July 2014

Thursday’s lineups: Tigers vs. White Sox

As we wait to see what the Tigers do before this afternoon’s nonwaiver trade deadline, there’s still a game to be played. And with John Danks seemingly set to make his scheduled start for the White Sox, there’s a lineup to clutter with right-handed hitters. However, Alex Avila surprisingly gets the start behind the plate for the day game after a night game.

Eugenio Suarez, meanwhile, is back in the lineup after missing Wednesday’s game with a bad lower back.

On the South Siders’ side, Paul Konerko gets the start at DH with the day game after a night game.

TIGERS (career numbers off Danks)

  1. Austin Jackson, CF (16-for-42, 2 doubles, 3 HR, 5 walks, 7 K’s)
  2. Ian Kinsler, 2B (13-for-38, 3 doubles, 4 HR, 2 walks, 3 K’s)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B (11-for-41, 2 doubles, HR, 7 walks, 5 K’s)
  4. Victor Martinez, DH (10-for-48, double, 3 HR, 2 walks, 5 K’s)
  5. Torii Hunter, RF (15-for-49, 2 doubles, 3 HR, 4 walks, 7 K’s)
  6. J.D. Martinez, LF (0-for-3, K)
  7. Nick Castellanos, 3B (3-for-5, double, walk, K)
  8. Alex Avila, C (7-for-25, 2 doubles, walk, 4 K’s)
  9. Eugenio Suarez, SS (0-for-0, 2 walks)

P: Drew Smyly

WHITE SOX (career numbers against Smyly)

  1. Adam Eaton, CF
  2. Alexei Ramirez, SS (3-for-7, double, triple, K)
  3. Jose Abreu, 1B (1-for-3, HR, 2 K’s)
  4. Dayan Viciedo, LF (3-for-7, HR, K)
  5. Paul Konerko, DH
  6. Gordon Beckham, 2B (2-for-4, double, walk, K)
  7. Tyler Flowers, C (0-for-2, K)
  8. Moises Sierra, RF
  9. Leury Garcia, 3B (2-for-4, double)

P: John Danks

Wednesday’s lineups: Tigers vs. White Sox

Nick Castellanos said last night he planned to be in the lineup “one way or another,” despite his bruised right index finger, and for now at least, he is. He’s starting at third base and batting seventh. Eugenio Suarez, on the other hand, is out, replaced by Andrew Romine. From a matchup standpoint, it’s interesting, because right-handed batters are hitting .320 (56-for-175) with an .871 OPS off Hector Noesi this year.

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TIGERS (career numbers off Noesi)

  1. Austin Jackson, CF (0-for-3, 2 walks)
  2. Ian Kinsler, 2B (2-for-13, double, walk)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B (4-for-8, 2 HR, K)
  4. Victor Martinez, DH (1-for-4, HR)
  5. Torii Hunter, RF (1-for-2, double)
  6. J.D. Martinez, LF (3-for-5, 2 doubles, 2 K’s)
  7. Nick Castellanos, 3B (0-for-4, 2 K’s)
  8. Alex Avila, C (1-for-2, K)
  9. Andrew Romine, SS (0-for-1)

P: Max Scherzer

WHITE SOX (career numbers vs. Scherzer)

  1. Adam Eaton, CF (0-for-5, 2 walks, K)
  2. Alexei Ramirez, SS (6-for-51, 2 doubles, 5 walks, 7 K’s)
  3. Jose Abreu, 1B (1-for-10, double, 3 K’s)
  4. Adam Dunn, DH (10-for-44, 3 HR, 5 walks, 21 K’s)
  5. Dayan Viciedo, RF (9-for-29, 3 doubles, triple, 2 HR, walk, 10 K’s)
  6. Conor Gillaspie, 3B (3-for-13, double, HR, walk, 2 K’s)
  7. Gordon Beckham, 2B (9-for-41, 3 doubles, 4 walks, 12 K’s)
  8. Alejandro De Aza, LF (10-for-38, double, HR, 5 walks, 12 K’s)
  9. Tyler Flowers, C (2-for-6, walk, 4 K’s)

P: Hector Noesi

Could Tigers swing a trade for starting pitching?

