Joe Nathan could be ready to return from the disabled list by the end of the week. And the Tigers, in turn, could soon have to make a decision on a closer.
Nathan, who has spent the last couple weeks on the disabled list with a right elbow flexor strain, is scheduled to make a rehab appearance Wednesday for Triple-A Toledo. The Mud Hens have a 10:30 a.m. game scheduled as part of a School Celebration Day promotion, meaning much of the crowd at Fifth Third Field will be school kids on field trips.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Nathan said. “They said I could start the game. I said, ‘No, thank you.’ I said I’ll treat it as a regular routine, but I think that was more so I don’t have to throw at 10:30.”
Though Nathan said he hasn’t discussed the next step beyond that with Tigers officials, he said he could probably be ready to return on Friday after a day to rest his arm.
Manager Brad Ausmus was noncommittal on such a timetable, though that isn’t unusual for him given the way rehab stints for Justin Verlander and Bruce Rondon hit obstacles.
“It could be one [rehab appearance],” Ausmus said Tuesday. “We’ll see how it goes.”
Ausmus has steered clear of questions about the closer role for the past several days. That included his postgame press conference Monday night after Joakim Soria wrapped up his fifth save in as many opportunities with a perfect ninth inning.
“We’ll worry about that when Nathan comes back,” said Ausmus, who said last week in Pittsburgh that the plan was for Nathan to return from the DL as the closer.
The time might be coming up this weekend.
Nathan said he has been very happy with his recovery from an injury that has given other relievers more lingering problems.
“From a lot of the history with this injury, it’s a big question mark. It could take a long time,” Nathan said. “Flexor injuries before, from the guys that I’ve known that have had them, can tend to linger on for quite a bit. Credit to the training staff and patience. We did the right thing when we needed to, and hopefully we’re on the tail end of it now.
“I don’t want to say we’re out of the woods by any means. We still have bruising and stuff to deal with. But from where it was to now, it’s very minor.”
The big question of batting Victor Martinez against right-handed pitchers has its first answer: He’s starting tonight against Nathan Eovaldi. It’s Martinez’s first start against a right-handed starting pitcher in a week, but it’s something Martinez made clear he wanted to do after last night’s win.
“Victor is in there,” Ausmus said today, “said he feels good. He actually looked a lot better yesterday than he did the day before.”
The Tigers are facing right-handed starters the rest of the week, both from the Yankees and Cleveland. Ausmus says he’s going to play it by ear based on how Martinez feels. Still, it would not be a surprise if Martinez gets a game off, though maybe not multiple games.
Kyle Lobstein brings the spectacled look to Detroit tonight. He’s going to wear them for all night games, he said, as well as many day games. There might be some matinees, he said, where he goes back to the contacts.
Reminder: Tonight is an FSD Plus game with the Red Wings playing Game 3 of their playoff series against the Lightning over at Joe Louis Arena. Consult your local listings for where FSD Plus is on your system. It’s still an MLB.TV game.
TIGERS (career numbers off Eovaldi)
- Anthony Gose, CF
- Ian Kinsler, 2B
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B (2-for-3, K)
- Victor Martinez, DH
- J.D. Martinez, RF (0-for-3)
- Yoenis Cespedes, LF (3-for-7, double)
- Nick Castellanos, 3B
- Alex Avila, C (0-for-2, K)
- Jose Iglesias, SS (0-for-2, K)
P: Kyle Lobstein
YANKEES (numbers off Lobstein)
- Jacoby Ellsbury, CF (1-for-3)
- Brett Gardner, LF (0-for-2)
- Alex Rodriguez, DH
- Mark Teixeira, 1B (0-for-2, walk)
- Brian McCann, C (0-for-2)
- Chris Young, RF
- Chase Headley, 3B (0-for-2)
- Stephen Drew, SS
- Gregorio Petit, 2B
P: Nathan Eovaldi
The Tigers have a plan with Victor Martinez and his left knee. It did not include pinch-running for Martinez in the seventh inning of a close game, even though he represented the go-ahead run.
