July 2013

Tigers trade for Veras from Houston

The Tigers found their relief help from what used to be a familiar trading partner for them, acquiring Jose Veras from the Astros Monday morning for outfield prospect Danry Vasquez and a player to be named later.

The move gives Detroit the experienced right-handed arm they were seeking while adding an option at closer on days Joaquin Benoit is off. 

In a statement, team president/GM Dave Dombrowski said the 32-year-old Veras “can pitch in a variety of roles, provides depth in the bullpen, and complements the roles of Joaquin Benoit and Drew Smyly.”

In other words, Benoit will retain the closer role, where he has thrived for the past month, will Smyly will continue to see some setup work. Manager Jim Leyland confirmed as much Monday morning, saying Veras will primarily work in the seventh and eighth innings but could close on occasion if situations call for it.

“I like it. I like it a lot,” Leyland said of the move. “I think Dave did a great, great job. It doesn’t surprise me. We think he’s pretty good. We saw him earlier this year.”

Tigers fans might remember Veras for the go-ahead home run Alex Avila hit off of him in the ninth inning May 3 in Houston. Veras has thrived since then, allowing 17 hits over 31 innings with 10 walks, 30 strikeouts and a .162 batting average.

It’s the first trade the Tigers and Astros have pulled off since 2001, when Randy Smith was the GM in Detroit and Tal Smith was an executive in Houston. Yet it’s very much a Dave Dombrowski style of deadline deal. Faced with a glaring need at a position where prices were high, Dombrowski went for the quiet addition for a lower cost over the glamour deal.

Dombrowski talks trade market, bullpen, Infante

Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski has not done a whole lot of talking with the media this month as the trade deadline approached. When he has, he has kept his comments guarded, and to some degree he did the same with reporters after Sunday’s win. Still, there were some comments that stood out.

His vote of confidence in his closer and second-year setup man seemed to be near the top of the list.

“All I can say is that we feel very comfortable in the ninth and eighth innings with Benoit and Smyly. I don’t know where you’re really going to go out and improve that significantly,” Dombrowski said. “Now, can you get better? We’re very young in our bullpen right now. We’re talented but we’re young. That’s really where I guess I’d leave it at this point.”

Without directly identifying his pursuit, the quote seemed to reinforce the growing perception that the Tigers are directing their search for relief help to guys who would support Benoit at closer, where he’s 10-for-10 in save chances with standout secondary numbers, rather than replace him.

His remarks on Smyly, too, seemingly indicate his work has made him a piece to build around as well, at least for the stretch run. It’s everywhere else in the bullpen where Dombrowski might use some help.

“We have some guys, and I think some of them could end up being very good for us,” Dombrowski continued. “Some days, they’re very, very good, and some days they’re not quite as good. That’s what happens when you’re young at times, but it doesn’t mean that they cannot contribute. So that’s what you look at, and I think it’s also very dependent upon how deep into the game our starters go. That makes a difference. Jim [Leyland] has always said can he use the bullpen how he wants to use it. I think he’s been able to do that since the All-Star break most of the time.”

Whether Dombrowski can swing a deal to help him do that remains to be seen. There were no remarks Sunday indicated whether or not a deal was close, but Dombrowski there was a lot of talk ongoing. He also indicated the supply-and-demand ratio on the trade market is heavily tilted, and the impact on demands is heavy.

“I think it’s more of a seller’s market,” Dombrowski said. “There are many more clubs that are looking to [buy]. There’s very few clubs that are in a position right now where they’re saying that, ‘We’re not in it,’ at least with the second Wild Card. There’s very few clubs that fit that category. …

“This is a very unusual situation. It’s a lot different. I’ve read other clubs’ comments. There are very few clubs that don’t think that they’re in a position to be able to get a playoff spot, at least the second wild card spot. So that leads to very few clubs that are willing to make moves, and a lot of clubs that want to make some type of addition. Again, you have to sit back and do your own homework, which we do on a daily basis: Who might be available? Do you have interest in that guy? And then also, what are they asking for that guy? That’s what you do at this time of year all the time. But yeah, there’s a lot of talk going on and we’ll see what happens.”

Whether that means talks are going to continue up to Wednesday’s 4 p.m. deadline is something Dombrowski says he doesn’t have a read on yet.

