Verlander back to action … now, moving along

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Justin Verlander spent the past three months working like crazy to get back to this point, to get back on the mound in a game … and then start looking past it.

On the day Justin Verlander made his spring debut, he pitched and sounded like he hadn’t left. His mindset is already in midseason form.

He had a couple quick answers to questions about how he felt healthwise in his recovery from core muscle surgery. He talked more about his mechanical adjustments and trying to get back to his dominant form, not just his healthy form.

“I could feel a little bit of a difference,” he said of his mechanical tweaks. “It’s not right where I want it, but talking with [pitching coach] Jeff [Jones] after I came out, it’s much improved. Still going to be working on it for the rest of spring.

“It seems like every day I’ve thrown, it’s gotten a little bit better and feeling a little more natural, so it was a real good sign to get out there on the mound and not worry about it and worry about getting batters out and for it still to be pretty good.”

He was asked about the curveball he dropped on Anthony Gose for a called third strike and talked about the adjustments he made near the end of last season to get his better curveball back. As much as was made about his velocity last September and October, the curveball talk seemed new.

“At the very end of last year, going into the last two [start] of the regular season, I changed my grip on my curveball and I think got it back to the grip I’m supposed to have,” he said. “It had a good impact on me last year and I just remembered the way I gripped it. I’ve been working on that this spring, too, and it was really good today.

“I felt good. I’m not throwing sliders yet. I threw three in the bullpen to warm up. The first three I threw in here were pretty good, so that’s good.”

Remember, this is the guy who talked last week about wanting to erase his 2013 form from his muscle memory and go back to 2012. With all the changes he has talked about this spring, it might get hard to keep track by the time camp breaks. The bigger picture, though, is that he’s thinking past the injury and thinking about pitching.

Being healthy is now almost an afterthought. So is his readiness for Opening Day.

“Maybe [I] might get a little bit more mound time,” he said when asked about preparing for his next start. “I might do a couple light bullpens in addition to my regular bullpen to just get muscle memory locked in.”

Yes, this is the same guy who had to wait a while to get on a mound. That was then.

Verlander Day: Tigers vs. Blue Jays split squad

Happy Verlander Day, if you’ve been waiting on his return. The weather forecast is solid, unlike five days ago, so there shouldn’t be anything to keep him from his first game action of the spring.

Verlander has a flexible pitch count, according to Brad Ausmus. He could get anywhere from 50 to 55 pitches depending on how he’s feeling and how quick his innings go.

“It’s really just flexibility because of the rainout situation [last week],” Ausmus said.

Unlike his side sessions and live BP, however, Verlander will not get a green light to extend his pitch count beyond that, other than maybe a pitch or two.

“We’re still going to be cautious about this,” Ausmus said. “The last thing we want to do is overextend him.”

Miguel Cabrera is back in the Tigers lineup after his two-homer game yesterday. Of the three players who started both ends of the Jupiter end the previous two days, he’s the one guy in the starting lineup today. He’ll get some rest shortly, just not today.

Cabrera said this morning he’s looking for about 70-80 plate appearances by Opening Day. He’s at 24 right now. Physically, he’s feeling good, which is probably the main point. The key now is to get the timing down. He’s starting to center the ball well.

“I want to be sure I get 70-80 so I can be the most ready I can,” Cabrera said.

He’ll get his at-bats today in a batting order that, at least for the first six spots, might look like a regular season order. The big question is what Ausmus will decide to do with the two spot in games when Davis starts. He still isn’t saying. He has been getting Hunter a steady diet of at-bats in the two spot while rotating hitters at fifth and sixth.

