The Tigers already knew they were going to be without Miguel Cabrera on Thursday due to paternity leave. They’ll now have to get through the series finale against the Rays without Brennan Boesch, who left Wednesday’s game with soreness in his previously injured right thumb.
Boesch had played through the injury for a week and a half after injuring it on the last road trip, but it had been an increasing concern in recent days. After three strikeouts in as many at-bats Wednesday, manager Jim Leyland made the decision to replace him in right field with Don Kelly once Alex Avila’s home run tied the game.
“His thumb’s sore,” Leyland said after the game. “It’s been bothering him. He’s not going to play tomorrow.”
Boesch has been struggling statistically in recent days. Though he’s 6-for-24 since returning from the injury, he has eight strikeouts in his last 18 at-bats. He only has one extra-base hit since his return, a double last week.
His absence likely means Magglio Ordonez will get his second start of the series.
If the thumb injury lingers, it’s a concern for the Tigers heading into the stretch. They’ve found offensive production batting Boesch second between speedy Austin Jackson and recent acquisition Delmon Young.
The challenge when a team loses a game like this is usually mental and physical. Mentally, the Tigers seemed to be handling it fine. It was a lost opportunity to gain another game on their AL Central lead, for sure, but they weren’t terribly worried.
“It was a heckuva game, a terrific game,” Jim Leyland said.
Said Daniel Schlereth: We came out on the losing end tonight, but you know what, that’s baseball. That happens. We’re going to sleep on this and get rid of this game. We’ll be back here ready to win tomorrow — er, I’m sorry, later on today.”
Then there’s the physical toll, which make take a little longer to determine.
With Victor Martinez’s knee uncertain for catching duties, Alex Avila caught all 14 innings Tuesday. He said he’ll be ready for Wednesday’s game like it was any other.
“I’m pretty tired,” he said, “but I’ll be ready to go.”
Leyland wasn’t quite so sure.
“That’s one I’ll have to think about,” he said. “That’s a tough one.”
His bullpen might be another issue. The only reliever who wasn’t used was closer Jose Valverde, and he can’t exactly be an innings-eater. Everyone else pitched at least four outs except for David Pauley, who took the loss in the 14th.
The good news for the Tigers is that they have Rick Porcello and Justin Verlander pitching the next two games, so they’re not expecting heavy use out of their bullpen. But even if Porcello gives them seven strong innings, they’re going to have to find someone to pitch the eighth, and he likely won’t be a fresh arm.
Considering it was around 2 in the morning, Leyland wanted to sleep on it before deciding anything. He’ll have to sleep fast, even with a night game Wednesday.
We came out on the losing end tonight, but you know what, that’s baseball. That happens. We’re going to sleep on this and get rid of this game. We’ll be back here ready to win tomorrow — er, I’m sorry, later on today.”
With the way the Tigers rallied back to win Friday night, it was almost an afterthought when manager Jim Leyland brought up the question about his lineup usage. But the fact that Alex Avila homered for the third time in his last three games became a reference point for him, so he had admittedly overused him for a stretch this year.
“You lose when you have your regulars in there, too,” Leyland said. “That’s what a lot of times, people don’t understand. They think when you don’t play your regulars, you lose, but if you play your regulars every day, you win. It doesn’t work that way. You lose no matter who you play sometimes up here.
“I’m not making excuses. I’m just saying I’m going to have to watch [Avila], but I think he’s freshened up a little bit. But like I said, it’s my fault, because I played him into the ground prior to the [All-Star] break.”
That was a longer-term decision. The short-term decision he made Friday concerned when to get Rick Porcello out of the game. When Royals rookie third baseman Mike Moustakas came up with a 3-for-42 mark against left-handed pitchers this year, that was his time.
“I feel bad for Rick,” Leyland said. “He deserved a win tonight. He pitched tremendous. But that’s the way it goes. We got the win, and that’s the most important thing. But I did feel bad for him. …
“They had a little momentum going. The stage was set. But I chose to go to the left-hander because the young kid’s hitting .071 against left-handed pitching. Didn’t work. Wasn’t very smart. But I’d do it again if they get the momentum going like that. Late in games, when a team gets momentum going, the guy’s later into the game, even though [Porcello's] pitch count was fantastic.”
