Archive for July, 2011

Tigers notebook, 7/22

July 22, 2011 Comments off

Leyland addresses Thursday’s decisions

MINNEAPOLIS — After right-hander Justin Verlander gave up a leadoff triple on Thursday in the second inning, Tigers manager Jim Leyland played the infield back with Jim Thome at the plate. But following Thome’s strikeout, Leyland moved the infield in with one out.

Leyland discussed the thought process behind the two decisions before Friday’s game.

“Well, with no outs, you don’t want to open up a big inning,” Leyland said. “If you’re playing in and he hits a ball in the hole that you didn’t get, you still got a guy on first. You’ve got one out and you still got the double play in order.

“Over my career, I’ve seen too many infields back and a routine ground ball to the shortstop allows a guy to trot home.”

The strategy did not really end up mattering for Leyland and the Tigers, as Verlander struck out both Thome and Danny Valencia, setting up a ground out to end the inning with the runner stranded at third base.

But Leyland said that he generally likes to bring the infield in with one out and a runner on third.

“Unless you’re worried about a big inning, I play them in all the time,” Leyland said. “If you got one out, I think you should be able to come out of it without a big inning.”

Leyland, Thome share jovial conversation

MINNEAPOLIS — Early on Friday afternoon, Tigers manager Jim Leyland sat out to enjoy a beautiful day at Target Field, which he called “gorgeous,” “beautiful” and a “tremendous” ballpark.

In the home dugout, Leyland spotted Jim Thome and struck up a conversation with the Twins’ slugger.

“I just happened to see him in their dugout, and I pointed to the that sign out there,” said Leyland, referring to the banner above center field that read ‘THOME 596,’ counting down his chase for 600 career home runs.

“I said, ‘I don’t want to see that go up while I’m here,’ kidding him,” Leyland said.

Thome didn’t really have a comeback for Leyland’s joke, but he said that he had a good time talking with Leyland.

“I didn’t really comment, you know?” Thome said. “What are you going to say? It was just all in fun and joking.”

With seven home runs on the year, Thome is within striking distance of becoming the eighth player in Major League history to reach the 600-home run plateau.

Leyland discussed with Thome how nice a ballpark Target Field is, and Thome pointed out to him that all five cities in the American League Central are great places to play.

Aside from the joke about Leyland not wanting to see Thome get any closer to 600 homers this weekend, neither discussed any specifics about their conversation. But both had plenty of good things to say about the other.

“Jimmy’s been around the game a long time,” Thome said. “He’s an old school manager that I think a lot of people have respect for. He’s always been very, very pleasant and very nice to me. Any time I’ve run across him, he’s always been very cordial, very polite. He’s just a good guy to talk to about baseball in general.”

Tigers manager recalls memories of Blyleven

MINNEAPOLIS — With former Twins right-hander Bert Blyleven set to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday in Cooperstown, he was a topic of discussion on Friday when Tigers manager Jim Leyland met with reporters.

Leyland recalled his first encounter with Blyleven in 1969, when both were in the Florida League, playing for the Tigers’ and Twins’ affiliates at the Class A level.

“He was in Orlando when I was at Lakeland,” Leyland said. “I hit against him.”

So the obvious next question was, how did Leyland fare against Blyleven in the early stages of what would eventually become a Hall of Fame pitching career?

“I was probably one of the first guys who sent him on his way to Cooperstown,” Leyland said. “And I can assure you one thing, he doesn’t remember what happened, because he had no clue who I was.”

Tigers sign Draft picks Westlake, Collier

MINNEAPOLIS — The Tigers announced on Friday that they had signed third round pick Aaron Westlake and 22nd round pick Tommy Collier.

With two more players signed from the 2011 MLB First-Year Player Draft, the Tigers have now agreed to terms with 28 of the club’s selections.

Westlake, a first baseman from Vanderbilt University, earned second team All-America honors from Baseball America after hitting .344 with 18 doubles, 18 home runs and 56 RBIs in 66 games this year for the Commodores.

Collier, a right-hander from San Jacinto College, was pitching with Bourne of the Cape Cod League this summer before he signed. In five starts, Collier compiled a 3-1 record with a 1.04 ERA, allowing three earned runs over 26 innings pitched with 26 strikeouts.

Blyleven has built tight bond with Twins fans

July 21, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — Circle me, Bert.

Nearly 10 years ago, during a Twins roadtrip, Bert Blyleven began using his telestrator during broadcasts to circle Twins fans during games. When the Twins returned home, the Metrodome was filled with “Circle me, Bert” signs, and the phenomenon began.

After spending 11 seasons in his 22-year career pitching for the Twins, Blyleven has been a color commentator on the team’s broadcasts since 1996. Now in his 16th year on the air, Blyleven’s popularity among fans has never been greater.

