July 2013

Leyland to have Torii Hunter address AL All-Stars

Before the American League All-Stars took the field for batting practice Tuesday, Torii Hunter talked about the memorable pregame speeches that Ichiro Suzuki used to make at All-Star Games.

“Ichiro was funny, man,” Hunter said. “Every year he gave a little speech. It was pretty weird, can’t give you everything. It’ll be weird without him up here, but somebody’s going to have to step up and take that role, and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a guy that’s going to make All-Stars for the next 10 years. We’ll see.”

Hunter had no idea when he said it that the guy to step up was going to be him. His manager, Jim Leyland, had already decided it.

“When the FOX crew comes in, I’m going to actually have Torii Hunter address the team,” Leyland told the Detroit area writers. “He’s a 17-year veteran, very well respected.”

FOX records the pregame speeches from the respective clubhouses for its pregame show. Leyland said he’ll talk with the All-Stars off camera, but mainly to address game issues like going over signs.

Leyland called Hunter an elder statesman, though Mariano Rivera has actually played more years in the big leagues. Hunter’s outgoing personality, however, arguably lends itself better to a team speech.

“I think it would be more attractive for the fans, maybe to see what a player has to say rather than an old manager saying this game means something,” Leyland said. “I think it’s good. Torii can express himself however he wants, and that’s what I want him to do. I just felt I think he’s the elder statesmen, a 17-year veteran, maybe just [talking about] what it means to him and what we’re trying to accomplish here.

“I just thought it was a good idea. In fact, I thought it was a brilliant idea.”

Hunter is making his fifth All-Star appearance, and his first since 2010. His fellow Major League players voted him onto the team as a reserve, a sign of how much respect he has around the game. With his 38th birthday coming up on Thursday, this could well be his last All-Star Game.

He isn’t likely to make the same type of speech that Ichiro made — those weren’t exactly clean for network television — but he’s likely to speak from the heart.

Jeff Jones on Scherzer: “We’ll keep him calmed down”

A year after Justin Verlander’s infamous All-Star first inning, nobody on the Tigers is trying to hide from it. But it’s also clear that nobody wants a repeat of it. The fact that Max Scherzer has his regular coaching staff around him this time, including highly trusted pitching coach Jeff Jones should help.

Scherzer has joked a few times about not taking the mound with too much energy like Verlander did. But just in case, Jones said earlier Tuesday that he’s going to check on his 13-game winner beforehand.

“We’ll talk about that,” Jones said. “I’m going to tell him I want you to come out and pitch the same way you do in the first inning of any game. Because I don’t think it’s going to be beneficial commandwise at the mound to try to do more. There’s no sense in getting out of whack while you’re here.

 “You don’t want to change anything. We’ll talk about it. We’ll keep him calmed down.”

Leyland maps out All-Star pitching plan after Scherzer

While Tigers right-hander Max Scherzer received the honor of starting for the American League in the All-Star Game, Chris Sale and Matt Moore are on track to cover innings for the AL as the Midsummer Classic.

AL All-Star manager Jim Leyland said that Tuesday afternoon that Scherzer will pitch only the first inning, no matter how few pitches he throws. Leyland plans on using Sale, the White Sox ace, for two innings once Scherzer finishes with the first.

“The plan right now is Felix Hernandez for an inning,” Leyland said, referring to the fourth inning. “The plan after that is Moore for an inning or possibly two, but an inning for sure. And then fill in with some bullpen guys. But as the game goes on, you might see what happens.”

Leyland reiterated his plans to use Yankees closer Mariano Rivera in either the eighth or ninth inning, depending on the score, to try to finish out Rivera’s final All-Star Game.

At least one AL pitcher, probably two, will be held back in case the game goes to extra innings. It will not necessarily be the pitchers that were added to the roster in recent days, a list that included Orioles starter Chris Tillman, Royals closer Greg Holland and A’s closer Grant Balfour.

Other available starters on the AL roster, pitchers capable of covering multiple innings if needed, include Tillman and Cleveland’s Justin Masterson. The pitchers will know before the game starts.

Whoever gets the assignment could well lose out on an All-Star appearance if the game doesn’t go extras, but Leyland said they had to map out a pitching plan for a potentially long game. After extra-inning games extended All-Star rosters to the brink of running out of pitchers, as they did in 2002 and nearly did in 2008, managers are required to have a game plan in case of a long evening.

