September 2013

Later starts set for Games 1 and 2

Get ready to catch up some rest this week, because the Tigers and A’s will keep fans in Detroit up late this weekend.

Major League Baseball announced game times through Saturday, including the first two games of the Tigers’ Division Series in Oakland. With those games being the only West Coast starts for the first few days, they’ll get the late starts. Game 1 will start at 9:37 p.m. ET on Friday, with Game 2 slated for 9:07 p.m. ET on Saturday.

No times have been announced for Game 3 or 4 (if necessary) in Detroit on Monday and Tuesday. Some of that will probably depend on how many other series are going; Monday will be Game 3 for both AL Division Series, but Game 4 for the two NL Division Series.

So to recap the schedule:

  • Game 1: Tigers at A’s, Friday, 9:37 p.m. ET
  • Game 2: Tigers at A’s, Saturday, 9:07 p.m. ET
  • Game 3: A’s at Tigers, Monday, TBD
  • Game 4 (if necessary): A’s at Tigers, Tuesday, TBD
  • Game 5 (if necessary): Tigers at A’s, Thursday, TBD

TBS names broadcast team for A’s-Tigers series

Sorry, Detroit fans, but native Michigander and former Tigers prospect John Smoltz will not be on the TBS broadcast crew for the Tigers-A’s series. He’ll be on the Red Sox Division Series. The Detroit-Oakland broadcast crew, ironically, will have a Boston flavor.

Don Orsillo, TV voice of the Red Sox, will handle the play-by-play alongside analysts Dennis Eckersley (who also does NESN Red Sox broadcasts) and Buck Martinez (a fixture on Blue Jays broadcasts on Sportsnet). Martinez will spend the next couple nights in the studio for TBS pre- and post-game coverage of the Wild Card games.

David Aldridge, a standout for his work on NBA broadcasts, will be the on-field reporter. Sorry, Craig Sager fans.

A lot of people have been asking about game times, but I’ve got nothing official at this point. Rumors have been all over the place. All four Division Series will have a game on Friday, and Tigers-A’s will be the only one on the West Coast, so you can certainly see the potential for a late start.

Umpiring crew set for Tigers-A’s Division Series

Neither of the two umpires who ejected Miguel Cabrera in the middle of an at-bat this season will be on the crew umpiring the Tigers-A’s Division Series. Nor are any the umpires who assigned Jim Leyland his four ejections this year. CB Bucknor, whose missed call on a tag at first base during last week’s Phillies-Marlins series drew headlines, will be, and he’ll be at first for the series opener.

Major League Baseball announced its umpiring crews for the Wild Card games and Division Series, and they’re veteran-heavy. Gary Darling will serve as the crew chief. Tom Hallion, who was the crew chief for the just-finished Tigers series in Miami, will also be on the crew. Bucknor, Mike DiMuro, Jim Reynolds and Mark Wegner round out the roster.

Wegner, who has had postseason work the past three years, will be behind home plate for Game 1 on Friday in Oakland. Bucknor will be at first base for that game, Darling at second, Reynolds at third, Hallion in left field and DiMuro in right.

Fielder father, son together in Miami

While Cecil Fielder wasn’t talking with reporters Saturday at Marlins Park, Prince Fielder wasn’t in a position for an extended conversation about family. That said, the signs were all over the park that the two were reconnecting after a years-long separation that came out of divorce.

First, there was the FOX Sports Detroit footage of Prince and Cecil shaking hands around the Tigers dugout Friday night.

Then, there was the sight of Cecil’s young son, Prince’s half-brother, Grant, in the Tigers clubhouse before batting practice Saturday.

After the game, then, there was the sight of Prince and Cecil walking out of the park together.

Peter Gammons reported around Labor Day that Prince had started the process to mend fences with his father in hopes of having him back in Detroit during the playoffs. No one knows where it’ll go, and what this means for Prince, but one naturally hopes things work out for the best. Considering where things stood when Prince Fielder surprisingly signed with Detroit, and the awkward feeling that Cecil Fielder was on the outside looking in on the team, the signs by themselves are a big difference.

