Friday, July 31, 2009

Tigers boost title chances with trade for lefty Washburn

        Concerned about the prospect of having to make a run for the American League Central title with two rookie pitchers in their starting rotation, the Tigers on Friday acquired veteran left hander Jarrod Washburn from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for rookie Luke French and a minor league prospect.
        It certainly looks like a steal -- even though the Tigers will probably only be renting Washington for the rest of this year.
        The 34-year-old Washburn, who will be a free agent at the end of this season, turned his career around  this year after three lackluster seasons at Seattle. Washburn has an 8-6 record and a 2.64 ERA, third lowest in the league. And  sources say he has pitched much better than his win total indicates. Washburn beat the Tigers, 2-1, at Comerica Park last week.
        “We are excited to add an established starter the caliber of Jarrod Washington to our club,” Tigers’ president/GM Dave Dombrowski said in a statement announcing the deal, which came just hours before Friday’s 4 p.m. (EDT) trade deadline.
        “Washburn is having a tremendous season and he has been a quality major league starter throughout his career.”
        Washburn, who is scheduled to make his Detroit debut on Tuesday night against the Baltimore Orioles at Comerica Park, gives the Tigers the veteran left-handed starter that they have lacked all season because of Dontrelle Willis’ anxiety disorder and the ineffectiveness and injury to Nate Robertson.
        A 12-year veteran, Washburn pitched for the Los Angeles Angels from 1998-2005.  He has a 106-106 lifetime record with a 4.02 career ERA.
        The addition of Washburn and the  departure of French leaves Rick Porcello as the lone rookie in the Tigers’ rotation.
        This marks the third time in four years that the Tigers have made a trade deadline deal. They picked up Sean Casey in 2006 and swapped Pudge Rodriguez for Kyle Farnsworth last year.
        French, who started five games for the Tigers this season after he was promoted from Toledo, posted a 1-2 record and a 3.38 ERA.
        Minor leaguer Mauricio Robles was 8-6 with a 4.24 ERA at Class A Lakeland and West Michigan this season. He will report to the Class A High Desert team in the Mariners’ farm system.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Relievers Rodney, Ni bridge language barrier

        To the best of my knowledge, Fernando Rodney does not speak a word of Chinese. And Fu-Te Ni doesn’t speak Spanish.
        Yet there the two relievers were, on the Tigers’ last homestand, huddled along with Ni’s interpreter near the far corner of the noisy locker room, quietly discussing the fine art of pitching, with their limited English as the common ground.
        Ni would ask a question in Chinese. Ni’s interpreter, Fox, would translate that inquiry into English. Rodney, with gestures and with words, would respond. And Fox would then translate Rodney’s answer into Chinese for the nodding Ni.
        In my 40 years around big league baseball, I had never witnessed a scene quite like it.
        That conversation will never show up in a box score -- not directly, anyway. But to me, it was indicative of the attitude that prevails on this Tiger team.
        Elsewhere, unfortunately, the bullpen news was not so good.
        Star-crossed Joel Zumaya, who felt more pain in his shoulder when he tried to throw after receiving two cortisone shots last week, was reportedly slated to be examined Thursday by orthopedic specialist Dr. James Andrews.
        Andrews could recommend immediate surgery, or prescribe most rest.
        Zumaya reportedly has a bone fragment from the stress fracture his suffered last season floating around in his shoulder. Sooner or later, that is going to have to be removed,

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Road woes, lack of offense have Leyland on edge

        The Tigers’ all-too-often A.W.O.L. offense -- 15 up and 15 down during one do-nothing stretch in Tuesday night’s 7-3 loss to Texas that saw the Tigers blow an early three-run lead -- has Jim Leyland understandably on edge.
        When former Tiger Jason Grilli, never a Leyland favorite, fired a pitch that, in the manager’s opinion, came suspiciously close to Clete Thomas’ head on Tuesday, Zach Miner retaliated with a fastball that sailed behind the back of Rangers’ batter Ian Kinsler.
        Tit for tat.
        None of which, of course, did anything to cure the Tigers’ alarming road woes. Through Tuesday, the Tigers had lost 31 games, including seven in a row, and won just 21 away from Comerica Park. They are 31-16 at home.
        That is a real concern.
        You may have noticed that, contrary to Leyland’s two-platoon plan, Magglio Ordonez has been back in the lineup against right-handed pitchers as well as lefties lately.
        Leyland says he has been impressed by the way Ordonez has been swinging the bat. But the fact is, since the Tigers cut Josh Anderson to make room for Carlos Guillen last Friday, they are short of extra outfielders.
        Guillen isn’t ready to return to left field. He still can’t throw. That leaves Marcus Thames and Ryan Raburn, neither of whom has been hitting much, as the only alternatives. And Raburn’s two errors in left field on Sunday night didn’t help his cause any.
        So, until Guillen can play the field, look for Ordonez to play right, even against some right-handers, while Thomas plays left.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Unfounded trade rumors rankle Leyland as deadline nears