Tigers roll Twins as Verlander wins No. 13

July 21, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — Typically, a leadoff triple is going to result in a run. For Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander, it’s more of an opportunity to show off his stuff.

When right fielder Michael Cuddyer opened the second inning of Thursday’s 6-2 Tigers win at Target Field with a triple to the gap in right, the Twins looked like they might put together a rally. Instead, Verlander reached back for something extra to get a pair of strikeouts and a groundout to strand the runner.

“It’s not a high point, but it’s exciting and a momentum builder for our team,” Verlander said. “At that point, it’s 0-0, a leadoff triple and most of the time, that guy’s going to score. Being able to get out of that inning unscathed kind of turned it around and gave our guys a little shot in the arm.”

Verlander pitched brilliantly throughout Thursday’s game, bouncing back from his worst outing of the season to pick up his 13th win as the Tigers earned their 10th straight win over Minnesota.

With the victory, the Tigers lead the Indians, who were idle, by a half-game, taking sole possession of first place in the American League Central for the first time since July 10.

“We let one get away last night, there’s no question about that,” said Tigers manager Jim Leyland, referring to the club’s 7-5 loss Wednesday to the A’s. “We came here tonight, we had our horse going, he gave us a great effort, we got some big hits and we got a nice win.”

Verlander (13-5) went eight innings, giving up just one run on five hits with nine strikeouts. He did not walk a batter, and faced just two over the minimum through five innings.

He was especially impressive against slugger Jim Thome, who has seven career homers off Verlander. Thome struck out all three times he faced Verlander, stranding four runners.

“He kind of goes hand-in-hand with me as a pitcher,” Verlander said. “Early in my career, he really had my number. I made a lot of mistakes to him, and he did a lot of damage with those mistakes. It seems like over the years I’ve been able to cut down those mistakes to less and less and therefore allow less and less damage.”

Only once did Verlander allow more than one baserunner in an inning, when the Twins scored a run on three straight two-out singles in the sixth inning.

Three Twins — Alexi Casilla, Joe Mauer and Cuddyer — got hits off Verlander. The other six went a combined 0-for-19 against the Tigers ace, who topped out at 99 mph on the night.

“It’s tough because he can throw 100 [mph] and then drop of an 80-mph curveball or slider,” said Twins center fielder Ben Revere, who went 0-for-4 on the night. “He knows the back door and the front door. He can place it anywhere. He’s a big-time All-Star, and I’ll say he’ll be a future Hall of Famer, too.”

At the plate, the Tigers put up more than enough offense to support Verlander, knocking Twins right-hander Carl Pavano out of the game after just six innings. Pavano gave up five runs on nine hits with a walk and two strikeouts.

The fifth and sixth were the big innings for Detroit. Brennan Boesch belted a two-run homer — his 14th of the year — with two outs in the fifth, and the Tigers added two more in the sixth. Verlander said the Boesch home run was crucial, allowing him to be more aggressive with a three-run lead than he would with a one-run advantage.

“I just had to battle all game, and I got a pitch to hit and didn’t miss it,” Boesch said. “[Pavano’s] had a lot of success against me, so I knew I had to really focus today.”

Miguel Cabrera led off the sixth with a double, followed by a Victor Martinez single, a Jhonny Peralta double and a sacrifice fly from Carlos Guillen.

Peralta added a solo homer in the eighth, his 15th of the season, into the second deck in left off Twins reliever Chuck James. Peralta finished a triple shy of the cycle, going 3-for-4 with three RBIs.

Phil Coke pitched the ninth inning, allowing an unearned run on a Wilson Betemit throwing error. Betemit was appearing in his first game since being acquired on Wednesday from the Royals.

“We got some timely hits, Jhonny Peralta had a very good night,” Leyland said. “Big hits we got, and just a good win for us. Coke, I thought, looked really sharp at the end, really good.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Tigers notebook, 7/21

July 21, 2011 Comments off

Ties may smooth Betemit’s transition

MINNEAPOLIS — Being traded within the same division, Wilson Betemit was pretty familiar with the Tigers before joining the club on Thursday at Target Field. But the connections between Betemit and the Tigers go beyond just the familiarity of divisional opponents.

Betemit was a teammate of right-hander Brad Penny while both were members of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and he also played with fellow infielder Ramon Santiago in the Dominican Winter League.

“I’m happy to be here,” Betemit said. “I’ve got a lot of friends on this team, and I’m happy to be here today.”

Another connection that Betemit discussed before Thursday’s 6-2 victory was between him and Tigers bench coach Rafael Belliard.

Before joining the Tigers coaching staff, Belliard was a roving infield instructor in the Atlanta Braves organization from 2000-05. Betemit was a top prospect for the Braves, signing with them at age 15 in 1997 and spending all or part of four seasons in the Major Leagues with the Braves in 2001 and 2004-06.