Saturday’s lineups: Tigers at Marlins

Miami 026

Sorry to be so late with the lineups, but there aren’t really any surprises here. Jhonny Peralta gets a second consecutive start in left field. Other than that, it’s the regular lineup without DH Victor Martinez.

Miguel Cabrera is expected to be off tomorrow, so this could well be his regular-season finale to wrap up his third consecutive batting title and get one more shot at the RBI title.

The other statistical race to watch is the AL ERA race, where Anibal Sanchez (2.64) holds a narrow lead over Bartolo Colon (who finished his season last night at 2.65) and Hisashi Iwakuma (2.66).

On the Marlins side, former Tigers catching prospect Rob Brantly gets the start behind the plate.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Torii Hunter, RF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B
  5. Jhonny Peralta, SS LF
  6. Alex Avila, C
  7. Omar Infante, 2B
  8. Jose Iglesias, SS
  9. Anibal Sanchez, P

MARLINS

  1. Chris Coghlan, LF
  2. Donovan Solano, 2B
  3. Christian Yelich, CF
  4. Giancarlo Stanton, RF
  5. Logan Morrison, 1B
  6. Ed Lucas, 3B
  7. Adeiny Hechavarria, SS
  8. Rob Brantly, C
  9. Nathan Eovaldi, P

Porcello scratched, Alvarez to start tonight

With a division title wrapped up and a Division Series looming, the Tigers shifted their rotation for the opener to their season-ending series against the Marlins. Lefty Jose Alvarez will make a spot start in place of Rick Porcello.

No official reason was given, but the move is not believed to be an injury situation. More likely, it sets up a Porcello move to the bullpen for the postseason, when the Tigers need just four starters.

The Tigers rotation for the rest of the series remains the same. Anibal Sanchez will start Saturday before Justin Verlander starts Sunday’s regular season finale.

For Alvarez, it’ll be brief return to his old role, but a departure from his potential playoff role. The 24-year-old made five starts from early June to July 1 while Anibal Sanchez was injured. More recently, Alvarez has been a valuable lefty out of the bullpen, making himself an option for manager Jim Leyland’s playoff roster if Phil Coke can’t come back from his flexor tendinitis.

Don’t expect Alvarez to deliver an abundance of innings. Friday is being classified as a bullpen start, which will allow them to line up relievers and get them work.

Porcello’s scratch likely will cost him a chance at a third 14-win season. It also halts the momentum of what has been a stellar stretch for him over his last three starts: 21 2/3 innings, 18 hits, four earned runs, three walks, 24 strikeouts. He pitched a complete-game seven-hitter in Chicago on Sept. 10, struck out 10 Mariners over six innings of one-run ball Sept. 16, then took a no-decision against the White Sox last Saturday for 6 2/3 innings of two-run ball with nine strikeouts.

On many pitching staffs, it’s the kind of run that would send a starter into a postseason rotation with momentum. The Tigers, however, have a talented enough rotation that somebody is going to have to be the odd man out. Porcello has always been the expectation in that regard.

With division clinched, this weekend is about Peralta

Dave Dombrowski knew quite a bit about the history of the Tigers franchise before he took over as president and general manager. He knows all about Mickey Stanley’s move from center field to shortstop for the 1968 World Series and how his ability to handle the move made a huge difference.

Dombrowski also knows first-hand how Carlos Guillen took to moving from shortstop to third base to left field in the span of two years, and how the moves ate at him near the end of his Tigers tenure.

Jhonny Peralta’s tryout in left falls somewhere in between. It’s more of a temporary shift like Stanley than a long-term move like Guillen, but it’s also the product of a player who has lost his full-time job at shortstop — and probably his chance at sticking around in Detroit this offseason. If this is his closing stretch as a Tiger, he’s going to have to make the move if he’s going to make an impact.

The reports have been positive, but they’ve been based on days of work. Even Guillen had a Spring Training to work out in left when he moved. Even if it’s not much judgment, they’re going to have at least gauge Peralta’s work — in the outfield and at the plate — this weekend, starting with Friday’s series opener against the Marlins.

