Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sheffling off

Detroit released Gary Sheffield today, eating $14 million in the process. Sheffield leaves the Tigers with 499 career homers. If he clears waivers, he can be signed for the major league minimum. It'll be interesting to see if anyone takes a chance. Sheff was batting .178/.387/.378 in 45 spring ABs and was coming off an injury plagued 2008.

This most likely means Marcus Thames will not be traded and will see the majority of the DH at-bats this year. Thames was struggling this spring, too, but maybe because of the trade rumors. The dude has homered every 13.5 AB over the past 3 seasons, which translates to 44 taters in 600 AB. He will not help with OBP.

Monday, March 30, 2009


The Tigers failed to improve their pitching situation, but probably improved their bench today by sending minor league reliever Rudy Darrow to the Braves for OF Josh Anderson. Could this be the precursor to another deal?

Although it didn't help the pitching, the trade does give Detroit a viable backup in the outfield and a dimension of speed. Anderson batted .294/.338/.426 with 21 runs and 10 SB (in 11 attempts) last season in 136 AB for Atlanta.

It would not be a surprise to see Anderson take over for Carlos Guillen in late-inning situations, much like the Phillies pulled Pat Burrell from games. Given Guillen's aches and pains, this could be a good thing.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Recommended reading

The other night, I pulled out an anthology of great sports writing and read John Updike's "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu." If you want, you can read it here. I believe it to be brilliant. Here is a sample:

Like a feather caught in a vortex, Williams ran around the square of bases at the center of our beseeching screaming. He ran as he always ran out home runs — hurriedly, unsmiling, head down, as if our praise were a storm of rain to get out of. He didn’t tip his cap. Though we thumped, wept, and chanted “We want Ted” for minutes after he hid in the dugout, he did not come back. Our noise for some seconds passed beyond excitement into a kind of immense open anguish, a wailing, a cry to be saved. But immortality is nontransferable. The papers said that the other players, and even the umpires on the field, begged him to come out and acknowledge us in some way, but he never had and did not now. Gods do not answer letters.

Arms for the poor

Detroit's pitching situation has failed to resolve itself heading into the final week of spring training. This is very disappointing. In fact, there might be more questions now than several weeks ago. The Free Press reports the Tigs tried to work a trade with the Mets for Brian Stokes, but the talks fell through. It seems likely either Ryan Raburn or Marcus Thames will be traded for pitching help. Otherwise, we know Jeremy Bonderman won't be ready for Opening Day, Dontrelle Willis won't be available for a while, and neither Fernando Rodney nor Brandon Lyon has stepped up to claim the closer's job. So, with a week to go, Detroit has yet to adequately fill two-fifths of the rotation and find its ninth-inning man. Sigh.

D-railed again

The Tigers put Dontrelle Willis on the DL with anxiety disorder. A Free Press story says Royals pitcher Zack Greinke missed most of 2006 because of a similar condition. Last year, Greinke had 13 wins, a 3.47 ERA, a 1.28 WHIP and 183 Ks for KC. At this point, no one is certain about Willis' future, although the Tigs hope he can return to the majors this season.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Name game

I'm looking forward to a Henry Henry vs. Jose Jose clash.

Get smart

Jim Leyland summed up the Tigers pitching situation thusly: "Currently, there's a lot of chaos going on."

OK, so it's not KAOS, but we don't have an agent like 99 to bail us out, either. I see Vegas has put the over/under on Detroit's wins at 81.5. Baseball Prospectus projected 78.

Instinctively, I keep thinking the Tigers have to be better than .500 with the talent they have. Of course, that wasn't the case last year and the pitching trends coupled with an aging lineup leave little margin for error again in 2009.

Spring Hope

This is not exactly what I was hoping for.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Five Alive

Spencer Fordin reports that the Orioles starting rotation sweepstakes has been whittled down to 5 candidates for the last 3 spots.

In addition to Jeremy Guthrie and Koji Uehara, 3 of Adam Eaton, Mark Hendrickson, Alfredo Simon, Brian Bass and Hayden Penn are expected to be in the rotation on Opening Day.

