July 24th, 2014

Thursday’s lineups: Tigers at Angels

Anaheim 008

J.D. Martinez was originally in the starting lineup, but Brad Ausmus said he decided to give him one more game of rest as a precaution.

“Despite the fact that he felt much better, I just decided I didn’t want to have a situation where he reaggravated it,” Ausmus said, “so I put Rajai in and shifted the lineup around a little bit.”

Martinez is available as a pinch-hitter.

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

TIGERS (career numbers off Garrett Richards)

  1. Austin Jackson, CF (1-for-10, 3 K’s)
  2. Ian Kinsler, 2B (4-for-13, 2 doubles, walk, 2 K’s)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B (2-for-8, double, 2 K’s)
  4. Victor Martinez, DH (0-for-4, 2 K’s)
  5. Torii Hunter, RF (0-for-4)
  6. Nick Castellanos, 3B
  7. Alex Avila, C (0-for-4, walk, K)
  8. Eugenio Suarez, SS
  9. Rajai Davis, LF (0-for-7)

P: Max Scherzer

ANGELS (career numbers versus Scherzer)

  1. Kole Calhoun, RF (0-for-1, K)
  2. Mike Trout, RF (3-for-13, double, HR, 8 K’s)
  3. Albert Pujols, 1B (1-for-10, double, 2 walks, 3 K’s)
  4. Josh Hamilton, LF (6-for-19, double, HR, walk, 4 K’s)
  5. Erick Aybar, SS (2-for-14, double, K)
  6. Howie Kendrick, 2B (2-for-8, walk, 2 K’s)
  7. David Freese, 3B
  8. C.J. Cron, DH
  9. Hank Conger, C

P: Garrett Richards

What’s next for Tigers before trade deadline?

Could Wednesday’s trade for Joakim Soria be the opener of a two-part move to upgrade the Tigers bullpen? Possibly.

“Our bullpen has been a situation that has been our major focus, and I guess would continue to be our major focus if we are going to do something,” Dombrowski said on his Thursday morning conference call. “I’m not sure if we will or will not, but we’re still open-minded to it.”

Could the Tigers shift direction and make that much-speculated move for a left-handed hitting outfielder or a veteran shortstop? That seems less likely.

“I don’t know that either one of them would be real high on our priority list at this point,” Dombrowski said.

The part about acquiring another reliever was one of the first questions posed to Dombrowski on the call. The spotting of a Tigers scout watching the Phillies, whose bullpen includes lefty Antonio Bastardo, sparked discussion of whether the recent struggles of Ian Krol to go with Phil Coke’s up-and-down season might Detroit to add a southpaw.

Dombrowski wasn’t getting into details on a game plan for the final days before next Thursday’s nonwaiver Trade Deadline, but he clearly left the door open for another move.

“I wouldn’t say specifically what we’re addressing. I guess we’re open-minded to a lot of different thought processes,” he said. “Our bullpen has scuffled at times. I think that a real key is you want to have people out there who put up zeroes for you, that can put down shutdown innings and also throw strikes on a consistent basis. We’ve scuffled, not everybody, but a lot of guys collectively at that. Again, we remain open-minded if something happens that makes sense to make us better before the trading deadline.”

Positionally, on the other hand, Dombrowski seems pleased. He praised Eugenio Suarez and his handling of the shortstop job.

“We are comfortable with Suarez. He’s done a very nice job for us,” Dombrowski said. “To sum it up, he’s mature beyond his years and seems to handle situations very well. He’s been solid defensively for us, which is first and foremost, and we think he can continue to do that. He’s a youngster, so you have to realize he’ll go through some ups and downs, but he’s also contributed offensively. … But he doesn’t seem overwhelmed at all.”

As for the lefty bat situation, Dombrowski indicated that he expects Andy Dirks to make it back to the big leagues in time to make a difference.

“I think Andy Dirks is going to come back here,” he said. “He’s making progress again. I think he’s going to help us.”

Dombrowski not expecting Hanrahan return

Joel Hanrahan’s Tiger tenure appears headed for an end without throwing a pitch in a game, Major or minor league. After the right-handed reliever’s throwing program was shut down this week, Dave Dombrowski sounded like the Tigers have shut the door on the comeback attempt.

“At this point, I would say we’re not counting on him at all,” Dombrowski said on a Friday Thursday morning conference call to talk about the Joakim Soria trade. “It does not sound encouraging.”

The Tigers signed Hanrahan just under a year removed from surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. He was throwing well in workout sessions for teams at the time, and while neither the Tigers nor Hanrahan wanted to put a timetable on his return, he was hoping for eight weeks.