“I don’t really know, because you just never know about those things. You see [Matt] Garza got traded already. [Alfonso] Soriano got traded. I’m not really sure. I know what people are asking for right now with various conversations. When you talk to other general managers, you get a pulse for that. But, will clubs come off of those requests? Will they not come off of those requests?

“I always say at this time of year, things change on a daily perspective. Some clubs might say, ‘Hey, we’re close enough now that all of a sudden we’re going to be in it.’ And there might be somebody else that says, ‘You know what, it’s changed, and we’re willing to make a move.'”

Dombrowski downplayed a  sense of urgency to swing a deal, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t pushing for one.

“There’s not any sense of urgency,” he said. “I don’t feel that. You do what you can. We’ve got a good club. We’ll go about playing. We’ll see if we can improve the team and see what happens.”

He does not, however, see them having to do anything at second base, where Omar Infante’s setback with his sprained left ankle seems set to cost him another week or two.

“He’ll be back fine,” Dombrowski said. “It’ll be a little bit of time. I don’t really know a time frame at this time, but he’ll be back. And [Hernan] Perez has played very well for us with [Ramon] Santiago. If that’s our biggest problem, then we’ll be in pretty good shape. I feel comfortable with them.”

Dombrowski declined comment on anything regarding Jhonny Peralta’s link with the Biogenesis clinic in Miami and the ongoing MLB investigation.

“That’s all commissioner’s office stuff,” Dombrowski said. “They’ll let us know when they want us to know.”

Cabrera returns to Tigers lineup

Miguel Cabrera walked into the Tigers clubhouse after a workout Saturday afternoon, looked around, saw the throng of reporters waiting and joked around.

“No lineup yet,” he asked in mock frustration.

He then walked into manager Jim Leyland’s office and gave him the answer the Tigers and the city had been waiting to hear. He’s ready to play.

With that, Cabrera was back in his usual third spot in the Tigers batting order, starting at third base. He’s not at full strength, more like about 70 percent by his estimation, but he’s good enough to play. And as Cabrera has demonstrated over the years, when he’s healthy enough to play, he plays.

As Cabrera has also shown, his 70 percent is better than a lot of players at full strength.

Cabrera missed the previous four games after leaving Monday’s series opener against the White Sox with what was classified a sore left hip flexor. On Saturday, Cabrera said it was more of a left abdominal injury, different than the hip and back issues he had been dealing with off and on for the past month or so.

Cabrera said he tweaked it running the bases Monday. He’s still limited in his running, but he feels fine doing everything else.

“It was good hitting, fielding,” Cabrera said after his workout Saturday. “It bothered me running.”

He’s hoping that a few days back in the lineup, plus off-days in the schedule next Monday and Thursday, get him close to full strength. He does not believe it’ll be an injury that bothers him the rest of the year.

After more than a month of dealing with various aches and pains, he’s hoping to get to some sort of injury-free play for the stretch run.

“It’s hard,” he admitted. “You try, but it’s hard.”

Cabrera returns to action still leading the league with a .358 batting average, 23 points above anyone else in the Majors entering play Saturday. He lost his RBI lead to Baltimore’s Chris Davis earlier in the week, but trails him by only one with 96 RBIs. Cabrera’s 31 home runs still have him six behind Davis.

From a purely statistical standpoint, it’s a better season than last year for Cabrera. He just didn’t have a season like Davis’ challenging him last year.

If he doesn’t win the Triple Crown, he could end up with a historic third consecutive batting as a consolation. He’d be just the eighth hitter in Major League history to do it and the first since Tony Gwynn won four in a row from 1994-97. No right-handed hitter has won three straight batting crowns since Rogers Hornsby dominated the National League from 1920-25.

Saturday’s lineups: Tigers vs. Phillies

Miguel Cabrera returns to the Tigers lineup, having gone through a workout this afternoon. He’s not at 100 percent, but he’s good enough to play, and he doesn’t seem to believe he’ll make it worse by playing through it. Torii Hunter, too, is back in the lineup, having gone through running drills on the field earlier today.

