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Ausmus: Ankle prevented Joba from pitching ninth

The price of relief pitching likely just went up on the trade market. Whether the level of disorder in the Tigers bullpen did is another matter.

While Joe Nathan remains the Tigers closer, he was not necessarily the automatic choice to pitch the ninth inning. Brad Ausmus said after Nathan’s three-run ninth that he wanted to keep Joba Chamberlain in the game for the ninth inning (he used just six pitches in the eighth) until his ankle became an inning.

“We were going to send him back out there,” Ausmus said. “Ankle was bothering him. I don’t expect it to be an issue tomorrow. We were considering that.”

It’s an either-or situation with a tie game in the ninth inning, especially since neither had pitched since last weekend. With no save situation, there’s no reason to save the closer. If the setup man is the better pitcher, though, there’s nothing requiring the closer, either.

Whether the lack of work left Nathan rusty, the results weren’t pretty.

“I don’t know if it was the layoff or what,” Ausmus said. “He seemed to have trouble with his command a little bit. Fastball kept riding. Two-seamer kept riding quite a bit away from lefties and into righties.”

Said catcher Alex Avila: “His sinker was really moving a lot, probably a lot more than normal, and he was having a tough time commanding it. That’s been a big pitch for him lately. It’s been working really well. He hasn’t pitched in a while, and today you could just tell he didn’t have a real good feel for it.”

As for Chamberlain closing, Ausmus said, “I haven’t considered that at this point. … There’s a possibility that I could reach the point sometime. I’m not near that point. I’ll let you know when I am.”

Whether Nathan was closing would not have had an impact on Saturday night’s loss. Whether Nathan’s struggles has an impact on the Tigers’ bullpen search remains to be seen.

Saturday (Game 2): Tigers vs. Indians

Victor Martinez is playing the second game as well, Brad Ausmus decided. He’s the DH, while J.D. Martinez shifts over to left field and Torii Hunter starts in right. Don Kelly spells Nick Castellanos at third.

TIGERS (career numbers off Zach McAllister)

  1. Austin Jackson, CF (7-for-14, 2 walks, 4 K’s)
  2. Ian Kinsler, 2B (3-for-7, double, walk, 2 K’s)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B (4-for-17, double, walk, 3 K’s)
  4. Victor Martinez, DH (8-for-13, 3 doubles, HR, walk, 2 K’s)
  5. J.D. Martinez, LF (2-for-3, HR, walk, K)
  6. Torii Hunter, RF (3-for-13, 2 K’s)
  7. Don Kelly, 3B (2-for-5, 3 walks, K)
  8. Alex Avila, C (1-for-9, walk, 5 K’s)
  9. Eugenio Suarez, SS

P: Max Scherzer 

INDIANS (career numbers vs. Scherzer)

  1. Jason Kipnis, 2B (5-for-27, double, 2 walks, 9 K’s)
  2. Mike Aviles, SS (6-for-22, 2 doubles, 4 K’s)
  3. Michael Brantley, CF (12-for-38, 6 doubles, triple, HR, 3 walks, K)
  4. Carlos Santana, DH (3-for-34, double, 6 walks, 6 K’s)
  5. Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B (5-for-23, double, HR, 3 K’s)
  6. Nick Swisher, 1B (9-for-28, 3 doubles, triple, 5 walks, 12 K’s)
  7. David Murphy, RF (7-for-28, 2 doubles, 2 walks, 7 K’s)
  8. Roberto Perez, C
  9. Chris Dickerson, LF (0-for-9, 7 K’s)

P: Zach McAllister

Saturday (Game 1): Tigers vs. Indians

While the Tigers took advantage of the 26th man rule to bring up Drew VerHagen for his Major League debut (he’s starting Game 1), they made a traditional pitching move as well. Chad Smith was optioned to Triple-A Toledo to make room for a fresh arm with Corey Knebel, who rejoins the Tigers bullpen after a month with the Mud Hens. The move gives the Tigers a fresh arm for the doubleheader, though Knebel had also established his solid pitching again in Toledo, allowing four runs on four hits over 14 1/3 innings since his demotion. He walked eight but struck out 16.

