Joel Hanrahan’s comeback attempt is over. The former All-Star closer and Tigers camp invite will undergo another Tommy John surgery after being diagnosed with another tear of his ulnar collateral ligament.
When Dr. Keith Meister performs the procedure March 18 at his office in Texas, it’ll be Hanrahan’s second Tommy John surgery in less than 24 months. He isn’t calling this a career-ender, but he’ll have an even tougher path to try to come back than he did this time.
“It’s going to be a slow rehab,” Hanrahan. “[Meister] told me he wants me to go nine months without picking up a ball, and usually that’s four. I’m going to give it what I’ve got, do the rehab and see where it leads. Hopefully I’ll be able to make it through and hopefully get back on the field someday.”
Hanrahan had been trying to get back to pitching since last April, when the Tigers signed him to a Major League contract after watching him throw for teams. He spent the summer rehabbing at the Tigers’ Spring Training facility, but never got to a point where he could pitch off a mound pain-free.
After repeated attempts to throw last summer ended with the same soreness, Meister told him that he might require a second Tommy John surgery before noted orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews suggested he rest his arm and start throwing again in January. The Tigers were willing to take another shot, signing him to an incentive-laden minor-league contract with a non-roster invite to camp, but never got their hopes up about adding him to their bullpen.
The Tigers unconditionally released Hanrahan on Wednesday.
Hanrahan threw off a mound twice. He cut short his bullpen session Feb. 21 with soreness in his elbow. He played catch since then, but never got back on the mound.
Hanrahan had been hoping the problem was scar tissue. When the soreness didn’t go away, Hanrahan went back to Meister.
“He kind of basically told me the same thing this time,” Hanrahan said. “At that point [last summer], I didn’t believe it, because it didn’t hurt that bad and I don’t know what blowing out your ligament feels like necessarily. I thought there was no way that was true. I was still throwing and some days I could throw pretty good, and some days I couldn’t.”
Once his arm started hurting in non-baseball activities, he realized it was time.
“Trying to play in the [clubhouse] ping-pong tournament, I realized, yeah, that needs to get fixed,” Hanrahan said.
At that point, it became a quality-of-life issue. Even if Hanrahan never pitches again, he was going to need the surgery in order to do basic non-baseball activities.
“I can’t golf,” Hanrahan said. “I can’t pull back the strings on a bow. I can’t play ping-pong. I’ve got a two-year-old son that I look forward to having a lot of time with. It’s one of those quality-of-life things.”
It’s a tough break for a guy who not long ago ranked among the best closers in the game, and it might well mark his last time in a Major League camp. He was clearly down, but he tried to keep a sense of humor in the midst of a terrible situation. Asked what it felt like to be in camp, he said, “I felt like a fantasy camper. … It was fun, and I got to win the ragball championship.”
Gorgeous day in Lakeland for the Grapefruit League opener (or Spring Training opener, depending on how you view the Florida Southern game Monday). Here’s my piece from yesterday on five things to watch today, including Avila batting second and Joe Nathan pitching.
- Rajai Davis, RF
- Alex Avila, C
- Ian Kinsler, 2B
- Yoenis Cespedes, LF
- Nick Castellanos, 3B
- Tyler Collins, DH
- Jordan Lennerton, 1B
- Andrew Romine, SS
- Anthony Gose, CF
P: Kyle Lobstein, Joe Nathan, Tom Gorzelanny, Alex Wilson, Alberto Cabrera, Luke Putkonen, Josh Zeid, Rafael Dolis
- Everth Cabrera, SS
- Jonathan Schoop, 2B
- Nolan Reimold, RF
- Matt Tuiasosopo, DH
- Travis Snider, LF
- Jimmy Paredes, 3B
- J.P. Arencibia, C
- David Lough, CF
- Christian Jimenez, 1B
P: Ubaldo Jimenez, Eddie Gamboa, Chris Jones, Oliver Drake
The unofficial Spring Training opener has arrived, even if not all the Tigers regulars are ready quite yet.