The end result is a Tigers lineup that looks normal, and a potentially rough go for Phillies spot starter Raul Valdes.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Torii Hunter, RF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B (0-for-1 off Valdes)
  5. Victor Martinez, DH
  6. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  7. Matt Tuiasosopo, LF
  8. Hernan Perez, 2B
  9. Alex Avila, C

P: Max Scherzer

PHILLIES (career numbers off Scherzer)

  1. Michael Young, 3B (7-for-23, 2 walks, 4 K’s)
  2. Kevin Frandsen, 1B (0-for-3)
  3. Jimmy Rollins, SS
  4. Chase Utley, 2B (1-for-2, walk)
  5. Delmon Young, DH (3-for-10, 3 K’s)
  6. Darin Ruf, LF
  7. Laynce Nix, RF
  8. Erik Kratz, C
  9. Michael Martinez, CF

P: Raul Valdes

Game 102: So much for that closer search

In a previous scenario, this was supposed to be the weekend the Phillies showcased Jonathan Papelbon to the Tigers ahead of next week’s nonwaiver trade deadline.

That scenario, of course, involved the Phillies finally falling far enough out of the NL East race that selling off big-contract veterans became inevitable. That hasn’t happened. Nor has the scenario where Papelbon picks up his past role as one of the game’s great closers.

Neither, though, has the scenario where the Tigers become desperate enough at closer to overpay for a proven arm. Joaquin Benoit has become the veteran closer, even if the experience that makes him a veteran reliever includes very little closing until this year.

In reality, Friday was a pretty good showcase for Benoit and what he has brought to the job. With a one-run lead, a pitching duel the Tigers led only with a two-run double from Alex Avila and eight very strong innings from Doug Fister, Benoit took a save chance to the brink and converted it.

In the process, he had the kind of steps would have once made fans panic about Jose Valverde, from a single to the leadoff batter to back-to-back stolen bases from Jimmy Rollins to put the tying run on third base — albeit with one out when he stole second and two outs when he stole third.

“As long as the runs don’t score, I don’t really mind,” Benoit said. “They can get three hits, and if they don’t score, I’m fine.”

Better three hits than three walks. He didn’t so much as reach a three-ball count Friday, extending his streak to six consecutive appearances without walking a hitter.

He has walked three batters over 14 innings since becoming the closer in mid-June, allowing one run on 11 hits with 19 strikeouts. He’s 7-for-7 in save chances in that stretch, and 10-for-10 on the season.

If you put more stock in one-run saves, wanting to know how a closer works with no room for error, Friday was Benoit’s fourth of those. Two of those came in April, one of them saved when Brayan Pena withstood a collision at the plate with Justin Smoak in Seattle. His other one-run save since claiming the closer job was a 7-6 win in Toronto July 2, retiring the Blue Jays in order.

As a result, every indication is that the Tigers are a better candidate to trade for a setup man than another closer. That doesn’t mean they won’t deal for a closer if the opportunity is too good to pass up, but they like their setup now, and they’re comfortable adding relievers to support Benoit closing rather than bump him from the job.

Play of the night: As defensive plays go, Laynce Nix’s mad dash and leap to reach into the right-field seats and bring back a foul ball for an out was pretty impressive. Whether it was a poor job for fans going after the ball is up for debate, though none of them were even looking over and thinking Nix might have a play.

Out of the night: The biggest outs of the game arguably came in the third inning after Michael Young’s single through the left side gave the Phillies their first lead since last Saturday. With two runners, one out and the middle of the Phillies lineup (such as it is) looming, Doug Fister regrouped and struck out Kevin Frandsen and Jimmy Rollins. He rolled from there.

Strategery: Jim Leyland couldn’t write Miguel Cabrera into his lineup again, and he had to scratch Torii Hunter with his Achilles injury. Sitting Don Kelly and starting Ramon Santiago, though, was his decision. He said he went with hitting coach Lloyd McClendon’s feeling that the switch-hitting Santiago is swinging better from the right side. He didn’t do it all evening, but he got his double when he needed it.

Stat of the game: 3 — Number of games Detroit has won scoring two runs or less this season. The Tigers won four such games last regular season, plus one in the ALCS. They won seven such games in 2011.

Friday’s lineups: Tigers vs. Phillies

Homestand 052

Miguel Cabrera is again out of the Tigers lineup. Head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said he remains day-to-day, but feeling much better than he did earlier in the week. Cabrera took batting practice Friday afternoon, so that’s progress. Whether it was an attempt to make himself available to pinch-hit is unclear.