        Trade rumors will run rampant throughout baseball this week as Friday’s deadline for making deals draws near. Some of the gossip may even have some basis in fact.
        The Tigers will not be immune. That worries Jim Leyland.
        “I think it can affect players, absolutely,” the Tigers manager admitted. “It would affect anybody.”
        One supposedly reputable national sports Web site started a rumor this weekend that the Tigers were interested in the Cardinals’ Troy Glaus. Leyland couldn’t wait to shoot that one down. “No disrespect to Troy Glaus, but his name has never been mentioned here, to my knowledge,” Leyland said. “I want to nip that in the bud.”
        Leyland didn't want Brandon Inge, who is hindered by a torn patella in his left knee cap, to worry about losing his job for no reason.
        Then White Sox TV announcer Steve Stone floated an ever more ridiculous rumor that the Tigers had their eye on Milton Bradley, the discontented Chicago Cub. A Web site pounced on Stone’s comment as if it were fact, adding fuel to the fire. “We have absolutely no interest in Milton Bradley,” Leyland declared, dousing that blaze as quickly as he could.
        “So much b.s. is thrown out there, it’s not fair to the players,” the Tigers manager said. “It’s brutal.
        “When there is legitimate stuff out there, I think that’s great. But just to throw stuff out there, that’s disrespectful. That’s just people there’s nothing to it. That’s not good.”

Friday, July 24, 2009

Guillen is back -- but will that be enough?

        Carlos Guillen was one of the first Tigers to arrive at Comerica Park on Friday morning. “I need to find my bats,” he explained. Guillen is back.
        Another early arrival, nearly four hours before the start of Friday’s crucial day-night doubleheader against the Chicago White Sox, was speedster Josh Anderson. He was immediately summoned to manager Jim Leyland’s office. Anderson is gone.
        In an effort to jump start their dormant offense, the Tigers recalled Guillen, who for now will serve as their designated hitter against right-handed pitchers only, and designated Anderson for assignment, which gives the team 10 days during which they will try to trade him.
        However, both Leyland and president/GM Dave Dombrowski admitted Friday that the switch-hitting Guillen, who has been sidelined with a sore right shoulder, is not yet ready to play left field -- or to bat right handed against left-handed pitchers.
        “We’re going to take our time with that,” Dombrowski said.
        Will the return of Guillen be enough to snap the slumbering Tiger hitters out of their funk?
        “Does this help? Yes, this helps,” Leyland said. “Carlos Guillen is a professional major league hitter.
        “But it can’t be just one guy,” the manager cautioned. “We need consistency throughout our lineup.”
        The return of Guillen, even if it is only part-time for now, will mean less playing time for Marcus Thames, who will play left field more often, now that Anderson is gone, but DH much less.
        Guillen, who had not played in the big leagues since May 4, was in the starting lineup for both games against Chicago on Friday. Guillen batted .571 in two rehab games at Triple-A Toledo. Prior to that, he hit .250 in five games with the Tigers’ Class A subsidiary at Lakeland.
        If the Tigers are unable to trade Anderson, they could assign him to Toledo. But that appears unlikely. “My instinct is we will probably make a move with his contract elsewhere,” Dombrowski said.
        The departure of Anderson, by the way, leaves the Tigers with even less speed. Curtis Granderson is again the only legitimate base stealer on the team.
        “At the time we got him (Anderson), we thought  “Does this help? Yes, this helps. Carlos Guillen is a professional major league hitter. he would be an added plus for us,” Dombrowski explained. “But, offensively, he has struggled.
        “I really thinks he’s a 24th, 25th guy. He would probably be a real good extra guy to move around. But because of injuries and offense, he has had to play more than we probably would have liked.”
        As a result of that over-exposure, Anderson batted .242 in 74 games.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Leyland: If Tigers ran more, they'd be "running into suicide"