“I have to guarantee pretty much that I have accounted for 15 innings of pitching,” said Leyland, who worked out the plan with Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones.

Sale is making his second consecutive All-Star appearance. He pitched the sixth inning in last year’s game at Kansas City. Moore is making his All-Star debut.

Boras: No contract talks on Scherzer until offseason

The Monday before the All-Star Game is usually media day for the players, not the agent. When you represent both of the starting pitchers, though, it’s a pretty good day to be Scott Boras, and a great day to talk with reporters.

“We’re pretty fortunate because we’ve got two guys starting the All-Star Game,” Boras said. “One’s a young player, and Max has earned his way to this level. It’s a rare time in his career. And when you have two of those guys on a team performing to those high levels, it’s pretty rare. Not many times in baseball history do you get that kind of production. And Max is very happy in Detroit.”

Boras is very happy with Scherzer being in Detroit right now as well. His success so far puts him in a position to command the free-agent pitching market in a year and a half if he can keep it up. Or, it could put him in position to hold a lot of leverage should the Tigers and Boras enter talks on a contract extension.

That hasn’t happened yet, Boras said, and it won’t happen during this season. Though he has been in touch with Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski, Scherzer’s contract hasn’t been a topic.

“Dave and I usually do things like that in the offseason,” Boras said. “I talked to Dave a few days ago about a number of things, but contract things we take care of in the offseason.”

Boras has traditionally favored an open-market approach with his pitchers, using free agency as a tool whether his clients re-sign or go somewhere else. Still, recent history has tended towards teams locking up their young pitchers with contract extensions. Boras isn’t ruling that out in this instance.

“I don’t think Detroit fans should all be scared of free agency,” Boras said. “If I’m not mistaken, I think free agency has been very good to the Detroit Tigers. Again, I don’t think Mike Ilitch or Dave is in any way perplexed about what they know free agency means to a player like Max. He’s a proven owner to go out and do what is necessary to keep the players that Dave and his staff have determined are necessary for his success.”

The question, of course, will be whether the Tigers have too many potential free agents to make it happen. Detroit already has Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez under lucrative long-term deals, and Miguel Cabrera, Austin Jackson, Doug Fister and Rick Porcello all could be free agents after the 2015 season.

For various reasons, Boras said, “There are frankly fewer players in free agency. There’s no pitcher in this marketplace like Max in free agency this [coming] year.”

There’ll be one in the next free agent class after that, of course, if there isn’t extension.

Fielder first eliminated in Home Run Derby

This might be the only time Prince Fielder enters any baseball competition as a leadoff hitter. Once he finished his swings in Monday night’s Home Run Derby, totaling five home runs, it was a merciless wait to see if he advanced.

It was not particularly long. Once first-time Derby contestants Yoenis Cespedes, Michael Cuddyer, Pedro Alvarez and Chris Davis followed him with better opening rounds, Fielder went from looking to match Ken Griffey Jr. with three Derby crowns to looking at an early exit at Citi Field.

From his first two swings, Fielder seemingly was on his way to an encore of his winning performance from last year in Kansas City. His first swing took a ball out 379 feet to right field, followed by a 483-foot launch into the upper deck.

From there, however, he went into a power outage, flying out twice to right before getting a 363-foot drive over the fence.

Four consecutive outs followed, Fielder struggling to get the ball into the hot, humid New York air with enough power to clear the fences at Citi Field. He pulled everything, but powered nothing, lining one pitch foul into the seats down the right-field line.

A 370-foot drive ended his drought, but a line drive into the gap in right-center field started another one. Once his liner to the right-field corner fell just short of the fence, he was down to his final out.

He made a rally, launching ball off the canopy near the concourse in right-center field, but his final drive died in the depths of center field.

Instead of a repeat of last year’s crown, Fielder’s attempt to defend his crown ended up more like his first Derby in 2007, when he hit just three homers out of AT&T Park in San Francisco to finish tied for sixth. Meanwhile Cespedes, who was added to the Derby only after Miguel Cabrera couldn’t take part, stole the show Monday night.

Fielder also followed his regular-season history at Citi Field from his days as a Milwaukee Brewer. He hit one home run in 10 career games here, batting .250 (9-for-36). The Tigers, fittingly, will return for a three-game series against the Mets in August.