His rehab process since then has been anything but smooth. Hanrahan’s throwing program was halted last month to rebuild arm strength before he began throwing off a mound again a few weeks ago. He didn’t progress beyond that, and he’s now seeing a doctor.

“It’s a situation where there’s another medical check being done,” Dombrowski said, “but I would say it’s highly unlikely he would be able to pitch for us.”

Asked if that had any affect on their trade talks this month, and what they could going forward, Dombrowski said the slow pace of Hanrahan’s rehab had them already planning for this.

“I think we’ve known this for a while,” he said, “so we’ve been operating over a time period here that it would seem doubtful that he would come back.”

Hanrahan signed a one-year contract for a $1 million base salary, with another $2 million available based on his time on the active roster. It was a deal that weighed the risk of a 32-year-old pitcher with over 400 innings recovering from surgery with the reward of an experienced late-inning arm. Hanrahan owns 100 saves over his seven-year big league career, 76 of them as an All-Star closer in Pittsburgh in 2011 and 2012.

“You just have to realize there’s no given when people are coming back from Tommy John surgery, or probably any surgery,” Dombrowski said. “There’s been such significant strides that have been made, it’s phenomenal in the medical field. But there are still some questions attached to it.

“Things don’t always work. Guys don’t always come back the same way. We knew that when we signed him. We really knew it was a spot where we were taking a chance. And I’d have to say we thought that chance was a minimal chance. He was throwing well at that time. But even as we said at the time we signed him, there’s a lot of difference between going out there and throwing, and throwing 93 on the mound, and then going and pitching in a big-league game. That’s an additional stress.

“You’re also in a position where you’re talking about pitching back-to-back days, the exertion of pitching late in a game — there are just so many more steps that are taken. Sometimes they’re downplayed, but they’re steps that need to be taken. And we were aware of that. We went into it with open eyes on that one.

“It’s one where we took a gamble, and it doesn’t look like that gamble worked. But we thought it was a minimal gamble, under the circumstances, in today’s world, and the financial situation at the Major League level.”

Breaking down the Soria deal

The Tigers are waiting until a Thursday morning conference call to talk in depth about their big move to land Joakim Soria from the Rangers. For now, however, here are a few key points to keep in mind:

1. Soria will set up for Joe Nathan, at least for now

Dave Dombrowski confirmed this much Wednesday evening. That’s believed to have been the plan on all the trade discussions the Tigers held on bullpen help this month. While Soria set up for Nathan with good success for 26 appearances last year, Nathan hasn’t had any role but closer over the last 10 years. So for now, if he’s going to have a role, it’s going to be the ninth.

If Soria eventually closes, it’ll leave the Tigers needing another arm for the seventh or eighth, because their current bullpen doesn’t have enough depth to cover the gap. The advantage of Soria setting up, if Nathan can hold down the ninth, is that it allows Chamberlain to enter in the seventh, an inning in which the Tigers’ numbers are almost as ugly as the ninth.

2. Two solid pitching prospects is the going rate for quality late-inning relievers this summer

Reports from before the All-Star break had the Rangers seeking 2-3 prospects for Soria, and it’s believed the Rangers’ initial asking price was steeper when the Tigers first inquired about Soria. But much like the two-year, $20 million deal Joe Nathan got last winter, the Tigers had to adjust to the market. The Rangers acquired a Triple-A relief prospect from KC for middle reliever Jason Frasor, and the Padres got a decent haul from the Angels for Huston Street.

No question, it shortens the prospect ranks for the Tigers going forward. Corey Knebel had the potential to become a late-inning arm in Detroit as soon as next year, and a cost-controlled reliever at that, while Jake Thompson had the makings of a mid-rotation starter. However, the Tigers have a club option on Soria for next season (and a reasonable one at $7 million), and they could also get Bruce Rondon back from Tommy John surgery next spring.

Thompson’s departure becomes bigger if the Tigers lose both Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello to free agency. If they re-sign one, Robbie Ray likely fills the other slot. Beyond that, Drew VerHagen also has the opportunity to step up. With Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez both signed long-term, and Drew Smyly not up for free agency until after the 2018 season, the Tigers have enough candidates to fill potential holes, even with Thompson no longer in the picture.

3. Are the Tigers done adding relievers?

That might depend on what the asking price is. They have the prospect depth to put together another package, but that’s where the deals begin to hurt the near future, rather than the distant one. While the idea of having Joaquin Benoit and Soria sounds appetizing, it would leave the Tigers on the hook for $26.5 million in relievers next season (Benoit’s $8 million salary for 2015 is guaranteed, with an $8 million option or $1.5 million buyout for 2016). Chad Qualls has a more reason $3 million salary for next year, but has said he wants to remain in Houston. Koji Uehara is up for free agency.