The Daily Breakfast: Aug. 3, 2011

Good Wednesday morning, afternoon or evening.

Thanks to everyone who passed along birthday wishes to yours truly yesterday. It was a great day, capped by a soggy Tigers win. The photo here is the cake a friend of mine made for me. It tasted as good as it looks.

Leading Off: The Tigers failed to take advantage of scoring chances aplenty against Colby Lewis, withstood the sudden reappearance of Joaquin Benoit and prevailed thanks to Brennan Boesch‘s heroics to take game one of the three-game set against the Rangers, 6-5. Despite blowing the lead, Benoit did his best Aurelio Lopez immitation hanging around to earn the win. … In the 35 series the Tigers have played this season (not including one-game makeups), the club has won the first game in only 15 of them.

Around the Central: Detroit was the only Central-division team to win on Tuesday night: The Red Sox had a 3-2, walk-off win over the Indians, the Yankees thumped the White Sox 6-0 in a rain-shortened seven-inning game, the Orioles beat the Royals 8-2 in K.C., and the Angels downed the Twins, 5-1 at the Big A.

[callout title=The Rundown] The Tigers are in first place, 3 games ahead of the Indians.

Today’s Game: Doug Fister (3-12, 3.33 ERA) vs. LHP Matt Harrison (9-7, 2.94 ERA) | 7:05 p.m. – FSD/1270 AM & 97.1 FM

Fister, who will wear number 58, makes his Tigers debut tonight.

He suffered the loss in each of his last seven decisions with Seattle, despite posting a 3.42 ERA over the 10-start stretch dating back to June 4. The seven-game losing streak matches a career long for Fister as he suffered the loss in seven straight decisions with the Mariners May 19-Aug. 4, 2010

Also, Fister enters his start having compiled a 2.96 ERA over his last seven starts dating back to June 21. Opponents are hitting .221 against him during the stretch.

Happy 27th Birthday to Matt Joyce. Today’s also the 39th birthday of Wendell Magee. Happy 59th to Dan Meyer. Also born on this date was hall of famer Harry Heilmann (1894-1951). He hit .342 in 15 seasons with the Tigers (1914, 1916-29).

On this date in 1980, Al Kaline was inducted into the Hall of Fame, along with Duke Snider,  Chuck Klein, and Tom Yawkey.

[/callout]

Messing with Texas: The Tigers enter tonight’s game having won 15 of the club’s last 18 games versus the Rangers at Comerica Park dating back to Sept. 11, 2007.

Streaks: The Tigers’ record in their last five games is 3-2; last 10, 5-5; last 15, 9-6; last 20 games: 11-9.

Random Thoughts: Watching Austin Jackson‘s strikeout total mount, does anyone else fear that he’ll become the next Gary Pettis?

Video: On this date in 1960, the Tigers and Indians traded managers. Here’s a video from ESPN that I tried to embed in the post but to no avail.

Bush League or Not? ESPN’s Dave Schoenfield wrote a post about the Justin Verlander/Erick Aybar broo-ha-ha and, like most observers I’ve read, comes down on the side of the Angels’ shortstop:

Verlander wasn’t too happy with the play.

(snip)

You know what I say?

Give me a break.

Aren’t the Angels trying to win a game? They were down 3-0, the bunt is a big part of Aybar’s game, and they’re in a pennant race. It was 3-0 at the time, hardly a blowout. Aybar’s job is to get on base. And it worked — Verlander threw away the bunt attempt for an error and the Angels went on to score two runs.

I think I agree, begrudgingly.

Need gift ideas? I received this morning an email from the Tigers’ online shop offering Tigers locker name tags, at varying prices. On Saturday I tweeted from the Comerica Park pro shop a photo of a Mitch Meluskey locker name tag that could be yours for $5. Now you can get the tags from more notable players and coachesand former players and coaches. How about a David Purcey, Casper Wells or Rick Knapp tag? They got ’em.

Finally, Happy 85th Birthday to incomparable Tony Bennett.

Time to Get More Than the Minimum from Max

[Note: This post also appeared on ESPN.com’s SweetSpot Blog.]

Coming into this week, the Tigers had a rotation in tatters and a bullpen at risk of being overworked. And though Justin Verlander appears to have solved his customary early-season woes—evidenced by his masterful start on Thursday against the Yankees—the rest of the Tigers’ starting five was causing Jim Leyland to tap into his steady relief corps far too early and far too often. Coming into Friday, Tigers starters have the fewest innings pitched (184) in the American League and rank 29th overall.

Things might be looking up in Detroit, though. Rick Porcello at last may be untracked thanks to his performance against the Yankees on Wednesday and Jeremy Bonderman is showing signs that he might (again) be a reliable starter after all. So, at least for now the Tigers’ rotation appears to be steadying itself. That is, except for a guy they expected to gobble up innings in 2010: Max Scherzer.

After a dazzling debut on April 7 in which he held the Royals to one hit over six innings in a no-decision, Scherzer has been nothing but a question mark in Detroit’s rotation. He hasn’t won in nearly as month, he’s given up 48 hits in 37 innings so far, and in his last two starts alone he allowed 15 earned runs in 9.1 IP.