“I don’t want that bat out of the lineup in the seventh,” manager Brad Ausmus said afterward. “As a matter of fact, when the seventh was over, I think if he went 1-2-3 (the next inning), then in the ninth we would’ve had Victor on deck (if somebody got on base). That’s a huge difference when Miguel Cabrera’s hitting.”
Nor, however, did the plan involve leaving Martinez as an easy out at the plate if Yoenis Cespedes could follow J.D. Martinez with a single.
“Victor, we all know he’s dealing with an injury right now and on top of that, he’s not the fastest guy,” J.D. Martinez said. “Talking to [first-base coach] Omar [Vizquel] about it when I was at first, I said, ‘If they send him, are we going?’ He said, ‘Yeah, go, get in a pickle.’ Pickle, rundown.”
In an inning with a couple different examples of smart baserunning, that was a good one.
When asked if he was confident he’d score, Victor Martinez said, “I don’t know about confident, but I know that it was going to be a good run for us late in the game, especially the way those two guys were pitching. It was a good play by J.D., though. He did the best thing to stay in the rundown and make sure that I score.”
Ausmus did not want to take Victor Martinez’s bat out of the lineup with the potential to have him up in a tie game in the ninth. Whether and when he’s taking Martinez out of the lineup is going to be worth following the next few days.
“There’s a plan in place, and I won’t get into specifics, but hopefully it works,” Ausmus said.
Monday marked Martinez’s third consecutive start against a left-handed pitcher. Tuesday marks the first of three consecutive right-handed starting pitchers for the Yankees against Detroit, beginning with Nathan Eovaldi.
Batting left-handed has been troublesome for Martinez and his left knee. It was a point of discussion for Ausmus and others Monday.
“There have been some times when we’ve had to tell him not to hit left-handed,” Ausmus said, “and then there are days when he’s felt strong enough to do it, and we let him take some swings.”
He has swings that look ugly batting left-handed, that look agonizing on the surgically repaired knee. He also has swings that produce base hits, six of them (all singles) in 22 at-bats against righties. He has good days and bad, but they have to determine whether the bad ones are playable.
“We’re going to play it by ear, see how he is,” Ausmus said. “I don’t know how much we can dive into it with Victor. He’s not 100 percent. He’s got the ability to hit. We hope that it heals while we’re doing this, but if it gets to a point where it’s not healing anymore, then we’ll do something else.”
Even playing it by ear, it would seem to be a major surprise if Martinez plays three games in a throw batting primarily left-handed. It would be more shocking if Martinez didn’t play at all the next few games. The trick the Tigers have to figure out, or outline, is where they could sit in between.
Play of the game: Since there’s already a defensive category below, the play goes to Rajai Davis tagging up from first base in the seventh inning on Ian Kinsler’s fly ball into the left-field corner, a play Davis said he was confident he could make. “I would challenge anyone on that one, no matter who they were,” Davis said. “As deep as that ball was, he’d have to make a perfect throw.”
Out of the game: Iglesias’ play and throw across his body on a hop to rob Brett Gardner on a ground ball in the hole in the sixth inning is the highlight defensive play of the Tigers’ homestand so far. “That’s a tough play, especially with Gardner running,” Ausmus said, “because he’s a legitimate speed guy, a Major League steal threat type guy. And I know Iglesias was playing him a little bit in because of his speed, but to make that play and get a runner like Gardner was pretty impressive. That’s probably the best play we’ve seen from him all season.
Strategery: J.D. Martinez induced the rundown between second and third that left no play on Victor Martinez at the plate with the go-ahead run. “Talking to [first-base coach] Omar [Vizquel] about it when I was at first, I said, ‘If they send him, are we going?’ He said, ‘Yeah, go, get in a pickle.'”
Line of the game: Alfredo Simon improved to 3-0 by tossing 7 1/3 innings of one-run ball on seven hits, walking none and striking out seven.