TIGERS

  1. Ian Kinsler, 2B
  2. Rajai Davis, LF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B
  4. Victor Martinez, DH
  5. Torii Hunter, RF
  6. Austin Jackson, CF
  7. Don Kelly, 3B
  8. Bryan Holaday, C
  9. Eugenio Suarez, SS

P: Justin Verlander, Robbie Ray, Phil Coke, Joe Nathan, Joba Chamberlain, Al Alburquerque, Bruce Rondon

BLUE JAYS

  1. Jose Reyes, SS
  2. Maicer Izturis, 3B
  3. Melky Cabrera, CF
  4. Edwin Encarnacion, DH
  5. Dan Johnson, 1B
  6. Josh Thole, C
  7. Steve Tolleson, LF
  8. Anthony Gose, RF
  9. Ryan Goins, 2B

P: Todd Redmond, Aaron Loup, Neil Wagner, Brett Cecil, John Stilson

The Jays’ other split squad is facing the Canadian Junior National team today. Colby Rasmus is not making the trip to Lakeland, if you were thinking back to his slide on Omar Infante last July.

What Casey Crosby’s return means for lefty mix

Casey Crosby wasn’t going to try to win a job in his first outing. He just wanted to get through an inning without any discomfort and show he’s healthy. He can pick it up from there.

“It was good to get back out there finally,” he said. “Obviously I kind of joined the party late, but it feels good out there. It feels comfortable, and I’m excited to get back out there.”

He faced three batters and retired two of them, so it technically wasn’t an entire inning. He replaced Blaine Hardy with one out in the sixth inning and then finished it out, getting a fly out to center and then stranding two by dropping a curveball on right-handed hitter Travis Tartamella for a called third strike.

He threw a lot of fastballs in the 89-90 mph range according to the Roger Dean Stadium scoreboard, topping out at 91. For a first outing, that was fine. He was happier with a changeup he was getting good feelings about from what he saw in the side sessions and live BP he needed to throw to get to this point.

“My changeup is very improved this year just talking with the catchers and seeing it myself,” he said. “I noticed if I keep the changeup low it has good bite to it.”

He can build the velocity he needs over the next couple weeks, especially since he no longer has to worry about building his pitch count like he did as a starter. The more important question is whether he has enough time to build his case for a bullpen spot.

Before the game, Brad Ausmus said he doesn’t necessarily need two lefties in his bullpen, but that there’s clearly an advantage if he can have it that way. It sounded a bit like the stretch run last season, when Jim Leyland noted during Phil Coke’s absence that Al Alburquerque and Joaquin Benoit could get outs from lefties because of what they throw. Eventually we saw what the lack of a second lefty meant during the ALCS. With Coke just coming back, Leyland opted for David Ortiz with the bases loaded in Game 2 with disastrous results.

Season opening bullpens tend to change quickly, but personally, I’d be extremely surprised if Ausmus went with only one lefty to open the year, especially with Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon, Chris Davis and Nick Markakis looming in the opening week.

Ian Krol shows every sign of taking on a big role, even with less than a full season of Major League work under his belt. Ausmus continues to downplay Phil Coke’s spring struggles, saying he simply needs to get in his work and build his velocity (he has been upper 80s so far). Still, his Tuesday outing against the Blue Jays has the chance to be a significant one.

A year ago, the Tigers used the mid-March deadline to cut ties with Brennan Boesch while owing him just a sixth of his previously agreed-to salary. Technically, they could do the same with Coke, who avoided arbitration just before the December non-tender deadline with a $1.9 million salary. In other words, they’d owe him just over $316,000 if they made a move this week. Despite the struggles this spring, though, I’d be surprised if that happens. They could wait it out until the end of camp and release him then for just $475,000.

When he’s on, Coke has the chance to be a situational kind of lefty with velocity, and those aren’t easy to find. Crosby, however, is the one guy in camp besides Krol and Coke who offers that potential. His fastball was always strong as a starter through all the injuries. As a reliever, he can bump it up without having to worry about pacing himself.

“I feel a lot more comfortable doing the short-inning stuff,” Crosby said, “not really thinking more, just going. Go, pitch, and just let it go. That’s what I’m most comfortable doing, I feel like.”

The question the Tigers will have to judge is where he stands on being ready for that after spending virtually his whole career starting save for an Arizona Fall League stint in 2011.

On his readiness, and how the injury affected it, Crosby said, “For relievers you get back in there and it doesn’t take long because you don’t have to build up very many innings. But me personally, I feel like I missed a lot, just because when you’re injured you just feel like you’re missing out on so much. You just feel you’re kind of not really a part of the team and all that.”