        Why don’t the Tigers run more? Jim Leyland hears that question -- and that criticism -- all the time, especially when the Tigers aren’t hitting, or when they are regularly losing by one run.
        “Who do you want to steal?  Cabrera? Ordonez?” Leyland fired back on Thursday.
        “What do you want me to do, squeeze with Miguel Cabrera?
        “I could do a lot of things to make it look like I’m managing, but I’d look stupid,” he continued. “To try to make us into the ‘59 ‘Go-Go Sox’ would be stupid.
        “We’re not a speed team,” Leyland admitted. “You’d be running into suicide.” 
        The statistics don’t lie: Going into Thursday’s matinee against Seattle, the Tigers ranked dead last in the American League in stolen bases with 47.
        Part-timer Josh Anderson, the second-leading base stealer on the team with 13, including 11 in his last 12 attempts, is batting .143 in his last 21 games and having a great deal of difficulty just getting on base.
        “I hear people say, ‘You should steal more, you should bunt more,’ ” Leyland said. “I love our team, but our team is what it is.”
        A team without much speed.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Injuries to key players hinder Tigers' chances

        Remember when the Tigers were counting on Jeremy Bonderman to be a stalwart in their starting rotation this season and Jim Leyland had either Dontrelle Willis or Nate Robertson -- possibly both -- penciled in as the team’s leading left hander?
        Remember when Carlos Guillen was going to play left field most of the time and people were talking about Joel Zumaya as the Tigers’ possible closer?
        Well, we’re still waiting.
        And the Tigers are still in first place.
        However, as welcome as Tuesday night’s muscle-flexing 9-7 win over Seattle was, it didn’t mask the fact that these Tigers have some glaring deficiencies -- in large part due to injuries.
        The much-awaited return of Guillen, who is now on rehab assignment, could be only days away. But when, or even if, the Tigers will get Bonderman, Zumaya, Willis or Robertson back is anybody’s guess.
        Bonderman has begun throwing off the mound. But, so far, only for five minutes at a time. It will probably be September, at the earliest, before he is ready to try to pitch again.
        Willis remains on the disabled list with his anxiety disorder. Nobody, least of all Leyland, is willing -- or able -- to discuss the details of that situation. And the Tigers will owe Dontrelle $12 million next year, whether he is on the team or not
        Robertson would dearly love to get back his job as a starter. But right now, he is merely playing  long toss in the outfield following elbow surgery. And, as you might imagine, Leyland’s confidence in Nate isn’t exactly sky-high.
        Zumaya has told Leyland he is not ready to pitch at the present time. “He’s hurting,” the manager said. “At some point, there will probably be a decision made about how we go about getting it right.”
        That hardly sounds encouraging.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Punchless Tigers come home with backs against wall

        Joel Zumaya is back on the disabled list, rookie Ryan Perry is back in the big leagues -- and the Tigers’ backs are against the wall.
        The only good news coming out of the Tigers’ weekend in New York was the fact they are coming home where they are 27-13 -- and where, for some reason, they have hit much better than they have on the road.
        The coming  week, with first Seattle at Comerica Park, and then the White Sox in town for four games, could be crucial to the Tigers’ chances of hanging on to first place.
        The bad news is, after the Tigers wasted  outstanding pitching performances in New York by their All-Stars, Justin Verlander and Edwin Jackson, for want of a few clutch hits, we won’t see the two aces back on the mound until Chicago gets here.    
        Except for the Friday night meltdown by Joel Zumaya -- who has “re-aggravated the stress fracture” in his right shoulder -- the Tigers pitched well enough to sweep the Yankees.               
        Instead, they were swept.
        Against the Yankees, who admittedly featured some fine pitching of their own, the Tiger batters looked as if they were still on All-Star break.
        You don’t earn a place in the postseason scoring two runs in two games.
        Zumaya originally suffered the stress fracture in his right coracoid late last season and was shut down for the rest of the year.
        Tigers head athletic trainer Kevin Rand told reporters in New York on Sunday that Zumaya might require arthroscopic surgery. “We need to get him pain-free first,” Rand said.
        Meanwhile, Brandon Lyon, who lost his bid to become the Tigers’ closer to Fernando Rodney in spring training, will take over Zumaya’s duties as the eighth-inning set-up man. Perry will take Lyon’s place, pitching the seventh when the Tigers are tied or leading in a game.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Freak injuries continue to haunt Zumaya