The Tigers headed into the final full day before Thursday afternoon’s non-waiver trade deadline in much the same position as they were over the weekend — still looking for relief help, notably left-handed, still seemingly finding the asking prices high. The same supply-and-demand issues that inflated the market coming into the heart of the traded still hold, at prices resembling the starting pitching market in a lot of years, and the late-inning relief market already.

Which begs the question: If the Tigers would have to pay prices for another reliever resembling that for a starter, could they simply trade for a starter instead, then move lefty Drew Smyly back to the bullpen?

It might not be that far-fetched. One AL talent evaluator raised the possibility earlier in the month. And while there’s nothing suggesting a deal is close, there are signs not to rule it out.

The Rays have had a scout watching the Tigers’ Double-A Erie team since early last week, including Jake Thompson’s start just before his trade to Texas in the package for Joakim Soria. The SeaWolves are currently in Altoona facing the Double-A affiliate of the Pirates, whose search for starting help and deep prospect ranks have made them a much-speculated suitor for starting pitching. The scout, however, is believed to be watching both clubs.

Six weeks ago, the Tigers and Rays seemed like a logical match for Ben Zobrist, but shortstop is no longer a trade target in Detroit. While the Rays have relievers who would carry some appeal on the trade market, there’s little urgency to make a deal. Their main remaining trade bait, even amidst their charge back into the AL East race, is David Price.

It’s shaky at best that the Rays would decide to buck their recent charge and trade Price. If they did, even with the Tigers enjoying some depth in prospects, they can’t match other clubs in what they can offer. If Pittsburgh to St. Louis were to make a serious run, their best push would beat anything the Tigers could come up with, especially after trading Thompson and Corey Knebel to Texas. Something crazy would have to happen. Still, it’s interesting to have the Rays scouting them.

Meanwhile, a Tigers senior scout spent the weekend in Houston, where the Astros were swept by the Marlins. Both clubs have lefty relievers rumored to be on the trade market — Mike Dunn for Miami, Tony Sipp for Houston. However, the Marlins aren’t expected to sell, according to reports, and the Astros aren’t inclined to deal relievers at this point. By contrast, the Astros are reportedly more willing to deal from a surplus of starters.

If the Tigers traded a starter and shuffled Smyly back to relief, it would certainly be an end-around to address their pitching needs. The problem is that it doesn’t actually add to their bullpen depth when it counts. Though Smyly has spent all season in Detroit’s rotation, he’s likely to shift to the bullpen in October anyway, since the Tigers need just four starters for the postseason. Essentially, then, all a trade would do is put Smyly in the bullpen sooner. So if the Tigers were to trade for a starter, he’d have to be be worth it.

That said, trading for a starter who’s under control for next year could conceivably help fill the void if Max Scherzer leaves as a free agent at season’s end.

Tuesday’s lineups: Tigers vs. White Sox

Rajai Davis hasn’t been getting many starts lately, but when he’s starting, he’s getting some better spots in the lineup. He’s batting second tonight against White Sox lefty Jose Quintana, with everyone else pushed down. That means Miguel Cabrera will bat cleanup for the second time in a week.

“That’s due more to how Raj has done against Quintana,” Brad Ausmus said. “More of a matchup issue.”

Nick Castellanos was originally in the starting lineup at third base, but was scratched about an hour before game time with what the Tigers called a right index finger contusion, suffering when he was hit by a ground ball in batting practice. Cabrera moved from first base to third, Victor Martinez from DH to first base, Torii Hunter to DH and J.D. Martinez into the lineup in right field.

