July 2013

Tigers bring back Jair Jurrjens on minor-league deal

Jair Jurrjens made his Major League debut with the Tigers six years ago. He’s still just 27 years old. Detroit didn’t sign him when he hit the open market last winter, but they took a flyer on him Wednesday, signing the former All-Star left-hander to a minor-league contract.

Jurrjens will forever be remembered as the prospect who became an All-Star after the Tigers traded him to Atlanta in a package for shortstop Edgar Renteria the day after the 2007 World Series. His career has been in a freefall after that Midsummer Classic appearance in 2011.

The Braves let him go last offseason after a 3-4 record and 6.89 ERA in 2012. The Orioles signed him to a Major League contract in January, then renegotiated a minor-league deal in February after concerns over his physical. He made it to Baltimore for a spot start May 18, allowing four runs on six hits over five innings, then tossed 2 1/3 scoreless innings in relief June 29.

Jurrjens declined an outright to Triple-A after the O’s designated him for assignment earlier this month. He went 6-6 with a 4.18 ERA for Norfolk this year, allowing 102 hits over 94 2/3 innings to go with 24 walks and 52 strikeouts.

Jurrjens is the second former Tiger in a week and a half to rejoin the organization. Detroit signed Jeremy Bonderman to a minor-league contract just before the All-Star break and put him in the bullpen at Triple-A Toledo.


Tuesday’s lineups: Tigers at White Sox

Miguel Cabrera has been playing through hip and back issues for close to a month. He is not playing tonight. It might be time for him to take a few days.

Even during last week’s All-Star festivities, Cabrera’s hip was a question. It dates back at least to the series in Toronto at the start of the month, when he dove for a ball on the Rogers Centre turf and felt it. In dealing with the hip, he felt it in his back. They’re two related injuries, and as well as Cabrera has been hitting, they’ve been hampering him for a while.

Cabrera not only has been one of the best players in baseball the last few years, he has been one of its most durable. He hasn’t missed significant time in the regular season since the Tigers shut him down the final week of the 2010 campaign with an ankle sprain. The Tigers were long since out of the race at that point, so there was no reason for him to play hurt.

He has played and hit through aches and pains since. There’s a question for the Tigers to face now: Are they better off having Cabrera sit for a little bit this week if it can get him back to health (or at least close to 100%) for the stretch run?

TIGERS (career numbers against Hector Santiago)

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

P: Rick Porcello

WHITE SOX (career numbers off Porcello)

  1. Alejandro De Aza, CF (3-for-16, 3 walks, 2 K’s)
  2. Alexei Ramirez, SS (5-for-33, HR, K)
  3. Alex Rios, RF (6-for-31, 3 HR, 6 K’s)
  4. Adam Dunn, 1B (3-for-12, HR, 4 K’s)
  5. Paul Konerko, DH (11-for-29, HR, 3 walks, 2 K’s)
  6. Jeff Keppinger, 2B (1-for-6, 2 K’s)
  7. Conor Gillaspie, 3B (2-for-3, HR, K)
  8. Dayan Viciedo, LF (6-for-15, HR, K)
  9. Josh Phegley, C

P: Hector Santiago

Monday’s lineups: Tigers at White Sox

Get used to this lineup for the next few days, because tonight marks the first of three consecutive games the Tigers have against White Sox lefty starters. They won’t see another righty starter until Thursday’s series-ending showdown between Justin Verlander and Jake Peavy.

TIGERS (career numbers off Chris Sale)

  1. Austin Jackson, CF (2-for-15, 2 walks, 7 K’s)
  2. Torii Hunter, RF (2-for-4)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B (2-for-13, HR, 4 walks, 4 K’s)
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B (2-for-12, 4 K’s)
  5. Victor Martinez, DH (4-for-8, walk, K)
  6. Jhonny Peralta, SS (4-for-13, 3 walks, 3 K’s)
  7. Matt Tuiasosopo, LF (1-for-3, HR, 2 K’s)
  8. Brayan Pena, C (1-for-11, 2 K’s)
  9. Hernan Perez, 2B (1-for-3, K)

P: Max Scherzer

WHITE SOX (career numbers off Scherzer)