Belliard also played a large role in Betemit’s move from shortstop to third base when the Braves decided they wanted him to switch positions.

“I always played shortstop,” Betemit said. “Working with Rafael Belliard at that time when I was moving to third base helped me a lot.”

Betemit eager to contribute to Tigers’ run

MINNEAPOLIS — On his first day with the Tigers, third baseman Wilson Betemit was in the lineup on Thursday at Target Field, batting ninth.

Betemit said he was not surprised by Wednesday’s trade, and that he was happy to be with the Tigers.

After a strong 2010 season, Betemit opened the season as the Royals’ starting third baseman, hitting .281 (57-for-203) with 15 doubles, three home runs and 27 RBIs. But once Kansas City called up prospect Mike Moustakas last month, his role changed.

“I knew this was going to happen,” said Betemit. “The guy, Moustakas, is playing every day, and they were talking about trading me. I didn’t know they were going to trade me here, and I didn’t know it was going to happen this soon, but now I’m here and it’s time to play.”

Tigers manager Jim Leyland said he always liked what he saw out of Betemit when the veteran infielder was in the opposing dugout.

Now, he hopes to see the same with Betemit taking over at third base, a position that has been a weakness in the Tigers’ lineup this season.

“He’s somebody that I’ve always respected when I’m in the other dugout,” Leyland said. “I worry about him when he steps in there. I hope I don’t have to worry about him anymore when he steps in there.”

Betemit, who went 1-for-4 with a run scored and a throwing error in the Tigers’ 6-2 victory, said one of the things he liked best about the trade was not having to face right-hander Justin Verlander anymore. They had faced each other only once before, but Verlander won that battle with a strikeout.

“Oh yeah, that’s what we talked about earlier,” Betemit said. “He’s a great pitcher. He’s unbelievable.”

Another aspect of Betemit’s addition that Leyland said he was happy with was the fact that the Tigers now have three switch hitters in their lineup, with Betemit joining catcher Victor Martinez and second baseman Carlos Guillen.

Betemit talked with reporters about how he initially preferred to bat only right-handed when he was a Braves prospect.

“When I was with the Braves, I didn’t like to hit lefty,” Betemit said. “My first game, against a righty you’re supposed to hit lefty, but I hit righty. I was like, ‘I don’t like to hit lefty,’ and they told me, ‘No, you’re going to hit lefty.’

“My first year, I hit like .220, my second year I hit .270. … Then my third year, I hit like .320, and then the other one .340. Then they said, ‘See? We told you you’re going to hit lefty.’ Then they told me, ‘You want to hit righty?’ I said, ‘No, I’m OK.'”

In relief, Coke brings a smile to Leyland

MINNEAPOLIS — Since moving to the bullpen at the beginning of the month, Tigers lefty Phil Coke has been impressive in six relief appearances.

In 5 2/3 innings, Coke has a 1.58 ERA, giving up just two runs (one earned) on seven hits with one walk and four strikeouts. Coke pitched the ninth on Thursday, allowing an unearned run on a Wilson Betemit throwing error, and giving up a single as well in the inning.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland really liked what he saw out of Coke in the ninth.

“Coke, I thought, looked really sharp at the end, really good,” Leyland said.

“I thought he was really smooth tonight, really good. That was an easy 95 [mph]. You don’t see many lefties throwing 95, it was pretty good. The reason it was so impressive is it was coming out so easy. It looked like it was effortless.”

Worth noting

Despite being 0-for-17 in his career against Twins right-hander Carl Pavano, second baseman Carlos Guillen was in the starting lineup on Thursday, batting seventh.

Said Tigers manager Jim Leyland of the decision: “It’s one of those cases where he’s a veteran guy [and] he’s swinging so good.”

Leyland also said if he needed a late-inning defensive replacement in right field for Magglio Ordonez, it could be Don Kelly, Andy Dirks or Ryan Raburn. In talking about such a possibility, Leyland also raved about Kelly’s versatility.

In the Tigers’ 6-2 win, Guillen finished 0-for-2 against Pavano with a sacrifice fly. He grounded into an inning-ending double play in the fourth with the bases loaded

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Valencia’s go-ahead hit spurs Twins

July 20, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — When it comes to hitting with the bases loaded, Danny Valencia is well aware of the success he’s had in his career. Rather than let the pressure of the situation get to him, Valencia has shown a flair for the dramatic in his career, coming up with big hits in those moments.

Valencia did it on Tuesday night with a walk-off single, and he did it again on Wednesday with another go-ahead single as the Twins rode a three-run eighth to a 7-5 victory over the Indians. With the win, the Twins got back to five games under .500 and five games behind the Indians, right where they were when the series began.

After losing both games of Monday’s doubleheader, the Twins looked to be on the verge of falling back into a big hole in the American League Central. Instead, they split the series with the Indians and will look to gain ground with a big series starting on Thursday against the first-place Tigers.

