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Nathan apologizes for gesture

Joe Nathan tried to joke that he didn’t use Head and Shoulders in his beard last night, but it didn’t go over well. Then he got into his apology for the chin flick after his final out.

“I think both sides were frustrated,” he said. “I was frustrated. Fans obviously were frustrated. I think for myself, I apologize for that. I have two kids and I need to be a better example for them thinking how they’re still young enough that they won’t know about this. I do know, and I do need to be better for that. I know both sides are frustrated, but the thing is, we’re on the same page. The fans want to win, want us to win. We obviously want to win. I do apologize for that, but again, we’re on the same page here. We’re trying to accomplish the same thing. Unfortunately, this incident happened.

“Listen, there’s no hard feelings. There’s no frustration towards them. I know when they’re behind this team 100 percent and they want us to get to the same place. They want us to get to the postseason. I know they want us to go out there and be perfect every time. I wish it was that easy, too, but this game isn’t easy sometimes. You’re going to go out and have struggles. The thing is, I don’t feel like I have been struggling lately. I think it’s gone pretty well. Sometimes when you walk a guy and frustration comes out on their end, trust me, I’m just as frustrated. I’m not out there trying to walk guys or trying to do this. I’m trying to win games, period. I don’t care how it gets done. We’re on the same page. I think it’s just one of those things right now where I think fans just have a short leash on how they want me to go out and pitch. I think they have a perception of how it should go, and if it doesn’t go exactly that way they get frustrated. Understandable. Like I said, we both want to win. We both want to get to the same goal, the World Series. That’s what we’re trying to do here. I do understand their frustrations and I apologize for my actions.”

Asked about expectations and struggling to meet them, Nathan said, “I think just expectations, expectations of our team, what you guys have put on us for expectations. I think that all goes hand-in-hand on what the fans expect from this ballclub, and because of that, there will be an expectation to go out and be as good as we can be. Unfortunately, this happened. Both sides frustrated, but I do apologize for my actions. I want to put it behind us as quick as I can and move on to what’s important, and that’s winning games.”

Asked about the fairness of expectations: “Are they unfair? No. We know what we expect. We expect that from us as well. We know we have talent in here, and we go through stretches where we aren’t playing the way we’d like to, and I think this coincided with how we’ve been playing the last few weeks too. Like I said, I’m going to be better for my kids. I’m going to be a better example for them. This is something that’s never happened to me. I feel bad for that and want to be a better person for that and a better leader for my kids and someone they can look up to, so I apologize to them as well.”

The frustrations, he said, got the better of him.

“I know I’m better than that,” he said. “I know I’m better than that as a person.”

Farmer swapped for Mercedes

Give this to the Tigers: Of all the names that have come and gone through Detroit in recent years, especially this season, this might have made for the best headline.

After Buck Farmer’s spot start was finished, he was sent back to the minor leagues. However, instead of a return to Double-A Erie, he gets his fourth different level in the Tigers organization this year. He’ll join Triple-A Toledo Thursday.

The move makes room for the Tigers to bring their bullpen back to full strength. The much-speculated move that was Jim Johnson, who delivered two perfect innings earlier in the evening for Toledo, would be on his way to Detroit. However, Johnson told John Wagner of the Toledo Blade that he could use at least one more outing with the Mud Hens to work on some things.

So instead, the Tigers called up Melvin Mercedes, the large right-hander who began the season as the Mud Hens closer but now serves in middle relief. By all appearances, the 23-year-old sinkerballer is getting his first shot at the big leagues to provide a fresh arm.

Mercedes owns an 0-2 record and a 4.33 ERA, allowing 55 hits over 52 innings, includes six home runs. While his 12 walks mark a low rate, his 27 strikeouts comprise one of the lowest rates of his pro career.

If Mercedes gets into a game, he’ll become the 26th different person to throw a pitch for the Tigers this season, their highest total since 2011. He’d be the ninth Tigers pitcher to make his Major League debut this season.

Verlander to get more input on sore shoulder

Justin Verlander spent Wednesday visiting with team doctor Stephen Lemos to work up a plan to rehab his right shoulder. At the same time, test results were being sent to specialists to make sure experts are in agreement on the diagnosis of inflammation in his shoulder capsule, but no major structural damage.

At this point, Verlander has no plans to visit a specialist for a second opinion, but he’s keeping his options open.