Stat of the game: Alfredo Simon induced 11 ground-ball outs and no fly-ball outs, according to MLB.com Gameday.
Victor Martinez and his sore left knee get the start against Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia. But batting right-handed generally hasn’t been the troublesome side for Martinez. The Yankees have three right-handed starters in a row for the rest of the series, so it’ll be interesting to see how many of those games Martinez starts.
“There’s a plan in place,” Brad Ausmus said. “I won’t get into specifics, but hopefully it works.”
With a third consecutive lefty starter, James McCann gets a third straight start, as does Rajai Davis.
TIGERS (career numbers vs. Sabathia)
- Rajai Davis, CF (7-for-40, double, 2 walks, 4 K’s)
- Ian Kinsler, 2B (6-for-27, 2 HR, 3 walks, 4 K’s)
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B (11-for-34, 2 doubles, 3 HR, 8 walks, 4 K’s)
- Victor Martinez, DH (7-for-33, double, 2 HR, 2 walks, 5 K’s)
- D. Martinez, RF
- Yoenis Cespedes, LF (0-for-8, 2 walks, 3 K’s)
- Nick Castellanos, 3B
- James McCann, C
- Jose Iglesias, SS (5-for-11)
P: Alfredo Simon
YANKEES (career numbers vs. Simon)
- Jacoby Ellsbury, CF (4-for-9, double, triple, 2 K’s)
- Brett Gardner, LF (3-for-9, 2 walks, K)
- Alex Rodriguez, DH (0-for-4, walk, K)
- Mark Teixeira, 1B (6-for-14, double, HR, 3 K’s)
- Carlos Beltran, RF (2-for-7, HR, 2 walks, K)
- Brian McCann, C (1-for-4)
- Chase Headley, 3B (0-for-2, 2 walks, K)
- Stephen Drew, 2B (1-for-2)
- Didi Gregorius, SS (1-for-3, K)
P: CC Sabathia
Joe Nathan wasn’t expected to pick up a baseball for at least a week after his elbow flexor strain. A week has passed. So after Justin Verlander threw his simulated game at PNC Park early Wednesday afternoon, Nathan was spotted in the outfield long-tossing, up to 120 feet.
“It’s nothing to write home about,” Nathan said, “but for the first time playing catch, it came out of my hand better than I thought. The ball was really carrying today. It felt easy, too. I wasn’t trying to jump on anything. It was just kind of floating through and getting there with ease.
“Not getting too excited about it, but the first session went according to plan.”
That puts him on a path towards a return, though that’s still a little ways out. He’ll continue playing catch this week with the possibility of a mound session at some point this weekend, then more work next week. That, in turn, puts Nathan on a path towards returning to the Tigers bullpen, where Joakim Soria has filled in skillfully at closer.
Asked if Nathan will retake the closer role upon return, manager Brad Ausmus said, “That’s the plan. We’ll see what happens, but that’s the plan. The most important thing, obviously, is to get him back. Our bullpen is stronger with Joe in it.”
Bruce Rondon, meanwhile, is not throwing again yet. He was playing catch at some point last week, then was held back for treatment over the weekend. He has not yet resumed throwing.
“He’s scheduled to pick up a ball Friday,” Ausmus said of Rondon, who opened the season on the 15-day DL with biceps tendinitis.
Asked what that might entail, Ausmus said, “They told me he’d pick up a ball, so I can’t tell you. He might pick it up and put it right back down.”
Though Alex Avila has some decent numbers against Francisco Liriano (4-for-10 with a double and a triple), the Tigers are going with the right-handed hitting James McCann against the former Twins and current Pirates lefty. In fairness, three of the four hits came in 2011, and Avila is 1-for-6 with four strikeouts against him since. Rajai Davis, meanwhile, gets his second straight start in center field.
