Pondering Pen Possibilities

While the performances of the Tigers starters have been fairly unremarkable this spring, things are better at the back end of games. It looks like there are actual battles taking place, and in the favorable sense.

Brandon Lyon, Fernando Rodney, and Bobby Seay are locks for the pen leaving four spots open. Zach Miner is also a pretty solid bet, enough to pencil in at least. That leaves three spots open.

Continue reading Pondering Pen Possibilities

Recapping the first workouts

The beats were busy with the first official workout of the spring. Seriously, multiple stories and blog posts throughout the day, even a live blog from Morosi. A quick rundown of the stories from Tiger Town…

Rick Knapp

After 20+ years in the minors, this was Rick Knapp’s first day as a big leaguer. This got a fair amount of attention and Jim Leyland was pretty excited for him.

“This is huge for him,” Leyland said of Knapp. “All those years in the minors, and now this is his first day in the big leagues. It’s one of the most exciting parts of our first day of camp, to be honest with you.

I’m a fan of the Knapp hiring and am I excited to see what he can do. But Chuck Hernandez looked to be a genius in 2006 before he suddenly forgot how to coach (that’s sarcasm). I do like that he doesn’t seem to have a specific pitch or philosophy (other than throwing strikes) and instead tailors the message to the individual. For Zumaya it is an emphasis on long toss and a change-up.

Dontrelle Willis

Part of Knapp’s plan for Willis is for just to be himself (the successful self from his days with the Marlins, not last year’s version). The early reports are positive, but it is only day 1. Part of that is due to improved conditioning that has him five pounds lighter.

Fernando Rodney and his alligator tooth cr- Roger DeWitt
Fernando Rodney and his alligator tooth cr- Roger DeWitt

Willis, along with Robertson and Miner are all in the mix for the 5th starter spot. It has led Henning to once again speculate a trade could be coming. There are obstacles in the way of course, like those big honkin’ contracts that don’t mesh with the 08 seasons for Willis and Robertston. But… I’ve heard similar rumblings. That’s not to say they’ll come to fruition, but I don’t think Henning is off base with this. The Tigers rotation, while not as strong at the top, matches up well with the rest of the division looking 1-5 (or 6 or 7).

Zumaya and Rodney

Joel Zumaya is trying to gain weight and get back into his 2006 form. Whatever it takes is okay by me. Meanwhile Fernando Rodney is sporting an alligator tooth around his neck. It came from an alligator that was wrestled in a river. Supposedly.

Knapp talks Tigers pitching

Lynn Henning caught up with pitching coach Rick Knapp. Knapp broke down the various members of his staff and it makes for a very interesting read.

He talks about Justin Verlander’s arm slot and balance point (Verlander’s arm angle was a rich topic last year). With Nate Robertson it is falling off to the third base side and getting too “horizontal” which flattens the slider. Jermey Bonderman is built like an ox. Dontrelle Willis is in phenomenal shape. Fernando Rodney needs to keep his emotions in check.

I don’t have the first clue if he’s right with any of these assessments. But what I do like is that he seems to be looking at a myriad of issues. He isn’t forcing everyone into a set way to do things. I’m anxious and optimistic to see what he can do with the staff.

Tigers’ Knapp shows knack with Verlander tip | detnews.com | The Detroit News

Like sands through the hourglass

I think it’s clear that the Tigers bullpen situation will be an on going saga. It’s been the lead story leading up to Tigerfest and will likely hold that distinction throughout spring training (unless of course someone gets injured in the World Baseball Classic). Without an established and healthy closer available, anyone that is brought in to help the pen wouldn’t be a lock to close games anyways.
Continue reading Like sands through the hourglass

Tigers sign Thames and Rodney

The Tigers signed Marcus Thames and Fernando Rodney to one year deals. Both were arbitration eligible. Terms weren’t disclosed, but I’ll guess that Thames gets $1.8 million and Rodney gets $2.1 million. It looks like Rodney gets $2.7 million.

That leaves Gerald Laird, Edwin Jackson, Justin Verlander, Joel Zumaya, and Bobby Seay as the arbitration eligible players left to be signed. The Tigers have not gone to arbitration with a player since Dave Dombrowski took over.

Dombrowski speaks – a lot more than usual.

Dave Dombrowski held court with reporters today and he revealed a glimpse into this winter’s agenda.

The main points:

  • Edgar Renteria’s option will not be picked up
  • The Tigers are looking outside the organization to fill the closer role
  • The Tigers don’t expect to be a major player in the free agent market
  • Detroit does not expect to cut payroll significantly
  • Dombrowski likes Cale Iorg thinking he’s going to be an All Star very soon.