“I’m going to get other opinions. Whether I need to go visit them or not, I don’t know,” he said. “The more minds you put together to look at something, the better. Hopefully they all come back and say, ‘Hey, that’s what we see, too.’ If they say, ‘Hey, maybe you want to come in and get evaluated,’ OK, I might be willing to [make a visit].”

Verlander said again that he had been dealing with soreness in his shoulder since before his one-inning start Monday in Pittsburgh, but declined to say how long. He also said that while his exams showed no major structural damage, that doesn’t mean there was no abnormal wear and tear.

“Structurally, my shoulder looks about as good as you can expect for someone that’s been in the league for 10 years,” he said.

As for whether he believes he can get back to full strength with the time off, Verlander said, “We’ll see. I’m excited to get back out there. Whether it’s 100 percent [strength] or not, I’ll be ready to pitch.”

Wednesday’s lineups: Tigers vs. Pirates

Rajai Davis gets the night off after an 8-for-42 road trip. Considering Vance Worley is holding right-handed hitters to a .212 (25-for-118) average, there’s a double reason for it. Ezequiel Carrera starts in center, with Don Kelly starting in left as an extra left-handed bat.

TIGERS (career numbers off Worley)

  1. Ezequiel Carrera, CF
  2. Ian Kinsler, 2B (1-for-3)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B (1-for-6, HR)
  4. Victor Martinez, DH (2-for-6, double, K)
  5. Torii Hunter, RF (3-for-6, 2 doubles)
  6. Don Kelly, LF
  7. Nick Castellanos, 3B
  8. Alex Avila, C (1-for-5, HR, K)
  9. Eugenio Suarez, SS

P: Buck Farmer

PIRATES

  1. Josh Harrison, 3B
  2. Gregory Polanco, RF
  3. Russell Martin, C
  4. Ike Davis, 1B
  5. Starling Marte, CF
  6. Pedro Alvarez, DH
  7. Jordy Mercer, SS
  8. Travis Snider, LF
  9. Jayson Nix, 2B

P: Vance Worley

Hunter: “You appreciate the things you fight for”

There was a lot of quiet consternation in the Tigers clubhouse after Tuesday’s loss, so much that the quotes were clearly audible at barely above a whisper.

What Torii Hunter said, however, might have said a lot. This 2-7 trip, this fall out of first place, he says, is a test for this club, he said, and that’s not necessarily the worst thing for these guys right now.

“We’re going through a tough time right now,” he said, “and I promise you the trials and tribulations that we’re having are going to make us stronger.”

His point: They’re going to have to earn this.

“In past years, I’m pretty sure the Tigers have been at the top, and kind of easy,” Hunter continued. “But right now, we’re being slapped in the face. I think that brings out the fight in you, and I’m excited about it. I hate to say it, but I’m excited.

“We’re going to have to fight. You appreciate things you fight for. Anything that’s given to you, you kind of don’t appreciate it.”

It sounds like positive spin. Recent history, though, suggests he might have a point.

The Tigers’ two runs to the World Series — in 2006 and 2012 — came in years when they headed into the final couple weeks with something to play for. They lost the division lead in the final week of 2006, of course, and ended up having to get through the postseason as the Wild Card. In 2012, they had a three-game deficit with 15 games left to play and ended up clinching with three games to go.

They made a run to pull away in the division in the final month in 2011, clinching with a couple weeks to go, and battled their way to the ALCS before falling to Texas in six games. The one real disappointment in the bunch came last year, when they had a comfortable lead from early August on before finally clinching in the final week.

They’ve largely been able to cruise this season until the last couple weeks. Every sign now points to a battle to the final weeks.

“It’s what you do during the storm, and how you act during the storm, how you prepare yourself to try to get out of it,” Hunter said. “And that shows the character of a man, not the one that’s in the storm and just sitting there.”

He does not believe that fatigue has been a major factor, though he thinks there might be fatigue going on. He thinks the energy level seems down, but doesn’t know why.

“I think you can create it,” he said. “I don’t think you force. I think you create. And there’s a lot of ways you can do that. But you’ve got to find it within yourself. Everybody’s different in creating energy and creating adrenaline. I have my ways, and other people have their ways. Just find a way that works for you, and get it done.”

