The Tigers are nearing a decision on their next pitching coach.
“Getting closer,” manager Brad Ausmus said in a text message Monday evening.
Among those in the running for the job are minor-league pitching coordinator A.J. Sager and veteran Major League pitching coach Steve McCatty. The Tigers talked with both as part of what was a large group of initial candidates last week. Others who have been expected to be considered include former Tigers pitcher and ex-Astros pitching coach Doug Brocail.
A final decision could be held up by the start of the World Series Tuesday. Teams are discouraged from making announcements during Major League Baseball’s signature event.
Like retired Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones, McCatty has local ties, graduating from Troy High School, attending Macomb Community College and making his offseason home in the area. McCatty served as Tigers pitching coach in 2002 after six years in the farm system, then got another chance with the Nationals in 2009. He held the job until a few weeks ago, when he was let go with manager Matt Williams. McCatty has close ties with Jones, who was expected to consult with the Tigers on the process after announcing his retirement last week.
Sager pitched with the Tigers for parts of three seasons, then worked his way up the organization as an instructor, including pitching coach jobs at Class A West Michigan, Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo. He spent the last couple seasons as pitching coordinator.
Whoever gets the job inherits a pitching staff led by veteran starters Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez but supported by several young arms, among them Daniel Norris, Matt Boyd, Ian Krol, Shane Greene, Buck Farmer, Drew VerHagen, Kyle Ryan and Bruce Rondon. Detroit’s 4.64 ERA ranked as the highest in the American League in 2015, a sharp departure from four straight division titles behind a dominant starting rotation, but is expected to make a jump with better health and experience along with an infusion of free-agent talent.
Most of the October notes around baseball deal with either postseason teams or managerial changes. Within Jon Heyman’s notes for CBSSports.com, however, was a tidbit on the Tigers from last offseason:
It can be told now: Then-GM Dave Dombrowski was not in favor of $68 million for four years for Victor Martinez. It was owner Mike Ilitch’s call to make sure to bring back V-Mart.
Later in the notes, Heyman notes that the Mariners’ bid for Martinez last fall was a three-year, $45 million offer. Seattle moved on to sign Nelson Cruz to a four-year, $57 million deal.
A disagreement on Martinez would not be a big surprise. Ilitch has consistently been loyal to players who have won for him, picking up the option year on Ivan Rodriguez’s deal in 2008 and re-signing Magglio Ordonez for 2011. When the Tigers formally announced Martinez’s deal last November, there was this quote from Ilitch, who made a rare appearance at the press conference:
“Victor, you had a fantastic year,” Ilitch recalled telling him. “You played great. You showed good sportsmanship. You never seemed to lose your cool. I’m going to take care of you next year.”
In that same story, there was also this quote from Dombrowski:
“It was a situation where, talking to Mr. I again, he said, ‘We need to get this done,’ which we did.”
Martinez, of course, had a lot more leverage last fall coming off the best offensive season of his career and a free-agent market that did not have an abundance of elite hitters. The Mariners and Blue Jays made a push before the Tigers raised their offer just before the GM meetings ended last November. Still, it raises the question of what the alternative would’ve been had the Tigers not stretched their terms and Martinez had signed somewhere else. Besides Cruz, Kendrys Morales was on the market before signing a two-year, $17 million deal with Kansas City, while Billy Butler signed a three-year, $30 million contract with Oakland.
Martinez’s first season under the new deal went awry when he tore his meniscus playing catch at his house a few weeks before Spring Training. He made it back, but never seemed at full strength, falling from a league-leading .974 OPS in 2014 to .667 this year. He now faces the challenge of getting back to healthy form with his 37th birthday coming up just before Christmas.
Tigers pitcher Daniel Norris announced Monday that he’ll undergo surgery after being diagnosed with a cancerous growth on his thyroid earlier this year.
“I’m a firm believer in the power of prayer,” Norris said on his Instagram account, where he revealed his challenge Monday afternoon. “So now, I’m asking for prayers.”
The 22-year-old Norris said a growth was found on his thyroid soon after he was optioned from Toronto to Triple-A Buffalo in May. After a series of tests, the growth was diagnosed as malignant.
