Saturday Non Sequiturs: Memories of 2003, Infante’s Future and Wang Chung Tonight

Catching up on this and that while the temperature hits 111 on my back porch — in the shade.

Earlier today I tweeted the recap of the June 29, 2003, Tigers/Diamondbacks game at Comerica Park. The most notable nugget from the boxscore was Jose Valverde‘s six-pitch, four-strike, three-batter save. What a difference 10 years can make. Of the players appearing in that game, only Valverde, Andres Torres, Ramon Santiago and Fernando Rodney are still in the majors.

Then-Dbacks manager Bob Brenly is back in Arizona’s TV booth (from where he was plucked in 2001 to replace Buck Showalter). Alan Trammell and his Tigers bench coach Kirk Gibson have swapped roles and now lead the Diamondbacks. And, we know where Jose Valverde is these days.

Baseball really is the game of retreads.

***

Every time I see Omar Infante make a nifty play or have a multiple-hit game, I can’t help but think back to 2009 and Placido Polanco. Coming off a Gold Glove season in which he hit .285, the Tigers didn’t offer him a contract and handed the keys to second base to the (still) unproven Scott Sizemore.

Are we heading toward a replay after this season with free-agent-to-be Infante? I sure hope not.

When the Tigers cut Polanco loose after five-ish seasons, he was 33. Infante turns 32 the day after Christmas. Why would they part ways with him again? Hernan Perez is hitting. 299 at Erie these days and earned a sip of coffee last season with Detroit, but is he the answer at second base? I’m not so sure.

I’d like to see Infante re-signed for two more seasons and keep at least part of the keystone combo intact for awhile … and avoid another Sizemore situation.

What do you think?

***

Like most Tigers fans, I’m waiting for Victor Martinez to thaw from his low-.200s freeze. He will, right? Yes, I think he will and it will likely be after the All-Star Game. I don’t mind Jim Leyland riding it out with Martinez in the five hole. What other option do they have? None, really.

***

When Leyland selects reserves for the All-Star Game in two weeks will Drew Smyly be among the final roster? I think he should be. I mean, look at his line coming into play today:

W L W-L% ERA G GF SV IP H R ER HR BB SO WHIP BB/9 SO/9
3 0 1.000 2.25 28 7 2 48.0 36 12 12 1 14 48 1.042 2.6 9.0

Yeah, that’s an All Star.

***

By any chance did you catch this story last week on Gary Sheffield, Baseball Agent, in The New York Times? Sheff’s only client is Jason Grilli and here’s some gold from the agent himself:

As a middle reliever in Detroit, Grilli had used sinkers and curveballs to minimize his pitch count and save the rest of the bullpen.

Sheffield did not approve. As with everything, he was blunt in his assessment of his client.

“I told Jason my honest opinion of his pitching style, and he knew I didn’t like it,” Sheffield said. “I let him know, ‘Your stuff and your results don’t match up.’ He’s a big guy with a hard sinker and filthy slider, and when I see that, I think that’s closer stuff — he just had to believe it. Just because someone tells you you’re not that type of pitcher, that don’t mean anything to you.”

Man, I miss Sheff.

***

Finally, enjoy this bit of ’80s goodness courtesy of Dr. Frasier Crane:

Have a great weekend.

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Valverde?

It’s been more than 24 hours since Valverde did his latest hack job on a brilliant outing by a starting pitcher. And most of Michigan is still pretty furious. I immediately declared myself part of the “Anyone But Valverde” camp, and I stick by that. But now, someone has to figure out the “Anyone” part. The one thing we do know (or hope) is that the Tigers realize they can’t afford to use Papa Grande in the ninth inning ever again. Plenty of articles, blogs, tweets, and Facebook posts have given their opinions, so I might as well throw my two cents in. Here are the five in-house choices, in order from least objectionable to most heinous:

1. Joaquin Benoit: The good news is he’s here, he’s pitching well, and he has closing experience. The bad news is he has a history of bouts with longballitis. Then there’s the fact that he’d be vacating the 8th inning slot.