Detroit traditionally plays its regulars against Florida Southern for an at-bat or two. As Jim Leyland used to say, it gives college kids a chance to say they played against big-league stars years from now. They won’t get to say they played against Miguel Cabrera or Victor Martinez this year, but the Tigers have six regulars in their lineup. That includes shortstop Jose Iglesias, whose first game action in a year will last one inning.
- Ian Kinsler, 2B
- Jose Iglesias, SS
- J.D. Martinez, RF
- Yoenis Cespedes, LF
- Rajai Davis, CF
- Nick Castellanos, 3B
- Jordan Lennerton, 1B
- Bryan Holaday, C
- James McCann, DH
- Kyle Richards, LF
- Sam Machonis, CF
- Chris Dennis, 3B
- Jhalan Jackson, RF
- Blake Swann, 1B
- Dominic Brugnoni, DH
- Shawn Sanders, 2B
- Joey Miller, C
- Casey Eddinger, SS
P: Ben Richardson
P: Tim Melville (about two innings), Kyle Ryan, Buck Farmer, Omar Duran, Jose Valdez, Angel Nesbitt, Joe Mantiply
For the second, this is the 29th meeting between these two institutions dating back to 1979. The Tigers own a 25-1-2 advantage, having tied in 1992 and 2005 (Matt Joyce played for the Mocs in that game, and the Tigers saw enough to draft him that summer). The lone Florida Southern win was a 5-3 decision in 1986.
The Tigers rotation is now set for the early stretch, including a nice early spring matchup next weekend.
We already knew Kyle Lobstein was starting Tuesday’s Grapefruit League opener against the Orioles at Joker Marchant Stadium. From there, Anibal Sanchez will face the O’s on Wednesday in Sarasota. Alfredo Simon will face the Braves on Thursday in Lakeland. David Price will make his first start of the spring Friday against the Mets in Port St. Lucie opposite Matt Harvey, who makes his return from Tommy John surgery.
From there, Justin Verlander will make his return against the Braves at Disney World. The rotation comes around Sunday to Shane Greene, who will make his Tigers debut Sunday against the Astros in Lakeland.
If you’re into counting turns to Opening Day, Verlander is on track. Price, however, could easily get on track with an extra day of rest.
Drive down Florida Avenue or US 98 in Lakeland, the major north-south thoroughfare in this city, and you’ll realize the value of green lights. It can be agonizingly time-consuming to get across town without using side routes, because there are so many major intersections. You might hit a few stoplights at the right time, but you can’t possibly hit them all right. And some of them can be pretty long.
All of this is an equally agonizing segue to looking back at the hot topic from last Spring Training: Just how much of a difference did the green lights Brad Ausmus issued last spring — the ones meant to foster an awareness of baserunning and extra-base opportunities — make on the Tigers’ season stats?
“I think it’s the frame of mind that we have to change before it becomes a real factor,” Ausmus said last February, “the frame of mind of wanting to go the extra 90, the extra 180 feet, forcing the defense to make the play on you.”
He mentioned it again this week, as reinforcement for those who returned, as an introduction for others who are new.
“The philosophy is the same,” Ausmus said. “We want to kind of force the issue on the defense, going first to third, second to home, force them to have to make the play. Be aggressive, but let’s not be idiotic. Know the outs, know the score, know who’s coming up next. Yes, I still believe in always looking to get to the next base.”
Detroit led the Majors with 34 stolen bases in Grapefruit League play last spring, one off their total for the entire 2013 season and twice as many as they stole in 2013 Spring Training. Fourteen different Tigers stole bases, including Victor Martinez, Bryan Holaday, Don Kelly (two), Nick Castellanos (also two), and Steve Lombardozzi (six in 14 games before he was traded to Baltimore for Alex Gonzalez).
That pace didn’t keep up in the regular season, of course, but with 106 stolen bases, the Tigers took a major step up the standings — seventh in the Majors, fourth in the American League. The only AL Central team with more was, of course, the Royals, who led the Majors with 153 stolen bases.