“Meaning it contained the C word .. cancer,” Norris explained on Instagram. “Hearing this was alarming, yeah. Weird, yea, that too. “I was given the option to shut my year down and get it removed immediately. However, seeing another doctor that determined I could wait until the end of the season reassured my gut feeling. Just Keep Playing.”
The Blue Jays traded Norris to the Tigers as part of the David Price trade July 30, one of the final trades Dave Dombrowski made as Detroit president/general manager. Al Avila, Dombrowski’s assistant GM at the time, said in an email Monday that the Tigers knew about Norris’ condition when the trade was made.
“This is a personal matter with Daniel,” Avila said. “Yes, we did know about it before the trade. We expect him to have a full recovery and be with us in Spring Training.”
Manager Brad Ausmus confirmed Monday night he was aware of the condition as well, and said he hopes everything goes well for Norris. Ausmus did not want to comment in detail on a personal issue, noting medical privacy.
Norris not only kept pitching, he pitched well with the Tigers. He became the first American League pitcher to hit a home run at Wrigley Field during an Interleague game against the Cubs in August, before going on the disabled list with an oblique strain. He returned to make four starts in September, including 10 scoreless innings over two starts against the White Sox.
Though the Tigers were out of postseason contention, Norris insisted he wanted to keep pitching, even through a 54-pitch first inning in his next-to-last start against the Rangers.
“Baseball kept me sane,” he said Monday. “Regardless of results on the field, I forgot about it when I was between the lines. After all, I was just trying to get the heck out of AAA. And I did. I was revived with an opportunity, a blessing from God, with the Tigers back in the big leagues.”
Norris briefly returned to Detroit at the end of the season to work on a mechanical tweak with pitching coach Jeff Jones, who announced his retirement on Monday. Before he left, he said he planned on traveling this offseason, heading out west, maybe going to Nicaragua, maybe Hawaii. He never disclosed the fight he has ahead.
“Now that [the season is] over, it’s time to get this thing out,” he said, “so please keep me in your thoughts and prayers as I undergo surgery and come out 100% cancer free! As always … #justkeeplivin”
— James McCann (@JamesMcCann34) October 20, 2015
According to the American Cancer Society web site, the five-year relative survival rate is high for people diagnosed with thyroid cancer in its early stages — near 100 percent for Stages I and II, as long as the cancer doesn’t spread to the lymph nodes. Even the stage III survival rate is high, depending on the type of thyroid cancer. Surgery usually involves removal of part or all of the thyroid. The fact that doctors allowed Norris to keep pitching raises hope that the cancer was caught early.
The Tigers coaching staff, which had been expected to stay intact with manager Brad Ausmus’ return, now has a major opening. Jeff Jones, who coached two Tigers pitchers to Cy Young awards, announced his retirement Monday after spending the last five seasons as pitching coach and nine seasons on the Tigers coaching staff.
Jones turned 59 years old in July. Between his pitching and coaching careers, the Michigan native spent 38 years in baseball. He was initially expected back, but had also been weighing retirement.
“I am grateful for the opportunity the Tigers have afforded me through the years and enjoyed working on Brad’s staff and with Jim Leyland,” Jones said in a statement. “There have been some great moments that I’ll cherish especially being a lifelong Tigers fan. I’ve been contemplating this for a little while and at this point in my life I want to spend time with my family and grandchildren, and I am looking forward to it.”
Reached by phone later Monday, Jones said health issues also factored into his decision. Between knee replacement surgeries and a procedure a couple years ago to replace a couple of disks in his neck, he had been contemplating retirement since about midway through the season.
“Thirty-eight years in the game has taken its toll,” Jones said.
Born in Detroit, Jones pitched at Bowling Green before the A’s drafted him in 1977. He pitched parts of five seasons in Oakland in the early 1980s before going into coaching with the Tigers organization in 1989.
Jones coached at four different Tigers minor-league stops, including four stints as pitching coach at Triple-A Toledo. He also served as Tigers bullpen coach on five different occasions for five different managers, including Jim Leyland.
Jones finally got his chance as a Major League pitching coach when the Tigers made a midseason switch in 2011, promoting Jones from bullpen coach to replace then-pitching coach Rick Knapp.
The results were one of the greatest eras for pitching in franchise history. Justin Verlander, who was in the midst of a Cy Young and MVP season when the change was made, thrived under his watch. Max Scherzer, a gifted but mercurial pitcher for his first two seasons, blossomed into a Cy Young hurler.