2. Drew Smyly: He’s young, versatile, pitching well, and has a much better repertoire than the usual closer. The problem with him is similar to the problem with Benoit: vacating the role he currently holds. Not to mention the fact that it could delay and/or harm his development as a closer (although a similar move didn’t seem to hurt Chris Sale). If Benoit gets the nod as closer, Smyly could be be the 7th-8th inning guy.

3. Bruce Rondon: He’s dominating AAA hitters, but he’s still having control issues. the best course, if they bring him up, may be to put him in the 7th-8th inning roles and let him work his way into the closer role, with Benoit or Smyly keeping the spot warm for him.

4. Putkonen/Downs: Neither is the prototypical closer, but both have been effective in long-relief stints at times.

5. Phil Coke: Coke’s 2013 struggles, especially against right-handers, have been well-documented. He’s not the answer any more than Valverde was.

Of course, there’s always the chance that Dombrowski could trade for a closer, or another bullpen arm who would free up one of the above for the role.

My favorite trade targets would be San Diego’s Luke Gregerson or Washington’s Drew Storen. Neither of these is probably realistic. Washington has the depth to trade Storen, but why should they? They’d ask for a lot. Same with Gregerson. He’s young, cheap, and probably San Diego’s closer of the future after they trade Huston Street.

Street is probably available but would cost significant talent, and he’s not having a great year either. Plus, he’s currently hurt.

Jonathan Papelbon might be available, but he’s getting stupid money for the next three years. Of course that money could keep Philly from asking for top prospects (read: Castellanos or Garcia) for him. The other problem is I can’t stand him. But he’d be just what the Tiger bullpen needs.

Brian Wilson‘s name occasionally floats into the conversation, but no one is sure how healthy his arm is. Not to mention that he’s an attention-craving loon.

The other closers or possible-closers that the non-contenders may offer up would surely cost the cream of the farm system crop.

So we’re back to the question of who will close for the Tigers. The only answer anyone (except Leyland) is sure of is “Anyone but Valverde.”

Mud Hens Sign New Closer

So perhaps we haven’t seen the last of Jose Valverde in a Tigers uniform after all.

Chris Iott reports Valverde signed a minor-league deal …

with no major-league commitment from the Detroit Tigers — general manager Dave Dombrowski announced late this morning.

Valverde will report to extended spring training in Lakeland and face some hitters before joining Triple-A Toledo.

Is this a sign of desperation after yesterday’s ninth-inning loss to the Twins? Not according to the story; the Tigers watched Valverde pitch recently and liked what they saw – more zip on the heater and a good splitter.

So Bruce Rondon, was probably thinking he might have to compete with Valverde in Spring Training, if the Tigers re-signed him. He likely didn’t figure he’d have to compete or pitch alongside Valverde in Toledo.

If nothing else, it will be an interesting Papa Grande Watch for the next 30 days.

Tigers Today: Opening Day 2013 | Tigers @ Twins 4:10 p.m ET

Leading Off: Today marks the 113th Opening Day in Tigers history. The Tigers are 52-59-1 in the previous 112 season openers.
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The Tigers are in first place. And so are the Twins. But the Rangers are not, and that’s always a good thing.

Today’s Game: Tigers @ Twins | 4:10 p.m. ET | On the air: FSD/AM 1270 and 97.1 FM

Justin Verlander vs. RHP Vance Worley

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This is the seventh time the Tigers have opened the against the Twins, the first time since March 31, 2003 at Comerica Park. Previous openers:

Last year on Opening Day the Tigers beat the Red Sox 3-2. You might recall that Jose Valverde began his season the way it would end six months later: with a blown save. Before that, though, Justin Verlander was tremendous: eight innings of two-hit, shutout baseball: with seven Ks. Austin Jackson delivered the winning run in the ninth with a single to left.