The numbers were impossible to ignore. The downfall was that Phil Coke made what Leyland called a “terrible” pitch, a two-strike curveball that Moustakas was able to pull inside first base and produce an RBI single.
Alexi Ogando denied the Tigers a chance at a sweep of the Rangers. If Al Alburquerque is truly right with his arm, as he looked on Thursday, this might still end up being a huge game for the Tigers.
The Tigers now have David Pauley as another right-hander for the middle innings, but that doesn’t change one big fact about their bullpen makeup: They need Alburquerque and his strikeouts. His pitching Thursday in his first game action since July 24 suggests he has it back.
“Right now, I want to be healthy. No more injuries,” Alburquerque said afterwards.
Alburquerque missed nearly two weeks with inflammation around the ulnar nerve of his right elbow. He was cleared to pitch Tuesday and warmed up that night for a possible appearance, but never entered the game. With two outs in the eighth inning, he had his chance.
It was a three-run game, but manager Jim Leyland admitted later he was nervous like it was a closer than that.
“I was so thrilled when he went back out [for the ninth],” manager Jim Leyland said, “because the slider was 87 [mph] again and the fastball was 97 a few times. He hadn’t pitched in nine or 10 days, and he was probably a little tentative. He was probably wondering himself a little bit.
“I was alarmed, to be honest, after the first hitter. I was concerned. And then I saw it pick up, so I relaxed a little bit.”
The first hitter was a five-pitch walk to Ian Kinsler. Alburquerque settled down to retire the next four batters, including a strikeout of Josh Hamilton swinging at one of his nastier sliders.
“I felt a little shy at first, but I didn’t feel nervous,” Alburquerque said. “I felt really good today.”
That might be the best news to come out of Thursday’s loss for the Tigers, who have had to juggle relievers to get through sixth and seventh innings without him.
There were plenty of contentious topics coming out of Sunday’s win, from what seemed like a misunderstanding from Jered Weaver over Magglio Ordonez’s home run to what looked like a threat from Justin Verlander to get Erick Aybar next year after keeping his poise on the mound all day. But one of the lingering questions was Aybar’s bunt leading off the eighth inning, and whether he violated baseball’s unwritten rulebook doing it.
Verlander tried to look at both sides, but the pitcher in him couldn’t hide his disdain for it.
“Very surprised,” Verlander said after the game. “It’s a three-run game, a close game, but there’s arguments both ways. Obviously, from a pitching standpoint, that’s kind of, we like to call it bush league. But there’s arguments both sides of it. It’s a three run game, if you get a guy on base, you never know what can happen. Those things work themselves out.”
Later, he tweaked his answer, albeit slightly.
“From a pitcher’s perspective, yes,” Verlander said when asked if that play was wrong. “From the Angels’ perspective, I doubt they feel that way. It’s a three-run game. You never know what can happen if you get a guy on base. I know there’s probably two vastly different opinions on that based on which side of the locker room you’re on right now.”
That would be correct, though both managers said Aybar had the right to try it.
“Beautiful play,” manager Jim Leyland said. “I’ll be in the minority with the people who didn’t like that, I disagree with that totally. They’ve got a good team with a lot of speed. They’re trying to win a pennant, just like we, are I don’t have any problem with that play whatsoever. He’s trying to get on base and as it turned out, it was a big play for them because that was one that got it going for them. I have no problem with that. That’s baseball. You’re supposed to play the game right. They play the game right.”
The score at the time, obviously, is the key.
“That’s a great baseball play,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “If the score’s 10-0, obviously it’s a different situation. We’re trying to get that trying run to the plate. Leading off an inning, you use whatever weapon you have.”
Closer Jose Valverde said it basically depends on which team you’re following.