“He was such a good pitching coach for me because he related to me,” Scherzer told MLB.com in a text message. “He understood what I thought and how I wanted to pitch. He helped simplify my mechanics to make me more consistent. But most importantly, he helped develop my curveball. It all started in [a bullpen session] in Cleveland and it has really helped me achieve a level of pitching I never knew I had.”
Jones also became a mentor to former Tigers first-round pick Rick Porcello, who grew from a young sinkerballer into a strikeout pitcher under Jones before being traded to Boston last offseason.
Other starters with whom Jones worked include Doug Fister, David Price and Drew Smyly.
“I was blessed over the last five years to have some tremendous pitchers,” Jones said. “It was an honor for me to work with them, and it was an honor to get into the playoffs for four straight years.”
Between Verlander, Scherzer, Porcello and Anibal Sanchez, Jones played a part in $592 million of pitching contracts.
“Jonesy has been a great influence on our pitchers, both the veterans and the younger arms, and was a solid complement to our big league coaching staff,” Ausmus said. “We respect his decision and wish him all the best.”
The Tigers have started a search to hire a replacement. However, the move comes at a time when Detroit’s minor-league coaching ranks are in flux. Minor-league pitching coordinator A.J. Sager, who succeeded Jones at Triple-A Toledo before moving into an organizational role a couple years ago, is likely to be the lone internal candidate. Mike Maroth, a former pitcher under Jones who spent this past season as Mud Hens pitching coach, left last month for an instructional job in the Braves organization.
One intriguing possibility is former Nationals pitching coach Steve McCatty, who served as Tigers pitching coach under former manager Luis Pujols in 2002 and earned high regard in Washington from 2009 through this season.
Like Jones, McCatty is a Detroit native. He graduated from Troy High School and has an offseason home in the area. He and Jones were teammates in Oakland and served on Pujols’ staff together, when Jones was bullpen coach. The two remain close friends, and talked after Scherzer signed with Washington as a free agent last winter.
Ausmus said Monday that they’ve put together a preliminary list of candidates, including Sager, but haven’t talked to anyone yet.
Miguel Cabrera off. Victor Martinez off. J.D. Martinez is designated to hit in his final shot at 40 home runs (he needs two). Tyler Collins starts in left field, batting cleanup.
On the pitching side, look for 80-85 pitches out of Daniel Norris today. His pitch count was adjusted down a tick after he went 71 pitches on Tuesday. Brad Ausmus said he might get Randy Wolf an appearance out of the bullpen, possibly his last in a 16-year Major League career.
- Anthony Gose, CF
- Dixon Machado, SS
- J.D. Martinez, DH
- Tyler Collins, LF
- Nick Castellanos, 3B
- Steven Moya, RF
- Jefry Marte, 1B
- Bryan Holaday, C
- Josh Wilson, 2B
P: Daniel Norris
- Tyler Saladino, SS
- J.B. Shuck, LF
- Trayce Thompson, CF
- Avisail Garcia, RF
- Alexei Ramirez, DH
- Mike Olt, 1B
- Rob Brantly, C
- Gordon Beckham, 3B
- Carlos Sanchez, 2B
P: Frankie Montas
Miguel Cabrera gets the start at first base today against Erik Johnson in what will most likely be Cabrera’s final at-bats of the season. In fact, it’s a fairly regular lineup, except for Victor Martinez out and James McCann getting a break for Alex Avila, who will be catching Justin Verlander for the 116th (and possibly final) time.