My thoughts:

  • Declining the Renteria option was pretty much a no brainer. The Tigers can try and sign him for less and offer him arbitration.  If he declines and is signed somewhere else the Tigers get two draft picks.  If he accepts it probably is a decent stopgap.  Renteria is a decent bet to bounce back somewhat and not be a void in the lineup.  While there is a desire to upgrade the defense at short, with Inge and mystery catcher in the fold the Tigers can’t afford to go with a total defensive specialist at short.  They have that at third already now.  Renteria sounds like he’d like to be back.
  • Dombrowski’s comments about Iorg were quite enthusiastic.  It could be he’s trying to up the trade value, or diminish the Tigers needs, but the remarks came on the same day that Iorg made the BA Top 20 list for the FSL. (Rick Porcello was number 1).  It makes one think the Tigers aren’t looking for a long term fix for 2009.
  • Rodney got a lukewarm treatment from Dombrowski saying that he’d be the leading candidate on the current club, but he wanted more consistency.  But with the Tigers not making a splash that probably means no K-Rod or Fuentes which is fine.  The new closer will likely be an established set-up man who can be had for a cheaper price.  It might not satisfy the fan base, but is probably the best and only way to go given the payroll constraints and ridiculous sum that closers get.

In the end Dombrowski is looking for answers like the rest of us…

“Most years, when we go into spring training, I have a good feel for where we’ll finish,” he said.

“I’m so far off on this,” he said, shaking his head, his voice trailing off.

Ah, the closer by committee

The Tigers are going the route of closer by committee. Sort of. In the sense that Kyle Farnsworth, Fernando Rodney, and Joel Zumaya will all get opportunities there is definitely a committee of people who will be closing games. But it seems as if it will be pre-determined heading into the game – at least tonight when Joel Zumaya will close if the situation presents itself.

I guess what I’d prefer is to just wing it each game. See who is throwing well, and the match-ups coming up in the 9th. And on another note, why not throw Bobby Seay into the mix.

Todd Jones out as closer

Jim Leyland hasn’t been shy about making changes to established roles this season. He quietly announced a big one on the radio pre-game show with Dan Dickerson when he said that Todd Jones is out as closer and Fernando Rodney would primarily assume the role.

It had become clear over the last couple weeks that Jim Leyland was losing confidence in Todd Jones. Leyland announced a couple weeks ago that he was going “to watch him” speaking more about his usage and indicating that Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney would receive some opportunities. In Baltimore he let Joel Zumaya pitch a second inning to try and get the save instead of Jones.

On Friday night Aquilino Lopez was warmed up and at the ready if Jones started to unravel – the type of move Leyland would NEVER make in the past. We all remember a certain game in Cleveland last year where Jones didn’t have it, got hammered, and Leyland refused to get anybody up in the pen. Jones blowing the Friday game after coming so close to securing the win was apparently the last straw.

Even with 2 blow-ups, Rodney has been the Tigers most effective reliever since coming off the DL*. Since June 16th Rodney (and not counting today) has thrown 14 innings and has allowed 8 walks, 10 hits, and he’s fanned 12. Over the same period Todd Jones has thrown 14.1 innings and allowed 22 hits with 2 walks, 4 HBP, and only 4 K’s. (And if you were wondering about Zumaya he’s gone 16.1 innings with 16 hits, 15 walks – ouch, and 16 K’s)

*Actually Bobby Seay probably deserves to hold that title. Over the same span he’s allowed just 6 hits and 6 walks in 12.1 innings with 13 strike outs. Why are the Tigers looking for a lefty reliever?

Rodney is much maligned though among Tigers fans. I attribute it to the fact that he wears his hat crooked. And when he blows up he really blows up. Still he is capable of extended periods of dominance – like 2006 for example. Or even last year after he returned from the DL and allowed all of 3 hits and 4 walks in his first 11 games back while fanning 17.

Now there are questions about this move. Primarily what role does Todd Jones play? He can’t be brought in to tough jams. Does he fill the Aquilino Lopez role of keeping a deficit from expanding, or eating an inning or two with a multi-run spread? And second there has to be concerns about Rodney’s health. He looks great at the moment, but he’s missed big chunks of the last 2 years and a 45 pitch outing today probably isn’t the best strategy.

I like seeing Rodney get the opportunity, and I like the willingness of Leyland to make a move. Stubborn is a difficult tag to hang on the skipper this season in that he’s tried a number of things. I think Rodney will probably fare okay, but be ready for a different type of rollercoaster. Jones would take you through highs and lows in any given outing but would typically get the job done in most outings. Rodney will wow you sometimes and kill you other times. It’s a matter of inter-outing rollercoaster versus intra-outing rollercoaster.