Tuesday’s lineups: Tigers at Pirates

TIGERS (career numbers vs. Edinson Volquez)

  1. Rajai Davis, LF (1-for-3, triple, K)
  2. Ezequiel Carrera, CF
  3. Ian Kinsler, 2B (1-for-3, K)
  4. Miguel Cabrera, 3B
  5. Victor Martinez, 1B
  6. J.D. Martinez, LF (0-for-1, 2 walks)
  7. Alex Avila, C
  8. Eugenio Suarez, SS
  9. Robbie Ray, P

PIRATES

  1. Josh Harrison, 3B
  2. Gregory Polanco, RF
  3. Jordy Mercer, SS
  4. Russell Martin, C
  5. Starling Marte, CF
  6. Gaby Sanchez, 1B
  7. Travis Snider, LF
  8. Jayson Nix, 2B
  9. Edinson Volquez, P

 

Verlander MRI shows inflammation, but no structural damage

Justin Verlander has been diagnosed with inflammation in his right shoulder, but no major structural damage that would keep the former American League MVP out for more than a start or two.

An MRI exam on Verlander’s sore shoulder revealed inflammation and what head athletic trainer Kevin Rand called “normal wear and tear” from the pitches and innings built up over the years, but nothing major. It was essentially the best-case scenario after Verlander left Monday’s game against the Pirates after one inning with soreness in his shoulder.

“Really, there was no major structural damage,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “At this point, we don’t expect him to go on the DL.”

Verlander is expected to miss his next turn in the rotation Sunday against the Mariners, but Rand said they’re hopeful of having him ready for next week’s road trip to Tampa Bay and Minnesota.

“I would say it’s the best news that we were expecting,” Rand said.

Verlander is scheduled to get another evaluation from team physician Dr. Stephen Lemos on Wednesday to determine a treatment plan, likely a combination of rest and medication.

“At this point right now, we’re looking at hopefully he’ll only miss one start and we’ll go from there,” Rand said.

Robbie Ray would start Sunday assuming Verlander can’t. The Tigers have an off-day Monday, so they can go without a fifth starter until next Saturday, when they have a day-night doubleheader against the Twins at Target Field.

As the Verlander vigil begins …

Not sure what we’ll find out on Verlander today. In the meantime, to review, here’s what we know …

  • Verlander says it’s not pain, at least it wasn’t during the game, but his pitches didn’t have the same life Monday. “Warming up, it didn’t feel great,” he said after the game. “Once I was out there on the mound in a game situation, it didn’t feel too bad. It just wasn’t there at all. That’s the reason I wanted to go back out there.”
  • It’s not the first time he has dealt with it. “It’s been lingering for a while,” Verlander said, without saying how long it has lingered.
  • Verlander has been dealing with inconsistent stuff for most of the season. Sometimes, the velocity on his fastball has been down, other times he has hit 96-98. Sometimes the command on his secondary pitches has been shaky, other times he has been able to spot a curveball when he needs it.
  • Verlander isn’t discounting the idea that all the adjustments he has been making, or all the work he has had to put in following offseason core muscle surgery, has had an impact. “I don’t know. That’s a good question, especially regarding the surgery,” he said. “I don’t know if your body’s going to adjust and adapt. Maybe that can cause some extra soreness or throw you out of whack a little bit. But hopefully the main thing is no structural damage. That’s what you hope for, just inflammation or whatever it may be.”
  • Verlander has thrown 21,736 regular-season pitches since 2009, 1500 more than the next-highest total in the Majors, James Shields. And that doesn’t include postseason pitches.
  • Verlander has never spent time on a Major League disabled list.

With all the pitches Verlander has thrown, and all the work he has put in, there’s likely to be some wear and tear. Given that, there’s a decent chance something shows up on the MRI that he has been pitching through — maybe just this year, maybe longer than that. The suspense might be the severity.

The chaotic state of the second-place Tigers

The question of scoreboard watching came up to Brad Ausmus at some point yesterday. At that point, he was looking at a rotation plan that includes Robbie Ray and Buck Farmer the next two nights, and may or may not include Justin Verlander for Sunday, or next week, or anytime soon.

In other words, for all those asking about how the Tigers are watching the Royals, they have their own worries — a lot of them. 

