September 26th, 2013

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.

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