“You know, it’s baseball,” he said. “There’s nothing you can do. Everything tries to do the most they can. Aybar, that’s part of his game. Everybody plays a different game. Do I like it? No, I don’t like it, because I want my guy to throw a no-hitter. But everybody plays a different game. There’s nothing you can do about that. If I play for Anaheim, I don’t like what Carlos did. But I like it, because Carlos plays on my team.”
Aybar’s response was pretty much on that point.
“That’s my game,” he said. “I don’t have a problem with that. Verlander was great today. So we tried to get back [into the game].”
The day the Tigers introduced newly-signed Brad Penny to local media on a conference call back in February, Penny went out of his way to praise Victor Martinez, with whom he had worked in Boston two years earlier:
“What I liked about Victor is he was never negative in any way,” Penny said. “If you’re struggling and he comes out to the mound and talks to you, it’s all positive. I mean, you can see he just knows you’re going to get out of it and do good. You can see it in his eyes. I mean, like I said before, what a great teammate. You guys are going to be really impressed with him as a person, not only as a player.”
On Thursday, after Penny gave up seven runs on nine hits over 3 1/3 innings, he was trying to defuse what became a very public disagreement between him and Martinez on the mound in the middle of his fourth and final inning.
“He hadn’t caught me in a while,” Penny said. “It had nothing to do with pitch selection or anything like that. With a runner on second, I like come set taking signs. That way, the hitter can’t look at second base and anything there. I’ve pitched my whole career that way and he didn’t want me to do it. I know there’s no other way for me. I guess it’s a habit. It’s natural. I’ve done it my whole career. It’s not that big of a deal. Me and Victor have been friends for a while now and that happens when you’re competing.
“It’s not that he wasn’t used to catching me. That had nothing to do with pitch selection or how I pitched today. It was totally the complete opposite of that. It was just when I was coming set taking signs.”
Martinez, for his part, wasn’t talking about it.
The calendar shows Penny has a point: Martinez hadn’t caught him since June 26 against Arizona. Alex Avila had caught Penny’s past four starts until Thursday. That said, pitchers and catchers have disagreements around baseball, and very few of them result in them yelling in each other’s direction.
There’s no sign of any escalating problem between Penny and Martinez, or Penny and anybody. But it seems entirely safe to read a frustrated Penny. If that back-and-forth didn’t show enough, Penny’s handing of the ball to Lloyd McClendon before he even reached the mound to make the pitching change two batters later probably did. He has taken a beating his last two starts, and Thursday’s loss saw him give up his second-highest total of extra-base hits this season. His ERA rose from 4.51 to 4.89.
Penny has had good and bad second-half numbers over the years, so there’s nothing consistent to read there. But his location issues over the last couple starts have been problematic. He had the time to work those out last start, and he eventually settled down to go seven innings. His problems in the fourth weren’t going to allow him that luxury this time. His frustration level Thursday was unlike anything he had shown all year.
No team chemistry problems have been obvious; in fact, Penny has been anything but isolated in the clubhouse. Still, it’ll be interesting to see how this incident plays out in his next few starts. The Tigers can’t catch Avila every game, and Martinez has caught Penny more than he has caught any other starter. If Martinez and Penny don’t work together for a while, he’ll have to catch Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello or the fifth starter, because Avila and Justin Verlander simply work together too well to break up.
The good news for Al Alburquerque is that the elbow issues that left him unable to pitch Wednesday don’t appear to be anything serious. An examination from the team medical staff Thursday morning revealed what head athletic trainer Kevin Rand characterized as mild inflammation around his elbow, which he hopes they can clear up with a little rest over the next few days.
“The flexor tendinitis, that’s fine,” Rand said. “He’s just got some mild inflammation around the joint now that we’ve just got to work through. It’s all inter-related.”
The bad news is that it’s a reminder that the Tigers still need to watch how their rookie relief sensation is used. As nasty as his slider can be, the temptation to overuse him can be a risk.
To be fair, the inflammation is a separate issue from the flexor tendinitis that landed him on the disabled list a few weeks ago. That was more around the forearm, though it was related to elbow. Still, the two different symptoms point towards the same reason to exercise caution with him.
