The last time Julio Teheran pitched at Joker Marchant Stadium, he gave up six home runs and retired six batters. That was 2012, and he has obviously developed quite a bit since. He has faced the Tigers a couple times since then at Disney World and fared well. Still, just to make it interesting, there’s a pretty good wind going out to left field (as you can see in the picture).
UPDATE: Yoenis Cespedes was scratched about an hour before game time with lower back tightness. Steven Moya is starting in his place.
- Rajai Davis, CF
- Ian Kinsler, 2B
Yoenis Cespedes, LFSteven Moya, RF
- J.D. Martinez, DH
- Tyler Collins,
- Hernan Perez, SS
- Aaron Westlake, 1B
- James McCann, C
- Jefry Marte, 3B
P: Alfredo Simon, Alberto Cabrera, Tom Gorzelanny, Buck Farmer, Angel Nesbitt, Rafael Dolis
- Eury Perez, CF
- Phil Gosselin, 2B
- Kelly Johnson, 3B
- Chris Johnson, DH
- Christian Bethancourt, C
- Todd Cunningham, RF
- Joey Terdoslavich, LF
- John Buck, 1B
- Elmer Reyes, SS
P: Julio Teheran, Eric Stults, Brandon Cunniff, Ian Thomas, Jason Hursh
This was Brad Ausmus talking about Ian Krol last Spring Training, as Krol built a case to crack the Tigers bullpen at age 22 with just 27 1/3 Major League innings on his resume:
“The way he pitches, it seems like he’s kind of a gunslinger. He’s going out there six guns shooting. He’s ready to go, and he does not seem like he’s intimidated by a situation or afraid of a hitter. Those are intangibles that are sometimes tough to come by in young pitchers.”
This was Ausmus talking about Krol on Wednesday, 360 days later, after his first appearance of the spring, which included a 97 mph fastball, a called third strike on a curveball, and another strike on a curveball thrown from behind in the count:
“He’s been outstanding this spring, not only with his effort. He’s the first one in the clubhouse. He’s really paying attention to every part of his career.”
In between these two quotes, Krol not only won an Opening Day roster spot, he earned a role as the Tigers’ primary lefty reliever. He ranked among the league leaders in appearances through May, landed on the 15-day disabled list in mid-June with arm fatigue, struggled upon his return in early July, was optioned to Triple-A Toledo by the end of July, rejoined the Tigers in mid-August, returned to Toledo a week and a half later, was left off the September call-ups and playoff roster, then heard from Ausmus and pitching Jeff Jones about improving his conditioning in the offseason.
It was a wild ride for Krol. It seemed like a lot for a Major Leaguer. And then you remember that Krol is five months younger than Bruce Rondon, the Tigers’ up-and-coming reliever before he underwent Tommy John surgery last year.
There’s one other thing Krol did in between the quotes: He took everything upon himself to get better.
“I worked so hard in the offseason,” Krol said. “Nobody even knows. Nobody. I grinded every second of the offseason.”
He put on 12 pounds by his estimate to prepare himself for the physical toll of everyday bullpen work. He left Chicago early and traveled to IMG’s baseball academy in Bradenton to work out.
Every day was a grind. Every day was something for me to get better at, something for me to get stronger with, to get healthy. Every day, I was focused, I was determined. It’s really rewarding when you see it all pay off.”
He could’ve blamed the early workload for his struggles last year. He could have sulked over seemingly being his chances for making the club grow longer before he could throw a pitch in a game. But as Krol talked Wednesday, there was a lot of pointing to himself. When asked about the disappointment of not being on the club in September, let alone October, he pointed inward.
“The big part was not being able to stay healthy last year,” he said. “If I stayed healthy last year, I don’t even think that would have been an issue. But like I said a million times before, I have a level head. I don’t care what happened last season. I don’t really hold any grudges towards anybody. This is a great ballclub. We have a great staff. We have great people in the organization. Nothing upset me.