UPDATE: The Detroit News has some audio with Todd Jones. He says all the right things, but the guy is crushed. And yes, he’s struggled and the move is the right one to make, and he’s a professional, and he gets paid millions of dollars, and he’s made some questionable comments in his columns. I know for all those reasons people aren’t supposed to feel sympathy, but I can’t help it. I do.

Rodney activated, Lopez to Toledo

So that’s one decision. Fernando Rodney is back with the team and Aquilino Lopez was sent to Toledo. But the demotion is with a plan. They are going to try and stretch Lopez out into a starters role. This comes as a little bit of a surprise to me, because I didn’t think that Lopez had an option. I thought he would need to be removed from the 40 man roster, meaning he’d need to go through waivers.

Lopez has started before, but not since the 2002 season when he made 11 starts for Tacoma in the PCL. He has turned in several solid long relief outings, most notable was a 4 inning, 3 hit effort against the White Sox.

Color me surprised though that the Tigers would be in a position this season to send out a reliever who is striking out better than 3 batters for every batter he walks.

UPDATE; Just received confirmation that Lopez had an option left. He’s still on the 40 man and wasn’t exposed to waivers.

Junkballing: No shortage of news

I’ve got to give this Tigers team credit for one thing. There’s no shortage of news. Last week I tried to put together a timeline of all the announcements and news coming out of Jim Leyland’s office. I couldn’t get it legible at less than 1200 pixels wide. And that was before all the news from the last week.

Vance Wilson

Wilson received awful news in that he needs to do Tommy John times 2. His contract with the Tigers is up this year and with a 12 month recovery period, he is done as a Tigers player and may be facing retirement. He’s well respected in the Tigers organization and it wouldn’t surprise me to see Wilson back in another capacity in a few years. Best wishes to Vance.

Roster moves: Rapada

Clay Rapada was optioned to Toledo to make room for Eddie Bonine. This isn’t a merit based demotion but a matter of the guy with options getting sent down. It’s something we may see again next week when Rodney and Zumaya return. Dolsi could be one of the guys out based on contract status. Fossum, Seay, Bautista, and Lopez are all out of options.

Granderson’s struggles

Detroit Tiger Tales takes a look at Curtis Granderson’s struggles. He finds among other things that Granderson is taking a lot of pitches, both out of and in the strike zone and it’s possible he’s being to passive. That’s something I could buy, and his timing seems to be off as well with a lot of ball popped up to the left side. I trace it back to the Tim Wakefield game. Look at his gamelogs and see what happens from May 6th onwards. It’s a 554 OPS with only 4 walks. Right now his OBP is the same as Pudge’s.

Zumaya-Rodney updates

I think I spied Joel Zumaya in the Tigers dugout last night. But he is experiencing some soreness in his side. If everything goes as planned he’ll pitch tonight, and then back to back on Monday and Tuesday with a possible return to the team for the San Diego series.

As for Rodney, he had a terrific outing for the Mud Hens last night and will be back Monday provided he feels alright today.

Spit balls

All the injury updates

An update on four of the fallen Tigers and their progress:

Joel Zumaya

Jim Leyland said that if everything goes right Joel Zumaya could join the team on the next west coast swing when they get to San Diego, which is Zumaya’s hometown.

Of course I don’t know if tonight’s rehab outing is an indication of everything going right. In his first innning he allowed a walk, a single, and a line out but he also fannned a batter and hit 100 mph on the stadium gun. In his second inning of work he made a throwing error on a grounder and then allowed a double and a walk before being lifted.

Fernando Rodney

Rodney was back in Detroit working with Chuck Hernandez. He has another rehab outing on Friday and could be ready to join the team on the flight to San Francisco.

Jeremy Bonderman

Bonderman will be evaluated by Dr. Greg Pearl who did the Kenny Rogers surgery last year. At that point he’ll find out whether or not he needs a rib removed. Rogers is confident that Bonderman will be better off after having the procedure.

Gary Sheffield

Sheffield is ready to begin doing baseball stuff again. Let’s hope his shoulder has healed.

Rodney, Zumaya report to minors on Tuesday

It’s been written about for the last few days, but the team made it official today. Righthanded pitchers Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya are both scheduled to begin an injury rehab assignment on Tuesday, June 3.

Rodney will be assigned to Triple A Toledo, while Zumaya will be assigned to Single A Lakeland.

With Rodney being assigned to the Mud Hens, it seems that he could be back within a week or two. I’d guess that Zumaya is more likely to use closer to the full month allotted as he rebuilds arm strength.