Barring a huge offensive game from Carlos Pena on Thursday night, I think that Chris Shelton will be starting for the Tigers on Friday night. After another two-run performance, the Tigers need to try and infuse some life into the lineup. The Tigers current first base tandem continued to struggle tonight with Dmitri Young and Carlos Pena combining for an 0-6 night. If I’m not mistaken I don’t believe either hitter managed to get a ball out of the infield.
The most telling sign is that Pena was pinch hit for in the 7th inning with Ramon Martinez. Now this isn’t meant to be a knock on Martinez – who came through with an RBI single following a 3 hit night – but there is a reason that he has been a back-up infielder the bulk of his career. If the Trammell and the Tigers have reached the point where they would turn to a back up middle infielder in a crucial situation rather than their starting first baseman, it’s probably time that the Tigers need a new starting first baseman.
Now do all the Tigers offensive woes fall on Pena’s head? Of course not. It just so happens that he is struggling more than anyone else, and his understudy has been tearing up the International League. Shelton is hitting 329/414/579 with 8 homers and 23 walks for Toledo.
The tricky thing is what happens if Shelton is called up? First the Tigers have to make room on the roster. This would probably involve moving either a bullpen arm or Jason Smith to the minors. The arm would probably be Chris Spurling or Doug Creek. Both have pitched well, and I’d be more inclined to demote Ginter. However, I don’t think Ginter has any options left (I really don’t know this, so if anybody has this information let me know). The Tigers may want to keep Smith just because of the question marks regarding Carlos Guillen’s knee. In fact, Guillen’s knee presents other problems as well. With Shelton on the club, he would probably get his at-bats as a DH or first baseman with Dmitri gettinig the other position. However, while the Tigers try and spell Guillen with games at DH, that means someone else is on the bench. It is tough to take Dmitri’s bat out of the lineup, even if he is struggling, and you want Shelton to get regular at-bats.
Now let’s assume that Shelton comes up and plays well. By well I mean he hits at a decent clip and doesn’t embarass himself in the field. Then what happens to Pena? Pena is a better player than what he’s shown this year, but he’s going to have a hard time working out of his slump on the bench (see Eric Munson – 2004). Pena would have no trade value, so do the Tigers just let him walk?
Scenario 2 is that Shelton comes up and struggles. At that point the Tigers haven’t really gained or lost anything. Shelton goes back to the minors while Pena gets another chance to figure things out.
By waiting until Friday to call up Shelton, they won’t make him make his first start in Yankee Stadium. Also, they’ll be facing a left hander, albeit a tough one, in Erik Bedard. In any case the Tigers need to make a move to try and jump start the offense. Turning to Toledo might just be their best shot at this point.