In fact, we sat down today with [pro scouting director] Scott Bream, Scott Reid, Al Avila and Mike Smith and we figured out all of the young shortstops that Scott Bream would be looking at in the month of August from our list, and there weren’t very many of them. And we didn’t even worry about seeing Iglesias, because we knew Iglesias would fit into that position already. So that’s how highly we think of him.

“We have always thought, at some point, we were probably going to have to do something there. I didn’t want to have to do that for a guy who is here for two months, but a guy who can play shortstop for the next half dozen years here. That’s a very valuable person that we gave up a very valuable player to get.”

Dombrowski: We’re not looking for a bat

Not even a shortstop, it appears.

As reports pick up about potential suspensions Major League Baseball has planned for players involved in the Biogenesis investigation, Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski is avoiding comment, saying Tuesday that it’s a Major League Baseball matter. Even a question about whether the team has made contingency plans in the event of a suspension was a question Dombrowski didn’t want to touch.

When asked about what depth the Tigers might have in the middle infield if they needed a shortstop in a pinch, Dombrowski listed his internal options.

“We have depth in the infield,” Dombrowski said. “Argenis Diaz is an outstanding defensive shortstop. He can really pick the ball at short. [Danny] Worth is playing second base; we know he can play shortstop. [Ramon] Santiago can go over there and play.

“You’re not going to get the offense from any of them that you would get [from Peralta] on a regular basis. So we have some depth in that regard.”

Both Diaz and Worth have spent the season at Triple-A Toledo. Worth has spent several stints in Detroit as a reserve, while Diaz has been in Toledo since 2011.

The option not listed there was Hernan Perez, the rookie who has filled in at second base the last couple weeks with Omar Infante on the disabled list. Perez has played nearly as many minor-league games at shortstop as he has at second base, including 27 at Erie this season before fellow prospect Eugenio Suarez was promoted.

“Can Perez go over there? That’s a good question that I don’t really know the answer,” Dombrowski said. “He’s played primarily second base this year. He’s played shortstop in the past. We switched him over to second. I think he’s going to be an outstanding defensive second baseman, all-around second baseman.

“Is he a shortstop for the future? I don’t really know that answer. Could he be? Maybe.”

At this point, internal options are the only options the Tigers have. As Wednesday afternoon’s nonwaiver Trade Deadline approaches, Dombrowski all but ruled out a trade for a fill-in. The Tigers are not pursuing a deal for a position player of any kind, it appears.

“We’re not looking for a bat,” Dombrowski said. “Again, if somebody drops something on your lap that you’re not anticipating being there, which happens sometimes in the last 24 hours … you never can tell what happens. But we’re not aggressively seeking that.”

They’re not looking for a bat. They already have a glove.

What’s next for Tigers after Veras

Though Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski told Joel Sherman of the New York Post that Jose Veras would likely be his team’s lone move before the July 31 nonwaiver Trade Deadline, that doesn’t mean Dombrowski isn’t going to try for something else. The next goal appears to be another left-handed reliever to slot with Drew Smyly.

Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com reported late Monday night that the Tigers are among the many teams in the mix for Giants lefty Javier Lopez. The Giants have been scouting pitchers at Double-A Erie, including right-handed starter Drew VerHagen, according to a source.

There’s also buzz among other clubs that the Tigers could make a run at one more right-handed reliever for depth. Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune reported Detroit is in the mix for Cubs closer Kevin Gregg. However, there’s a recent history of misguided rumors regarding Tigers interest in Cubs players (Carlos Marmol, Matt Garza, Alfonso Soriano among them) which, along with Gregg’s recent struggles and his 4.27 career ERA and 1.44 career WHIP in the American League (well above his NL numbers) bring the level of interest into question.

The Tigers might be able to fill a right-handed relief spot internally. Octavio Dotel has resumed throwing side sessions in Lakeland in his attempt to come back from elbow inflammation. Meanwhile, Jeremy Bonderman threw two perfect innings of relief at Triple-A Toledo on Monday, stretching his streak to seven scoreless innings on one hit in the Mud Hens bullpen.

Though other teams continue to wait for the Tigers to try to add a shortstop in anticipation of a possible Jhonny Peralta suspension, they’ve no shown sign of heavy pursuit, even with the reported availability of Angels shortstop Erick Aybar and rumors the Giants might listen to interest on veteran middle infielder Marco Scutaro. Two thoughts could be in play: First, if Peralta were to appeal any suspension, it could well push back any discipline until next year. Second, if Peralta received a suspension that would allow him to return in time for the postseason, the Tigers would have to debate just how much production they need out of shortstop to win the AL Central.