- Anthony Gose, CF
- Ian Kinsler, 2B (0-for-2, K)
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B (1-for-6, 2 K’s)
- J.D. Martinez, DH (0-for-3, K)
- Tyler Collins, LF (0-for-3, K)
- Nick Castellanos, 3B (3-for-6, double, 2 K’s)
- Steven Moya, RF
- Dixon Machado, SS
- Alex Avila, C (5-for-5, double, HR, 2 walks)
P: Justin Verlander
- Adam Eaton, CF (5-for-18, 2 doubles, triple, walk, 4 K’s)
- Jose Abreu, 1B (8-for-18, double, 2 HR, 2 walks, 6 K’s)
- Melky Cabrera, DH (6-for-29, triple, HR, 2 walks, 4 K’s)
- Trayce Thompson, LF (0-for-2, walk)
- Alexei Ramirez, SS (20-for-78, 2 doubles, HR, 2 walks, 9 K’s)
- Rob Brantly, C
- Avisail Garcia, RF (2-for-9, double, K)
- Mike Olt, 3B (1-for-2, K)
- Carlos Sanchez, 2B (0-for-6, 3 K’s)
P: Erik Johnson
It’s a windy day in Chicago, which could lead to some chaos on fly balls. The Tigers outfield, though, is pretty regular. It’s the infield where the final-series impact is evident. Andrew Romine starts at first base in place of Miguel Cabrera, who will start Saturday, according to manager Brad Ausmus. Josh Wilson starts at second base in Ian Kinsler’s spot. Victor Martinez, meanwhile, still has left quad soreness keeping him out of the lineup. He’s day-to-day, even with two days left in the season, but Ausmus hasn’t ruled him out from playing.
- Rajai Davis, LF (8-for-18, 3 doubles, triple, walk)
- Andrew Romine, 1B (0-for-2)
- J.D. Martinez, RF (6-for-20, 2 doubles, HR, 2 walks, 10 K’s)
- Nick Castellanos, 3B (1-for-13, walk, 9 K’s)
- Jefry Marte, DH
- James McCann, C (2-for-5, K)
- Dixon Machado, SS
- Josh Wilson, 2B
- Anthony Gose, CF
P: Alfredo Simon
- Adam Eaton, CF (5-for-9, double, triple, HR, walk, 2 K’s)
- Alexei Ramirez, SS (1-for-8, K)
- Melky Cabrera, DH (2-for-12, double, walk)
- Trayce Thompson, LF
- J.B. Shuck, RF
- Adam LaRoche, 1B (3-for-15, 2 doubles, 3 walks, 4 K’s)
- Tyler Flowers, C (1-for-5)
- Carlos Sanchez, 2B (0-for-5, walk, 2 K’s)
- Tyler Saladino, 3B
P: Chris Sale
Miguel Cabrera is getting his day off as scheduled, and Victor Martinez remains out, so it’s an interesting lineup for the Tigers in their series finale at Texas. Detroit does get Nick Castellanos back after he left last night’s game with a bruised finger and sore wrist.
TIGERS (career numbers off Yovani Gallardo)
- Anthony Gose, CF (0-for-2, K)
- Rajai Davis, LF (1-for-4, K)
- Ian Kinsler, 2B (1-for-3, double)
- J.D. Martinez, DH (2-for-12, 2 K’s)
- Tyler Collins, RF (0-for-3, K)
- Nick Castellanos, 3B (2-for-3, triple, K)
- Alex Avila, 1B
- James McCann, C (0-for-2, walk)
- Andrew Romine, SS
P: Matt Boyd
RANGERS (numbers against Boyd)
- Delino DeShields, CF (0-for-3, K)
- Shin-Soo Choo, RF (0-for-5, walk, 2 K’s)
- Adrian Beltre, 3B (1-for-5, 2 K’s)
- Prince Fielder, DH (2-for-3)
- Mike Napoli, LF (1-for-3, walk)
- Mitch Moreland, 1B (2-for-6, double, HR)
- Elvis Andrus, SS (2-for-4)
- Rougned Odor, 2B (2-for-5, double, HR)
- Robinson Chirinos, C (1-for-3, HR)
P: Yovani Gallardo
Daniel Norris took the mound Tuesday night with a pitch count around 80-85 in his third start back from the disabled list, having missed nearly a month with an oblique strain. It wasn’t simply a limit; it was a goal to get him there.
By the time he stepped back in the dugout, he had used up 54 pitches.
“It’s tough,” manager Brad Ausmus said, “because we wanted to get his pitch count up so his next start he can throw more pitches [Sunday against the White Sox in his final start], but we also don’t want him to expend himself in one inning.”
He came very close.
“[Chris] Gimenez would’ve been the last guy had he not retired him,” Ausmus said.
Gimenez was the ninth batter in the Rangers lineup. Two of the previous eight had reached on errors — Delino DeShields on a ground ball that Ian Kinsler couldn’t handle, Mike Napoli on a fly ball that first baseman Jefry Marte didn’t get under and dropped, capping a 10-pitch at-bat without an out. Norris immediately asked for the ball, looking to pick up his defense.