Scherzer named AL All-Star starting pitcher

One of the guiding philosophies behind Max Scherzer’s emergence among baseball’s best starters is that his last 15 pitches are the most important pitches of the game. His first pitch Tuesday night, however, might be the biggest individual honor of his career.

Though Scherzer’s perfect record on the season ended on Saturday, he remained the perfect fit to start for the American League in this year’s All-Star Game. Manager Jim Leyland took care of the announcement Monday afternoon, naming his young right-hander for the honor.

“I don’t think I need to explain it any more than that,” Leyland said, citing the record.

Scherzer will be the second consecutive Tiger to start the All-Star Game, following Justin Verlander’s memorable opening inning from last year’s Midsummer Classic in Kansas City. They become the first teammates to start consecutive All-Star Games since then-Diamondbacks Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling started in 2001 and 2002, respectively.

“It means so much, especially for being my first All-Star Game to be in this position,” Scherzer said. “This is what you dream for, to get the nod and get the ball over so many great pitchers.”

For Scherzer, it’s merely the latest bit of history in a season that has forced several references to the history books. His 13-0 start was the best by a Major League pitcher since Roger Clemens in 1986, and the fourth-longest in modern Major League history. He came within a game of becoming the first Major League pitcher to go into the All-Star break with a 14-0 record.

As it is, his 13-1 record ties him for the Major League lead in wins alongside fellow All-Star Matt Moore. His 152 strikeouts and 10.55 strikeouts per nine innings rank second to Yu Darvish among AL hurlers, while his 3.19 ERA ranks ninth.

Scherzer consistently called his unbeaten start and wins total fluky, citing his pitching statistics as a better indicator of the way he has pitched. Still, his first All-Star selection clearly got to him when the rosters were announced July 6.

“When you get on these teams, when you get on good teams, you never really think about making the All-Star team,” Scherzer said last Friday, “because you’re so caught up in winning for the ballclub. For me, I’ve had some good years. Unfortunately I’ve had some streaks within those years when I didn’t quite have as good numbers to make the all-star team. But I finally feel like this year I’ve been able to put together and be consistent, and that’s the reason why I’m an All-Star this year.”

Scherzer has talked to his All-Star teammates, who have volunteered advice on how to handle the experience. The best, he said, came from first-year teammate and fifth-time All-Star Torii Hunter.

“Just enjoy it,” Scherzer said Hunter told him. “He’s just given me stories of dealing with family, dealing with friends, who makes it, who doesn’t it. It’s all the little things in that sense.”

He does not need advice on following Verlander, whose All-Star start last year ended with a five-run, four-hit opening inning. Verlander said afterwards he tried to throw hard from the outset, saying that’s what fans wanted to see.

Scherzer is not that kind of pitcher, though he can approach 100 mph with his fastball. When Scherzer was asked last weekend how he’d react if Prince Fielder tells him to throw a 101 mph fastball, Scherzer smiled.

“He’s not going to tell me that. He knows better,” Scherzer said. “That didn’t work, so we’re trying a new strategy.”

Scherzer said the ball he took off of his left wrist in Saturday’s loss should not be a factor for him.

“It hurt throughout the game,” Scherzer said, “but I was always able to pitch through it. I’ve been able to ice it and it really feels a lot better. I doubt it’ll affect me.”

All-Star Monday for Tigers

The All-Star Game isn’t until Tuesday night, but Monday is the busiest day for All-Star festivities, not so much on the field as off of it. The on-field activity today consists of batting practice for the team as a whole and then the Home Run Derby tonight. Eight hitters take part, but most other players hang out for at least part of it to watch from the field. Several Tigers are likely to stick around for Prince Fielder’s bid for a second consecutive derby crown and third overall.

The schedule for the day’s events is below. Full coverage is available online at MLB.com (we have a roster of reporters here) and on TV at MLB Network leading up to the Home Run Derby on ESPN.