TIGERS (career numbers off Quintana)

  1. Austin Jackson, CF (4-for-19, triple, walk, 4 K’s)
  2. Rajai Davis, LF (8-for-20, 2 doubles, HR, walk, 4 K’s)
  3. Ian Kinsler, 2B (4-for-11, double, walk, 3 K’s)
  4. Miguel Cabrera, 1B 3B (6-for-17, double, HR, 2 walks, 3 K’s)
  5. Victor Martinez, DH 1B (4-for-12)
  6. Torii Hunter, RF DH (5-for-17, 5 K’s)
  7. Nick Castellanos, 3B J.D. Martinez, RF (2-for-8, 3 K’s)
  8. Bryan Holaday, C (1-for-4, K)
  9. Eugenio Suarez, SS

P: Anibal Sanchez

WHITE SOX (career numbers vs. Sanchez)

  1. Adam Eaton, CF
  2. Alexei Ramirez, SS (3-for-15, double, walk, K)
  3. Jose Abreu, 1B (1-for-3, double)
  4. Adam Dunn, DH (7-for-33, 2 doubles, 3 walks, 16 K’s)
  5. Dayan Viciedo, RF (2-for-10, double, K)
  6. Conor Gillaspie, 3B (3-for-14, double, triple, walk, 2 K’s)
  7. Gordon Beckham, 2B (3-for-6, double)
  8. Alejandro De Aza, LF (4-for-9, 2 doubles, 2 walks, 4 K’s)
  9. Tyler Flowers, C

P: Jose Quintana

Why Iglesias is unlikely to be traded

Earlier in the summer, this was supposed to be the week that the Tigers either had their acquired shortstop in their lineup or were going to swing a deal for a shortstop to finally fill the void left by Jose Iglesias’ stress fractures. Eugenio Suarez’s performance over the past couple months has quieted that.

He hasn’t been a sensation, but for a rookie shortstop, he has been much better than expected, enough so that the Tigers feel comfortable going into the stretch run and the postseason with him. What happens next year is another matter, which leads to Nick Cafardo’s tidbit in Sunday’s Boston Globe:

Scouts hearing the Tigers are really impressed with rookie shortstop Eugenio Suarez and may trade Iglesias, who has missed this season with stress fractures in both shins.

It’s an interesting twist, and it says a ton about Suarez’s performance so far. But here are four reasons why it’s not likely to happen, at least not anytime soon:

  1. Trading Iglesias anytime in the near future would be dealing him at the low point of his value, and that’s not something Dave Dombrowski does with young players. While the return package the Tigers received for Doug Fister is still being scrutinized, much like the motivations for moving him, the value Fister held to teams at that point was about at its high point — two years away from free agency, coming off a very good stretch, injury woes seemingly behind him. Iglesias goes into next season having missed an entire year and likely with questions to answer about his long-term health, given the unusual nature of his injury and the difficulty in discovering it (including in the midst of medical evaluations during the trade). He’s going to have to prove he can not only play every day at a high level, but keep it up to gain value for other clubs. It could come in the big leagues, it could come in the minors, but from a health standpoint, he’s got to show it.
  2. There isn’t a major financial motivation to trade him yet. He won’t be eligible for arbitration until after next season. He makes $1.65 million this year because it was the maximum pay cut allowed after the four-year, $8.25 million contract he first signed as a Cuban free agent ended.
  3. Suarez has had two months to show he can play, enough to earn the Tigers’ trust for the rest of the year. Whether it’s enough to show he’s better than a healthy Iglesias is a different question. He’s two years younger, which is a big advantage, but he also has yet to go through a round of major adjustments, either at Detroit or Toledo. Iglesias’ season last year showed some of the risks of small sample sizes — a .330 average and .785 OPS over 234 plate appearances with Boston, then a .259 average and .654 OPS over 148 plate appearances (granted, injury-hampered ones) in Detroit.
  4. The Tigers in recent years haven’t shied away from creating some Spring Training competition. Rick Porcello was supposedly a goner a year and a half ago once the Tigers re-signed Anibal Sanchez. The Tigers ended up holding onto Porcello and letting him battle Drew Smyly for the fifth spot in the rotation. The rest has worked out fairly well. Considering the Tigers didn’t sell low on Porcello then, it seems unlikely they’d sell even lower on Iglesias now.