        Something is obviously wrong with Joel Zumaya. Again.
        Although he can still overpower hitters, at times, with his triple-digit fastball, Zumaya continues to struggle with his control and has not looked at all like his old self lately.
        Friday night in New York, after serving up a game-deciding three-run homer to the Yankees’ Mark Teixeira, Zumaya told reporters he “felt a slight pop in my shoulder.
        “I’m feeling a lot of pain in my shoulder,” the popular right hander with the rock star persona admitted. “Obviously, my arm is not feeling too good right now. I can’t even lift up my arm.”
        Zumaya had his shoulder X-rayed at Yankee Stadium after the game and planned to return to Detroit on Saturday for an MRI.
        Zumaya told reporters he felt the “pop” while throwing a breaking ball. Although he remained on the mound and completed the seventh inning, Zumaya said he didn’t know “how I threw my last three pitches.”
        It was just the latest in the sad series of freak accidents and injuries that have haunted Zumaya for the past three years. Following the 2007 season, he underwent reconstructive shoulder surgery after a box of World Series souvenirs that he was moving fell on his shoulder.
        There are fears Friday night’s pain may be in the same location.
        “My mind is going in circles, I don’t know what to think, I don’t know what it is,” Zumaya told reporters  before leaving the ballpark. “We’re trying to keep our heads high. Hopefully, it’s just a little, little thing, and not a big thing.”
        In his last nine appearances, Zumaya has blown four saves, losing two of those games. In 14 save situations this season, he has posted an alarming 9.64 ERA.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Road to postseason now runs through Detroit

        The All-Star Game is over. The preliminaries and the posturing are past. Let the pennant race begin.
        This much can be said for certain: The Tigers have a shot, a real shot, at returning to the postseason for the first time since 2006.
        That fact has not gone unnoticed in Las Vegas where the odds against the first-place Tigers winning the American League pennant have dropped from 12-1 at the start of the season to 7-to-1. The odds against the Tigers winning the World Series  have dropped from 25-1 to 15-1.
        However, either is still a shaky bet.
        The Tigers’ track record after the All-Star break is hardly encouraging. Since 1988, the Tigers have only played better than .500 baseball after the mid-season interruption twice, in 1991 and 2000.
        But while he admittedly is at a loss to explain it, Jim Leyland doesn’t place much stock in that statistic.
        “In 2006, we lost five in a row at the end of the regular season, and when we got into the playoffs, we won seven in a row,” he pointed out.
        It is the way the Tigers have played, more often than not, when they have lost this year, that has their manager concerned.
        “We make too many quick outs and we don’t get enough quick outs -- and that’s a disaster,”  Leyland declared, summing up one of his team’s primary shortcomings.
        In Tuesday night’s All-Star Game, Edwin Jackson demonstrated exactly what Leyland was talking about, retiring the three National Leaguers he faced with a total of just four pitches.
        Leyland would like to see all of the Tiger pitchers work that way.
        Understandably, the Tigers are looking forward to playing 41 of their remaining 75 games at home, beginning Tuesday night against Seattle. Right now, that, plus the presence of Justin Verlander and  Jackson at the front end of their starting rotation, may be the biggest single factors in their favor.
        So far this season, the Tigers are 27-13 at Comerica Park -- a pace guaranteed to put any team in the playoffs.
        “Nobody’s complaining but we had a grueling first half schedule with the travel,” Leyland said. “We were on the road more than anybody. That’s a grind.”
        The Tigers have weathered that storm. Their fate is in their hands, beginning this weekend at new Yankee Stadium. The road to the postseason in the AL Central now runs through Detroit.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Tigers' All-Star performance further proof of turnaround