Other than those two areas, the Tigers are pretty well set.

Tigers front office takes trip to Toledo

In case you haven’t heard this enough over the years, Dave Dombrowski works the trade market as hard as any general manager in baseball. Unless the Tigers are on the road at the trade deadline, it’s rare to see him outside the office unless he’s down in the clubhouse talking with manager Jim Leyland.

So what was Dombrowski — and other Tigers officials — doing at Triple-A Toledo on Monday? That’s an interesting question.

With the Tigers off Monday and the Mud Hens playing a matinee in Toledo, Dombrowski got off the landline, went mobile and headed to Fifth Third Field with assistant Al Avila and pro scouting director Scott Bream (thanks to John Wagner of The Blade in Toledo for the catch).

Whether they were just taking the day to check out their potential late-season options at Triple-A, or whether they were looking at anyone specifically, wasn’t clear. It’s worth noting, though, that Jeremy Bonderman pitched the last two innings, retiring all six batters he faced while striking out two to stretch his shutout run at Toledo to seven innings of one-hit ball with no walks and five strikeouts.

Bonderman has an opt-out date in the minor-league contract he signed two weeks ago, but it’s not clear when it comes up.

Other highlights from the box score: Nick Castellanos had two hits, including a double, to raise his average back to .280. Danny Worth went 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs. Argenis Diaz, starting at shortstop, went 1-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored.

One thing that the visit does not seem to suggest is that the Tigers are done talking trades.

When last-place closers go to contenders

Jose Veras found the opportunity of his career in Houston, where the Astros gave him a chance to close. He thrived, going 19-for-22 in save chances with very good secondary stats. Now he’s headed to a first-place team in Detroit, where he’s going to set up while filling in on occasion for Joaquin Benoit in save chances.

Harold Reynolds made an argument on MLB Network that Veras’ job had a ton of pressure. When you know your team’s good enough for a very limited number of wins, saving those games is crucial. Others would argue the opposite.

“The key question,” one Major League talent evaluator said, “is how he’ll do in a tight race.”

It’s hard to throw a blanket evaluation on this situation and use past instances of similar relievers going from worst to first. Still, here are a few instances:

  • The guy who led last year’s Astros in saves, Brett Myers, went to the White Sox last July. He, too, had 19 saves in Houston. Unlike Veras, Myers had been a closer on a contending team before that, saving 21 games for the 2007 Phillies. He took on a setup role in Chicago, won three games, picked up holds on eight others, and pretty much replicated his stats from Houston. He picked up a few costly losses down the stretch.
  • Matt Capps was a great closer on some really bad Pirates teams for a few years, then did the same for the last-place Nationals in 2010 before Washington traded him to the Twins near the deadline. Capps thrived in Minnesota down the stretch, racking up 16 saves over the final couple months to help lead the Twins to another AL Central title. His tenure in the Twin Cities was a little rougher after that, but he was a huge pickup for Minnesota.
  • Jon Rauch graduated from workhorse reliever to closer in Washington in 2008, then went to Arizona at the deadline. Rauch didn’t close with the Diamondbacks, and he had a few good weeks in the setup role before struggling mightily from mid-August on. Ironically, Rauch was closing in 2010 with the Twins before Capps came in and replaced him.

Veras talks about trade to Tigers

Brian McTaggart, MLB.com’s Astros beat writer, talked with Jose Veras today about his trade to the Tigers. His tone basically had two points: He was very sad about leaving the Astros after they gave him a chance to close, but he sounded like he was looking forward to a chance to play a meaningful role in a playoff run.

“I’m the kind of guy I’m happy with anything that happens in my career and my life because God takes care of me. He’s the driver, he’s the guy that’s taking me the place where I’m going to be OK. I’m a guy that’s OK with everything. I live day by day. I’m OK with anything that happens in my life because that’s the way it is.

“This is business and I understand that. I took me a long time to understand, but I understand the last four years this is business and I have to deal with it. There’s nothing I can do.”

On the move to a new team, Veras said, “It’s a good clubhouse and now I have to go to another place where I’m going to meet guys I haven’t been with before. I have some teammates there that I played with before, like Omar Infante. We worked together with Marlins. We’re friends. Ramon Santiago, Brayan Pena, I played with them in the Dominican Winter League.

“The bottom line is I’m not going to be in a stranger’s house. I have some friends over there, too. I can say I’m happy, I can say I’m sad, but I feel Houston’s my home and now I’m going to another place and it’s going to be a little tough. I feel good because it’s a team that has an opportunity to be in the playoffs.”