Around the Central:

Today

Royals (Shields) @ White Sox (Sale), 4:10 ET

Tuesday

Indians (Masterson) @ Blue Jays (Dickey), 7:07 ET

Minutiae

Happy Birthday, Will Rhymes, 30; Rusty Staub, 69; and Ron Perranoski, 77.

Finally, no matter what our expectations are for the Tigers this year – or any other – they will never be lower than what we fans experienced 10 years ago. And to help us keep that perspective, this year we will be charting the 2003 Tigers right alongside the ’13 club. And watch as they go in distinctly different directions.

Enjoy the game.

2012 Top 10 Stories: #2 – Tigers Win the Pennant

Given how the Tigers’ 2012 season went, months of frustration and a division title that came at the 11th hour, a trip to the World Series was far from assured. Far.

As dominoes fell late in the year, the Tigers ALDS opponent depended on which team, the A’s or Rangers, won the A.L. West. They might play the Orioles. Or the A’s. Or the Yankees. No matter which club they played in the first round, a bad match up could’ve been awaiting the Tigers.

In the end, it was the red-hot A’s which vanquished the Rangers in a stunning sweep to end the season. The good news was that the series, thanks to baseball’s new two-three scheduling, started at Comerica Park and not in Oakland where the A’s had mixed up an amazing collection of comeback wins in 2012. Even with Justin Verlander starting Game 1 against rookie Jarrod Parker, the A’s had a kind of juju that made Tigers fans (at least this one) nervous.

A leadoff  home run by Coco Crisp didn’t help. But the Tigers cobbled together enough offense to take the game 3-1. (And who knew we’d witnessed Jose Valverde‘s final save as Tigers closer. More on that in a moment.)

Game 2 featured shaky relief work by Joaquin Benoit and walkoff heroics by Don Kelly to secure a 5-4 win and a 2-0 series lead. Out in Oakland, the series tightened after the A’s won Game 3 and mounted a late comeback in Game 4 to force a winner-take-all Game 5. Thankfully, Verlander was locked in and the Tigers offense gave him plenty of support to send Detroit to the ALCS for the second consecutive year – but this time against the Yankees.

Was I alone in thinking the Tigers were due for the Yankees to exact revenge for New York’s 2006 and 2011 exits? No? Well, I prepared myself for that possibility.

The ALCS got off to a tremendous start in Game 1 with the Tigers leading 4-0 heading to the bottom of the ninth. That’s when Valverde brought to life the worst-case scenario – one like fans witnessed in Game 4 of the ALDS when he surrendered three runs to give the A’s a walkoff win. This time, Valverde gave up four runs on a pair of two-run shots, the first by Ichiro and then one by Raul Ibanez.

In the top of the 12th a Jhonny Peralta ground ball to Derek Jeter changed the series dramatically and for good. Jeter landed awkwardly and saw his season end with a broken ankle. The Tigers scored two in the inning and Drew Smyly shut down New York in the bottom half to earn Detroit an exhausting 1-0 series lead.

The rest of the series was filled with intriguing story lines: Phil Coke‘s emergence as closer, Anibal Sanchez‘s brilliant Game 2 shutout, the Yankees’ offensive drought.

Even though the series ended in a sweep,  it wasn’t completely dominant. Other than in the 8-1 Game 4 win, the Tigers didn’t pile on the runs. Sure, they scored six in Game 1 but only because Valverde didn’t allow the first four runs to stand up. In Games 2 and 3 they scored a combined five runs. But the Yankees scored six in the entire series – and who saw that coming?

The same people who predicted a Tigers sweep of the Yankees to with the American League pennant.