Dombrowski is willing to give it a look. The reason is obvious.

“I think he gives us a bump,” Dombrowski said Wednesday in Minnesota. “I can’t say how much, but he gives us another quality Major League player that we can put into our lineup. I’m not going to say how he’s going to be used, because that’s not my call. That’s Jim’s call. But it gives us another available player that can swing the bat and has hit very well for us in the six spot. …

“He gives us a guy that we think can play left field, at least some, and give us another good bat.”

If nothing else, that bat could be useful off the bench. He’s 4-for-15 for his career as a pinch-hitter, but 1-for-8 with two walks pinch-hitting since 2011. That one hit was a game-tying two-run homer at Minnesota on May 11, 2011, a game the Tigers went on to win.

If they want anything more out of him, though, he needs a spot to play, which is what led Dombrowski to look at left field.

“You just think of different things,” he said. “I can’t tell you that somebody else didn’t think about it and they didn’t say it to me, but I just brought it up. But at the time, you’re just thinking of ways to make your club the best you possibly can, and if you’re looking at a way to try to get him in your lineup, it wouldn’t take a lot to say, ‘OK, let’s try to get him in our lineup. Where could he play?’ Well, there’s only one place, the way our team shapes up. The reality of it is, it’s left field.

“That was really the only spot, so we just kind of threw it out there and took it from there.”

Left field is the one spot where the Tigers aren’t set with an everyday starter. It’s also the one spot where the Tigers have still been trying to get more offense, especially from the right side, where Matt Tuiasosopo is 0-for-16 with nine strikeouts in September.

The prevailing thought is that a shortstop can play most anywhere else around the infield or the outfield. The question is how much preparation time it takes, and what are the expectations.

“I think we just have to have a comfort zone that he can perform out there,” Dombrowski said. “And even if he can’t perform out there as much as you’d like, does he still make you better going into the postseason with him on your roster, depending on how everything shapes up?”

You don’t go into a short-term move like this if defense is a major concern. It’s about the bat.

Whether it’s the same reason the Tigers are welcoming him back at all is up for discussion. By rule, Peralta has served his 50-game discipline for his involvement in the Biogenesis and is free to play. The chance to complete the suspension with time left in the season, including the playoffs, was one reason for Peralta not to appeal the suspension in the first place.

“That’s why sometimes you need to digest things and sit back, not make immediate decisions,” Dombrowski said. “We look at it if he can make our club better, it’ll be spot where we’re open to that. He’s been with us a long time. He made a one-time mistake and he served his penalty.”

From a practical standpoint, though, he’s a hitter trying to come back from 50 games off. His instructional league debut pitted him against Washington Nationals pitcher Ross Detwiler earlier this week, so he was able to see some Major League competition during his abbreviated minor-league stint. But he didn’t get many at-bats beyond that thanks to rain in Florida, which left a small amount of preparation for what will be a similarly small sample size of games before the Tigers have to decide on their postseason roster.

Take away the reasons behind the suspension, and there remains a practical matter the Tigers have to weigh.

“We had a guy on the disabled list for a couple months. Really, that’s what it’s kind of comparable to,” Dombrowski said. “He’s a smart hitter. He’s got a pulse of it. But I don’t really know the answer.”

They have a few days to try to determine that. It sure takes some of the humdrum atmosphere out of three post-clinching games.

Torii Hunter gives Leyland a lift

Somebody asked me on Twitter earlier Wednesday if Jim Leyland would get emotional about clinching the division. I was skeptical, because he has gotten through past division-clinching celebrations without losing it. But I’ve never been good at predicting when Leyland is going to tear up.

I certainly never imagined he would end up doing the moonwalk in the middle of the visiting clubhouse at Target Field. I never imagined him being in the middle of it in the first place. He always has wanted the players to enjoy their celebration in their area, while he sits in his office and enjoys it with his coaches and front-office members. When they clinched last year in Kansas City, he never left the office. Miguel Cabrera walked in there and enjoyed a quiet celebration with Leyland, Dave Dombrowski and the coaches.