“The way the season ended, I was a little down on myself, but it was all because of me. It wasn’t because of anybody else. I had to take care of my own business. I guess just being determined, wanting more and more and more every time you pitch, is just a big thing for me.”
When asked about his role, Krol said he didn’t know, but he also said he wasn’t concerned about it. Improve himself, and his situation will take care of itself.
“Nobody’s told me I’m going to be a long relief,” he said. “Nobody’s said anything about me pitching one inning at a time. Nobody’s said anything to me. It’s my first outing. We’ve got a month to go, and a lot can happen in a month. But I’m just going to go out there and do my job every time — if it’s one inning, if it’s two innings, if it’s three innings.
“Whatever it is, give me the ball. I’ll be ready to do my job. I’m not too worried about not making the roster and going to Toledo. I’m not worried if I’ve got to be a long relief guy now. None of that’s in my head. I’ve just got a level head on getting my job done.”
The only time he talked about youth Wednesday was when asked if he struggled with any pressure of being the return from the Doug Fister trade. With Robbie Ray in Arizona and Steve Lombardozzi long gone, Krol is the last man standing on the Tigers side.
Even then, the answer might not be what you think.
“Everybody keeps talking about the trade,” he said. “Listen, I know it might not have worked out as much as [fans] wanted it to, but we’re only human. It happens in different circumstances. It happens throughout baseball.
“I don’t think there was too much pressure on [me]. I mean, I’m young. I don’t think about those things. My career’s just started, so I’m just trying to make a name for myself, be able to have longevity in the Major Leagues. I just try to go out there and do what I can to keep the game under control. [Last] spring, it kind of got to me a little bit. But other than that, it really wasn’t an issue.”
Good news for the Tigers on the injury front: Nick Castellanos is starting at third base today after taking a pitch off his left hand yesterday, and Steven Moya is available off the bench after missing yesterday’s game with back spasms. Al Alburquerque, who said yesterday he has been dealing with tightness in his neck, is scheduled to pitch in relief.
In other news, Andrew Romine is starting in left field. It’s a clear sky today with a breeze going right to left, so he’s going to get a good test.
- Anthony Gose, DH
- Jose Iglesias, SS
- J.D. Martinez, RF
- Nick Castellanos, 3B
- Aaron Westlake, 1B
- Bryan Holaday, C
- Daniel Fields, CF
- Hernan Perez, 2B
- Andrew Romine, LF
P: Anibal Sanchez, Ian Krol, Al Alburquerque, Blaine Hardy, Drew VerHagen, Jose Valdez, Joe Mantiply
- Alejandro De Aza, RF
- J.J. Hardy, SS
- Adam Jones, CF
- Matt Wieters, DH
- Chris Davis, 1B
- Delmon Young, LF
- Manny Machado, 3B
- Ryan Flaherty, 2B
- Caleb Joseph, C
P: Kevin Gausman, T.J. McFarland, Dylan Bundy
Joel Hanrahan’s comeback attempt is over. The former All-Star closer and Tigers camp invite will undergo another Tommy John surgery after being diagnosed with another tear of his ulnar collateral ligament.
When Dr. Keith Meister performs the procedure March 18 at his office in Texas, it’ll be Hanrahan’s second Tommy John surgery in less than 24 months. He isn’t calling this a career-ender, but he’ll have an even tougher path to try to come back than he did this time.
“It’s going to be a slow rehab,” Hanrahan. “[Meister] told me he wants me to go nine months without picking up a ball, and usually that’s four. I’m going to give it what I’ve got, do the rehab and see where it leads. Hopefully I’ll be able to make it through and hopefully get back on the field someday.”
Hanrahan had been trying to get back to pitching since last April, when the Tigers signed him to a Major League contract after watching him throw for teams. He spent the summer rehabbing at the Tigers’ Spring Training facility, but never got to a point where he could pitch off a mound pain-free.