Adam Eaton easily brings the best resume to this party - 68-63 with a 4.80 ERA in Major League competition.  He's been shaky the last 3 seasons and this spring as well.

Mark Hendrickson - 50-63, 5.07 ERA - is next best.  He is clearly best suited for a long relief role, but has starting experience and may be required to fill a slot in the rotation.  His spring thus far looks like his career.

Alfredo Simon - 23-40, 5.04 ERA in Minor League competition - is having the best spring of the lot of them.   Based on performance in spring training, he's in.  Based on his minor league numbers (ok in A ball, lit up in AA and AAA), he just isn't good enough.  

Brian Bass - 46-49, 4.18 ERA in Minors,  4-4, 4.84 ERA Majors - is having a solid spring.  Came up through KC's minors, then spent ~two years in the Twins farm system.  Spent part of last year in the Twins bullpen (3-4, 4.87 ERA) before finishing out with the O's (1-0, 4.71 ERA).

Hayden Penn - 32-28, 3.87 ERA in Minors, 3-6, 9.31 ERA in Majors - is taking what is probably his last shot at the Majors with the O's.  His spring has been so-so.  The O's are out of options on him.  I suspect that, while he's not been great, he's been good enough that he probably won't clear waivers if he doesn't make the team.

I expect that Bass is in.  Eaton and Penn need a good outing to nail down slots leaving Hendrickson to the bullpen and Simon to the minors.   Rich Hill is expected to start the season on the DL and in extended spring training.  Hopefully, he can regain form and show up in mid-April to May to take a turn in the rotation from whomever is flailing.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Things you don't want to see even in spring training

Your potential closer giving up 4 HRs in a row.

But it happened today. Detroit's Brandon Lyon gave up consecutive taters to Boston's Mike Lowell, Jason Bay, Chris Carter and Ivan Ochoa.

Fernando Rodney, the Tigs' other potential closer, only gave up 3 runs on 3 hits in 1 inning against the Red Sox. But he did take the loss.

Friday, March 20, 2009

March madness

Dontrelle Willis allowed 7 hits and 2 walks, leading to 5 runs (4 earned) in 2.2 innings yesterday. Word on Tigers.com is Willis returned to his old delivery in his final inning and that maybe something positive will come from it. Hard to imagine Dontrelle getting it back together at this point.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Bonderman got good reviews for 2 shutout innings. And today, Nate Robertson tossed 4 innings of shutout ball, whiffing 5 while allowing only 2 hits and 1 walk. Robertson fired 3 innings of 1-hit ball last Saturday. Plus, Justin Verlander threw 6 sharp innings his most recent time to the mound. Maybe things are turning around for the starters?

A few weeks ago, we noted a story about Brandon Inge's new approach at the plate. Here is an update on Inge's efforts this spring: .294/.400/.559 in 34 ABs.

New catcher Gerald Laird is batting .360/.407/.640 in 25 ABs.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Swinging a mean shillelagh

It's been a long time since we've heard from Joe. We were started to get worried until this photo surfaced, revealing his whereabouts and activities. Glad to see Joe knows how a leprechaun (like a ballplayer) should wear his socks. This photo was taken just after Joe finished taking BP against Johan Santana. Following the encounter, Santana declared himself ready to start on Opening Day.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Wild and crazy guys

Justin Verlander gave up three hits and four walks in a 50-pitch, two-inning outing on Wednesday. He said he pitched better than his stats. This is at least the second time (Dontrelle Willis) that a Tigers starter has uttered such a phrase. It is a relief because the stats are no good.

Entering today, Verlander's ERA was 5.79, which was edged by Edwin Jackson's 5.40 for best among Detroit's starters (not counting Armando Galarraga, who is on WBC tour). Sure, the numbers are based on a small sample and Verlander was working on new mechanics, but I'm getting a little worried.