  1. Alejandro De Aza, CF (4-for-17, HR, walk, 7 K’s)
  2. Alexei Ramirez, SS (3-for-30, 3 walks, 3 K’s)
  3. Alex Rios, RF (3-for-24, walk, 8 K’s)
  4. Adam Dunn, 1B (6-for-21, 2 HR, 4 walks, 10 K’s)
  5. Paul Konerko, DH (8-for-29, 2 HR, walk, 12 K’s)
  6. Jeff Keppinger, 2B (2-for-6, HR, 3 walks, K)
  7. Conor Gillaspie, 3B
  8. Dayan Viciedo, LF (4-for-12, HR, 5 walks)
  9. Josh Phegley, C

P: Chris Sale

Game 97: Benoit’s mentoring helps Rondon

Bruce Rondon came through the Tigers farm system getting advice and help from Jose Valverde, the man he was eventually invited to spring training to replace. Valverde did a lot for young players in minor-league camp over the years he was here, from bringing over food in spring training to talking with pitchers about mound mentality.

Aside from a brief stretch in April, Valverde and Rondon did not play on the same team. The Tigers made the call to bring up Rondon last month only after they pulled the plug on Valverde as the closer and needed to fill the opening it left in middle relief.

Benoit not only became the closer, he became the veteran. He’s helping provide advice to Rondon.

“He’s trying to take advantage as much as he can of the little things in baseball,” Benoit said. “He’s been around the league and can learn some hitters’ tendencies. Basically I told him how to face some guys.”

There are young hitters Benoit doesn’t know, and he tells Rondon in those situations to go with his gut. He also has talked with Rondon about setting up his fastball, about throwing it up to change the eye level on hitters.

There are also hitters that Rondon has already seen, in which case he’s learning how to apply what he has seen from them. He saw the Royals in his Major League debut in April, and he gave up three hits in an inning to them to blow an eighth-inning lead. He’s a completely different pitcher since then.

“He already faced them a time before,” Benoit said. “We already talked about them. He knows already that he can’t try to do the same thing every time, because they’re professional hitters.

“He’s learning. You can see his approach is different. He’s throwing his fastball more often. He’s elevating more. He’s throwing for strikes and controlling his pitches.”

His manager, in turn, is slowly working him into bigger situations. Sunday’s matchups all but dictated going with Drew Smyly in the seventh inning for three left-handed hitters, then Rondon in the eighth for the middle of the Royals order.

“I’m going slow with him,” Leyland said.

Two of the three hitters Rondon faced Sunday faced him in April. Billy Butler, whose leadoff single on a 2-0 pitch started the eighth-inning rally the first time around, fell into an 0-2 count on fastballs before grounding out on a slider. Lorenzo Cain, whose sacrifice fly in April brought in the tying run, saw four fastballs and didn’t make solid contact with any of them, striking out on a foul tip off a 102 mph heater.

In between, Salvador Perez — who took a called third strike against Rondon on Friday — lined out to third.

It was the third consecutive perfect outing for Rondon, who has retired 11 consecutive batters in that stretch. He has walked two batters in nine innings since rejoining the team nearly four weeks ago. All of that work has come in the seventh inning or later, but Sunday was Rondon’s first close lead, resulting in his first Major League hold.

Rondon’s potential use over the stretch run is going to depend a ton on what the Tigers do on the trade market. It would be a major surprise if GM Dave Dombrowski doesn’t add a reliever he can use in the late innings, either to close or set up.

That doesn’t mean that Rondon will be a forgotten man. Leyland will pick and choose his situations more to use Rondon, but he’s not going to forget that kind of arm. He also isn’t going to forget what kind of asset he has with the kid.

Benoit isn’t forgetting what the young arms behind him mean to the team. He reads what has been written about Detroit’s bullpen, and all the faults thrown at it. He ran through a list of them as he talked following Sunday’s list.

“I think we’re good,” Benoit said. “We’re not as bad as people put us.”

Sunday’s lineups: Tigers at Royals

Left-handed hitters are batting just .237 off of James Shields this year, which explains in part why Jim Leyland is using Brayan Pena (4-for-8 lifetime off Shields) behind the plate today despite Alex Avila’s three-hit game. However, Andy Dirks still gets the start in left field over Matt Tuiasosopo, who’s 1-for-6 with three strikeouts against Shields.