        The worst-to-so-far-first Tigers could hardly have scripted Tuesday night’s All-Star Game any better if they had tried.
        Curtis Granderson scored the winning run in the eighth inning after a capping off one of his trademark triples with a head-first slide into third base; Edwin Jackson pitched a perfect fifth inning, disposing of National Leaguers Yadier Molina, Ryan Zimmerman, and Hanley Ramirez with just four pitches; and Brandon Inge, the people’s choice, played the final two innings at third base, guaranteeing that Games 1 and 2 and 6 and 7 of the World Series will be played at Comerica Park, provided the Tigers get that far.
        As expected, Justin Verlander, who pitched seven innings on  Sunday, didn’t get into the game. But that was fine with him. Verlander was so sure he wasn’t going to pitch that he advised his parents not to bother making the trip to St. Louis.
        But the presence of four Tigers -- nearly one-sixth of the squad -- on the American League All-Star roster was proof of the turnaround the team has made this season.
        A year ago, Verlander led all AL pitchers in losses with 17. A year ago, Inge endured a nightmare season, first losing his job at third base, then languishing on the trading block, a player without a position. A year ago, Jackson won 14 games for Tampa Bay only to be inexplicably excluded from the Rays’ starting rotation in the postseason.
        In 2007, the Tigers sent five players to the All-Star Game. This year they sent four. But only one, Verlander, is a repeater. That says something about this team.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Leyland: "Guillen could be our shot in the arm"

   The major league trading deadline is July 31 and I'm told the Tigers might be buyers this year, provided the price is right. But Jim Leyland hopes the team can make a significant addition before that.
     "Carlos Guillen could be our trade," the Tigers' manager declared before sending Guillen to Lakeland to play his way back into baseball shape.
     "He could be the bat we're looking for, if he comes back and hits the way he is capable of hitting. If you can pick up a switch hitter who is a good one like Carlos has been, that's a pretty good addition. If he's ready, that's a really good sign.
     "Guillen could be our shot in the arm. Who knows?"
     Trade deadline deals, after all, are a crap shoot.
     Last year, the Tigers dumped Pudge Rodriguez on the eve of the trade deadline in exchange for Kyle Farnsworth.They had already written Rodriguez out of their future plans and hoped Farnsworth could bolster their bullpen. He didn't.
     In 2006, the Tigers traded for Sean Casey, who turned out to be a major factor in their pursuit of the American League pennant.
     In 2005, they acquired Zach Miner and Roman Colon at the trade deadline in exchange for the aforementioned Farnsworth. What goes around sometimes comes around.
     In 2001, they picked up pitcher Mark Redman from the Twins for Todd Jones. In 1999, they acquired Mike Maroth from the Red Sox for Bruce Florie.
     "If you think you've got a shot to improve your club, and it makes sense, I think we'd do it," Leyland said. "But a lot of teams are looking for a shot in the arm."
     A healthy, hitting Guillen, who has been sidelined since May 4 and never really got going this year, might be the best addition that the Tigers can hope to make.

Leyland: "Guillen could be our shot in the arm"

     The major league trading deadline is July 31 and I'm told the Tigers might be buyers this year, provided the price is right. But Jim Leyland hopes the team can make a significant addition before that.
     "Carlos Guillen could be our trade," the Tigers' manager declared before sending Guillen to Lakeland to play his way back into baseball shape.
     "He could be the bat we're looking for, if he comes back and hits the way he is capable of hitting. If you can pick up a switch hitter who is a good one like Carlos has been, that's a pretty good addition. If he's ready, that's a really good sign.
     "Guillen could be our shot in the arm. Who knows?"
     Trade deadline deals, after all, are a crap shoot.
     Last year, the Tigers dumped Pudge Rodriguez on the eve of the trade deadline in exchange for Kyle Farnsworth.They had already written Rodriguez out of their future plans and hoped Farnsworth could bolster their bullpen. He didn't.
     In 2006, the Tigers traded for Sean Casey, who turned out to be a major factor in their pursuit of the American League pennant.
     In 2005, they acquired Zach Miner and Roman Colon at the trade deadline in exchange for the aforementioned Farnsworth. What goes around sometimes comes around.
     In 2001, they picked up pitcher Mark Redman from the Twins for Todd Jones. In 1999, they acquired Mike Maroth from the Red Sox for Bruce Florie.
     "If you think you've got a shot to improve your club, and it makes sense, I think we'd do it," Leyland said. "But a lot of teams are looking for a shot in the arm."
     A healthy, hitting Guillen, who has been sidelined since May 4 and never really got going this year, might be the best addition that the Tigers can hope to make.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

How do you say "Michigan left" in Taiwanese?