Why Ausmus went to his bullpen in the 8th

Rick Porcello struck out the side in his seventh and final inning Sunday afternoon, including Howie Kendrick swinging and missing at a changeup for his 99th pitch of the game. He had the bottom of the Angels batting order due up in the eighth, and he had retired eight of nine batters since his errant pickoff throw set off chaos that led to a run.

So why did Brad Ausmus turn to Joba Chamberlain for the eighth inning? It wasn’t about where Porcello was at, but where he — and correspondingly, the bullpen — would’ve been had the Angels started a rally.

“You send him back out and a couple runners get on, he’s at 110 pitches and now you have to bring in somebody in the middle of an inning with [runners at] first and third or first and second,” Ausmus said. “I’d much rather just start [Chamberlain] with a fresh inning, knowing that the chance of Ricky getting through it — the way he pitched, he could have — you just don’t want to take that risk. …

“He was fine in the seventh, but he gets into that no-mans land in terms of pitch count.”

This might seem like a little shift in thinking from Ausmus, who has tended to give his starters the benefit of the doubt but has in turn given his relievers the tight situations to inherit when things don’t work out. With Chamberlain, however, it’s pretty standard. Nine of his 10 outings in July have begun at the start of an inning, last Wednesday’s game at Arizona being the exception. He has entered with a runner on base just three times since May 7. By contrast, Al Alburquerque has entered with runners on base in his last five outings.

When there’s an eighth-inning lead to hold, Chamberlain usually gets the entire inning. There’s a reason for that.

“Joba’s been rock solid in the eighth inning,” Ausmus said.

While Porcello was rolling, meanwhile, there were minor signs of risk heading into the eighth. Left-handed hitting Efren Navarro was due to lead off the inning, with switch-hitting catcher Hank Conger up third. And before Porcello struck out the side, four of his previous five outs had come on fly balls or line drives, the one exception a strikeout of Albert Pujols.

Would those signs have led Ausmus to call it a day for his other starting pitchers? That might depend on the pitcher. He let Porcello go the distance in Texas last month despite an esclating pitch count, but he had a six-run lead to play with there. He let Porcello finish out a 3-0 shutout five days later, but his pitch count was so low there wasn’t much risk involved. As it is, though, Porcello hasn’t seen 100 pitches in an outing since the shutout in Texas, a streak of five consecutive starts.

“I felt good,” Porcello said Sunday, “but Brad wanted to take me out, so that’s understood.”

Ausmus on Cabrera: “Everything isn’t in sync”

In most seasons, a 3-4 West Coast trip is about average for the Tigers. As well as the Tigers have played on the road this year, it stands out.

When the Tigers score two runs over the final three games of the trip against an Angels rotation that didn’t include Jered Weaver for the series, it definitely stands out.

Miguel Cabrera drove in one of the two runs with an opposite-field homer that resembled his classic swing. It was part of 9-for-21 stretch over the first five games of the trip. He went 0-for-9 to end the series, including 0-for-4 with two strikeouts on Sunday — one of them on a 73 mph changeup from lefty Hector Santiago — to end the trip at 9-for-29 with two home runs, six RBIs and six strikeouts.

His average is back at .309, which is where it stood when the trip began. It’s more the look on the swings that is being scrutinized right now than the numbers.

“He’s scuffling a little bit right now,” manager Brad Ausmus said after Sunday’s 2-1 loss. “Hopefully DHing today, not standing out in the field helps and he gets his legs back with a day off tomorrow. I think he’s kind of been a little frustrated all year because of the post-surgery. Everything isn’t in sync for him. He’s having trouble syncing right now. I think the surgery probably is the root cause of it, maybe going all the way to the end of last year when he wasn’t swinging like he normally was to protect the injury.

