And then there was one, or maybe two

Todd Jones 3-13-08
Todd Jones pitches a 1-2-3 inning against the Braves
Credit Roger DeWitt

That would be spots available in the seven man bullpen. Jim Leyland ended some of the speculation today by announcing that Todd Jones, Bobby Seay, Tim Byrdak, Jason Grilli, and Zach Miner were locks. The ambiguity now surrounds Fernando Rodney and his health. A healthy Rodney would of course be a part of the plan, but that seems unlikely at this point.

Of the aforementioned locks, the first 3 weren’t a mystery in the least. Grilli was also fairly assured of a spot because he’s a Leyland favorite. But Zach Miner wasn’t a given in my mind. Not that Miner isn’t deserving, but that his option status afforded the team some flexibility that Denny Bautista, Yorman Bazardo, and Francisco Cruceta couldn’t. And while it would really be a blow for Miner to go to Toledo, there’s a very strong likelihood that injury or ineffectiveness would lead to a call-up at some point.

Given that Cruceta hasn’t even made it into the country yet, he of course has to be considered a very long shot at this point. However, his visa struggles could play to the Tigers advantage in that he could probably clear waivers while MIA.

With Rodney likely to start the year on the DL, it will give the Tigers a chance to take an extended look at Bautista and Bazardo. Neither could be sent to the minors without clearing waivers. Officially Preston Larrison and Aquilino Lopez are still in the mix, as is Freddy Dolsi. But it wouldn’t make practical sense to take them at the expense of risking the loss of some valuable bullpen depth.

Other stuff

Good news for Tigers pen?

Given the rash of bad news with injuries, shellackings, and visa problems hitting the Tigers bullpen, today was a nice change.

  • Denny Bautista continued to pitch well. He went 2 scoreless innings with 4 K’s and is going to be hard to leave behind when the team heads North.
  • Jordan Tata, who wasn’t a strong candidate for the pen but would be counted on for depth, received news that he should be able to start throwing again in 3 weeks.
  • Yorman Bazardo and Jason Grilli also turned in strong performances today. Granted it was one day, but it’s better than a kick in the teeth.
  • Clay Rapada, another long shot arm for the pen but also a depth guy, threw a bullpen session. It was the first time on a mound since the 2nd week of camp.

The less good news had to do with Todd Jones. While no one seems worried, a lack of arm strength is pretty troubling. It sounds like he’s confident he can build up the strength, but what if he can’t?

I’ll leave you with a happy thought though. Rick Porcello looked very good, save for one breaking ball that floated over everyone’s heads. He got into the proverbial kitchen of a few guys in his 2 innings of work and nothing was hit hard against him. It’s the first time I’ve seen him on the mound save for still shots, and he doesn’t look like a guy fresh out of high school.

Bullpen woes spawn trade talk

Jon Paul Morosi reports that the Tigers bullpen headaches have the team talking trade. Morosi notes that there have been “general discussions” with the Cubs. Chicago has become a favorite trading partner of Dombrowski with the two clubs completing five trades during DD’s tenure.

Morosi notes that the Cubs may be interested in a right handed hitter who could play center. Like maybe Inge. There is the Alan Trammell factor and a recommendation from the bench coach could come into play.

MLB Trade Rumors throws out the name Ryan Dempster as a potential target. Dempster will turn 31 and make $5.5 million this year, so for 2008 anyways the salaries would work out. Dempster fanned 7.43 per 9 innings last year while walking 4.05 per 9 and posting a 4.51 FIP. In other words he’s a poor man’s Jason Grilli (7 K/9, 3.6 BB/9, 3.85 FIP). Well, with some saves.

As for the current bullpen candidates, well, umm, yeah:

  • Matt Mantei’s arm went pop and he’s retiring and was released
  • Fernando Rodney threw for the first time today in a couple weeks. He made 15 throws from 60 feet. But that doesn’t provide a lot of hope at this point given his history.
  • Francisco Cruceta still hasn’t made it into the country.  At this point I wonder if the Tigers could get him through waivers.
  • And Todd Jones was rocked today for 6 runs in an inning.  But that’s probably less of a concern at this point.
  • At least Denny Bautista has looked good in his limited time with 3 scoreless innings.
  • I find it interesting that Yorman Bazardo has only thrown 1 inning. I thought he’d be a strong candidate to make the team given his option status.

The Full Pen

We’ve taken a look at how the Tigers may, or at least how we think (and by we I mean I and the people who agree with me) they may fill out their bench. The bench is one of the few areas of ambiguity in terms of the roster. The other area is the bullpen.

Unlike with the bench, there aren’t too many assumptions to clarify. The only tenet is that the pen will most likely have 7 pitchers and I don’t think that is really up for too much debate. The only way I see that deviating, and even then it’s not very likely, is if Vance Wilson is injured and Brandon Inge serves as the super-sub and back-up catcher and Leyland carries 8 bullpen arms.

