Fungoes

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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

Have a great weekend.

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Fungoes

2012 Top 10 Stories: #8 – The Black Hole at Second Base

Remember when Scott Sizemore was the answer to the Tigers’ second base question? After nearly five seasons of Placido Polanco’s wizardry at second, and in the number-two slot of the lineup, the Tigers tried to convince fans – and maybe themselves – that Sizemore could take over with gusto.

After 65 games spread across two seasons, Sizemore was dealt to Oakland and suddenly second base became a giant black hole. Again.

In 2010, Carlos Guillen and Will Rhymes both played more games at second than Sizemore, fully cementing the second-base-by-committee approach.

Last season, Ryan Raburn made his play for the job, appearing in 56 games at second and committing 10 errors in 201 chances. Backed by his usual second-half surge, he convinced the Tigers he could hold down the job full-time in 2012.

The assumption, naturally, was that Raburn would hit enough to mask some lead-gloved D. (The same was said of Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera and, to a lesser degree, Jhonny Peralta.)

Except, he didn’t hit well enough to warrant a job anywhere on the diamond. Neither did Plan B, Ramon Santiago.

Combined, Plan A and Plan B hit .189.

That’s why, as the July 31 Trade Deadline inched closer, the Tigers were linked to every available second baseman in the majors: from Darwin Barney to Kelly Johnson to the man the landed on July 26 along with Anibal Sanchez: the prodigal son Omar Infante.

Having a full-time second baseman certainly settled the lineup but Infante look anything but settled at times, at least defensively after his arrival. He made nine errors in 267 chances over 61 games at second, At the plate, he hit .257: 80 points higher than Raburn and 50 more than Santiago.

Heading into 2013, Infante is the incumbent at second and in the final year of his contract. Given the slim pickings in the Tigers’ minor-league system, a solid first half could earn the 31-year-old Infante a contract extension and make him the second baseman for the foreseeable future … just as he was in 2001.

Go figure.

The Top 10 Stories of 2012

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Fungoes

Who’s the Tigers’ Youkilis?

White Sox third basemen are hitting something like .180 this season with a single home run. As usual, Ken Williams does his thing and plugs in Kevin Youkilis to anchor the hot corner.

Tigers second basemen are hitting .196 (.192 if you include 20 at bats from Brandon Inge and a pair from Hernan Perez) with three* home runs – two from Ramon Santiago and one from Ryan Raburn). Dave Dombrowski is looking to plug this hole with … Matt Garza. Wha-?

*It’s four if you add Inge’s one homer.

I get why DD is looking for a dependable arm in the fourth spot; Rick Porcello‘s days in the Tigers rotation should be drawing to a close and who wants to see two rookies at the four and five spot? Not me. (Though, of course, I love what Drew Smyly has done and what Jacob Turner will do later this year or next, but come on.)

My guess is the Tigers are looking for – have to be looking for – a package deal with Garza and maybe second baseman Darwin Barney to patch the roster.

As I’m watching Tigers games I picture the opposing second baseman in a strategically placed slot of Jim Leyland‘s lineup maybe hitting second.

But as Lynn Henning writes today, just about every team is alive in their division and has needs of their own. You have only to look at the Pirates’ offense to see that teams hovering near the top of their division could use a serving of firepower.

If the Tigers are going to make a move chances are it will involve lots of bodies, like last year’s Doug Fister trade, right? And if they do, it can’t result in only one decent player coming to Detroit (calling David Pauley.)

My guess is Dombrowski isn’t feeling any pressure because of Williams picking up Youkilis. He’s been dealing with him for 10 years in the A.L. Central. Any pressure is coming from the calendar, the lineup and perhaps the owner.

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Fungoes

The Monday Report: Bad Penny, Power Rankings and Elliot Gould

Welcome to the end of August, in which the Tigers have amassed a 16-9 record so far. The boys returned home after a 5-2 road trip for four against the Royals.

[callout title=The Monday Rundown]

The Tigers are in first place, 6 games ahead of the White Sox, 6.5 ahead of the Indians.

Today’s Game: Tigers vs. Royals – Max Scherzer (13-7, 4.21 ERA) vs. Luke Hochevar (8-10, 4.91 ERA) | 7:05 p.m. – FSD/1270 AM and 97.1 FM

Notes on Scherzer:

Scherzer enters his start this evening versus Kansas City with a 4-3 record and 2.97 ERA over his last nine starts dating back to July 7.

He’s making his 15th start of the season at Comerica Park this evening against the Royals. He is 6-3 with a 3.44 ERA in his first 14 starts at home in 2011.

Lifetime, Scherzer is 4-3, 2.85 ERA against Kansas City.