The Royals turn to Jarrod Dyson for a start in center field against Doug Fister, with Lorenzo Cain shifting over to right.

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

TIGERS (career numbers off Shields)

  1. Austin Jackson, CF (6-for-16, walk, 3 K’s)
  2. Torii Hunter, RF (12-for-38, 9 K’s)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B (14-for-32, HR, 3 walks, 5 K’s)
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B DH (3-for-11, 2 walks)
  5. Victor Martinez, DH 1B (7-for-25, 8 K’s)
  6. Jhonny Peralta, SS (10-for-26, 3 HR, 3 walks, 6 K’s)
  7. Andy Dirks, LF (1-for-3)
  8. Brayan Pena, C (4-for-8, walk, K)
  9. Ramon Santiago, 2B (6-for-20, 5 K’s)

P: Doug Fister

ROYALS (career numbers against Fister)

  1. Alex Gordon, LF (5-for-21, 4 K’s)
  2. Eric Hosmer, 1B (3-for-11, walk)
  3. Billy Butler, DH (7-for-23, 2 walks, 3 K’s)
  4. Salvador Perez, C (3-for-16, K)
  5. Lorenzo Cain, RF (2-for-3)
  6. Mike Moustakas, 3B (5-for-13, HR, 3 K’s)
  7. Miguel Tejada, 2B
  8. Alcides Escobar, SS (6-for-21, HR, walk, 4 K’s)
  9. Jarrod Dyson, CF (1-for-6, K)

P: James Shields

Game 96: Verlander, Leyland and careful pitching

Let’s all agree on this: It’s no longer a question of velocity with Justin Verlander.

His fastball on Saturday averaged just under 96 mph, according to data from MLB.com Gameday and brooksbaseball.net. That’s his best of the year. His command of it, on the other hand, was not.

There’s a strike rate on Verlander fastball that seems to correlate with how he has been doing this season. When his strike ratio on his fastball has hovered around 60 percent, he has usually struggled. When it’s around 70 percent, he has been at his best. On Saturday, he threw 28 out of 44 fastballs for strikes, according to Brooks’ site. That amounts to a 63.64 percent rate, or the exact same rate of strikes he threw with his changeup.

His hardest pitches ranged around that 32-pitch fourth inning, when he loaded the bases twice and walked in a run.

To suggest he isn’t throwing as hard as he used to seems to be an old argument now. Whether he can actually command it the same way when he throws hard now, or anywhere close, is another matter.

Perhaps that’s why there seemed to be some differing views on what exactly is going on with Verlander.

“He wasn’t sharp,” manager Jim Leyland said. “His control wasn’t good. He was behind guys. This is just me; I don’t know what Justin will say. But it looks to me like he’s pitching a little careful. He’s just not being aggressive with his stuff and pitching a little bit too careful. That’s just my observation.”

Verlander’s response: “No.”

Asked what would lead Verlander to pitch carefully, Leyland deferred.

“Can’t answer that,” Leyland said. “You’ll have to ask him.”

When asked later would lead Leyland to suggest he was pitching carefully, Verlander deferred.

“That’s a question for him,” Verlander said.

His catcher’s response was somewhere in the middle, but seemed to trend towards Verlander a bit.

“Well, he’s attacking guys,” Alex Avila said. “I think he just doesn’t have his release point. At times, he knows where he wants to throw it, but it’s just not going there at times. It’s just a matter of finding it.”

The fastball, Avila said, seems to be there.

“I mean, I’m not concerned about his fastball. He’s throwing hard,” he said. “When he’s throwing it there and he has good command of it, they’re not taking good swings. And when they do, they’re not hitting it hard. They haven’t really been taking good swings off his fastball. It’s just making sure you can not only get ahead of guys, but finishing them with the same release point.”

Verlander and Leyland don’t seem to be on the same page as far as the root of the issue, but I’m not sure they need to be. The man Verlander needs to be in agreement with is the pitching coach, because he and Jeff Jones have another long week ahead.