Here’s a quick stratification of the options:

Sure Things: Todd Jones and Fernando Rodney.
Not quite sure things but pretty likely: Bobby Seay and Tim Byrdak
Everyone else: Danny Bautista, Yorman Bazardo, Francisco Cruceta, Jason Grilli, Matt Mantei, Macay McBride, Zach Miner, Clay Rapada, Jordan Tata
Maybe in August: Joel Zumaya

The sure things aren’t really worth discussing, at least not now. And while the nomenclature of “sure thing” and Todd Jones may be tough to swallow, he is a lock in terms of his roster status. Byrdak and Seay would probably have to pitch very poorly or very injured this spring to not make the team. Both lefties had solid campaigns last year and Leyland likes carrying 2 southpaw options.

As for everyone else, we’ll go in alphabetical order. Looking at the circumstances, option status will likely to be the driving factor in how the last 3 members are chosen. Eddie has done an excellent job writing up an Options tutorial as well as looking at what those implications could be for the Tigers.
Continue reading The Full Pen

Game 128: Yankees at Tigers

PREGAME: The Tigers take another crack at Roger Clemens who they had no trouble hitting last week, they just had trouble scoring. The Tigers mustered 10 hits in 6 innings, but only 2 runs thanks to 8 strikeouts which all seemed to come with guys on base.

For the Tigers it will be Andrew Miller making his fast start since going on the DL on August 4th. Despite the great stuff, Miller struggles a little to put guys away and his lack of command can lead to hefty pitch counts. He hasn’t recorded an out after the 5th inning since July 6th.

I’ll be heading down to this game, and hopefully the result will be similar to when I saw Clemens pitch against the Tigers last year.

Who’s your Tiger tonight? I’m going out on a limb and going with Brandon Inge.

Game Time 7:05
NYY @ DET, Friday, August 24, 2007 Game Preview –

POSTGAME: You know you got your money’s worth when on the way home from a game you start to ponder where it ranks in terms of the greatest games you’ve ever witnessed live. When you’re doing at at 4:00am, you know it’s a special situation.

First things first, thanks to all of you for the awesome comments throughout the game last night. I was reading them on my Blackberry throughout the night and was amazed so many of us were toughing it out together.

On to the game, I made several good decisions last night. First, I had an unused ticket and was really debating taking my 6 year old son. I ended up not doing it, because while I love him to death and love going to games with him, this was the first time since Opening Day I had plans to go with my friends and I just didn’t want to be a dad that night. Second, we took a couple cars to the game because one friend had commitments in the morning and we didn’t know how late he’d want to stay. Worked out great with the one friend being able to leave at 8:30 when he recognized any baseball would be way late. So those staying were happy to be stayinig, and no one had to leave prematurely.

The theme for the night was pretty much, “there’s weird s*** happening tonight” and that held up throughout the game. Witness:

  • Placido Polanco makes an error. That never happens.
  • Pudge battles back from an 0-2 count to take a walk. That never happens.
  • The game started at 11:05.
  • Jason Grilli pitches not only a scoreless inning in Comerica Park, but he does it uneventfully.
  • Pudge took another walk. Intentional and all, but still.
  • I’m drinking coffee at a game in August – normally an activity reserved for those cold nights in April or September

So there we were at 2:30 in the morning concocting the most improbable ways for the Tigers to pull this off. Like having the Tigers load the bases against Mariano Rivera and then have Inge come through. Well, that one got half way there, and only some bad luck kept it from coming through.

Still the crowd stayed, and sure it was whittled down after a while. After that 10th inning the numbers really dwindled and I said to the usher, this place looks like 2003 right now. But it sounded much louder. And at that point everyone had formed this big kind of friendship, the kind of friendship that can only come from staying at a ballpark until ridiculous hours of the morning as everyone individually questions their sanity for staying and yet being too afraid to leave and miss something. It was kind of like one of those West Coast Red Wing playoff games that goes into OT, and you think to yourself “I can’t quit now, I’ve made it this far.”

Fortunately for those who stayed, they got the pay off. After a nice walk by Polanco it looked like a hit and run sign was missed with Sean Casey up and Polanco was picked off. And the Tigers went from a runner on 1 out situation to a 2 out none on situation. As so often is the case, the next batter gets a single after the runner is wiped off the bases.

I was imploring Leyland to pinch run for Casey, figuring that a gapper would go to waste with Casey on the basepaths. Instead Leyland stuck with Casey who managed to go first to third with relative ease on a blooper. Setting the stage for the Carlos Guillen. When he hit it I didn’t know if it was gone. I just new it was well hit and I didn’t care if it were a homer, I just wanted it to get over Matsui’s head. When it landed on the roof of the bullpen it was euphoria, it was relief, it was “I get to go home now, but I’m not tired anymore,” it was so worth it all.

I know the above thoughts are incoherent, but I’m working on a couple hours of sleep right now. For the bullets:
Continue reading Game 128: Yankees at Tigers