Notes on Hochevar:

Hochevar will make his fourth start against the Tigers in tonight’s series opener, his third at Comerica Park. He’s 1-1 with a no decision, sporting a 6.48 ERA … both of his decisions have come in Detroit: a 9-5 victory during the Royals first trip of the season on April 10 and then a 3-1 loss on May 13 … he’s allowed 6 earned runs on 12 hits in 13 innings here in Detroit this season, with 5 home runs, all solo shots.

Lifetime, Hochevar is 3-4 against the Tigers with a 5.10 ERA in 10 games, including 9 starts, and is 2-2 at Comerica Park with a 6.04 ERA in 5 games.

Miguel Cabrera is hitting .480 off Hochevar.

[/callout]

Leading Off: Brad Penny proved to be a stopper after all: a momentum stopper. Maybe it was too much to ask for, a sweep of the Twins in the last trip to Target Field this season, but the Tigers lost with a flourish, 11-4. Ramon Santiago collected four hits but other than that, it was a stinker. And what about poor David Pauley? The forgotten man of the bullpen might have showed once and for all why he is the forgotten man of the bullpen: 2 IP, 4 hits, 4 runs (all earned), a walk and homer. Meanwhile, Wilson Betemit is hitting 110 points higher than Brandon Inge Carlos Guillen is slated to begin an injury rehabilitation assignment with Triple A Toledo tonight and soon thereafter will throw second base into disarray.

Around the Central: The Royals did their part to help the Tigers to no avail, beating the Indians 2-1, and the White Sox finished off a sweep of the Mariners, 9-3.

The Tigers moved up two spots in ESPN’s Power Rankings this week to number 7, seven spots ahead of the Indians and nine ahead of the White Sox.

Alex Avila extended his current hitting streak to 12 games yesterday at Minnesota. He compiled a 10-game hitting streak earlier in the month, doing so August 2-13. Avila is the first Tigers player to have two hitting streaks of 10 games-or-better in a single month since Roger Cedeno(!) did so in May of 2001. Cedeno posted two 10-game hitting streaks that month for the Tigers, doing so May 1-11 and May 15-25.

Paul Sporer wrote that Justin Verlander’s20th win was nothing but a symptom of greatness.

Joe Janish looks at waiver wire deals of the pastand finds two Tigers deals worth mentioning, if not remembering.

On this date in 1925, the city of Detroit hosted a dinner for Ty Cobb honoring his 20 years in a Tiger uniform. He was given a trophy by the city and $10,000 by the club.

On Aug. 29, 1959, Hamtramck won the Little League World Series at Williamsport, Pa.

Finally, Happy 73rd Birthday to actor Elliot Gould who is known for many roles, but my favorite will always be that of Reuben Tishkoff in “Ocean’s 11” and 12 and 13.

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Fungoes

Trade Review: Tigers acquire Wilson Betemit

AP

Wednesday afternoon the Detroit Tigers announced a trade, the first in Major League Baseball since Francisco Rodriguez was sent to the Brewers on the night of the All-Star game. The Tigers kicked off what is sure to be a slew of near deadline deals in the next ten days by acquiring third basemen Wilson Betemit from the Royals in exchange for Single-A prospects LHP Antonio Cruz and catcher Julio Rodriguez.

Betemit’s offensive production (.281/.341/.409 in 226 PAs this year) will surely be a welcome addition to Detroit’s lineup, which is ranked fifth in the American League in runs scored despite getting a pathetic .186/.251/.249 line from third base this season. Brandon Inge, the longest tenured Tigers player, is the one responsible for that horrific triple slash line leading many to wonder as to why the organization signed him to a 2-year/$11.5M contract before the season. It’s not as if Inge’s 2011 struggles have come out of the blue as his triple slash line since the start of ‘07 is .226/.307/.375. The Tigers knew they weren’t signing an “offensive” third basemen this off-season, but perhaps they were a little overzealous giving that dollar figure to a middling player approaching his decline years.

The addition of Betemit plugs up the only gaping hole the Tigers had in their lineup. The question now becomes who goes from the 25-man roster to make room for Betemit when he joins the club for the upcoming Minnesota series. The candidates are Inge (of course), Ramon Santiago, and Don Kelly. Despite the fans and Manager’s love affair with Donnie Kelly, I actually believe that Santiago would be the more useful bench piece at the moment. The way the Tigers infield is currently with Betemit and Carlos Guillen, having a good defensive replacement off the bench is going to be key. That comment is directed at Guillen, who has shown very little in terms of range at second base in his short time in the majors. Kelly’s value, on the other hand, lies in the fact that he can play multiple positions which isn’t to say that he can play them all well as he can be quite shaky in the infield.