Benoit: I never told Tigers I didn’t want to close

The Tigers continue to scout teams for potential bullpen help, including potential closer options, but they continue to be impressed with the way Joaquin Benoit has handled the job.

Benoit has opened some eyes with the way he has taken over the role, though he says he has never been told he’s the set closer. On the flip side, however, he sought to clarify a report that he told the Tigers in Spring Training that he didn’t want to close.

That tidbit was tucked in a report from CBSSports.com’s Danny Knobler that the Tigers have scouts this weekend watching the Marlins, Brewers, Padres, Mariners and Astros.

Benoit said Saturday the Tigers never asked him if he wanted to close. Any discussion, he said, centered on what his focus was in the spring. With the Tigers seemingly set on giving rookie Bruce Rondon the first chance to take the job, Benoit said he wasn’t thinking about winning the job.

“That was his show,” Benoit said of Rondon said. “They got Rondon. They wanted him to be the closer. After that, they never said anything about me or anybody else. …

“That’s the goal of everybody, to be in the position where everybody’s going to recognize you. If you ask anybody in the bullpen if they want to be the closer for the team, most of the answers are going to be yes, that they want to be [closing].”

That includes Benoit.

“Yes,” he said. “My position is that if you have a set role, I’m not going to jump in there and say, ‘Because I can do that, I want to do it.’ I mean, I know I can, but it’s not that I’m going to jump in there and say, ‘Take him out and I’m going to jump in.'”

In other words, Benoit wasn’t going to upset the apple cart and demand to close, and he still isn’t.

The only public remarks Benoit made about the closer’s job in Spring Training was that he felt it was better for the team to have a set closer rather than a bullpen by committee. Whoever the set closer was going to be, he said, was the team’s decision.

“I don’t care who’s going to be closing,” Benoit said. “As long as we have somebody that says this guy’s going to close the games, it’s going to be better for us because of the balance in the bullpen. It’s not going to make anybody anxious thinking, ‘OK, who’s going to close today?’ It makes it easier on everybody. Everybody can prepare for whatever situation you’re going to get into.”

He would like to have the closer’s role, and he thinks he can do it. Other than some minor differences, he doesn’t see much difference from his old role.

“What’s different? It’s probably good, it’s probably bad,” Benoit said. “On the road, I don’t know how many times I’m going to pitch. I don’t know how many times I’m going to warm up. Because in extra innings, I may have to be up in every inning. But [the pitching] is not different. If you can pitch in the eighth, I think you can pitch the ninth.”

One change that has taken place is that Benoit no longer loosens up in the fifth or sixth inning, a ritual he had for the first half of the season. He wants to save his throws and his arm to be ready to pitch four days or more in a row if need be.

If Benoit can show that durability, it would answer a major question about whether he can handle the job full-time down the stretch. Leyland has been hesitant to use Benoit three days in a row, given his injury history that includes career-threatening shoulder surgery in 2009.

Saturday’s lineups: Tigers at Royals

The last time Justin Verlander faced the Royals, he pitched seven innings of three-hit ball with eight strikeouts here before the bullpen (including Jose Valverde in his last save opportunity) lost the lead in the ninth. He still gave up a single and a walk to Billy Butler, but only allowed three baserunners besides that.

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

TIGERS (career numbers off Jeremy Guthrie)

  1. Austin Jackson, CF (4-for-20, HR, 6 K’s)
  2. Torii Hunter, RF (10-for-29, 2 K’s)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B (10-for-29, 3 HR, 4 walks, 5 K’s)
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B (5-for-12, 2 walks)
  5. Victor Martinez, DH (5-for-17, 2 walks, K)
  6. Jhonny Peralta, SS (7-for-22, 4 walks, K)
  7. Andy Dirks, LF (4-for-13, 2 K’s)
  8. Alex Avila, C (3-for-16, HR, 4 walks, 3 K’s)
  9. Ramon Santiago, 2B (2-for-10, K)

P: Justin Verlander

ROYALS (career numbers off Verlander)