Again, 14 different Tigers recorded at least one stolen base. Miguel Cabrera, Holaday and James McCann stole one each. Castellanos stole two. V-Mart swiped three. Kelly stole six. In terms of percentages, there was less balance than the spring, as Rajai Davis’ 36 stolen bases accounted for more than a third of Detroit’s total.
In terms of overall baserunning, the metrics weren’t as kind, but still showed a modest improvement, and would have shown greater if not for one overwhelming factor. The end-of-season edition of the Bill James Handbook — which accounts for stolen bases, extra bases taken, scoring from second on a single and first on a double, and double plays — placed Detroit 25th in the Majors with a Net Gain of minus-21 (plus-24 in stolen bases, minus-45 in running the bases). That’s still better than their standing in recent years. The minus-45, while worst in the American League, was largely due to Alex Avila, who authors say took Detroit from positive to negative territory singlehandedly by going from first in third just twice in 23 chances and didn’t score from first on a double six times. That last tidbit, by the way, is interesting to note if Avila bats second this season in front of Miguel Cabrera, who led the AL with 52 doubles last year.
Avila’s speed isn’t likely to change. Davis’ speed may or may not, but his numbers could fall through playing time. What has changed, Ausmus pointed out Saturday, is the return of Jose Iglesias (assuming his legs are healthy) and the addition of Anthony Gose and Yoenis Cespedes. Gose had a Net Gain of plus-12 in 94 games last year, two off of Austin Jackson’s rating in 154 games. Cespedes was a plus-12 despite just seven stolen bases (oddly enough, six of those were steals of third). Torii Hunter, Cespedes’ predecessor in Detroit’s lineup, posted a plus-2 last year.
“You can add Iglesias to the mix this year, you can add Gose to the mix this year,” Ausmus said Saturday morning. “And after watching Cespedes run the bases, he’s not slow. I think we’re probably a faster team than we were a year ago.”
It’ll be interesting to see how that translates.
As far as managerial ratings, the Bill James Handbook totals stolen base attempts and runners moving on a pitch. On the former, Ausmus’ 2014 team had more steal attempts (147) than any of Jim Leyland’s Detroit teams, and more than his 2012 and 2013 teams combined (137). In fairness, though, Leyland didn’t have anyone like Davis to utilize the last couple years, in part because Jackson became a less frequent basestealer with each season. Interestingly, in the latter category, Ausmus actually put fewer runners in motion (144) than Leyland did in 2013 (180).
I’ve written a few times over the years about the long-running ties between Miguel Cabrera and his Duquesne baseball t-shirts. He explained back in 2009 that he wore them on his way up, having gotten them from former minor-league teammate Josh Wilson.
“It’s superstition,” Cabrera said at the time. “I wore the shirt when I got called to the big leagues.”
Wilson and Cabrera were teammates as far back as 1999, the year both of them signed as teenagers — Wilson out of high school, Cabrera as a 16-year-old out of Venezuela. They were teammates at Double-A in 2003 when Cabrera got the call to the Majors, and they were teammates again in 2005 when Wilson made his big-league debut.
They hadn’t been teammates again until this spring, Wilson having come to Tigers camp on a minor-league camp. So finally, after years of watching Cabrera wear Duquesne t-shirts — the lone remaining symbol of a baseball program that ended in 2010 — I had the chance to ask Wilson, whose father Mike was the baseball coach at Duquesne for 17 years, about the shirts.
Turns out, Cabrera had already asked about them.
“First thing he asked,” Wilson said. “He asked how I was doing, and then he asked if I had any T-shirts for him. I told him the supply was gone, and then I told my dad, and he said, ‘I’ll go get some made.'”
Cabrera actually wasn’t the only one wearing them in Florida, Wilson said. He not only gave some to Cabrera on his way up, he gave away some in his first big-league camp. Guys like Mike Lowell and Juan Pierre got one. He probably gave away a dozen.
Lowell is long since retired. Pierre just announced his retirement. Duquesne’s baseball program was retired five years ago. Lefty reliever Joe Beimel still represents Duquesne baseball in the Majors, but it would be understandable if he doesn’t want to wear the shirt of the university that disbanded the program. In many ways, Cabrera and the t-shirts are the last link.
