Today’s 5th starter battle run down

by billfer on March 21, 2009 · 17 comments

in 2009 Season,Pitching,Spring Training

Robertson pitches Friday in Lakeland

Robertson pitches Friday in Lakeland - cr Roger DeWitt

I really wish there were other stories in this year’s camp, but aside from the fact that 4 of the team’s 5 most prominent offensive forces are on the other side of the country, it comes down to the battle for the rotation.

Rick Porcello gets as big of a stage as you can during spring training pitching in Tampa against the Yankees. It’s his first start since March 9th as he’s been sidelined with a minor finger injury.

Nate Robertson pitched wonderfully yesterday throwing 4 scoreless innings and only allowing 2 hits while fanning 5. That comes on the heels of 3 scoreless innings his last time out.

Dontrelle Willis is going back to his old wind-up with the exaggerated leg kick. He demo’d it in his third inning of work on Thursday night and Rick Knapp is working with him to refine it. Why not, nothing else is working says Jim Leyland:

“We’re at the point where we’re trying pretty much anything. I think that’s pretty simple. And I think [Willis] feels comfortable with that.”

 
 

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Eric Cioe March 21, 2009 at 12:17 pm

If Nate continues to pitch well, it makes the decision to keep Porcello at AA to work on his breaking ball that much easier. I’m sure he’ll be taking turns in the rotation by June or so anyway, what with injuries and general ineffectiveness.

Coach Jim March 21, 2009 at 1:46 pm

The most encouraging bit of news from Nate’s start is that his slider had tremendous bite.

Ryan March 21, 2009 at 3:26 pm

It’s probably going to be Robertson, unless Willis magically gets back to 21-win form in the next few weeks.

Andre in Chi March 21, 2009 at 3:29 pm

I wouldn’t count Willis out yet. Not that there are a lot of positives with his situation, but it looked like Robertson was going to need a miracle too.

Mark in Chicago March 21, 2009 at 3:54 pm

This team is due for a little positive mojo. It’s nice to see a player perhaps recover a bit instead of everyone regressing at once.

Eric Cioe March 21, 2009 at 5:52 pm

Robertson was bad last year but he also had bad luck on balls in play. His FIP was merely below average, while his ERA was basically in competition for league-worst. Dontrelle Willis can’t throw a baseball right now, and hasn’t been able to for over a year. What Robertson needed was an improvement in luck and some movement on his pitches back. What Willis needs is to relearn how to pitch all over again, and get his stuff back. So the situations were never really comparable.

Coleman March 21, 2009 at 7:43 pm

Eric Cioe: you could call it “bad luck,” but at least part of the bad luck was the bad luck of pitching with what was behind him in the infield. The Tigers fixed that, which means he should be “luckier” this year. Watching him pitch with runners on base last season I got the sense he didn’t (or whoever called the pitches didn’t) trust getting the ground ball out in crucial situations. Add to that inherited runs from shaky relief, and he wouldn’t even have to pitch better to have a much lower ERA this season. I think it’s telling that Nate was the one guy who backed up Grilli’s comments, saying he missed having Inge behind him while he pitched. Whatever the actual effect of the fielding problems, there was definitely also an effect of the pitchers’ confidence.

David March 22, 2009 at 1:25 am

Eric – again we think alike :)

Coleman yup, if I were pitching I’d want him to be behind me fielding.

I sure hope Nate can regain his 2006 form and go .500 that would help this team A LOT

Nick S March 22, 2009 at 8:33 am

It is good to see Robertson pitching well. Miner had the cards stacked against him from the beginning. I really feel like if the Tigers were going with 5 right handers it was going to be Porcello.

Now that Venezuela is eliminated from the WBC, we can see Gallaraga get some regular innings in. Plus we will get most our offense back.

greg March 22, 2009 at 8:33 am

I am counting Willis out, if he were to comeback and be effective, I believe it would be the most amazing comeback for a pitcher in MLB history. I’ve never seen someone with these kinds of control problems comeback. It’s not simply that he walks people, it’s not that he’s off, it’s that he’s consistently so far off it’s as though he’s aiming a few feet off/away from his ‘target’.

scotsw March 22, 2009 at 5:28 pm

I think I agree with everything everyone said above. That kind of thing NEVER happens.

Good work, Nate, I say.

But if I were Porcello, I’d feel like I was playing against a stacked deck.

Last question: If Bonderman can’t make his first 2-3 starts, who gets his slot in the short term? Miner? Or do they bring up Lambert, as it’s not really a problem to burn his options?

Rick G March 22, 2009 at 6:22 pm

I’d bet that management has laid everything out for Porcello, and he should be smart enough to know that his day is coming soon. So even if he gets unfairly left behind, he’ll know that it’s only temporary as the team sorts out its options. I’m just hoping they don’t burn up too many of the kid’s innings at AA before bringing him up.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Dontrelle got Bonderman’s first couple of starts if he shows anything at all in his last couple spring training outings. They’ve got too much money left on Willis not to give him every last chance possible.

I’m wondering about the fact that Guillen didn’t play an inning of LF during the WBC. That’s 8 games of nothing but DH and 3B. Was that because

a) Venezuela’s manager was just being a prick
b) Guillen really doesn’t want to play LF for anybody, so he asked to DH
c) Guillen is injured, so he asked to DH
c) LF is so easy to play you don’t need practice
d) The Tigers really don’t plan on him playing LF at all
e) Other – anyone?

(Yes, I think about Guillen almost as much as David thinks about Ty Cobb.) ;-)

Chris Y. March 22, 2009 at 7:03 pm

I don’t like the Lambert scenario.

This division will come down to a handful of games, and giving Lambert 2-3 turns could be the difference-maker. Far more likely is Rick G’s scenario, but that assumes, at the very least, that Willis lets loose and starts chucking it again. For all the grasping at straws talk, I always thought that trying to tune down Willis’ windup was an incredibly stupid idea. Barring a Willis revelation, I think you have to give Porcello the turns. He’s likely to be up for the stretch run anyway.

That said, I think Bonderman will be close enough to “ready” to take his turn in the rotation. In fact, slotting him #5 for the home opener with a side session thrown in might just do the trick.

scotsw March 23, 2009 at 9:17 am

Chris Y.,

Bonderman might be ready to go, but I’d be mildly surprised. The rationale for Lambert is that he’s a known quantity: Not great, but not too bad. Borderline major-league stuff, and he knows how to pitch. You figure he’s giving up about 4 runs in 6-7 innings, so it would be up to the hitters to win it. You don’t mind burning an option there, because the long-term plans don’t include him. He’s on the 40-man roster, and is being kept around exclusively as spare parts. Just my theory.

My sense is that Willis is about 11 days away from outright release, unless he agrees to another minor-league stint. The Tigers can’t force him down to AAA or AA (too much service time), and if Willis makes a stand, he forces them to put him on the 25-man roster or release him. If you read Leyland’s comments in the story about Willis going back to his big-leg delivery, they loosely translate as, “He’s down to his last chance.” I think it’s clear that Dontrelle is now a lottery ticket, and the Tigers aren’t counting on him at all.

Mark L March 23, 2009 at 3:00 pm

What ever happened to Yorman Bazardo? Did they just totally give up on him?

Eric Cioe March 23, 2009 at 3:23 pm

Yorman’s dad died last year and he forgot how to pitch. Pretty sad story. He had a real nice changeup.

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