“It can take time. I think it’s some of the side effects of all that.”

Cabrera isn’t getting into the surgery recovery, and hasn’t since his quotes from USA Today’s Jorge Ortiz at the All-Star festivities. His disagrees with the notion that he’s frustrated at the plate, and he understandably feels like the results are pretty good.

There are certainly additional reasons for the Tigers’ offensive funk the last few days, including the Martinezes cooling off. Still, the spotlight in this offense is on Cabrera, and largely has been since the comments over the break.

Is he hitting like normal? No.

Is he in a freefall? No.

He’s somewhere in between. And as the Tigers schedule gets busy (20 games in 20 days coming up, including a three-city road trip in early August), it’ll be up to Ausmus to decide whether to rest him a day or two over the course of the upcoming stretch.

Sunday’s lineups: Tigers at Angels

Alex Avila gets the day off with lefty Hector Santiago on the mound. Torii Hunter gets the day off with the day game after a night game. Rajai Davis gets the start in left, with J.D. Martinez shifting over to right.

The Angels load up on left-handed hitters for Rick Porcello. Surprisingly, the batter vs. pitcher numbers aren’t as hitter-friendly as you would expect given the Angels’ history off Porcello.

TIGERS (career numbers off Santiago)

  1. Austin Jackson, CF (2-for-16, HR, 3 walks, 6 K’s)
  2. Ian Kinsler, 2B (2-for-8, double, 3 walks, K)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B DH (1-for-7, 2 walks, 3 K’s)
  4. Victor Martinez, DH 1B (2-for-11, double, walk, 2 K’s)
  5. J.D. Martinez, RF (0-for-1)
  6. Nick Castellanos, 3B (0-for-2, K)
  7. Eugenio Suarez, SS
  8. Bryan Holaday, C
  9. Rajai Davis, LF (1-for-6, HR, 3 K’s)

P: Rick Porcello

ANGELS (career numbers off Porcello)

  1. Kole Calhoun, RF
  2. Mike Trout, CF (4-for-12, HR, 2 walks, 2 K’s)
  3. Albert Pujols, DH (4-for-10, 2 doubles)
  4. Josh Hamilton, LF (6-for-17, 2 HR, 3 walks, K)
  5. Erick Aybar, SS (4-for-21, double, walk, 3 K’s)
  6. Howie Kendrick, 2B (7-for-25, 3 doubles, 8 K’s)
  7. Efren Navarro, 1B
  8. David Freese, 3B (1-for-6, 2 K’s)
  9. Hank Conger, C (1-for-5)

P: Hector Santiago

Did Scioscia challenge too late? (updated)

Angels manager Mike Scioscia’s challenge of a pickoff play retired a lot more than Eugenio Suarez at first base. The reaction ended up retiring Tigers manager Brad Ausmus from Saturday’s game. It did not retire the debate over whether the challenge should’ve been allowed.

“It’s not a perfect thing,” crew chief Jim Joyce said postgame of the rules on challenge timeliness. “The whole idea is to get it right, and that play was such that I felt that play needed to be reviewed.”

While Scioscia won his argument that Albert Pujols tagged Suarez before his hand touched first base with one out in the third inning, quieting a Tigers rally, Ausmus lost his argument that Scioscia took too long to challenge the call.

Pickoff plays are reviewable, but like all plays, they must be reviewed before the start of the next play or pitch, according to MLB’s official rules. The argument involved whether pitcher Matt Shoemaker’s return to the pitcher constituted the start of the next play.

The rule says it did. In another part, though, it says the crew chief has the final word. Essentially, the argument between Ausmus and Joyce comes down to whether the crew chief thus has discretion to make the determination himself.