  • 1:30pm: All-Star managers Jim Leyland and Bruce Bochy reveal their starting lineups and name their starting pitchers at a press conference at Citi Field. At this point, it would be a surprise if Max Scherzer doesn’t start for the American League. Scherzer will also take questions here if he’s named the starter.
  • 2:15pm: National League players begin the annual media day scrum. If you’ve never seen highlights from this, think of media day at the Super Bowl, only in a more enclosed space and with fewer celebrity reporters.
  • 3:15pm: Home Run Derby press conference. Fielder will be part of this.
  • 4pm: The American League players get their turn at media day. With so many players taking part, the Tigers will be a major presence here.
  • 5:15pm: National Leaguers take batting practice just as the gates open for Monday’s festivities.
  • 6:15pm: American Leaguers take batting practice. This is about as close as we’ll get to Miguel Cabrera swinging for the fences in a Home Run Derby type of setting. Considering he nearly hit the back windows in left-center field in Arizona in BP two years ago, this is more Cabrera’s style.
  • 8pm: Home Run Derby on ESPN. Fielder tries to join Ken Griffey Jr. as the only three-time winners.

Sunday’s Futures Game in quotes

I wrote today about the Futures Game experience of Jordan Lennerton, the oldest player in the game at age 27. Clearly for somebody who didn’t e was relishing the whole experience.

“It’s very humbling,” Lennerton said. “You walk out into Citi Field. You see it on TV and of course it looks like a big-league ballpark, but you step out there and the place is massive. It puts you in your place. It’s very humbling. It’s exciting, because this is where we all want to be. It’s definitely a fun time for all of us.”

As for the age tag, he said, “I’ve been an old guy, but I’m happy to be that old guy, because I get to stand here with these young guys. I’m proud to be in the position that I’m in. It’s a great motivator for me to know that the people that oversee everything with the Tigers, they see me as that guy that they can put in events like this. They see me as a guy who will move forward.”

More from Lennerton:

  • On being overlooked in system: “My ceiling was Double-A as of three years ago. I wasn’t going to make it out of Double-A. That shows you what the writers know, no offense to you guys. It takes more than watching it from the outside to understand what a baseball player is. Baseball is an intelligent game. It’s a thinking man’s game. It takes a lot more than how far you can hit a baseball. You can’t measure the drive and determination of a baseball player by watching them take batting practice.”
  • On being labeled an organizational guy: “When I was labeled an organizational guy and they said my ceiling was Double-A, I took it for what it was. I took it with a grain of salt. One more guy counting me out. Obviously, I’ve been in Triple-A all year, Futures Game, Triple-A All-Star Game, and now I feel those guys who labeled me as an organizational guy have to go back and erase that and write something new, because they saw me from the outside.”
  • On change this year: “It was a change of mindset. My swing hasn’t changed in 10 years. My setup might be a little bit different, my stance. But it was the mental approach that I took to it, not worrying about numbers and not worrying about producing, doing this and this. It was more about being comfortable and enjoying it, not trying to beat the point to death that I need to hit 30 home runs and drive in 100. When you start thinking about that and you’re not at a particular point that you want to be at, that’s when you start pressing. For me, it’s just staying confident, staying humble and enjoying the process.”
  • On setting goals: “Last year my goal was to play in the Eastern League All-Star Game and then I wanted to play on Team Canada. I set goals this year. To be honest with you, this wasn’t one of them that I set, because I didn’t expect it. It was something that I wanted. In my brain, that would be awesome to do. Reno was a goal, and obviously getting a call to the big leagues. I try to stay away from numbers. If I can reach a goal like getting to Reno, then I’m doing something good.”
  • On reaction to making Futures Game: “It was shocking. Being an older guy, I wasn’t expecting it at all. It was something that I wanted to do, wanted to experience. I found out on Twitter in the clubhouse in Pawtucket, and then I went straight to Phil Nevin’s office and he said, ‘Yeah, I was looking for you.'”
  • On being blocked at big-league level: “Prince is an outstanding ballplayer, so are Miguel and Victor, the guys who are technically ahead of me. But if I start worrying about that, then I’m going to put more pressure on myself. I’m going to go out and play my game and just do what I’ve been doing, just play and have fun.”

For James McCann, the breakout year began in part with a stint in big-league camp, where he took extra hitting work with Lloyd McClendon, Toby Harrah and Leon Durham.

“The big thing is they told me don’t be afraid to look silly,” McCann said. “They said Prince swings at pitches out of the zone, Miguel swings at pitches out of the zone. Don’t be afraid to look stupid. Don’t be afraid to look silly. It happens to everyone. Go up there with confidence and know that you’re going to get the bat head out.”