Remarkably, the team's ERA is 4.28 despite giving up 54 walks (worst behind only Texas' 57). That's because the Tigers have 15 pitchers with ERAs of 3.00 or lower. Of that group, 10 have yet to allow an earned run. I guess that bodes well for the bullpen.

The pitching has kept my focus from the offense, which is putting up a .228/.316/.396 line this spring. Now, this really is unfair because Curtis Granderson, Magglio Ordonez, Miguel Cabrera and Carlos Guillen all are in the WBC. But it might not speak well of Detroit's depth. At least management is getting longer looks at younger players.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

'Fragile' is not Italian

Kyle Kendrick is pitching like a Tiger. That's not a compliment. I mean he is doing as well with his chance to claim the No. 5 spot in the Phillies rotation as Dontrelle Willis, Nate Robertson and Zach Miner are doing with Detroit. And by "well," I mean "awful." Kendrick, according to pitching coach Rich Dubee, looked "a little fragile at times" during spring training. Today, he was broken. He gave up 10 hits and was charged with 8 runs (all earned) in three-plus innings against the Braves. Last week, Kendrick gave up four runs in 2.1 innings against Team USA. He is now appearing in the role of Adam Eaton. Next stop -- Baltimore.

Dutch masters

Last night's game between the Dominican Republic and The Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic was terrific. Even though I'm not a big fan of the WBC, I watched the game from the fourth inning to its conclusion. Eugene Kingsale (in photo) -- a former Oriole and Tiger who was knighted in 2004 -- was one of the stars for the Dutch, along with the pitching staff and pitching coach Bert Blyleven. There was trouble with last night's game, particularly play-by-play man Rich Waltz, who tried too hard to be dramatic, and the fact the MLB Network crew missed both ends of the decisive play. They missed showing the batter reaching first base safely and Kingsale scoring the winning run.

Here is the best quote from last night, courtesy the New York Times and David Ortiz: "I tell you, the whole world is shocked now. Even in Japan, they’re like ‘What the heck?’ in Japanese.”

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Hype springs eternal

The excitement around Rick Porcello is building. Yesterday the 20-year-old tossed three innings of shutout ball. He gave up five hits, but walked none. And he showed some moxie by stranding runners on third base in each of his three frames.

This is how Lynn Henning began his story in the Detroit News today: "Subtly, almost accidentally, you can hear in the Tigers' voices and see in their expressions that Rick Porcello is about to become a big-leaguer."

There's still a lot of spring training to go. Maybe someone from the Dontrelle Willis, Nate Robertson, Zach Miner triangle will step up to claim the slot for the No. 5 starter. From all reports, though, Porcello might be the Tigers' best starter and not just someone deserving a spot. Of course, we've seen these stories time and time again. Fortunately, Jim Leyland has refrained from saying anything like, "If you don't like Rick Porcello, you don't like ice cream."

Monday, March 09, 2009

Walking away

Nate Robertson and Dontrelle Willis combined for six walks, six hits and five runs in four innings yesterday against the Yankees. Rick Porcello starts tonight for the Tigers and might have taken a step closer to being on the roster when spring training ends. Or maybe it was Robertson and Willis who took steps back. Either way, I'm glad there's still a little more than three weeks to sort out this situation. Or not. On Saturday, Edwin Jackson gave up three walks, one hit and three runs in three innings vs. the Phillies. On Friday against the Yanks, Justin Verlander walked only one, but threw 50 pitches in 2.1 innings. He gave up four hits and four runs (three earned).

Who Can It Be Now?

2 more have been eliminated in the O's starting rotation sweepstakes. The O's are now down to 32 of the original 37, however, the recent addition of Adam Eaton bumps the original number to 38 and leaves the remaining number of hopefuls at 33.

It still won't be enough.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Young guns

Rick Porcello (photo) got high marks for his 2 innings of work yesterday against Panama. He struck out 3, walked 2 and allowed only an infield single. Ryan Perry, who was last year's No. 1 pick by the Tigs, pitched a scoreless inning, too. He appeared in 14 minor league games last season, all in relief, and had four saves with a 3.29 ERA and 1.61 WHIP. (Perry was a starter and reliever during his college days at Arizona.)