On the lineup front, Victor Martinez starts the opener, but there’s nothing determined yet whether he’ll start the nightcap. Brad Ausmus said he’ll wait until after Game 1 to check with Martinez and how he’s feeling before making that decision. Meanwhile, Bryan Holaday — who has caught Drew VerHagen more often than Alex Avila — gets the start behind the plate. Avila is 3-for-17 off Game 1 starter Corey Kluber.

Torii Hunter is the odd man out in the Tigers outfield for Game 1. J.D. Martinez starts in right field, while Rajai Davis starts in left.

On the Cleveland side, Ryan Raburn is starting against the right-handed VerHagen, perhaps trying to take advantage of the hot bat despite the matchups.

TIGERS (career numbers against Kluber)

  1. Austin Jackson, CF (2-for-14, double, walk, 3 K’s)
  2. Ian Kinsler, 2B (1-for-9, walk, 2 K’s)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B (12-for-24, double, 3 HR, 2 walks, 5 K’s)
  4. Victor Martinez, DH (8-for-17, 2 HR, 2 walks, K)
  5. J.D. Martinez, RF (2-for-3, double)
  6. Nick Castellanos, 3B (3-for-6, K)
  7. Eugenio Suarez, SS (1-for-3)
  8. Bryan Holaday, C (1-for-3)
  9. Rajai Davis, LF (1-for-3, double, K)

P: Drew VerHagen

INDIANS

  1. Jason Kipnis, 2B
  2. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS
  3. Michael Brantley, CF
  4. Carlos Santana, 1B
  5. Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B
  6. Nick Swisher, DH
  7. Yan Gomes, C
  8. David Murphy, RF
  9. Ryan Raburn, LF

P: Corey Kluber

Hanrahan getting “incrementally better” in mound sessions, but not facing hitters

DETROIT — Joel Hanrahan continues to throw off a mound at the Tigers’ Spring Training complex in Lakeland, but is not scheduled to face hitters yet.

“He’s thrown bullpens the last two weeks. They’ve gotten incrementally a little bit better, but not to where [he can take the next step],” head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said Friday.”

Hanrahan threw 40 pitches off the mound Friday, Rand said.

While neither the Tigers nor Hanrahan put a timetable on his return from Tommy John surgery when he signed with the Tigers at the beginning of May, his rehab has progressed slower than many would have expected. Part of the extra time has been spent rebuilding arm strength.

Dirks rehab assignment likely on hold for a week

The muscle soreness that halted Andy Dirks’ rehab assignment should not keep him out much more than a week, according to the Tigers medical staff.

“I think sometime within a week or so, you’ll probably see him be ready,” head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said Friday.

Dirks, out since March following back surgery, was recalled from his rehab assignment Wednesday but kept on the 60-day disabled list, a move that raised concerns he had suffered a setback. Rand wouldn’t characterize it at a setback, but said they’re going to be cautious with the injury to avoid risking something worse.

Basically, he got muscular soreness and tightness right in and around the surgical site. Not unusual,” Rand said. “Basically, it’s just due to the increase in activity. No matter what you do with batting practice, even simulated games can’t duplicate game action as far as the intensity that guys put forth.”

The decision to pull him off of rehab, Rand said, was as much a clerical decision as it was a physical one.

“If it wasn’t for the fact that he’s missed so much time and this is his Spring Training, like a normal rehab assignment, you’d probably say give it a couple days,” Rand said. “But in his case, every day’s very, very important for him, because he doesn’t get that many of them, and we want to make sure we get every one we can.”

By rule, position players can spend up to 20 days on a rehab assignment before teams have to decide the next step: Call up the player, keep him on the DL without rehab, or option him to the minor leagues.

Dirks spent eight days on rehab before being recalled. He’ll have 12 days left once his rehab assignment resumes.

Friday’s lineups: Tigers vs. Indians

As expected (or hoped), Victor Martinez is back in the lineup. They’re still going to proceed carefully with him, and manager Brad Ausmus said he has talked to Martinez about not taking as many swings during batting practice or in the cage between at-bats as he normally would. At this point, though, he is by all reports pain-free.

“He said he doesn’t feel anything at all,” Ausmus said.

With Martinez back, Ausmus is back to fitting four outfielders into three spots. It’ll be a luxury for tomorrow’s day-night doubleheader, but it was decision time tonight, and Rajai Davis is the odd man out. J.D. Martinez starts in left.