“This is their team. This is their clubhouse,” Leyland said Wednesday night. “I’ve got my office, and I let them be Major Leaguers. I let them be professional Major Leaguers, but that’s something that you treasure.”

He wasn’t counting on Torii Hunter.

“That’s our head. That’s our authority. He should be a part of that,” Hunter said. “He’s one of the reasons why we’re out there. He has a great environment in the clubhouse. He comes in, he’s got a great, uplifting spirit and he’s always on your side. he’s always with you, lifting you up and pumping you up. So, yeah, he’s a big part of this. He needed to be a part of it. He’s the man. I took him in there so he could get a champagne shower. He got a shower and moonwalked out.”

As you can see in the video clip, Hunter literally carried Leyland into the middle of the clubhouse. I asked him if he ever did that with Ron Gardenhire during all the Twins’ division celebrations he enjoyed. He said he couldn’t lift him.

Tigers will activate Peralta Friday, try him out in LF

Jhonny Peralta will be back in a Tiger uniform this weekend when his 50-game suspension ends for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal. There’s a very real possibility he’ll be on Detroit’s postseason roster as well.

Team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski made the first part official on Wednesday, saying that their displaced shortstop turned left-field candidate will be activated to the 40-man roster on Thursday, the day his suspension ends.

“He’s worked hard, eager to get back. The team has been receptive to him coming back, and we think it’s best for the ballclub to give him the opportunity,” Dombrowski said.

Peralta will return for Friday’s series opener at Miami as an option in left field. He could be an insurance option at shortstop if Jose Iglesias isn’t ready to return from his bruised left hand, but Dombrowski and manager Jim Leyland both think Iglesias will be back at short on Friday.

The postseason question, Dombrowski cautioned, has yet to be decided. When asked how much Peralta has to show in left field over three regular-season games, Dombrowski offered a little bit of clarity on how they see Peralta’s situation as a potential playoff left fielder.

“I think we just have to have a comfort zone that he can perform out there,” Dombrowski said. “And even if he can’t perform out there as much as you’d like, does he still make you better going into the postseason with him on your roster, depending on how everything shapes up? And those are not discussions for today. Those are discussions for another today, because we haven’t even reached that point as of yet.”

Peralta will have to be added to the 40-man roster. To make room, the Tigers will place infielder Danny Worth on the 60-day disabled list. Worth’s season ended earlier this month with a dislocated left shoulder.

Leyland on Rondon’s status: “Not good” (updated)

When Jim Leyland was asked last night about Bruce Rondon’s performance in his first outing in three weeks, he answered with a measure of trepidation. He wanted to wait to see how Rondon felt today before allowing himself to feel really encouraged.

This is why.

“Not good,” Leyland said today when asked how Rondon is feeling.

UPDATE: Leyland didn’t have anything else on it, but head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said later that it’s elbow discomfort in the same area he had it a few weeks ago.

“He came in today with some complaints of discomfort in his elbow, similar to what he had in Boston,” Rand said. “It’s hard to determine at this point if it’s to that point, so we’re just going to treat him today, try to get it quieted down and re-evaluate it. …

“The question is: Is it just [out of] going back out there again, getting back up and throwing at 100 percent? Is it that, or is it more than that? We have to obviously err on the side of caution and treat him today with an off-day tomorrow and just kind of re-evaluate it.”

Rand did not give a timetable, and he wouldn’t say it’s day-to-day. He did not, however, use the same outlook as Leyland.

“I would say Jim said not good because he doesn’t have him available tonight,” Rand said. “It’s never good when I walk in [to his office] and tell him you haven’t got that guy for tonight.”

Whatever the issue is — he missed three weeks with a tender elbow — he’s not available tonight. Neither is Al Alburquerque (four outings last five days), and Leyland would like to avoid using closer Joaquin Benoit. So it could be an interesting night as the Tigers attempt to clinch the AL Central, depending on how far Max Scherzer pitches into tonight’s game.

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