After repeated attempts to throw last summer ended with the same soreness, Meister told him that he might require a second Tommy John surgery before noted orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews suggested he rest his arm and start throwing again in January. The Tigers were willing to take another shot, signing him to an incentive-laden minor-league contract with a non-roster invite to camp, but never got their hopes up about adding him to their bullpen.
The Tigers unconditionally released Hanrahan on Wednesday.
Hanrahan threw off a mound twice. He cut short his bullpen session Feb. 21 with soreness in his elbow. He played catch since then, but never got back on the mound.
Hanrahan had been hoping the problem was scar tissue. When the soreness didn’t go away, Hanrahan went back to Meister.
“He kind of basically told me the same thing this time,” Hanrahan said. “At that point [last summer], I didn’t believe it, because it didn’t hurt that bad and I don’t know what blowing out your ligament feels like necessarily. I thought there was no way that was true. I was still throwing and some days I could throw pretty good, and some days I couldn’t.”
Once his arm started hurting in non-baseball activities, he realized it was time.
“Trying to play in the [clubhouse] ping-pong tournament, I realized, yeah, that needs to get fixed,” Hanrahan said.
At that point, it became a quality-of-life issue. Even if Hanrahan never pitches again, he was going to need the surgery in order to do basic non-baseball activities.
“I can’t golf,” Hanrahan said. “I can’t pull back the strings on a bow. I can’t play ping-pong. I’ve got a two-year-old son that I look forward to having a lot of time with. It’s one of those quality-of-life things.”
It’s a tough break for a guy who not long ago ranked among the best closers in the game, and it might well mark his last time in a Major League camp. He was clearly down, but he tried to keep a sense of humor in the midst of a terrible situation. Asked what it felt like to be in camp, he said, “I felt like a fantasy camper. … It was fun, and I got to win the ragball championship.”
Gorgeous day in Lakeland for the Grapefruit League opener (or Spring Training opener, depending on how you view the Florida Southern game Monday). Here’s my piece from yesterday on five things to watch today, including Avila batting second and Joe Nathan pitching.
- Rajai Davis, RF
- Alex Avila, C
- Ian Kinsler, 2B
- Yoenis Cespedes, LF
- Nick Castellanos, 3B
- Tyler Collins, DH
- Jordan Lennerton, 1B
- Andrew Romine, SS
- Anthony Gose, CF
P: Kyle Lobstein, Joe Nathan, Tom Gorzelanny, Alex Wilson, Alberto Cabrera, Luke Putkonen, Josh Zeid, Rafael Dolis
- Everth Cabrera, SS
- Jonathan Schoop, 2B
- Nolan Reimold, RF
- Matt Tuiasosopo, DH
- Travis Snider, LF
- Jimmy Paredes, 3B
- J.P. Arencibia, C
- David Lough, CF
- Christian Jimenez, 1B
P: Ubaldo Jimenez, Eddie Gamboa, Chris Jones, Oliver Drake
The unofficial Spring Training opener has arrived, even if not all the Tigers regulars are ready quite yet.
Detroit traditionally plays its regulars against Florida Southern for an at-bat or two. As Jim Leyland used to say, it gives college kids a chance to say they played against big-league stars years from now. They won’t get to say they played against Miguel Cabrera or Victor Martinez this year, but the Tigers have six regulars in their lineup. That includes shortstop Jose Iglesias, whose first game action in a year will last one inning.