That ended up starting a conversation about watching Cabrera develop as a teenage phenom on his way up.
“For a 16-year-old kid, his bat speed was one thing you definitely noticed, especially for how young he was,” Wilson said. “He swung the bat like a man. He had a lot of movement. You could tell he hadn’t played against a higher level of competition, but I saw him. …
“What’s amazing is, I don’t think he ever really got the credit for being the athlete he is. He played shortstop in Gulf Coast League.”
Actually, he played shortstop in Class A ball, too. And he wasn’t bad at it.
“The first year we played together in low-A, I was at second base, and he was playing short,” Wilson continued. “When we’d take ground balls, he would catch balls and not even look at first base and just throw it over there and hit the guy right in the chest. He would do stuff, flipping balls behind his back. I mean, it was crazy, the athleticism.
“I think because of how big he always was, and he wasn’t the quickest guy, fastest guy, I don’t think he ever got credit for being an athlete. But he’s got some serious hand-eye coordination and athleticism. And that was probably the most impressive thing I ever saw about him. If he got to the balls, he could make plays at short. His range maybe wasn’t the best, but he could do stuff with his mitt and get rid of balls and make throws that a lot of guys just couldn’t make.”
The hitting, of course, was another matter. Wilson posted a .383 slugging percentage and a .708 OPS for Kane County in the Midwest League in 2001. Cabrera, then 18, had a .382 slugging percentage and a .709 OPS. That’s the last time Wilson could claim Cabrera-like numbers.
“Midwest League when we played together, he was a good player,” Wilson said. “Obviously you could see the tools, the spurts or whatever. But with all baseball players, it’s the consistency, figuring out, learning how to do it every day. And then the next year in high-A, he started showing his power. He hit some homers that year.
“That year in Double-A, in ’03 before he got called up, I still have never played with a guy that was so dominant. He got called up in the middle of June. … It was a joke. They’d send those leaderboards out every day, and he was leading every category, and it wasn’t close. And this was the Southern League, not a hitters league necessarily.
“It wasn’t fair. I mean, it really wasn’t fair. And the power, he was hitting balls oppo, he’d hit them dead center. It didn’t matter. And then for him to get called up and watch him do what he did, hit a walkoff home run his first game, we were all glued to the TVs any chance we had to watch him. And to watch him in the playoffs that year, that was amazing, man.”
To watch him now and remember back then, Wilson said, is “awesome.”
“Everybody always compared him to [Andres] Galarraga,” he said. “I remember when he signed, people saying this kid could end up being the greatest hitter in baseball. And you watch and you’re going, ‘OK.’ But for somebody to actually do it, that has that kind of expectation or demand on him that people think that they’re going to do that, obviously I can’t imagine what that’s like. We’d all love to be the greatest hitter in baseball, but for somebody to say you’re going to be and to do the work that it takes to get there, it’s pretty awesome.”
The workout routine ends next week, when the Tigers start playing games and slotting pitchers. Tim Melville and Kyle Lobstein will be among the first. Brad Ausmus named Melville as his starter for Monday’s exhibition against Florida Southern, followed by Lobstein starting Tuesday’s Grapefruit League opener against the Orioles.
Ausmus did not name his starters beyond that. The starts for later next week will be worth watching, since those will be the ones putting pitchers on track to pitch every five days leading up to Opening Day. It’s also worth noting that the Tigers have two sets of split-squad games March 12 and 22 that would put a pitcher on track for the April 6 opener.
Technically, too, Melville could pitch every five days and be on track for the opener, but well, yeah. The Tigers will field a lineup largely of regulars for that game, but most will exit after an inning or two. Melville could get two innings of work, as well as another pitcher, but most will pitch one inning.
The Tigers signed Melville as a minor-league free agent this offseason at age 25. He’s a 6-foot-5 right-hander out of the Royals system who went 2-11 with a 5.50 ERA pitching for former Tigers catcher Vance Wilson at Northwest Arkansas. He’s 24-44 with a 4.79 ERA for his pro career, but he also missed a good portion of 2012 and 2013, so he’s a projection signing.