According to Section D, Rule 1 of the replay review regulations:

“The next “play” shall commence when the pitcher is on the rubber preparing to start his delivery and the batter has entered the batter’s box (unless the defensive team initiates an appeal play in which case any call made during the play prior to the appeal still may be subject to Replay Review).”

Ausmus was out of the dugout to make his case, presumably for that, as soon as Scioscia left his to talk with first-base umpire Jim Joyce. Once umpires agreed to review, Ausmus began to argue that they can’t.

“He said that he could review it if he wanted,” Ausmus said.

The rules do say that the crew chief (Joyce, in this case) has the final say on whether a challenge is timely, and that his decision on that is not reviewable.

“The Crew Chief shall have the final authority to determine whether a Manager’s Challenge is timely. The judgment of the Crew Chief regarding the timeliness of a Manager’s Challenge shall be final and binding on both Clubs, and shall not be reviewable by Replay Review or otherwise.”

That was the rule Joyce was apparently citing when explaining the situation after the game.

“I was watching the batters and the pitcher, and I understand what Brad was thinking,” Joyce said. “But to tell me I can’t do it is not what the rule is. So I just informed him that it’s at my discretion. It’s at the crew chief’s discretion. …

“I just knew it was really, really a close play. And if he’s going to come out and ask me to review it, I’m going to review it. The whole entire deal is to get it right. So I kept informing him that, at my discretion, that I can review it. I tried to impress that upon, and we got to where we were.”

Ausmus seemed to interpret that as Joyce deciding to initiate a review.

“The umpires have discretion to initiate a review on their own, but they clearly didn’t initiate the review,” Ausmus said. “Mike Scioscia coming out of the dugout initiated the review. The rule, it’s pretty black and white. If the guy’s in the box and the pitcher’s on the rubber, it’s no longer challengable.”

Asked whether it was a manager’s challenge or crew chief review, Ausmus said, “Good question.”

Joyce confirmed that it a manager’s challenge, though he cited his discretion to review it.

After a lengthy review, Joyce’s safe call was overturned, and Suarez was called out. Ausmus immediately ran out of the dugout with what looked like a copy of the rules in hand.

In so doing, of course, Ausmus was violating one of those same rules:

“Once Replay Review is initiated, no uniformed personnel from either Club shall be permitted to further argue the contested calls or the decision of the Replay Official. Onfield personnel who violate this provision shall be ejected.”

Ausmus wasn’t sure his argument should have fallen under that, either.

“I wasn’t technically arguing the challenge,” Ausmus said of his second ejection of the season. “I was arguing the fact that the rule says they couldn’t challenge in the first place. I was ejected immediately, although I don’t know that I should have been ejected immediately. If I was arguing the call, that’s a different story.

“But the rule’s clear. I’m not really sure how they could have looked at this a second time.”

Dirks could resume rehab assignment next week

Dave Dombrowski raised a little surprise Thursday when he mentioned Andy Dirks as a potential option for a left-handed bat.

“I think Andy Dirks is going to come back here,” Dombrowski said when downplaying the chance of a trade for a left-handed hitter. “He’s making progress again. I think he’s going to help us.”

That return might not be as far off as expected. Dirks has been making progress in workouts in Florida, Brad Ausmus said, and could resume his minor-league rehab assignment early next week.

“We’re hopeful if he feels good on Monday that we can maybe restart his assignment,” Ausmus said Saturday.

Dirks played in six games for Class A Lakeland earlier this month before being pulled off his rehab assignment July 16 with lower back soreness. If and when he resumes his assignment, those days don’t reset, so he’ll have about two weeks left out of the 20 days of rehab he gets before the Tigers have to make a roster decision on him.

If Dirks were to resume action around the middle of next week, he’d hit his maximum 20 days of rehab around mid-August. It’s worth noting that Dirks still has minor-league options remaining, and they could conceivably use one to send him to the minors until rosters expand Sept. 1.

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