The story behind Rajai Davis’ oven mitt

If you watched the Tigers on television today, or if you’ve been to a Tigers game this spring, and you haven’t seen much of Rajai Davis the last couple years, you might be wondering why he has an oven mitt on his left hand.

That’s OK. He hears it all the time. He laughs about it, too.

“Yeah, it’s good for baking,” he said Monday. “Baking on the bases.”

Not surprisingly, it’s a protective glove for his left hand. It keeps him from jamming a finger sliding into a bag, and it also gives him some padding over his hand and his wrist in case an infielder steps on his hand as he’s sliding in. He has worn one since at least 2012 to protect his hands.

Other players have worn one after injuring fingers or wrists. Davis said he adopted it after he had a close call and saw someone else suffer a far worse fate.

“I watched a guy stealing and go in with his hand and break his finger,” Davis said. “I saw that and said that’s not going to happen to me. So I started wearing that.”

The lack of fingers on the glove prevent him from jamming any of them when he slides. The length of it, which completes the oven mitt look, protects his wrist. The combination gives him some peace of mind being aggressive on the basepaths.

The last couple years, Davis had a blue version that matched the blue on Toronto’s jersey. This year’s sliding glove is much darker, almost black.

“It’s pretty protective,” he said. “It’s pretty good. It’s not too hard. It’s pliable. It gives. I mean, it’s big, not like some of the other ones you have, though.”

There is some regulation, by the way, as to how long such a glove can be. Add too much padding, and it gives him an extra inch or two, or maybe more, to beat a tag. So a lot of the padding goes on top of the fingers, not beyond it.

“This one’s official,” he said with a big smile.

Monday: Tigers at Cardinals (on tee vee!)

If you’re around a TV today with Fox Sports Detroit, you get what is probably your first look at the new-look Tigers this afternoon. You also get a decent number of regulars to watch today, including Miguel Cabrera, Alex Avila, Nick Castellanos and Rajai Davis. You also get Max Scherzer on the mound for around 60 pitches as he stretches out his arm.

Casey Crosby is scheduled for an inning as he makes his first outing of the spring. At this point, the key with him is simply getting his work in. We’ll see what he can add to the lefty relief mix from there.

Keep an eye on Steven Moya, who gets the start in right field. I’ve written a little bit about him already this spring, and I’ll have more on him later today. He’s a big (6-foot-7) outfielder with a big swing, but when he hits the ball, he hits it hard somewhere.

If you’re living outside of Michigan or Northwest Ohio, you can watch the game online at MLB.TV or listen on MLB Gameday Audio.

TIGERS

  1. Rajai Davis, LF
  2. Ezequiel Carrera, CF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, DH
  4. Alex Avila, C
  5. Don Kelly, 1B
  6. Steve Lombardozzi, SS
  7. Nick Castellanos, 3B
  8. Steven Moya, RF
  9. Danny Worth, 2B

P: Max Scherzer, Kyle Lobstein, Casey Crosby, Jose Ortega, Blaine Hardy, Melvin Mercedes

CARDINALS

  1. Matt Carpenter, 3B
  2. John Jay, RF
  3. Matt Holliday, LF
  4. Matt Adams, 1B
  5. Yadier Molina, C
  6. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  7. Mark Ellis, 2B
  8. Peter Bourjos, CF
  9. Daniel Descalso, DH

P: Shelby Miller, Randy Choate, Sam Freeman, Tyler Lyons, Keith Butler, Pat Neshek, Lee Stoppleman

Dombrowski: We’re not trading any of our starters

The Tigers had a flurry of trade rumors surrounding their starting pitchers over the offseason until Doug Fister went to Washington. That seemingly ended the rotation speculation. Then came a Sunday report from Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe regarding Rick Porcello:

The Tigers are said to be willing to listen to offers on him, according major league sources. Porcello is once again at the back end of the Tiger rotation. While still young and promising, the Tigers need more consistency in the rotation. The Tigers took lefty Robbie Ray in the Doug Fister deal, but Ray is likely not quite ready to make the jump.