Here is how MLB.com quoted Jim Leyland: "I'm looking at them close. Do they have a chance? They have a chance. Would it be the best thing? I don't know. But I know one thing: You watch, and it makes you stop and look. And at some point, it might make you stop and think."

I have to believe Leyland's comments are designed to fire up the veterans who are battling for spots. I cannot believe the Tigers are anxious to bring Porcello and/or Perry to Detroit when camp breaks. But, I also believe Leyland will do what is best for the club, and if that means one or both of the youngsters is on the final roster, so be it.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Major stuff

Rick Porcello starts today for the Tigs. The 20-year-old (and he only turned 20 in December) seemed destined to head to the minors this season, but with Jeremy Bonderman's shoulder woes, who knows? Here is the way Tigers.com quoted Jim Leyland: "I'm looking for pitching. That's all I'm going to tell you. You can write into it whatever you want."

It still seems unlikely the Tigers will rush Porcello. From what I've read, they limited him to a 75-pitch count last season, so it might be tough to jump to the big leagues. Porcello was 8-6 with a 2.66 ERA and 1.19 WHIP at high-A Lakeland. He threw only 125 innings and struck out 72 while walking 33. The K-rate doesn't indicate the stuff Porcello has. Again, I read he was limited in pitch selection and focused on getting outs early in the count rather than posting strikeouts.

So, we'll see how this plays out. Detroit still has Nate Robertson, Dontrelle Willis, and Zach Miner battling for the final spot (as long as Bonderman is OK) in the rotation. But there is already little doubt Porcello seems to be the best talent.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Hope they didn't dig in

The Tigers faced Venezuela's World Baseball Classic squad today and that means Dontrelle Willis pitched against Detroit teammates Miguel Cabrera, Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen. Given Willis' struggles with control, wasn't there another option? Couldn't Kenny Rogers have been coaxed out of retirement (or whatever) to soft toss to the boys?

Oddly, the number of Tigers facing each other (Armando Galarraga pitched for Venezuela) seemed to gain little attention compared to Derek Jeter playing against the Yankees. I feel a Jeter rant building, so I'm going to end here.

Aw, hell, I can't. They love showing Jeter falling into the stands on that catch he made in 2004, but he'd already caught the ball before he fell into the seats. There have been guys that have made plays far more impressive while in the act of actually catching the ball in the seats. And remember that play Chase Utley made in the World Series, faking a throw to first and then nailing a guy at the plate? Can you imagine if Jeter made that play? Songs probably would've been written about it.

Aside from 1999, when Jeter had a superstar-caliber season, he's been nothing more than a good to very good player. His career adjusted OPS+ of 120 ranks with Shawn Green and Richie Sexson. It's not even as good as Jorge Posada's (124) or Hideki Matsui's (123). An OPS+ of 120 ranks tied for 329 in history according to baseball-reference.com. Not that OPS+ is the be all and end all; I'm just saying. (And let's not even talk defense.)

So, anyway, I wish the Tigers didn't pitch Willis against their own guys and I'm glad everyone escaped unscathed.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Aches and pains

Jeremy Bonderman returned to Detroit to have doctors examine his sore right shoulder. Sparky returned to the medicine cabinet to get aspirin for the ache in his head.

Stanley might be making a similar trip, for a different reason. Baltimore signed Adam Eaton to a minor league deal. Maybe the old "change of scenery" will do Eaton good. I suppose it's a low risk, high reward move by the O's, who are in desperate need of pitching, especially with Rich Hill missing a start because of elbow pain.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Cement shoes

Sparky, Laura, Mark and Mark's mom attended the Philadelphia Flower Show today. One of the exhibits included a statue wearing a Phillies cap. The form of the statue was female, otherwise Sparky was sure it was a tribute to ex-Phil Pat Burrell and his defensive prowess. (Baseball Prospectus might never top the line about no matter how close Burrell appears to a ball, he's still only halfway there.)