“We’d rather he miss two or three games than 2-3 weeks,” Rand said.

Torii Hunter is also out. He was originally in the lineup in right field, but was scratched shortly after batting practice began. Andy Dirks will start in right and bat second.

But wait, there’s more. Don Kelly was originally in the lineup at third base, but he too was scratched. No injury was announced with him; this might be a matter of making sure the one guy available off the bench can play as many positions as possible. Ramon Santiago starts at third.

Delmon Young makes his return to Comerica Park for the first time since last year’s World Series, and it’ll be interesting to hear the reception for him from the crowd. The way crowds have reacted (or not reacted) this season, it would not be a surprise if there’s not much either way. Don’t worry, he’ll be the designated hitter.

Gameday | TV: FS Detroit, MLB.TV | Radio: 97.1 FM, AM 1270, Gameday Audio

TIGERS (career numbers off Cole Hamels)

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Andy Dirks, RF (1-for-3, K)
  3. Matt Tuiasosopo, LF
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B (8-for-29, 2 HR, 2 walks, 8 K’s)
  5. Victor Martinez, DH (2-for-8, HR, walk, 2 K’s)
  6. Jhonny Peralta, SS (1-for-2)
  7. Hernan Perez, 2B
  8. Ramon Santiago, 3B
  9. Alex Avila, C

P: Doug Fister

PHILLIES (career numbers off Fister)

  1. Michael Young, 3B (6-for-23, K)
  2. Kevin Frandsen, 1B (4-for-6)
  3. Jimmy Rollins, SS
  4. Chase Utley, 2B
  5. Delmon Young, DH (4-for-12)
  6. Darin Ruf, LF
  7. John Mayberry Jr., CF
  8. Laynce Nix, RF (0-for-3, K)
  9. Carlos Ruiz, C

P: Cole Hamels

Injury roundup: Infante getting examined, Downs to rehab in Toledo

Omar Infante is back in Detroit, but is nowhere near a return to the Tigers. He’s at Comerica Park awaiting an examination on his left ankle, which gave him trouble again Thursday night during his rehab assignment for Class A West Michigan.

Infante said he felt fine at the plate, but felt pain — not soreness, but pain — in his ankle when he tried to to accelerate on the basepaths after getting on base. He also felt some pain pushing off in the field.

“It’s pain, same is in the past,” Infante said.

The Tigers are giving no timetable on an Infante return. At this point, they’re going to have to focus on simply getting him healthy and then move from there. Infante is thinking it might take a while.

“I think maybe one more week, two more weeks,” he said.

As for Darin Downs, he came out of his rehab inning at West Michigan last night feeling fine. The lefty will pick up his rehab assignment at Triple-A Toledo, likely pitching Sunday night. Again, there’s no timetable saying that one more rehab outing should do it, but it sounds like he’s getting close. The Mud Hens are home through next week, so the Tigers have ample time to get him ready.

Infante has setback in rehab (updated)

The Tigers sent out Omar Infante on rehab at low Class A West Michigan saying he’d spend a couple days with the Whitecaps and then be re-evaluated after that. Infante’s self-evaluations sounds like he’s going to need more time than that.

Thursday marked Infante’s first game at second base since Colby Rasmus’ takeout slide caught him in the left shin and ankle July 3 at Toronto. The ankle was originally seen as the secondary injury compared to the huge bruise on his shin, but the ankle was slow to heal and has proven slow to get back to game shape.

Infante played four innings at second on Thursday, going 1-for-2 with a single and a strikeout and one play in the field, before being replaced.

The ground ball he fielded apparently brought back the ankle issues that have slowed his rehab the last week and a half.

“I’m feeling a lot of pain in my ankle right now,” Infante told MLive.com. “I’m taking the ground ball, and I was feeling it a lot.”

Infante will be re-evaluated in Detroit on Friday. Even if he checks out all right, it remains to be seen when he’ll resume his rehab assignment.

Infante wasn’t the only Tiger on rehab with the Whitecaps Thursday. Darin Downs needed just 10 pitches to retire the side in order in the sixth inning. The results were nice, but they came against a side of Class A hitters. The more important thing will be how his shoulder feels afterward.