        Some of the Tigers will fly home to spend this week’s All-Star break with their families. Others will pack up their wives and kids and take brief vacations.
        But if you’re living in a foreign country,  you don’t speak the language, you only know a couple of people, and your job shuts down for three days, what do you do?
        In the case of Fu-Te Ni, the Tigers’ left-handed Taiwanese reliever, you make plans to take a test to try to get your U.S. driver’s license.
        “It’s much easier to drive here than in Taiwan,” Ni explained through his trusty translator and sidekick, Fox.
        Ni, Fox and Ni’s girlfriend from Taiwan share an apartment in Toledo. When the Tigers are home, Ni and Fox usually stay in a hotel in downtown Detroit to cut down on the commute.
        Ni rarely watches TV. What would be the point? He wouldn’t understand a word anyone was saying.
        Dining out is always a problem. In case you haven’t noticed, Detroit is not exactly known for its fine Taiwanese restaurants.
        “Sometimes we go to a Chinese buffet or a Sushi bar, but usually we cook by ourselves,” Fox explained.
        Ni’s teammates joke around with him the clubhouse, but they do so mostly with gestures. Ni doesn’t understand the chatter in the locker room or in the bullpen.
        Last week, when those “Vote Inge” for the All-Star Game signs were all over Comerica Park, Brandon, ever the jokester, reconfigured one to read: “Vote Ni.”
        Inge hung the sign above Ni’s locker and the pitcher appeared to get a big kick out of it.
        Ni smiles a lot. He knows he’s in the big leagues.
        However, communicating with Jim Leyland poses a problem. As you might have guessed, the Tigers’ manager isn’t exactly conversant in Taiwanese.
        “I think he understands the word, ‘strike,’ Leyland said.
        “All I tell him is, ‘Throw strikes.’
        “We’re not going to have a conversation about where we’re going to dinner,” Leyland admitted.
        Good thing. Because I don’t think the Tigers’ manager would enjoy sticky tofu.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Fans' vote vindicates Inge

        Brandon Inge has been vindicated -- by 11.8 million votes.
        First, the Tigers tried unsuccessfully to trade him in the spring of 2008 after they acquired Miguel Cabrera to take Brandon’s place at third base.
        Then Inge’s peers, the other players in the American League, snubbed him this season when they voted for the reserves for next week’s All-Star Game.
        But the public has spoken.
        The popular, persevering Inge is an All-Star after all -- thanks to his fans, some of whom, admittedly, voted 1,000 times or more in a special last-chance Internet election which ended Thursday.
        “The All-Star Game is the ultimate pat on the back,” said Inge, who will now join Justin Verlander, Edwin Jackson and Curtis Granderson at baseball’s annual mid-season gala in St. Louis on Tuesday night. “It says you’re one of the best in all of baseball, and all the world. It is one of the highest honors. Personally, it is the highest honor.
        “It’s been a dream since I was a little kid,” Inge added. “It’s probably the best thing that’s ever happened to me in baseball.”
        Not bad for a guy, just 16 months ago, was without an everyday position and wondering which team he would be playing for next.
        “One year, it’s terrible for you -- the next year, you turn it around and make the All-Star team,” Inge said, acknowledging the irony.
        Only the Boston Red Sox, with six, will have more players on the AL All-Star team  than the Tigers’ four.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Inge caught up in "whirlwind" of special All-Star election