“You lose [Anibal] Sanchez, you lose [Joakim] Soria, and one of the best pitchers in Tigers history is being evaluated,” Ausmus said. “I wouldn’t say this has been fun the last few days. Not to mention that we went 19 innings and our bullpen was overworked, overtaxed. But you just keep plugging away, and maybe two weeks from now, we’ll look back and laugh about the road trip to Toronto and Pittsburgh.”

 

There was no laughing in the Tigers clubhouse Monday night. There was barely any talk, really. It was a quiet — mainly an exhausted quiet, but a real quiet clubhouse.

“We need to get our feet back on the ground right now,” said Dave Dombrowski, who has become an air traffic controller with all the shuttling between Toledo, Erie, Pittsburgh and Detroit the last 24 hours or so. “We’ve had a couple times with starters getting hurt leaving games early, you’re bringing guys up, you’re moving them around, we lost a bullpen guy. We need to kind of get back. We’ll see what happens.”

They’ll get some semblance of order back on Thursday, when the stable part of the rotation comes back around. Max Scherzer faces the Pirates that night at Comerica Park, followed by Rick Porcello (remember him?), David Price, and then either Verlander or a fill-in. If Verlander has to miss time, Ray could start Sunday and then the Tigers could use Monday’s off-day to skip a spot.

Their bullpen should stabilize a bit tonight. As rough as Monday was, the fact that the Tigers got through the loss using only one reliever who pitched in Sunday’s marathon was a blessing for them. The late-inning bullpen group should all be available Tuesday, as is likely Phil Coke.

The positional roster remains to be seen. Last night gave them a chance to get a relatively normal night of sleep after they looked beaten in the turnaround from Sunday’s 19-inning marathon in Toronto to Monday’s game in Pittsburgh. They actually showed some decent signs of life as the game went on, mounting a pair of rallies.

The challenge in all of that is the schedule doesn’t get easier. They’ll have off-days on their next two Mondays, but they’ll have day-night doubleheaders on the ensuing two Saturdays to counter that. Even with an off-day, they’ll play 24 games in 23 days starting next week. They’re in the midst of a stretch of 55 games in 55 days, and you could make a case it’s essentially 56 games in 55 days given those 10 extra innings they played Sunday.

They’re going to be taxed and tested again. Count on it. And if you think their depth has been tested now, check back in a couple weeks.

The Royals won’t keep winning every game. The Tigers probably won’t keep losing at a rate of three-of-four like they have recently. The question, now that this is a race, is how many games they can start winning again in this stretch.

 

Verlander leaves with right shoulder soreness

The Tigers handed the ball to Justin Verlander Monday night in desperate need of innings after Sunday’s 19-inning marathon in Toronto. They ended up with the shortest start of Verlander’s career, and their second injury in four days to their star-studded rotation.

Verlander was removed from the Tigers’ series opener against the Pirates at PNC Park with what the team termed right shoulder soreness. He’ll be further evaluated on Tuesday.

It’s the first major injury concern of Verlander’s career. For all the pitches and innings the former AL Cy Young winner has thrown, Verlander has been remarkably durable, making at least 30 starts every full season in his big league career and at least 33 starts each season since 2008.

Verlander gave up five runs, four earned, on four hits in his only inning, his cause hindered by two errors and another outfield misplay behind him. His fastball sat in the low-90s, which isn’t unusual for him in the first inning, but was clearly hittable.

At one point, with the Tigers bullpen quickly warming, head athletic trainer Kevin Rand visited the mound, seeing some reason for concern, but Verlander said he was fine.

Verlander finished out the inning, then was due to bat third in the second inning. However, both Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello seemed to be preparing to pinch-hit for Verlander. Both were caught on the television broadcast with bats and batting helmets in the dugout while Verlander stood in the on-deck circle.

Verlander ended up stepping to the plate and laying down a sacrifice bunt. He then marched down and steps, through the dugout and into the clubhouse without pause. Meanwhile, Justin Miller continued to warm in Detroit’s bullpen.

Once the inning ended, Miller entered from the bullpen. Verlander never emerged back from the dugout.

The Tigers made three roster call-ups from Triple-A Toledo Monday afternoon to make sure they had enough available relievers for the game. With Tigers relievers needing to cover at least seven innings, more moves could soon be coming, this time potentially from Double-A Erie, less than two hours away from Pittsburgh. The SeaWolves were off on Monday.

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