Alburquerque hasn’t pitched since tossing a scoreless inning Sunday at Minnesota, but Rand said no issue popped up until Wednesday. The Tigers have been careful to watch his use since his return from the disabled list after the All-Star break. He has 4 1/3 scoreless innings with four stranded runners, a walk and six strikeouts since then.
The flexor tendinitis forced Alburquerque to the DL on July 1, leaving a hole in Detroit’s middle relief corps. But his stay on the DL was a minimal one, consisting mainly of rest for the arm.
While Chance Ruffin was warming up in the Tigers bullpen during the middle and later innings Wednesday, some were wondering why Al Alburquerque wasn’t, since he hadn’t pitched since Sunday. But a glance at the bullpen showed Alburquerque wasn’t out there.
The answer after the game was that Alburquerque wasn’t available. He played catch before the game, head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said, and was unable to go.
At this point, that’s about all that’s known. Manager Jim Leyland downplayed the situation, saying Alburquerque should be available for Thursday. Rand said Alburquerque will be re-evaluated by the team’s medical staff on Thursday, and they’ll know more after that.
It’s unknown whether it’s the same problem that was bothering Alburquerque last month, landing him on the disabled list July 1 to rest his elbow. He came back after the All-Star break and has pitched well since.
What initially looked like an All-Star panic for Tigers fans turned out to be a precautionary exit from the Midsummer Classic for slugger Miguel Cabrera, who left Tuesday’s 5-1 National League win with mild soreness in his right side.
“It’s nothing big,” Cabrera said as he left Chase Field. “I’m going to take care of myself and get ready for Friday.”
Cabrera had entered the game for the bottom of the fifth inning as a defensive replacement for starter Adrian Gonzalez. He grounded out to second base in his lone at-bat, ending the top of the sixth inning against former Tiger Jair Jurrjens. He felt the soreness during that at-bat on a checked swing, he said.
Cabrera pointed along his right side, near the oblique area, when asked where the pain was.
He came back out for the next inning at first base, but still didn’t feel right. Once the American League All-Stars took the field for the bottom of the seventh, Minnesota’s Michael Cuddyer replaced him at first.
Had it been a regular-season game, Cabrera said, he probably wouldn’t have come out.
“No, no, I don’t think so,” he said. “But the first thing is to keep safe today. You don’t want to come back hurt to the organization. You have to be smart in this situation. It’s why I told them I’m hurt right now. I felt something a little bit, so I want to make sure it’s ok.”
Any injury to Cabrera is obviously a serious concern to the Tigers, who enter the season’s second half with a half-game lead over Cleveland in the American League Central. He took a .980 OPS, 18 home runs and 59 RBIs into the All-Star break, all tops on the Tigers. His .311 batting average ranked second to fellow All-Star Jhonny Peralta.
Cabrera has played in each of the Tigers’ 92 games, starting all but one of them. He expects to be back in the starting lineup when the Tigers begin the second half to their season Friday night against the White Sox at Comerica Park.
“I expect to play,” Cabrera said. “Hopefully I take care of it tomorrow and the next day and be ready to play.”
Tons of stuff going on tonight, including me flying out to LA for the upcoming series against the Angels. Catching up now while on wifi on the flight.
First, courtesy of John Wagner and his Coop Scoop blog for the Toledo Blade, comes an update on Carlos Guillen, who left Sunday night’s game for Triple-A Toledo after one at-bat. Doesn’t sound like a setback, but does sound like caution.
“He felt a little soreness, so we decided to take him out and nip it in the bud before anything worse happened,” Mud Hens manager Phil Nevin said. “He’s going to go with us to Indianapolis, and I expect he will be in the lineup [Monday].”
Keep in mind that, barring some craziness (and haven’t we seen enough of that this week), Guillen will probably be rehabbing with the Hens up until the All-Star break in a week. So missing a game doesn’t exactly set him a back much, if it all. If he misses multiple games, it’s something else.