No sooner did the report hit MLB Trade Rumors than Dave Dombrowski denied any trade talks on any of their starting pitchers, including Porcello.

“We’re not trading any of our starting pitchers,” Dombrowski said. “I don’t know where that came from, but that is totally inaccurate. … We haven’t mentioned his name to one person. No one has called me [about him].”

Logistically, the rumor doesn’t make sense at the moment. If this were last spring, and the Tigers had a ready replacement, than one could see the Tigers gauging interest. Porcello has two seasons to go, including this one, before free agency, so the Tigers have a decision to make about his long-term future. History suggests most teams try to make that decision with starting pitchers two years out from free agency.

Once the Tigers traded Fister, however, they went from six viable starters to five. If somebody gets hurt, their next man up would likely be Jose Alvarez or Kyle Lobstein. Ray is expected to start at Triple-A Toledo, and even that is seen as an aggressive promotion by some. Unless the Tigers can re-sign Max Scherzer, they’ll have a major rotation hole to fill this offseason. A Porcello trade would open up another.

From a performance standpoint, trading Porcello now would not be trading at his peak value. If one believes Porcello is set to benefit from an improved infield defense, then trading now could be argued as selling low.

It still isn’t the craziest rumor this offseason regarding the Tigers rotation. Remember the Ervin Santana rumor?

Sunday: Tigers at Marlins

Miguel Cabrera, Alex Avila and Nick Castellanos all make their offseason homes in south Florida, so it figures that they would be the three Tigers slated to be in the starting lineup both days on this two-game trip to Jupiter. Ian Kinsler and Austin Jackson are joining them on this leg.

TIGERS
1. Ian Kinsler, 2B
2. Trevor Crowe, LF
3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
4. Alex Avila, DH
5. Austin Jackson, CF
6. Tyler Collins, RF
7. Nick Castellanos, 3B
8. Bryan Holaday, C
9. Hernan Perez, SS
P: Rick Porcello, Ian Krol, Evan Reed, Jose Alvarez, Luis Marte, Jhan Marinez

MARLINS
1. Rafael Furcal, 2B
2. Christian Yelich, LF
3. Mike Stanton, RF
4. Garrett Jones, 1B
5. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C
6. Marcell Ozuna, CF
7. Casey McGehee, 3B
8. Greg Dobbs, DH
9. Adeiny Hechavarria, SS
P: Tom Koehler

Smyly day (or Saturday): Tigers vs. Mets

Today is the stray home game in between last night’s game in Tampa and the upcoming two-day trip to Jupiter, so the lineup is a little interesting. Most of the regulars who started last night are off today. The exceptions are Torii Hunter in right field, Victor Martinez at first base, Steve Lombardozzi at shortstop and Nick Castellanos, who gets to DH.

Bruce Rondon is ready to pitch after being pushed back a day for a minor tweak in his back. He has had the ninth inning on his days to pitch.

No TV on this game, but you can listen in Detroit on 97.1 FM and online at MLB Gameday Audio.

Some more early notes:

  • Jose Iglesias is slated to hit today (presumably on the back fields, since the Tigers aren’t taking a formal BP session this morning) and do some running. He did that yesterday, felt fine hitting but felt some soreness while running.
  • Steve Lombardozzi has made an early impression with his baserunning instincts. Last night was the second time this spring he took third base on a double steal, both times on his own according to Brad Ausmus.

smileyfaceTIGERS

  1. Ian Kinsler, 2B
  2. Ezequiel Carrera, LF
  3. Torii Hunter, RF
  4. Victor Martinez, 1B
  5. Don Kelly, 3B
  6. Nick Castellanos, DH
  7. Daniel Fields, CF
  8. Bryan Holaday, C
  9. Steve Lombardozzi, SS

P: Drew Smyly, Justin Miller, Phil Coke, Bruce Rondon, Al Alburquerque, Luke Putkonen, Jose Valdez, Jhan Marinez