TIGERS (career numbers off Trevor Bauer)

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

P: Anibal Sanchez

INDIANS (career numbers vs. Sanchez)

  1. Jason Kipnis, 2B (3-for-19, double, walk, 6 K’s)
  2. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS (5-for-20, HR, 2 walks, 6 K’s)
  3. Michael Brantley, CF (5-for-19, triple, K)
  4. Carlos Santana, 1B (4-for-18, double, triple, walk, 4 K’s)
  5. Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B (3-for-12, walk, 3 K’s)
  6. Nick Swisher, DH (2-for-14, 3 walks, 8 K’s)
  7. David Murphy, RF (1-for-6, walk, 2 K’s)
  8. Yan Gomes, C (3-for-7, triple, HR, walk, 3 K’s)
  9. Chris Dickerson, LF

P: Trevor Bauer

Dirks recalled from rehab assignment with muscle inflammation in lower back

The Tigers sent Andy Dirks out on a minor-league rehab assignment with a plan to have him spend the full 20 days allowed working his way back into game shape. Essentially, Tigers head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said, this is his Spring Training.

This is also serious back surgery from which Dirks is trying to come back, and the comeback has apparently hit a snag. The Tigers announced Wednesday that they’ve recalled Dirks from his rehab assignment with Class A Lakeland, and will keep him on the disabled list.

The move came from what the Tigers are calling lower back muscular inflammation from increased activity.

“Just some minor irritation,” team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski replied in an email.

Dirks went 5-for-16 with a double and an RBI over six games with Lakeland. He started both ends of a doubleheader on Monday against Port St. Lucie, but was lifted from the second game for a pinch-hitter after two at-bats and two strikeouts. Considering he was the DH in that game, it wasn’t simply an issue of rest. Lakeland was off on Tuesday.

No word on how long he’ll be sidelined, but even if it’s short, it likely throws another wrench into his timetable. The previous plan put him on track, if everything went well, to be potentially ready around the end of the month. This all but ensures his rehab will at least linger into August.

It also means the Tigers most likely won’t get a look at Dirks in the big leagues before the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline. If they want/need a left-handed hitting outfielder for the stretch run and playoffs, they might have to swing a deal to ensure they have one ready.

VerHagen set to start for Tigers on Saturday

While Max Scherzer is scheduled to make his next start in the nightcap of Saturday’s day-night doubleheader against Cleveland, the other starter is no longer TBA. The answer did not go as expected.

Credit Tom Reisenweber, who covers the Erie SeaWolves for the Erie Times-News, with the scoop:

 

The Tigers confirmed the move on Thursday. VerHagen will start Game 1.

The expectation was that lefty Robbie Ray, who filled in for Anibal Sanchez while he was on the DL in May, would get the call. In fact, he got an extra day’s rest before his last start on Sunday, by all appearances to put him on track for a potential start this coming Saturday. Then he gave up eight runs on 11 hits over 4 1/3 innings to Pawtucket, leaving him with 12 runs allowed on 15 hits over 7 1/3 innings in his last two outings.

VerHagen, meanwhile, has pitched fairly well in the same Mud Hens rotation for the past month, allowing nine earned runs over 33 1/3 innings in his last five starts. He’s a right-hander, and the Indians field a predominantly left-handed lineup that hits 15 points higher off righties with a 70-point difference in OPS. However, the Tigers have shown the last couple years that they want their pitching call-ups to be based on who’s pitching best, not simply seniority or matchups. As Jim Leyland often emphasized, it’s a reward, not a given.

The Tigers can use MLB’s 26th-player rule for doubleheaders (a rule Jim Leyland helped get enacted a few years ago) to call up VerHagen without having to send anyone down.He’s not on the 40-man roster, but there are a few ways they can tackle that, including transferring Joel Hanrahan from the 15-day DL to the 60-day.

Tigers’ toughest opponent might be the calendar

If you like doubleheaders, you are going to like the Tigers’ second-half schedule.

If you don’t like trying to find something to do on days the Tigers aren’t playing, you’re going to love their second-half schedule.

If you want an easy road for the Tigers’ to a fourth consecutive AL Central title, well, you might not like this schedule.