  1. Alex Gordon, LF (11-for-53, 2 HR, 5 walks, 20 K’s)
  2. Eric Hosmer, 1B (4-for-26, 3 walks, 7 K’s)
  3. Billy Butler, DH (24-for-57, 2 HR, 6 walks, 8 K’s)
  4. Salvador Perez, C (4-for-13, K)
  5. Lorenzo Cain, CF (1-for-6, 3 K’s)
  6. Mike Moustakas, 3B (4-for-24, walk, 5 K’s)
  7. David Lough, RF (0-for-3, K)
  8. Alcides Escobar, SS (6-for-28, walk, 4 K’s)
  9. Chris Getz, 2B (6-for-25, walk, 3 K’s)

P: Jeremy Guthrie

Game 95: Tigers, shutouts and one-run games

Bill Chuck does a very good job of looking up relevant statistics based on the previous night’s games. On Friday, he turned out a list of stats that turned out to be particularly relevant by the end of the night:

  • The Tigers headed into the All-Star break having been held to one run or no runs 11 times, 26th out of 30 Major League teams and third-fewest among American League clubs. Friday marked their seventh shutout, but they’ve somehow been held to one run on just five occasions.
  • On the flip side, Detroit entered Friday tied for seventh in the Majors with 19 games having held its opponents to one run or nothing. Friday marked the 20th such game, but the third loss in that category. That ties the Tigers with the Cubs for most 1-0 losses in the big leagues this year.
  • No other team that has held opponent to 0 or 1 runs at least 20 times this season has lost more than one such game so far.

More stats from other research on baseball-reference:

  • Anibal Sanchez is the first Tigers starter to take a 1-0 loss in a game since … himself last August against the Royals in Kansas City.
  • Add together Sanchez’s two 1-0 losses to the Royals with his complete-game shutout last September, and he has allowed just two runs on 14 hits over 22 innings against Kansas City since becoming a Tiger about a year ago.
  • The Tigers have scored six or more runs in each of Sanchez’s seven wins this season. They’ve scored three runs or less in all of his other starts, seven losses and two no-decisions.

More research from Bill Chuck shows Friday was just the ninth game in the Majors this season — and just the second in the American League — in which neither team had an extra-base hit. It’s just the 10th such game the Tigers have had since 2000, and three of the other nine happened in 2003.

Friday’s lineups: Tigers at Royals

KC 083

Welcome to the second half of the season, which for now does not include Omar Infante. He’s not in the lineup tonight, and he almost surely won’t be back for this series. He’s still in Lakeland working out, and will rejoin the team Saturday only for a re-evaluation from the team medical staff in preparation for a possible minor-league rehab assignment.

As for Darin Downs, he has thrown a couple of bullpen sessions over the last few days, and the next step is to set up a session against hitters this weekend. He, too, could end up on a rehab assignment next week.

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

TIGERS (career numbers against Ervin Santana)

  1. Austin Jackson, CF (1-for-11, 2 K’s)
  2. Torii Hunter, RF (2-for-6, walk, K)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B (4-for-16, HR, 2 walks, 5 K’s)
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B (6-for-10, 3 HR, 2 walks, K)
  5. Victor Martinez, DH (6-for-16, HR, walk, 2 K’s)
  6. Jhonny Peralta, SS (3-for-23, walk, 4 K’s)
  7. Andy Dirks, LF (1-for-5, walk, K)
  8. Alex Avila, C (1-for-4, HR, walk)
  9. Ramon Santiago, 2B (1-for-5, K)

P: Anibal Sanchez

ROYALS (career numbers off Sanchez)

  1. Alex Gordon, LF (1-for-6, walk, K)
  2. Eric Hosmer, 1B (5-for-18, 2 walks, 4 K’s)
  3. Billy Butler, DH (11-for-41, 2 walks, 7 K’s)
  4. Salvador Perez, C (6-for-12, 2 HR)
  5. Mike Moustakas, 3B (2-for-20, 6 K’s)
  6. Lorenzo Cain, CF (0-for-6, 2 K’s)
  7. David Lough, RF (1-for-3, HR, K)
  8. Alcides Escobar, SS (7-for-24, 2 HR, 3 K’s)
  9. Chris Getz, 2B (4-for-11, 2 walks)

P: Ervin Santana