The Top 10 Stories of 2012

What They’re Saying About Game 1

Cruising around the Web, here are some more notable points on the Tigers’ Game 1 win:

On Jose Valverde

“I don’t think so,” Valverde said early Sunday when asked if he thought he would lose his role. “I’ve been doing my job for a long time. I think I can do it. There’s nothing you can do. It’s in the past, it’s over. You have to get ready for tomorrow. – Valverde’s Struggles Continue With a Collapse in The New York Times

“If anybody is happy with Jose Valverde at this point, raise your hand. Anyone? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? No, I didn’t think so.” – Jim Caple, Tigers must avoid using Valverde, ESPN.com

“Eight innings of shutout artistry against the Yankees was wiped away because of Valverde’s disintegration.

It leaves the Tigers in crisis at the very point they can taste a shot at the world championship. It leaves Leyland a target for second-guessers, which might include his bosses.

It leaves them in a collective mess. In essence, the Tigers have no closer.” – Lynn Henning, Jose Valverde’s implosion leaves Tigers bullpen a mess

“Valverde’s been so awful in his last two outings, first against the A’s and now against the Yankees, that Leyland might finally make a move. And it’s not like he doesn’t have any options. The obvious choice to replace Valverde as closer is Dotel. He’s old, but you might also say he’s experienced, and does have 109 career saves. More to the point, he’s pitched better than Valverde in each of the last two seasons. And if Leyland really wants to get radical, he could also dump Benoit as his eighth-inning guy, and let Coke and Al Alburquerque take some of those setup innings.” – Rob Neyer, After Game 1, Joe Girardi and Jim Leyland both face agonizing choices

On Derek Jeter’s Injury

“They still have a chance for a glorious final image from this season. But unless they win eight more games, the Yankees of 2012 will be defined by two portraits of pain, flashing neon reminders of the subtler message the game tells its fans every year. We are all getting older, even the players who seem eternally young. And the end often comes without warning.” – Tyler Kepner, The New York Times.

On Delmon Young‘s Game 1 heroics:

“I just went completely blind,” he said. “It kind of handcuffed me, but I didn’t see for the last 5 or 10 feet.” — Nick Swisher.

An Inexplicable Post about an Inexplicable Game

Ok. Let’s think about this.

Jim Leyland said in his post-game interview that he and his coaching staff will discuss the closer situation. Yeah, I’m sure they’ll discuss it and I’d love to hear someone say this: “Describe an ideal scenario for us to bring Jose Valverde into a game.” If we’re lucky, the answer is followed by a long, long, crickets-filled pause.

And then another.

I can’t imagine such a scenario. Maybe in a blow out – with the Tigers way behind. I guess.

But wait, the Tigers won this game, people – 6-4 in 12 innings.

Unlike Wednesday’s crushing Game 4 loss to the A’s, they escaped the opponent’s half of the ninth and were able to hang on with some stellar relief from Drew Smyly, whose first career win came at Yankee Stadium and now the same can be said his first post-season win.

That was a long sentence. But after a five-hour game, what else do you expect? This game was long on everything, from terrific pitching by Doug Fister to solid defense to the mystifying Delmon Young.

So, yeah. The Tigers won. But they lost a closer (we think/hope) and now have to think quickly about to do about the ninth inning in Game 2 … and every other game in which they need a closer*. For me the answer is Joaquin Benoit in the seventh, Al Alburquerque in the eighth and Octavio Dotel in the ninth. Or maybe you use Dotel in the eighth and Alburquerque in the ninth.

*Mitch Williams on MLB Network says he thinks Leyland will go with matchups from now on in the ninth inning. Coke and Smyly versus lefties, Dotel and Alburquerque versus righties.

Either way, I don’t see Valverde getting meaningful innings anymore with the Tigers. Like never.

For me this is the bottom line on Game 1: The Tigers toughed out a game that so easily could’ve slipped away in extra innings and would’ve made Game 2 more pressure-packed than it needed to be.

Now they can go into Sunday’s game with even more confidence they can win in New York and make a dream scenario of coming back to Detroit up two games to none a reality.