        Brandon Inge was so certain he wouldn’t be picked for the American League All-Star team that he rented a cottage on Lake Michigan and made plans to spend three days on vacation with his wife and their two sons next week. Now it appears Inge may have to eat his deposit and fly to St. Louis instead.
        Entering the final 24 hours of fans’ Internet balloting for the 33rd and last spot on the AL squad, Inge has moved into first place, ahead of Ian Kinsler of the Texas Rangers, with more than 34 million votes cast.
        Initially, Inge, who was overlooked in the original voting by the fans and his fellow players, thought the last-chance vote was no big deal. “I figured, either I would make it or I wouldn’t,” he said.
        However, the election has taken on a life of its own.
        “The last few days have been kind of a whirlwind,” Inge admitted Wednesday. “I had no idea it would be like this.”
        In the on-deck circle during the games, waiting for his next turn at bat, Inge can hear the fans.
        “They holler stuff, like ‘Hey, we voted for you!’ or ‘If you don’t get a hit, I’m not voting for you,’ ” Inge said.
        From the Tigers’ dugout on Tuesday night, Jim Leyland spotted a woman holding up a sign that read: “I Voted For Brandon 500 Times Today.”
        There is no limit to how many times a person can vote.
        The Tigers public relations department has joined forces with the Philadelphia Phillies in a joint effort to get both Inge and the Phillies’ Shane Victorino elected. The two teams are urging businesses in Michigan and Pennsylvania to allow their employees time to log on and vote for Inge and Victorino. Their campaign slogan is “Vote Bran-Torino.”
        In addition, the Tigers say fans who vote for Inge at least 100 times on will be eligible to win a fantasy package including two box seats, free parking, dinner for two in the Champions Club, a batting practice jersey, and the chance to deliver the game ball to the pitcher’s mound prior to the Aug. 4 game at Comerica Park against Baltimore.  
        Balloting will end at 4 p.m. on Thursday and the winner will be announced shortly thereafter.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Galarraga "over the hump;" could be second half key

        Three weeks ago, Armando Galarraga was on the bubble. His job was in jeopardy. His days in the Tigers’ starting rotation appeared numbered. There were those who suggested his 13 wins last season had been a fluke.
        Now Galarraga is arguably the Tigers’ third most dependable starter, behind All-Stars Justin Verlander and Edwin Jackson.
        Winless since April, Galarraga has enjoyed three good outings in a row. He won two of them and should have won all three.
        “It appears he is over the hump,” Jim Leyland said Tuesday.
        As was the case with Verlander last year, Galarraga first had to learn how to deal with adversity before he could take the next step forward toward becoming a bona fide big league winner.
        “There are lessons to be learned, and you can study for the test, but you can’t take the test before you get it,” Leyland philosophized. “You can’t rush that.”
        In other words, you never know how a person is going to handle adversity until they have to deal with it.
        “It’s important to learn how to do well, but it’s also important to learn how to handle a slump,” Leyland said.
        “Because you’re going to have ‘em up here, I don’t care how good you are. This is a tough game to play.”
        Galarraga gave the Tigers seven strong innings against the Royals on Monday night. With the pitch counts of Verlander and Jackson creeping back up lately and rookie Rick Porcello struggling, Galarraga could be a critical factor down the stretch.
        “If we get innings out of any of our starters, it’s a plus for our bullpen,” Leyland said

Monday, July 6, 2009

Tigers hope to have Guillen healthy before trade deadline

        It won’t show up in the box scores, but the Tigers will have a lot on the line in the next few weeks.
        A year ago, Carlos Guillen was preparing to be the Tigers’ lone representative at baseball’s  All-Star Game. On Monday, Guillen took batting practice for the first time in two months and predicted he will be back in action by the end of July.
        The Tigers hope that is true. If possible, they would like to know Guillen’s status, specifically whether or not they need to look for a replacement, before the July 31 trade deadline.
        Guillen, who turns 34 at the end of September, is signed through 2011. His contract guarantees him a salary of $13 million in each of the next two seasons.
        “I know they need me, but they need me healthy,” Guillen said Monday on his first day back from an extended stint with a physical therapist in South Florida. “The only way I’m going to help this team is if I’m healthy.”
        So far,  so good. Guillen, who took his normal number of swings from both sides of the plate on Monday and has already been throwing from 100 to 140 feet in the outfield, said he might be ready to begin his rehab assignment in the minor leagues by the end of the week.
        “I feel better, no pain,” he said.
        But Jim Leyland admitted “I have no idea” how soon Guillen might be ready to return.
        “When he gets to the point where he can go out and play, it’s not going to be a two or three-day thing,” the manager said. “It’s going to be like he’s starting over in spring training. It’s going to take a while.”
        The switch-hitting Guillen hasn’t played since May 4. He was hitting just .200, having appeared in 24 games, when his shoulder gave out.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Tigers All-Stars: 2 surprises, but Inge is snubbed -- for now