TIGERS (career numbers against Liriano)
- Rajai Davis, CF (6-for-20, 3 doubles, walk, 3 K’s)
- Ian Kinsler, 2B (3-for-17, 2 doubles, HR, 4 walks, 4 K’s)
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B (9-for-32, 3 doubles, 2 HR, 8 walks, 8 K’s)
- J.D. Martinez, RF (1-for-2, HR, walk, K)
- Yoenis Cespedes, LF (1-for-10, K)
- Nick Castellanos, 3B (1-for-3, K)
- James McCann, C
- Jose Iglesias, SS
- Alfredo Simon, P (0-for-2, K)
PIRATES (career numbers off Simon)
- Josh Harrison, 3B (4-for-13, double, 2 K’s)
- Gregory Polanco, RF (1-for-3, walk)
- Andrew McCutchen, CF (5-for-20, HR, 5 walks, 5 K’s)
- Neil Walker, 2B (3-for-17, HR, 2 walks, 4 K’s)
- Starling Marte, RF (6-for-20, double, walk, 3 K’s)
- Pedro Alvarez, 1B (1-for-10, double, 3 walks, K)
- Francisco Cervelli, C (0-for-3, K)
- Jordy Mercer, SS (3-for-14, HR, walk, 2 K’s)
- Francisco Liriano, P (1-for-2, K)
Justin Verlander threw 45 pitches over three innings in a simulated game Wednesday afternoon at PNC Park. What it means for his chances of pitching in an actual game soon remains to be seen.
Manager Brad Ausmus said a day earlier that Verlander was expected to throw four innings of about 15 pitches each, possibly longer if he felt good. Verlander said the session ended earlier due to shoulder fatigue, not pain.
Verlander threw all his pitches, including the curveball early, though he didn’t throw any in his third and final inning once he felt fatigue. The curveball was the pitch on which he strained his right triceps nearly three weeks ago, and he didn’t resume throwing it until his last bullpen session Sunday in Cleveland.
Between simulated game work, long-tossing and warmups, Verlander estimated he threw the ball about 80 times. Whether it’s fatigue or something else, it would seem unlikely that the outing would be his final hurdle before rejoining the Tigers rotation.
Kyle Lobstein filled Verlander’s rotation spot Sunday against the Indians, pitching five innings of three-run ball despite eight hits. Detroit pushed back that rotation spot for this weekend’s series against the White Sox at Comerica Park, moving up Anibal Sanchez and Shane Greene to pitch on normal rest this weekend.
Detroit will need a fifth starter no later than next Tuesday against the Yankees, also at Comerica Park. Assuming Verlander isn’t ready, Lobstein would most likely fill the spot once again.
Verlander seemingly had his velocity going against a trio of Tigers hitters — utility infielders Andrew Romine and Hernan Perez, along with bullpen catcher John Murrian. He also threw a decent number of sliders.
Verlander had been sitting down between innings to simulate the game process of cooling down and warming up again. After striking out Murrian to end his third inning, however, he went back in without a wait.
The Tigers announced their starting pitchers for this weekend’s three-game series against the White Sox at Comerica Park. As expected, the list does not include Justin Verlander, who throws a simulated game today at PNC Park to see how close he is to rejoining Detroit’s rotation. It also doesn’t include Kyle Lobstein, who pitched in Verlander’s spot three days ago in Cleveland.
David Price stays on turn to pitch Friday’s series opener opposite Jeff Samardzija. Price gets an extra day of rest thanks to Thursday’s off-day, which also allows manager Brad Ausmus to push back Lobstein and pitch Anibal Sanchez and Shane Greene on Saturday and Sunday. Sanchez starts opposite Chris Sale. The White Sox have not announced a starter for Sunday, though Jose Quintana is expected to get the call.
The Tigers can pitch Alfredo Simon on Monday on regular rest before needing a fifth starter for Tuesday night against the Yankees, whether it’s Lobstein or Verlander. We might have a better idea about that later this afternoon.