- Ian Kinsler, 2B
- Jose Iglesias, SS
- J.D. Martinez, RF
- Yoenis Cespedes, LF
- Rajai Davis, CF
- Nick Castellanos, 3B
- Jordan Lennerton, 1B
- Bryan Holaday, C
- James McCann, DH
- Kyle Richards, LF
- Sam Machonis, CF
- Chris Dennis, 3B
- Jhalan Jackson, RF
- Blake Swann, 1B
- Dominic Brugnoni, DH
- Shawn Sanders, 2B
- Joey Miller, C
- Casey Eddinger, SS
P: Ben Richardson
P: Tim Melville (about two innings), Kyle Ryan, Buck Farmer, Omar Duran, Jose Valdez, Angel Nesbitt, Joe Mantiply
For the second, this is the 29th meeting between these two institutions dating back to 1979. The Tigers own a 25-1-2 advantage, having tied in 1992 and 2005 (Matt Joyce played for the Mocs in that game, and the Tigers saw enough to draft him that summer). The lone Florida Southern win was a 5-3 decision in 1986.
The Tigers rotation is now set for the early stretch, including a nice early spring matchup next weekend.
We already knew Kyle Lobstein was starting Tuesday’s Grapefruit League opener against the Orioles at Joker Marchant Stadium. From there, Anibal Sanchez will face the O’s on Wednesday in Sarasota. Alfredo Simon will face the Braves on Thursday in Lakeland. David Price will make his first start of the spring Friday against the Mets in Port St. Lucie opposite Matt Harvey, who makes his return from Tommy John surgery.
From there, Justin Verlander will make his return against the Braves at Disney World. The rotation comes around Sunday to Shane Greene, who will make his Tigers debut Sunday against the Astros in Lakeland.
If you’re into counting turns to Opening Day, Verlander is on track. Price, however, could easily get on track with an extra day of rest.
Drive down Florida Avenue or US 98 in Lakeland, the major north-south thoroughfare in this city, and you’ll realize the value of green lights. It can be agonizingly time-consuming to get across town without using side routes, because there are so many major intersections. You might hit a few stoplights at the right time, but you can’t possibly hit them all right. And some of them can be pretty long.
All of this is an equally agonizing segue to looking back at the hot topic from last Spring Training: Just how much of a difference did the green lights Brad Ausmus issued last spring — the ones meant to foster an awareness of baserunning and extra-base opportunities — make on the Tigers’ season stats?
“I think it’s the frame of mind that we have to change before it becomes a real factor,” Ausmus said last February, “the frame of mind of wanting to go the extra 90, the extra 180 feet, forcing the defense to make the play on you.”
He mentioned it again this week, as reinforcement for those who returned, as an introduction for others who are new.
“The philosophy is the same,” Ausmus said. “We want to kind of force the issue on the defense, going first to third, second to home, force them to have to make the play. Be aggressive, but let’s not be idiotic. Know the outs, know the score, know who’s coming up next. Yes, I still believe in always looking to get to the next base.”
Detroit led the Majors with 34 stolen bases in Grapefruit League play last spring, one off their total for the entire 2013 season and twice as many as they stole in 2013 Spring Training. Fourteen different Tigers stole bases, including Victor Martinez, Bryan Holaday, Don Kelly (two), Nick Castellanos (also two), and Steve Lombardozzi (six in 14 games before he was traded to Baltimore for Alex Gonzalez).
That pace didn’t keep up in the regular season, of course, but with 106 stolen bases, the Tigers took a major step up the standings — seventh in the Majors, fourth in the American League. The only AL Central team with more was, of course, the Royals, who led the Majors with 153 stolen bases.
Again, 14 different Tigers recorded at least one stolen base. Miguel Cabrera, Holaday and James McCann stole one each. Castellanos stole two. V-Mart swiped three. Kelly stole six. In terms of percentages, there was less balance than the spring, as Rajai Davis’ 36 stolen bases accounted for more than a third of Detroit’s total.