“He was a highly-touted prospect at one point,” Ausmus said. “Big kid, big pitcher’s frame, tall, lean pitcher frame.”
If there was a situation being watched this offseason where the Tigers could bring back one of their free-agent relievers, the expectation was that Phil Coke was the one. Detroit had plenty of right-handers in camp already, including Joel Hanrahan, while the Tigers were thinner on lefties. It didn’t hurt, either, that neither the Tigers nor Joba Chamberlain’s camp were saying a peep about his situation, other than team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski not ruling out a return.
Instead, the Tigers have shown no signs of interest towards Coke. He has thrown for teams for the past several weeks in San Diego, trying to show the impact of tweaks he made in his mechanics, but neither manager Brad Ausmus nor scouts had watched him as of a week ago.
Meanwhile, quietly, the Tigers had kept the door open for Chamberlain, albeit at their price.
“We really never were actively pursuing the contract,” team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said. “Actually I didn’t think it was going to take place. We liked him, he did a good job, but I just couldn’t imagine it would get to that point. But it got to the point. …
Last offseason, Chamberlain signed for a $2.5 million base salary and appearance-based incentives that could add another $500,000. Chamberlain’s new deal includes the same incentives — $100,000 each for 35, 40, 45, 50 and 55 games pitched — but a $1 million base salary. Even if Chamberlain hits all his performance incentives, he’ll make half as much as last year.
“I also thought somebody would step up and entice him to join them,” Dombrowski said. “And I don’t know what happened as far as why he turned down a couple offers. I never really asked him that, but I just assumed … that something would work out somewhere else. But it just didn’t for whatever reason.”
Dombrowski said Chamberlain had other offers that would put him in a position to make more — in other words, potentially higher incentives. Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com and MLB Network reported Tuesday that the Rangers made an offer.
“When we were talking to other teams and had the opportunity, it was best for my family and best for myself,” Chamberlain said. “The big thing is my son’s really comfortable [with Detroit] and that makes me comfortable. It’s just a tremendous opportunity.”
A few notes on that opportunity …
- Though Chamberlain’s arrival coincided with Joel Hanrahan being shut down from bullpen sessions for the time being due to soreness, Dombrowski said Hanrahan’s situation didn’t set up Chamberlain’s return. “Really, our situation with Joel has not changed at all,” Dombrowski said. “I’ve always talked about being in a situation where we weren’t counting on him. We were hopeful. We would see what would happen. So that really hasn’t changed at all, because I really never said in my mind he’s going to be part of our bullpen. It was always, ‘Let’s see what happens.'”
- Chamberlain will not be the eighth-inning setup man this time around, and he’s fine with that. “I still think he’s got the ability to pitch later in games,” Ausmus said. “Right now, Soria’s kind of the eighth-inning guy. But you have a few pitchers in Joba, Rondon and Alburquerque who certainly have the ability to pitch in the seventh or even the eighth.”
- Chamberlain is open to other situations. “There’s no inning that I haven’t pitched in,” he said. “Whatever Brad feels like I can work is where I’m going to work. Obviously we have some great arms in that pen and I’m so excited to be a part of it as well.”
- Chamberlain should be able to pick up camp close to the same point as everyone else. “I’ll probably throw a bullpen [Wednesday] and go from there,” Chamberlain said. “Games start soon. I’m not too far behind if behind at all. I’ve probably thrown six or seven bullpens, so we’re right where we need to be.”
- Chamberlain will wear number 44 again. Joel Hanrahan had that number as recently as the start of the Tigers workout Tuesday morning. By the end of the workout, there was a number 48 jersey hanging in Hanrahan’s locker.
- The scraggly beard is gone, surprisingly given the winter in Nebraska, and Chamberlain doesn’t plan on bringing it back. “No, we’re definitely going to keep it a little bit restrained from what it was last year,” he said. “That was a lot of growth. It won’t get that long, trust me. … I walked by a couple people [in the clubhouse], they didn’t recognize who I was.”