The other key he pointed out as the work he put in on knowing what to expect from different pitchers and different teams.

“I keep a journal,” McCann said, “and after every at-bat, I write it down. After every game I sit down with our pitchers, with other hitters, and we talk about what they saw. It’s definitely something that helps you get it all out there. Because sure, you can remember 24 hours, maybe 36 hours. But after you start seeing different guys, you forget about that stuff. But when you write it down, you can go back and refresh your memory.”

More from McCann:

  • On biggest difference this year: “I’d say the biggest thing for me has been the confidence. I had the approach last year, but this year it’s been the approach and understanding that I can’t let one bad at-bat or two bad at-bats snowball into a series of games and realize that each at-bat’s its own at-bat. It’s the conviction, the confidence.”
  • On learning from players in spring training: “I’d always be in there when Miguel was in there, so it was — not necessarily working with him every day but watching how he went about his business and having those hitting guys talk to me.”
  • On following former University of Arkansas teammate Drew Smyly: “It’s definitely been a big year for both of us. I’m real proud of him. Pitching out of the bullpen, he’s never done that before, and he’s one of the most consistent guys out of the bullpen.”

Bonderman returns on minor-league deal

Jeremy Bonderman had a standing offer from the Tigers for a minor-league contract last offseason, but signed with the Mariners to stay close to home and get what he rightly felt was a better chance to win a rotation spot. As the season heads into his ceremonial midpoint, Bonderman is coming back to the Tigers organization.

“Hard to go that far,” Bonderman said in a text message, “but it’s where I wanted to play.”

Bonderman signed a minor-league contract that includes an opt-out clause that allows him to ask for his release if he’s not called up to Detroit by a certain date. He’ll report to Triple-A Toledo coming out of the All-Star break Thursday in Buffalo and take the rotation spot previously held by Derek Hankins, who is headed to Korea to pitch.

Whenever Bonderman makes his first start, it’ll be his first appearance in the Tigers organization since Oct. 1, 2010, when he started the lost the first game of a doubleheader in Baltimore on the final weekend of that season. He hasn’t pitched in Toledo since 2009, when he was struggling to come back from surgery to correct his thoracic outlet syndrome.

Bonderman made seven starts for Seattle, going 1-2 with a 4.93 ERA, before the M’s designated him for assignment last week. He gave up 21 earned runs on 40 hits over 38 1/3 innings, but 10 of those runs came in his last two starts.

His fastball velocity this year has actually been better than it was in 2010, his final season as a Tiger, and it had been building with each start. Signing now allows him to try to continue that path, even if it means accepting a trip to the minors.

Bonderman said he had a few offers, but the Tigers offered him both familiarity and what he sees as an opportunity. I don’t know if that means the potential of him joining the bullpen at some point this summer. As a starter, he seems to be an insurance option in case anybody else got hurt or suspended. Yes, the Tigers have Jose Alvarez for that, but not much after him. That fact had to be scaring some people in the organization when Rick Porcello was suspended a couple weeks ago, because once they sent down Alvarez to make room for Anibal Sanchez, they wouldn’t have been able to call up Alvarez to take Porcello’s place before the break.

Saturday’s lineups: Tigers vs. Rangers

TIGERS (career numbers off Derek Holland)
1. Austin Jackson, cf (3-for-9, 2 HR, 2 walks, 4 Ks)
2. Torii Hunter, rf (11-for-37, 2 HR, 5 walks, 9 Ks)
3. Miguel Cabrera, 3b (5-for-12, 3 HR, walk, 4 Ks)
4. Prince Fielder, 1b (1-for-6, K)
5. Victor Martinez, dh (2-for-9, HR, K)
6. Jhonny Peralta, ss (4-for-10, HR, 2 Ks)
7. Matt Tuiasosopo, lf (0-for-0, 3 walks)
8. Brayan Pena, c (3-for-7, 2 HR, walk, K)
9. Hernan Perez, 2b
P: Max Scherzer

1. Ian Kinsler, 2b
2. Leonys Martin, cf
3. Nelson Cruz, rf
4. Adrian Beltre, 3b
5. A.J. Pierzynski, c
6. Elvis Andrus, ss
7. Mitch Moreland, 1b
8. Jurickson Profar, dh
9. David Murphy, lf
P: Derek Holland