The Twins have yet to beat the Tigers this season. And the last time that they were in Detroit, the Twins left at their lowest point, with a 17-37 record, 16 1/2 games out of first.

“It wasn’t fun leaving Detroit and flying wherever we went to next after that,” Valencia said. “But a lot’s changed since then, our team’s really clicked a little bit, we’re playing good baseball and I still don’t think we’re playing our best baseball.

“Eventually when we do click on all cylinders like we can, I think we’re going to be a really, really tough team to beat.”

With his single, Valencia improved to 10-for-18 with 22 RBIs in his career with the bases loaded. He also has 21 RBIs this season in the seventh inning or later, a category in which he ranked sixth in the American League entering the game.

After falling behind 1-2, Valencia got just enough of a fastball from Vinnie Pestano, slapping a soft liner to right field that just got over the glove of Orlando Cabrera at second base.

“It’s fun,” Valencia said. “You know what’s on the line and it makes you kind of relax a little bit, even though it’s hard to really believe that. You don’t try to do too much in those situations. One run, like I’ve always said, is enough. Anything else after that is a bonus. Being able today to get another hit with the bases loaded is just huge.”

Alexi Casilla scored easily from third, and Tsuyoshi Nishioka singled home a pair of runs two batters later for some breathing room.

Nishioka’s hit proved crucial in the ninth, when Twins closer Joe Nathan surrendered a one-out homer to Lonnie Chisenhall.

“Today was about Nishioka, I think,” Twins right fielder Michael Cuddyer said. “If Nishioka doesn’t get that hit, we’re still out there playing.”

Casilla, who scored the go-ahead run, celebrated his 27th birthday — and said he was getting ‘old’ after the game — by going 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles, the second of which sparked the Twins’ big eighth inning.

Leading off the eighth, Casilla drove an 0-1 changeup from Pestano into the gap in left. The ball fell between Indians left fielder Luis Valbuena and center fielder Ezequiel Carrera and bounced over the wall for a ground-rule double.

The bounce over the wall was a tough break for the Twins and Casilla, who would have had at least a triple if the ball remained in play.

“I thought it was a homer,” Casilla said. “I thought it hit the glove and got over. I thought it was gone. And then I look, and they were on the ball, and I said, “Oh my god.'”

For the Indians, the play was another crucial situation that could have gone differently if they weren’t playing Valbuena — an infielder — in left field.

In addition to Casilla’s double that could have been caught for an out, Valbuena also had the two biggest hits of Tuesday’s game fall in front of him.

“If you have an everyday outfielder, I’m sure that it probably could have been caught,” said Indians manager Manny Acta. “We know what we’re dealing with. Luis is playing out of position. He played a lot of left field at Triple-A, but it’s a different ballgame up here.”

But the Indians were not the only ones that made crucial mistakes in the game on defense.

Twins starter Nick Blackburn pitched well, but a few mistakes — by him as well as the Twins’ defense — allowed the Indians to push four runs across against the right-hander. Only one of the four was earned, and Blackburn allowed just four hits and two walks, while striking out seven.

The Indians plated three runs in the fourth, two of which were unearned as center fielder Ben Revere dropped a long fly ball. In the sixth, Cleveland added another unearned run as Travis Hafner scored on a passed ball.

“There were a couple things that happened behind me, but we still ended up winning the game,” Blackburn said. “That’s all we need right now. All the wins, especially against teams that are ahead of us, is what’s important. I’ll take that outing every time.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Still ill, Gardy leaves game against Tribe

July 20, 2011 Comments off

Still ill, Gardy leaves game against Tribe

MINNEAPOLIS — Twins manager Ron Gardenhire is still battling an illness, and left Wednesday’s 7-5 win over the Indians during the game, according to bench coach Scott Ullger, who served as manager in his absence.

“He might’ve stayed a couple innings, but then he went to the doctors,” Ullger said. “He wasn’t feeling well.

Before the game, Gardenhire said that he added another medication to the ones that he’s already taking.

Gardenhire joined the team on the field for early batting practice on Tuesday afternoon, and he admitted before Wednesday’s series finale that it probably was not the best decision.

“I screwed up yesterday by going out for that early batting practice and trying to run around a little bit,” he said. “I hadn’t been out in a while and that really set me back, because I was coughing all through the game and it was not fun.”

The illness, which Gardenhire referred to last week as a viral infection in his esophagus, has forced the Twins to play most of the homestand with Gardenhire watching from his office. He even had to leave the ballpark early one night to go home and get some rest.

Gardenhire said that it gets worse as the day goes on.

“I wake up in the morning and feel better; I’ve got some nice cough medicine that knocks me out,” Gardenhire said. “But as the day goes, I just have a really hard time breathing. But yeah, they’re trying some more aggressive stuff, if that can be possible with that bag of drugs over there.”