Thursday’s lineups: Tigers at White Sox

No Miguel Cabrera once again, so the hope that Cabrera would be available for one of the last two games of this series fizzled. With right-hander Jake Peavy on the mound, Andy Dirks will hit third, just as Matt Tuiasosopo did the previous couple nights.

Joaquin Benoit is not available to close today, from what Jim Leyland told reporters in Chicago this morning. Benoit said over the weekend in Kansas City that he no longer warms up in the bullpen during the middle innings in order to save his throws for games and hopefully be available to close more often, such as three or more games in a row. At least for now, it does not appear that’s going to change the game plan with how many days in a row he can pitch.

Gameday | TV: FS Detroit, MLB.TV | Radio: 97.1 FM, AM 1270, Gameday Audio

TIGERS (career numbers off Peavy)

  1. Austin Jackson, CF (8-for-25, HR, 2 walks, 9 K’s)
  2. Torii Hunter, RF (6-for-13, walk, K)
  3. Andy Dirks, LF (4-for-15, 2 walks, 2 K’s)
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B (10-for-33, 2 walks, 9 K’s)
  5. Victor Martinez, DH (1-for-4)
  6. Jhonny Peralta, SS (7-for-31, HR, 2 walks, 8 K’s)
  7. Don Kelly, 3B (1-for-7, 2 K’s)
  8. Brayan Pena, C (1-for-6)
  9. Ramon Santiago, 2B (2-for-11, 2 K’s)

P: Justin Verlander

WHITE SOX (career numbers off Verlander)

  1. Alejandro De Aza, CF (4-for-17, 2 HR, walk, 5 K’s)
  2. Alexei Ramirez, SS (12-for-54, HR, 2 walks, (9 K’s)
  3. Alex Rios, RF (12-for-37, 4 walks, 9 K’s)
  4. Adam Dunn, 1B (4-for-23, 3 HR, walk, 11 K’s)
  5. Paul Konerko, DH (9-for-55, 2 HR, 5 walks, 16 K’s)
  6. Jeff Keppinger, 2B (4-for-10)
  7. Conor Gillaspie, 3B (1-for-4, K)
  8. Dayan Viciedo, LF (2-for-12, HR, 4 K’s)
  9. Tyler Flowers, C (2-for-7, HR, 2 walks, 2 K’s)

P: Jake Peavy

Wednesday’s lineups: Tigers at White Sox

No Miguel Cabrera tonight. Jim Leyland told reporters in Chicago that Cabrera was feeling a little better today, but not good enough to go. We’ll see what that means for tomorrow’s series finale.

With Cabrera out, Matt Tuiasosopo gets another start in the third spot in the order. He’s 1-for-6 off John Danks for his career. Alex Avila, 6-for-14 off Danks, gets the start over Brayan Pena, who’s 2-for-9 against him.

TIGERS (career numbers off John Danks)

  1. Austin Jackson, CF (10-for-25, 2 HR, 4 walks, 5 K’s)
  2. Torii Hunter, RF (10-for-33, HR, 3 walks, 5 K’s)
  3. Matt Tuiasosopo, LF (1-for-6, 2 K’s)
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B (3-for-3)
  5. Victor Martinez, DH (7-for-31, 3 HR, 2 walks, 4 K’s)
  6. Jhonny Peralta, SS (9-for-42, HR, 7 walks, 10 K’s)
  7. Don Kelly, 3B (1-for-3)
  8. Hernan Perez, 2B
  9. Alex Avila, C (6-for-14, walk, 3 K’s)

P: Anibal Sanchez

WHITE SOX (career numbers off Sanchez)

  1. Alejandro De Aza, CF (2-for-3, K)
  2. Alexei Ramirez, SS (1-for-3)
  3. Alex Rios, RF (0-for-2, walk)
  4. Adam Dunn, 1B (6-for-24, 3 walks, 10 K’s)
  5. Paul Konerko, DH
  6. Jeff Keppinger, 2B (1-for-3, K)
  7. Conor Gillaspie, 3B (1-for-5, walk)
  8. Dayan Viciedo, LF (0-for-2, K)
  9. Josh Phegley, C (1-for-3, HR)

P: John Danks

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