        I must admit I certainly am surprised that Edwin Jackson is an All-Star for the first time in his career -- not because he doesn’t deserve it, but because he only has six wins to go with his stellar 2.59 ERA. Hopefully, if he gets into the game, Hopefully, Jackson’s AL All-Star teammates will give him more support than the Tigers have.
        I’m also surprised that Curtis Granderson made the team with his .255 batting average while Miguel Cabrera, who is third-best in the AL at .324 did not. Granderson is tied for the Tigers’ team  lead with 18 home runs, which is also second-best among AL outfielders. But Granderson has been in a slump for several weeks.
        I’m a bit shocked that Brandon Inge didn’t make it as Evan Longoria’s back-up. Inge, with his 18 home runs and 52 RBI and his defense deserved better than to be a gimmick on-line candidate, along with four other guys, for the final seat on the AL bench.
        Inge may still make it, provided he outpolls Chone Figgins, Ian Kinsler, Adam Lind and ex-Tiger Carlos Pena in the sympathy vote. But I find that whole last-chance process cheesy.
        As expected, Justin Verlander made the team. His league-leading 130 strikeouts made him an automatic. He has arguably been the most dominant pitcher in the league since late April.
        However, assuming Verlander starts against Cleveland, as scheduled, next Sunday, he will only have one day’s rest before the All-Star Game -- making it unlikely he will pitch more than one inning in St. Louis, if he pitches at all.
        By the way, the three Tiger All-Stars are the most the team has had since 2007 when they put five guys on the honor squad.
        I guess first place has its perks.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Inge deserves to be an All-Star

        If baseball’s annual All-Star Game is, indeed, meant to honor those players who are having great years, how can the American League leave Brandon Inge off the team?
        “I’m partial,” Jim Leyland admitted on the Tigers’ last homestand, “but I think he’s the best. He’s the best I’ve ever seen. I’ve never in my life seen anybody go down the line for pop-ups like he does. It’s unbelievable.”
        And Leyland was just talking about Inge’s fielding.
        Inge is currently a distant fifth in balloting for third base, behind Tampa Bay’s Evan Longoria, the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez, Boston’s Mike Lowell and the Rangers’ Michael Young. But, in addition to his superior defense, Inge has hit more home runs (18) than any of those guys and has knocked in more runs (52) than all but Longoria.
        Leyland believes Inge has earned the right to be Longoria’s back-up. If Inge makes the team, it will be his first appearance as an All-Star.
        Simply put, the Tigers would not be where they are today, in first place, without Inge.
        And isn’t that what the All-Star exhibition is supposed to be all about?
        Justin Verlander will probably make the team on the strength of his league-leading 130 strikeouts. However, his 8-4 record now makes it highly unlikely that he will be named the starting pitcher.
        Although Edwin Jackson ranks second in the league in ERA (2.49), his 6-4 record, due in large part to his lack of run support, leaves him with little chance of being included on the AL staff. Fernando Rodney remains a longshot among closer candidates.
        Miguel Cabrera is fourth among first basemen, behind Boston’s Kevin Youkilis, the Yankees’ Mark Teixeira and Minnesota’s Justin Morneau. I think Cabrera is a longshot, too.   
        The All-Star teams will be announced on Sunday afternoon.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Last place the Tigers want to be this weekend is in Metrodome

     With their lead in the American League Central now reduced to three games over the Twins after dropping four out of six to the Astros and Athletics on this so far alarming road trip, the last place the offensively-challenged Tigers want to be this weekend is in Minneapolis and the lame duck Metrodome.
     Since 2001, the Tigers are 58-96 against the Twins -- and 25-53 in the Metrodome, including an 0-3 mark there so far this year.   
     Suffice to say, the Metrodome is not the Tigers' favorite place to play.
     It has been the scene of too many nightmares.
     Only in 2007, when the Tigers went a surprising 8-1 in the Metrodome, have they enjoyed their trips to Minneapolis.
     As first base coach Andy Van Slyke noted in the book we wrote together last summer, Tigers Confidential: "Aesthetically, it's certainly the ugliest (place to play). The ballpark just has a murkiness to it. There is no cleaness, no crispness to the Metrodome.
     "It smells -- believe me, it smells terrible in the visitors' dugout. That may be from all of the teams that have gotten their brains beaten in there over the years and all of the carnage that has been left in the visitors' dugout."
     The Tigers know that better than anybody.
     Despite their decided homefield advantage, the Twins will abandon the Metrodome at the end of this season and move into a new open air stadium about a mile away.