Brad Ausmus has a shortstop coming back who could help perform a makeover on Detroit’s infield defense. That’s the good news with Jose Iglesias. The bad news is the balance Ausmus has to strike in getting him there.
This is a more complicated comeback than simply declaring Iglesias over his longtime issues and ready to play. This is a rehab of an unusual injury without a ton of history. And Ausmus, while being encouraged, might be the most realistic — and cautious — of anyone about this.
“It’s very encouraging,” Ausmus said Sunday, “but a number of hurdles have to be crossed before I’ll feel really good about Iglesias’ situation, the biggest of which is being sure his legs can withstand the pounding of daily baseball activity.”
He has to watch how far, how quickly he pushes Iglesias coming off stress fractures in both shins. A gifted young shortstop is a prized commodity in baseball, and the Tigers paid dearly to get one when they traded Avisail Garcia to a division rival. They have fill-ins, but nobody whose impact compares to what Iglesias can do for a game when healthy.
“I’m just concerned more about the long haul than I am some specific incident happening,” Ausmus said. “I’m just worried this might sneak back up on us over the course of a few months if we don’t pay attention to it.”
And yet, for managerial purposes, Ausmus has to figure out how far he can push Iglesias, how long of a stretch he can play his young shortstop without wearing him down.
“We’re going to try to build him up a little bit into it,” Ausmus said, “but at some point before we get to April, we need to know if he can take the pound on a daily basis.”
At the same time, he has to give him enough at-bats to get his timing back after a year of no at-bats anywhere.
“He’s already talked to me about getting a few extra at-bats compared to a normal Spring Training,” Ausmus said.
He has already taken a Leyland-esque outlook on that one.
“If he gets off to a good start, then [the low at-bats] doesn’t affect him at all,” Ausmus said. “If he gets off to a slow start, then the reason he’s gotten off to a slow start is because he hasn’t played in a year. I don’t know that you can really predetermine how it’s going to go. I think the best thing to do is try to get him extra at-bats, do as much as you can to kind of negate the off-time. But ultimately, you just don’t know.”
Don’t be surprised if Iglesias bats up in the batting order for some games this spring. It would allow Ausmus to get him extra at-bats while still watching how many innings he plays at shortstop. It would not necessarily put him in line to bat second in the regular season, though a good spring wouldn’t hurt.
The Tigers might have some at-bats open at designated hitter early in the spring, too, until Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez are ready.
None of this suggests Iglesias won’t be ready for the season. Unless he has a serious setback, he’ll almost surely be in the lineup when the Tigers host the Twins on April 6 at Comerica Park. Ausmus’ concerns are the games in June, July and into the stretch run.
He at least seems to have a shortstop who understands that.
“I’ve got to work smart,” Iglesias said Saturday. “I don’t want to cause any issues to myself. But I’m fine. I’m really happy. I’m really excited.”
The Tigers announced their promotional schedule for the regular season Saturday, including 31 giveaways and 16 Friday and Saturday postgame fireworks show.
Three of the giveaways are bobbleheads: Victor Martinez on June 25, Yoenis Cespedes on July 1 and David Price on July 20. All three are for the first 10,000 fans through the gates.
A handful of headgear giveaways include a fleece-lined knit hat for the first 10,000 fans on April 17, a regular Tigers hat for the first 5,000 adults on June 12, a patriotic Tigers hat for the first 10,000 adults on July 4, a Rally Time floppy hat for the first 10,000 fans on July 22, a Tigres hat for the first 10,000 adults on August 8, and a green Tigers hat for Halfway to St. Patrick’s Day for the first 5,000 fans on Sept. 22.
Sunday kids giveaways include a Tigers baseball card set on April 19, a Mother’s Day tumbler on May 10, an ice cream bowl on June 28, a Paws coin bank on July 19, Strike Out Bullying dog tags on Aug. 23, a Back to School PAWS lunch cooler on Sept. 20, and player posters on May 24, June 14, July 5 and August 9.
The promotions are now on Tigers regular-season schedule on the site. Single-game tickets go on sale Saturday, March 7 at 10am ET online at the site, in person at the Comerica Park box office, and by phone at 866-66-TIGER.