A.J. Burnett has a two-sided history against Detroit, a 6-2 record despite a 5.19 ERA in 11 career meetings. He has been much better in recent years against the Tigers than he was from 2006 to 2008, when he had the pressure of the big contract on him. He could’ve been a Tiger about a decade ago, ironically, though the Tigers were never going to match what the Blue Jays offered him.
Burnett knows the soft spots of former Marlins teammate Miguel Cabrera, as the stats below reflect, but he has struggled against Rajai Davis, and he has struggled a lot with speed on the bases, averaging more than 30 stolen bases allowed last year and two steals from Billy Hamilton last week in Cincinnati. The way this Tigers team has worked the basepaths so far, it’ll be very interesting to see if they try to test him and catcher Francisco Cervelli.
UPDATE: Since some folks were asking, Brad Ausmus said starting Davis and Anthony Gose in the same outfield tonight was never a consideration. “I love stolen bases,” Ausmus said, “but I love home runs better.” Thus, Gose sits.
TIGERS (career numbers vs. Burnett)
- Rajai Davis, LF (4-for-9, 2 doubles, triple)
- Ian Kinsler, 2B (5-for-26, HR, walk, 6 K’s)
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B (5-for-25, 2 doubles, HR, walk, 3 K’s)
- J.D. Martinez, RF (0-for-10, 2 K’s)
- Yoenis Cespedes, LF
- Nick Castellanos, 3B
- Alex Avila, C (1-for-10, 2 walks, 2 K’s)
- Jose Iglesias, SS
- Shane Greene, P
PIRATES (no numbers against Greene)
- Josh Harrison, 3B
- Gregory Polanco, LF
- Andrew McCutchen, CF
- Neil Walker, 2B
- Corey Hart, RF
- Pedro Alvarez, 1B
- Francisco Cervelli, C
- Jordy Mercer, SS
- A.J. Burnett, P
The third and final home opener of the season for the Tigers is in Pittsburgh, where it’s looking like a postcard type of day with high temperatures in the mid to upper 70s. They’ll see a Tigers lineup that’s rolling (check out the AL batting leaders after one week of play), but one that will not have Victor Martinez in it with the designated hitter slot unavailable. Everyone else moves up, which means J.D. Martinez will bat cleanup.
With no DH, it also means Tigers pitchers are batting in April for a second straight season. They’ve been taking batting practice for the last week or so as prep work, but that likely won’t help much with Sanchez, a career .091 (22-for-241) hitter from his days with the Marlins. That said, he did hit an RBI double last April at Dodger Stadium.
Asked if Sanchez will be allowed to swing, Brad Ausmus said, “Out of his shoes.”
As for the bullpen, Ausmus might have a decision to make if the Tigers take a lead into the ninth. Joakim Soria pitched all three games in Cleveland, and four out of the last five days. However, his Friday appearance lasted just eight pitches and a third of an inning. Soria said he thinks he can pitch today, and Ausmus wasn’t ruling it out, though he wanted to check with Soria first. It’s mid-April, and there’s 155 games left after this one.
- Anthony Gose, CF
- Ian Kinsler, 2B (0-for-3, K off Gerrit Cole)
- Miguel Cabrera, 1B
- J.D. Martinez, RF
- Yoenis Cespedes, LF (1-for-3 off Cole)
- Nick Castellanos, 3B
- Alex Avila, C
- Jose Iglesias, SS
- Anibal Sanchez, P
PIRATES (career numbers off Anibal Sanchez)
- Josh Harrison, 3B (0-for-3)
- Gregory Polanco, RF
- Andrew McCutchen, CF (4-for-14, walk, 5 K’s)
- Neil Walker, 2B (3-for-14, double, HR, walk, 4 K’s)
- Starling Marte, LF (1-for-4, K)
- Pedro Alvarez, 1B (4-for-12, 2 doubles, HR, 5 K’s)
- Francisco Cervelli, C
- Jordy Mercer, SS (2-for-6, double, 2 K’s)
- Gerrit Cole, P