METS

  1. Eric Young Jr., 2B
  2. Juan Lagares, CF
  3. Kirk Nieuwenhuis, RF
  4. Josh Satin, 1B
  5. Andrew Brown, DH
  6. Matt den Dekker, LF
  7. Wilmer Flores, 3B
  8. Taylor Teagarden, C
  9. Omar Quintanilla, SS

P: Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Gonzalez Germen, Jeff Walters, Joel Carreno, John Church, Adam Kolarek

Ausmus: Walkoff balk was an accidental sign

On the first day of Tigers workouts, new manager Brad Ausmus had his pitchers working on pickoff throws, including the little-used pickoff to third base. Given Ausmus’ focus on preparation all spring, it was surely going to come into play in a game.

Ausmus just didn’t want it in <i>this</i> game. And as he walked out of the dugout Friday night, having seen reliever Luis Marte called for a balk that brought in the Yankees’ winning run in a 3-2 Tigers loss, Ausmus was struggling to figure out why Marte tried a pickoff throw in the first place.

Then it hit him.

“We have a play where you pick to third, and I unknowingly gave it,” Ausmus said. “Really, as I was walking up the runway, I realized that I had given it to him. Don’t blame the player for that one. Blame the manager.”

For all the praise heaped on Ausmus for his intellect and his focus on preparation, he was bound for a miscue. This was the first noticeable one, although he might have gotten away with it and left Marte with the blame had he not fessed up after the game.

“It was my fault,” Ausmus reiterated. “The player didn’t screw up. I actually ended up giving a sign by accident and realized after I walked off the field that I had given a sign. You can chalk that one up to me.”

Marte had runners at the corners and one out in the bottom of the ninth. Third baseman Francisco Martinez apparently did not pick off the accidental sign, because he wasn’t at the bag when the throw came in. That brought the balk call, which brought in the game-ending run.

Friday: Tigers at Yankees

Spring Training 004

Between a Friday night game, a chillier forecast than usual for these parts and a stadium that feels more like American League than Grapefruit League (hopefully the photo above reflects that), this might be as close of a feel as we get to regular season baseball this spring. It also helps that the Tigers brought over a fair number of regulars for this one, including the projected Opening Day outfield and Alex Avila behind the plate and batting fifth. With Matt Thornton on the pitching list for tonight, it’ll be interesting to see if Joe Girardi waits until an inning when Avila is up to bring him in.

After an abundance of time at shortstop, Steve Lombardozzi shifts over to second base for the night, giving Ian Kinsler an easy day ahead of tomorrow’s game against the Mets back in Lakeland. Danny Worth starts at short tonight.

It’ll be interesting to hear the reception for Joba Chamberlain, who certainly has a lot of history here, when he takes the mound for his inning of work in relief.

One other thing: It might be nothing, but it’s worth noting that Jose Ortega and Luis Marte were added to the pitching list for tonight. Neither of them were on the pitching list for yesterday’s rained-out game, so it’s not simply a matter of being pushed back. If you were going to look at relief depth the Tigers could tap if they wanted to swing a trade for a left fielder, either one could make sense. Bruce Rondon was previously on the pitching list for tonight, but he’s now slated to pitch Saturday against the Mets.

TIGERS

  1. Rajai Davis, LF
  2. Torii Hunter, RF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
  4. Victor Martinez, DH
  5. Alex Avila, C
  6. Austin Jackson, CF
  7. Steve Lombardozzi, 2B
  8. Nick Castellanos, 3B
  9. Danny Worth, SS

P: Anibal Sanchez, Robbie Ray, Joe Nathan, Joba Chamberlain, Jose Ortega, Luis Marte, Jhan Marinez

YANKEES

  1. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
  2. Derek Jeter, SS
  3. Carlos Beltran, DH
  4. Brian McCann, C
  5. Alfonso Soriano, RF
  6. Brian Roberts, 2B
  7. Ichiro Suzuki, LF
  8. Eduardo Nunez, 3B
  9. Russ Canzler, 1B

P: Hiroki Kuroda, Michael Pineda, David Robertson, Matt Thornton, Shawn Kelly, Bryan Mitchell.

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