Scherzer enters his Friday start against the Red Sox with a 1-3 record and a bulky 6.81 ERA. He’s also been a major contributor to the number of innings the Tigers bullpen has pitched in the first six weeks of the season: Scherzer averages barely five innings of work.

Not exactly what the Tigers had in mind when they made him a key piece of the Curtis Granderson/Edwin Jackson trade last winter.

But should we be surprised with Scherzer’s struggles adjusting to the American League? Well, if he were regularly facing lineups like the Yankees and Rays, the answer would be yes. But the fact is he’s getting pounded by the likes of the Royals and Indians—and Twins and Rangers and, well, you get the idea. Even with the DH factored in Scherzer should not be faring this poorly against A.L. opponents.

What should the Tigers do with Scherzer? Unfortunately, they have few choices at this point.

With his 1.68 WHIP, Scherzer’s not a candidate for the bullpen. And even if he did move into a relief role, the Tigers aren’t exactly brimming with capable replacements to slot into the rotation. Maybe Armando Galarraga. Or perhaps recently recalled and even more recently demoted Alfredo Figaro.

The Tigers are enchanted with Scherzer’s potential—after all, he was taken by the Diamondbacks with the 11th overall pick in the 2006 draft—and are likely to let pitching coach Rick Knapp tinker with him and hope things click as they have for Verlander, Porcello and, just maybe, Bonderman.

Yes, Scherzer’s upside is tremendous – the guy throws in the mid 90s and he’s only 25 – which explains why the Tigers were so intent on bringing him to Detroit. Though, presumably the club thought he was ready to elevate his performance to a higher level than what he displayed last year for the Diamondbacks in his rookie season.

For now, the Tigers will have to live with some growing pains and hope he starts pitching past the fifth inning—beginning tonight.

2009 Player Profile: Nate Robertson

The results of our most recent poll indicate that loyal Daily Fungo readers would prefer Dontrelle Willis (43%), Zach Miner (38%) or perhaps even Felipe Lira as the Tigers’ fifth starter over Nate Robertson (19%).

Nevertheless, we want to continue our series of player profiles today with The Nater for two reasons — actually three, I just thought of a third: First, he made more starts last season than either Miner or Willis. Second, I already had the profile written. Last, we’ll do our friend and avowed Nater Hater, Ian Casselberry, a favor and get it out of the way.

Nate Robertson #29

  • Height: 6′ 2″ | Weight: 225
  • 2008 Stats: 7-11, 6.35 ERA

RobertsonHead.jpgThe Tigers had no shortage of pitching frustrations in 2008 and one could argue that the most perplexing of all was Robertson. Once considered a core member of the rotation, the lefthander’s performance in ’08 raised questions about whether he could physically and mentally take his game to a higher level. In fact, Robertson’s season was so off-kilter that he found himself in the bullpen after a 5-8, 5.26 ERA first half.

Things improved little after the All Star Break and the 31-year-old enters 2009 as a major question mark. However, if any Tigers pitcher is likely to adopt the mantra of new pitching coach Rick Knapp – throw first-pitch strikes – it’s Robertson, who had above-league-average success in this area in ’08. (Nearly 60 percent of his initial offerings were strikes.)

A reversal of fortune for the Tigers in 2009 will be tied closely to Robertson’s ability to rediscover his command – especially his slider – and log quality starts. The club hopes an off-season exercise regimen designed to improve his flexibility will help him in the short and long term. Barring a Spring Training meltdown, expect him to return to the rotation in 2009 and to stay out of the bullpen.

2009 Player Profile: Justin Verlander

This is the first in a series of player profiles of the 2009 Tigers. I’ve developed them for each of the position players and the starting rotation — at least some of the pitchers in contention for a rotation spot — and will roll them out over the next week.

We kick things off with birthday boy Justin Verlander who turns 26 today.

Justin Verlander #35

  • Height: 6′ 5″ | Weight: 200
  • 2008 Stats: 11-17, 4.84 ERA

VerlanderHead.jpgWhen a number-one starter opens the season 2-9, chances are his team faces a severe uphill climb. That certainly was Justin Verlander’s reality in 2008. When the calendar turned from April to May, the Tigers’ ace had a 1-4 record with a 6.60 ERA, and by Memorial Day he was 2-9. But as the Tigers offense started to click in June, so did Verlander.

In nine starts from June 6 through July 20, he went 7-2 including a six-game winning streak. His ERA in June alone was 2.73 as hitters produced a mere .197 average against him. Ultimately the problem for Verlander in 2008 – and the Tigers’ entire staff – was walks. In 33 starts he issued 20 more free passes and fanned 20 fewer men than he did in ’07, fueling a 11-17 record and a 4.84 ERA.

Looking ahead to 2009, the Tigers and new pitching coach Rick Knapp will expect Verlander to have greater command of his explosive stuff and regain the dominant form of 2006 and ’07. Watch for Verlander to reclaim the inner part of the plate in ’09, and use a near-triple-digit fastball and devastating breaking pitches to remind A.L. hitters that he’s one baseball’s elite starting pitchers.