The Tigers entered the All-Star break having played at least three fewer games than any other AL team. Those are postponed games from early in the season that have to be made up — one cold-out against the Indians on April 15, one rainout from Minnesota April 27, and another rainout from Chicago last month.

All of those games are going to be made up with Saturday day-night doubleheaders, three of them in a seven-week stretch starting this weekend. And all the extra rest — in the case of April, way too much — the Tigers received in April is about to come back to haunt them:

  • They open the second half with 11 games in 10 days across three time zones, capped by a four-game series in California against an Angels squad that was rolling into the break.
  • They get an off-day coming back from the coast, then play 20 consecutive days — including a nine-game, three-city trip to New York, Toronto and Pittsburgh.
  • Then comes the most interesting test of all: 24 games over 23 days in five cities, including day-night doubleheaders on back-to-back Saturdays in Minnesota and Chicago. The doubleheaders nullify the off-day.
  • And the team that had six scheduled off-days from April 1 to May 1 (plus two more off-days from rainouts) will have just five off-days from Friday until the end of the regular season.

That means three spot starts for Robbie Ray or somebody else from Triple-A Toledo. (The Tigers can take advantage of MLB’s 26th-man rule to add an extra player for those doubleheader days, so nobody has to go down to make room.)

Well beyond starting pitchers, though, that means a test of the Tigers’ depth, including a bullpen that has some well-used setup men in Joba Chamberlain and Al Alburquerque. They’ve pitched in 41 and 45 games so far this year, respectively.

The Tigers who made the All-Star team already had plans to rest up before the stretch starts. Ian Kinsler was heading back to Detroit, rather than traveling home to Texas and dealing with the heat.

“It’s going to be nice to put your feet up a little bit, relax for a couple days, just hang out, just drink a lot of water, eat some good meals and get ready for the second half,” he said. “So it’s going to be nice to have those two days.”

Max Scherzer said Tuesday night he was going to spend Wednesday in Minnesota and relax before heading back to Detroit, rather than dealing with the travel mess that usually comes with the day after the All-Star Game.

Neither, however, sounded particularly fearful of the stretch ahead.

“If we’re winning, it’s going to be easy,” Kinsler said. “Everything’s going to flow nicely. Everything’s going to be smooth.

“You saw us make a couple runs in the first half. When we’re winning games and we’re turning the rotation over with Justin and Max at the top of it and the way Porcello’s been throwing, if we can continue to turn that rotation over, it’s going to be easy for us. It shouldn’t be that tough without those days.”

For starting pitchers, it’s a little easier, because it keeps them in a routine of starting every five days.

“Maybe [it gets tiring],” Scherzer said. “But at the same time, at this point in the year, you just get so numb to the grind. You just expect waking up, coming to the park and playing baseball. Having extra days and less off-days, it really doesn’t faze us anymore.”

Cabrera downplays surgery recovery

Miguel Cabrera’s response to a USA Today story that quotes him saying he’s still being affected by his core muscle surgery was short and sweet.

“I’m good,” said Cabrera, who then headed off for other business before batting practice Tuesday afternoon.

The question came about after Cabrera told Jorge Ortiz during Monday’s media day session that the surgery recovery has been tough and isn’t complete. From the article:

“There are times when I feel good, but there are always muscles that are tightening, muscles that are not functioning properly,” Cabrera said in Spanish. “It’s part of the process. The same thing is happening to Justin Verlander, but the difference is he pitches every five days, so you don’t see it as frequently.

“But as he and I talked about, we’re never going to offer any excuses for our performance. We always want to be out on the field and compete, and I think that’s the most important thing we can do, compete and try to get past this tough time. And the main thing is we’re in first place.”

Cabrera initially denied saying his groin was bothering him, but it was seemingly more a matter of semantics. The quotes were recorded, and he had said something earlier to Spanish-language media.

When Cabrera said last week that he wasn’t going to take part in the Home Run Derby, he said it was about his swing, that he didn’t want to mess it up anymore. Go all the way back to the second week of the season, and Cabrera said he felt good but that his swing wasn’t right. Cabrera wasn’t keen on using injuries as an excuse down the stretch last year, either. So Cabrera saying he’s good doesn’t mean he’s healthy.

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