The prospects going the other way here represent a pretty decent return for Kansas City. Cruz is a young lefty who sits at 89-91 mph and has a potentially plus pitch in his curveball. Rodriguez has been called the best defensive catcher in the Tigers system and his fielding is so strong some think he could make the majors as a backup even if his bat never develops, though he’s hitting .283 at Lakeland. Needless to say, but the Tigers won’t be missing either of these players anytime soon.

Nick Shlain, a Journalism student at Eastern Michigan University, writes for Detroit Baseball Page.com. You can follow him on Twitter @nshlain.

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Fungoes

Verlander Dominated, but AJax Played Too Deep

This post was written by Nick Shlain, a Journalism student at Eastern Michigan University. He writes for Detroit Baseball Page.com. You can follow him on Twitter @nshlain. Look for occasional posts from Nick on The Daily Fungo.


I thought he had it. I really did. Earlier in the year I wrote that Justin Verlander could have another no-hitter this summer and I still believe that (he’ll face the Indians again, right?).

AustinJacksonTuesday night was the tenth time in Verlander’s career that he carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning. It was also his third complete game of the year and second shutout. And third career two-hitter.

With a league-leading 105 strikeouts and microscopic 0.87 WHIP there is little debate over who should start the All-Star Game for the American League at this point.

Verlander dominated with 40 fastballs that registered above 95+ mph, but also was very consistent with his curveball and changeup. It was probably his best start of the year in that regard.

I remember marveling at Verlander after his no-no in Toronto because he threw it without the command of his curveball. He only had four strikeouts in that start, the last of which came on a slider to Rajai Davis to end the game. He was able to get weak contact by pounding the zone with his fastball the entire night.

Verlander was a different kind of dominant Tuesday night as he was able to baffle the Indians with tremendous breaking stuff as he set down 12 on strikes, including Grady Sizemore four times.

The no-hitter was lost with one out in the 8th inning when Orlando Cabrera lined a 99-mph fastball that was on the outside corner into shallow center.

Most people are saying this was a bad break for Verlander as Cabrera happened to put a nice swing on it, but if there’s anything to complain about on the play its that centerfielder Austin Jackson was simply just playing too deep. In my opinion, he’s playing too deep for Orlando Cabrera at anytime of the game.

It was just Monday that Comerica Park saw how shallow B.J. Upton plays anyone and everyone. It burned Upton and the Rays when Miguel Cabrera and
Ramon Santiago hit balls that he wasn’t able to cutoff, but the true mark of a great centerfielder is how shallow you play. Torii Hunter isn’t the best centerfielder of the generation because he makes highlight catches, its Andruw Jones because he played shallow and still got to basically everything in the same zip code.

If I’m Austin Jackson, I’d have taken a few big steps in and make the not-so-scary
Cabrera hit the ball over my head. Upton was playing in with Joel Peralta on the mound against Miguel (!) Cabrera late in a tight game.

Late in a no-hitter with the Tigers leading by four and Verlander is pumping 99-mph gas there is no excuse for playing Cabrera that deep in that spot. Where he was playing he had no shot, but if he’s playing in with his closing speed he definitely has a shot a catching it with a few steps and a dive.

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Fungoes

Pondering a Mid-Week Pounding

Thinking ManI’ve never been fond of that old baseball chestnut, attributed to long-time Orioles manager Earl Weaver, “Momentum is tomorrow’s starting pitcher”, but how else can you characterize the atrocities at Comerica Park this week?

Fresh off a once-in-a-millennium sweep of the White Sox, the Tigers, well, got smoked by the lowly Mariners thanks to three more or less devastating pitch performances. Smoked.

There were so many moments and plays during this series that could’ve turned a game in Detroit’s favor but went the other way — big time.

If I had to choose the turning point in the series, it had to be the top of the fifth in game one on Tuesday night. The Tigers clawed back to tie the game at three — a major hurdle when facing Felix Hernandez — only to watch Phil Coke hand the lead and the game back to the Mariners by allowing four runs.

Talk about a momentum killer.

And then there were the errors: five in three games, four on Wednesday alone.

And, how about that bruising top three spots in the lineup for Thursday’s finale? Austin Jackson, Ramon Santiago and Magglio Ordonez amassed an average of .180. In fact, five players in Thursday’s lineup finished the game with an average of .200 or lower.

And, how about Ryan Raburn’s performance — any facet you choose?

Right now, things look bleak for the Tigers’ offensively and it appears they now lack any momentum.

Then again, tomorrow’s starting pitcher is the Indians’ Jeanmar Gomez, whose record is 0-1, 7.36.

Maybe I like that old adage after all.

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