In terms of overall baserunning, the metrics weren’t as kind, but still showed a modest improvement, and would have shown greater if not for one overwhelming factor. The end-of-season edition of the Bill James Handbook — which accounts for stolen bases, extra bases taken, scoring from second on a single and first on a double, and double plays — placed Detroit 25th in the Majors with a Net Gain of minus-21 (plus-24 in stolen bases, minus-45 in running the bases). That’s still better than their standing in recent years. The minus-45, while worst in the American League, was largely due to Alex Avila, who authors say took Detroit from positive to negative territory singlehandedly by going from first in third just twice in 23 chances and didn’t score from first on a double six times. That last tidbit, by the way, is interesting to note if Avila bats second this season in front of Miguel Cabrera, who led the AL with 52 doubles last year.
Avila’s speed isn’t likely to change. Davis’ speed may or may not, but his numbers could fall through playing time. What has changed, Ausmus pointed out Saturday, is the return of Jose Iglesias (assuming his legs are healthy) and the addition of Anthony Gose and Yoenis Cespedes. Gose had a Net Gain of plus-12 in 94 games last year, two off of Austin Jackson’s rating in 154 games. Cespedes was a plus-12 despite just seven stolen bases (oddly enough, six of those were steals of third). Torii Hunter, Cespedes’ predecessor in Detroit’s lineup, posted a plus-2 last year.
“You can add Iglesias to the mix this year, you can add Gose to the mix this year,” Ausmus said Saturday morning. “And after watching Cespedes run the bases, he’s not slow. I think we’re probably a faster team than we were a year ago.”
It’ll be interesting to see how that translates.
As far as managerial ratings, the Bill James Handbook totals stolen base attempts and runners moving on a pitch. On the former, Ausmus’ 2014 team had more steal attempts (147) than any of Jim Leyland’s Detroit teams, and more than his 2012 and 2013 teams combined (137). In fairness, though, Leyland didn’t have anyone like Davis to utilize the last couple years, in part because Jackson became a less frequent basestealer with each season. Interestingly, in the latter category, Ausmus actually put fewer runners in motion (144) than Leyland did in 2013 (180).
I’ve written a few times over the years about the long-running ties between Miguel Cabrera and his Duquesne baseball t-shirts. He explained back in 2009 that he wore them on his way up, having gotten them from former minor-league teammate Josh Wilson.
“It’s superstition,” Cabrera said at the time. “I wore the shirt when I got called to the big leagues.”
Wilson and Cabrera were teammates as far back as 1999, the year both of them signed as teenagers — Wilson out of high school, Cabrera as a 16-year-old out of Venezuela. They were teammates at Double-A in 2003 when Cabrera got the call to the Majors, and they were teammates again in 2005 when Wilson made his big-league debut.
They hadn’t been teammates again until this spring, Wilson having come to Tigers camp on a minor-league camp. So finally, after years of watching Cabrera wear Duquesne t-shirts — the lone remaining symbol of a baseball program that ended in 2010 — I had the chance to ask Wilson, whose father Mike was the baseball coach at Duquesne for 17 years, about the shirts.
Turns out, Cabrera had already asked about them.
“First thing he asked,” Wilson said. “He asked how I was doing, and then he asked if I had any T-shirts for him. I told him the supply was gone, and then I told my dad, and he said, ‘I’ll go get some made.'”
Cabrera actually wasn’t the only one wearing them in Florida, Wilson said. He not only gave some to Cabrera on his way up, he gave away some in his first big-league camp. Guys like Mike Lowell and Juan Pierre got one. He probably gave away a dozen.
Lowell is long since retired. Pierre just announced his retirement. Duquesne’s baseball program was retired five years ago. Lefty reliever Joe Beimel still represents Duquesne baseball in the Majors, but it would be understandable if he doesn’t want to wear the shirt of the university that disbanded the program. In many ways, Cabrera and the t-shirts are the last link.
That ended up starting a conversation about watching Cabrera develop as a teenage phenom on his way up.
“For a 16-year-old kid, his bat speed was one thing you definitely noticed, especially for how young he was,” Wilson said. “He swung the bat like a man. He had a lot of movement. You could tell he hadn’t played against a higher level of competition, but I saw him. …
“What’s amazing is, I don’t think he ever really got the credit for being the athlete he is. He played shortstop in Gulf Coast League.”