“As far as errors go, that’s part of the game,” Norris said. “It’s gonna happen. I’ve always got their back. They’ve got mine.”
Norris still didn’t have an out at that point, having crossed the 30-pitch mark. He finally got one on an Mitch Moreland groundout. Even that was arguably misplayed, as third baseman Nick Castellanos took the safe out at first base rather than try to force out Prince Fielder at third base beforehand.
Norris, too, had his share of miscues. Shin-Soo Choo followed Ian Kinsler by jumping a first-pitch fastball for a two-run homer.
“I left that pitch up,” Norris said. “If I make my pitch, it’s a double play maybe. … The fact of the matter is, if I make my pitches, I get out of there with less than 54 pitches.”
That said, he was still out there well into his 40s. Rougned Odor used seven pitches out of him before hitting an RBI triple to score Napoli, leaving Norris at 46 pitches with Gimenez due up. Norris’ velocity was still strong, his adrenaline carrying him, but the count itself was a worry. Buck Farmer had been warming in the bullpen for a few batters.
Ausmus has let pitchers work their way out of the opening inning through 50 pitches or more this season. David Price used 51 pitches in the first inning against the Yankees back in April. Randy Wolf used 50 pitches in the first at Cleveland a couple weeks ago in the second game of a doubleheader. Neither made it past the third.
Both Price and Wolf are veteran pitchers. Norris is just 22. He has experience with high pitch counts early — 78 pitches over three innings for the Blue Jays on April 30, 83 pitches over 3 1/3 innings in his second start as a Tiger Aug. 7.
“I’ve been here before,” Norris said. “All in all, I felt pretty good throwing the ball. It’s just one of those days.”
Said Ausmus: “I think the first inning probably taxed him a little bit, but like I said, we also wanted to get his pitch count up enough so that his next start he could stick around. It was a very blurred line [on a limit].”
Norris and Gimenez battled for eight pitches before Norris got the out.
“I don’t know if I would’ve let him take me out,” Norris said. “I wanted to stay out there. Obviously it’s his decision, but I’m glad he let me in. Regardless of what other people think, that shows the confidence he has in me to let me go back out for the second inning. I appreciate that, for sure.”
He wasn’t out there for long. After a DeShields double, Choo groundout and Adrian Beltre single, Norris retired Prince Fielder and got the hook there. He was at 71 pitches.
“We wanted him to go 80-85 today,” Ausmus said, “but after he retired Fielder, I just felt like with the 50-pich inning, just over 70 pitches [total], his velocity started to dip down from 94-95 to 90-91. At that point, right-hander coming up, Farmer coming up, just get him out of there. He should be able to throw 80, 85, 90 next time out.”
According to STATS, Norris’ 54-pitch first inning was the longest inning of any kind by a Major League pitcher since former Pirates starter Paul Maholm threw a 54-pitch third inning against the Cardinals on May 9, 2010. It was the longest opening inning since then-Astros starter Wandy Rodriguez threw 55 pitches at Atlanta on Aug. 1, 2007.
Victor Martinez is out of the lineup after leaving last night’s game with a sore left quad. Miguel Cabrera gets a start at DH. Cabrera is likely to get Wednesday’s series finale off, then play one or two games this weekend against the White Sox. But with an 8-for-11 history off Cole Hamels, including 2-for-3 in August, he’ll take the opportunity to try to add to his AL batting lead.
- Rajai Davis, LF (0-for-4, K)
- Ian Kinsler, 2B (3-for-6)
- Miguel Cabrera, DH (8-for-11, 2 doubles, triple, 4 walks)
- J.D. Martinez, RF (2-for-6, double, K)
- Nick Castellanos, 3B (0-for-2, walk, K)
- Jefry Marte, 1B
- Dixon Machado, SS
- Bryan Holaday, C
- Anthony Gose, CF
P: Daniel Norris
- Delino DeShields, CF
- Shin-Soo Choo, RF
- Adrian Beltre, 3B
- Prince Fielder, DH
- Mike Napoli, LF
- Mitch Moreland, 1B
- Elvis Andrus, SS
- Rougned Odor, 2B
- Chris Gimenez, C
P: Cole Hamels