Actually, he played shortstop in Class A ball, too. And he wasn’t bad at it.
“The first year we played together in low-A, I was at second base, and he was playing short,” Wilson continued. “When we’d take ground balls, he would catch balls and not even look at first base and just throw it over there and hit the guy right in the chest. He would do stuff, flipping balls behind his back. I mean, it was crazy, the athleticism.
“I think because of how big he always was, and he wasn’t the quickest guy, fastest guy, I don’t think he ever got credit for being an athlete. But he’s got some serious hand-eye coordination and athleticism. And that was probably the most impressive thing I ever saw about him. If he got to the balls, he could make plays at short. His range maybe wasn’t the best, but he could do stuff with his mitt and get rid of balls and make throws that a lot of guys just couldn’t make.”
The hitting, of course, was another matter. Wilson posted a .383 slugging percentage and a .708 OPS for Kane County in the Midwest League in 2001. Cabrera, then 18, had a .382 slugging percentage and a .709 OPS. That’s the last time Wilson could claim Cabrera-like numbers.
“Midwest League when we played together, he was a good player,” Wilson said. “Obviously you could see the tools, the spurts or whatever. But with all baseball players, it’s the consistency, figuring out, learning how to do it every day. And then the next year in high-A, he started showing his power. He hit some homers that year.
“That year in Double-A, in ’03 before he got called up, I still have never played with a guy that was so dominant. He got called up in the middle of June. … It was a joke. They’d send those leaderboards out every day, and he was leading every category, and it wasn’t close. And this was the Southern League, not a hitters league necessarily.
“It wasn’t fair. I mean, it really wasn’t fair. And the power, he was hitting balls oppo, he’d hit them dead center. It didn’t matter. And then for him to get called up and watch him do what he did, hit a walkoff home run his first game, we were all glued to the TVs any chance we had to watch him. And to watch him in the playoffs that year, that was amazing, man.”
To watch him now and remember back then, Wilson said, is “awesome.”
“Everybody always compared him to [Andres] Galarraga,” he said. “I remember when he signed, people saying this kid could end up being the greatest hitter in baseball. And you watch and you’re going, ‘OK.’ But for somebody to actually do it, that has that kind of expectation or demand on him that people think that they’re going to do that, obviously I can’t imagine what that’s like. We’d all love to be the greatest hitter in baseball, but for somebody to say you’re going to be and to do the work that it takes to get there, it’s pretty awesome.”
The workout routine ends next week, when the Tigers start playing games and slotting pitchers. Tim Melville and Kyle Lobstein will be among the first. Brad Ausmus named Melville as his starter for Monday’s exhibition against Florida Southern, followed by Lobstein starting Tuesday’s Grapefruit League opener against the Orioles.
Ausmus did not name his starters beyond that. The starts for later next week will be worth watching, since those will be the ones putting pitchers on track to pitch every five days leading up to Opening Day. It’s also worth noting that the Tigers have two sets of split-squad games March 12 and 22 that would put a pitcher on track for the April 6 opener.
Technically, too, Melville could pitch every five days and be on track for the opener, but well, yeah. The Tigers will field a lineup largely of regulars for that game, but most will exit after an inning or two. Melville could get two innings of work, as well as another pitcher, but most will pitch one inning.
The Tigers signed Melville as a minor-league free agent this offseason at age 25. He’s a 6-foot-5 right-hander out of the Royals system who went 2-11 with a 5.50 ERA pitching for former Tigers catcher Vance Wilson at Northwest Arkansas. He’s 24-44 with a 4.79 ERA for his pro career, but he also missed a good portion of 2012 and 2013, so he’s a projection signing.
“He was a highly-touted prospect at one point,” Ausmus said. “Big kid, big pitcher’s frame, tall, lean pitcher frame.”