Friday, May 25, 2007

Oh Say, Can You Seay? Bobby's A Valuable Commodity

Perhaps it says a lot about how baseball has evolved that when a middle-innings, situational lefthander flees for another team and more money, that his departure is accompanied by some nailbiting and furrowed brows.

In years past, such a personnel move would have been greeted with a yawn. And rightly so. But today, the lefthanded pitcher who can come into games and get lefthanded hitters out consistently is becoming more and more of a precious commodity.

So when Jamie Walker capitalized on this new way of looking at pitching staffs, taking an unbelievable offer from the Baltimore Orioles in the offseason, there was genuine concern in Tigertown. Namely, who would get lefty hitters out, if Walker is not here to do it?

Wilfredo Ledezma? More of a spot starter, long relief guy. Someone who can chuck two or even three innings in a game if need be. Andrew Miller? Starter of the future. Needs to pitch every fifth day -- somewhere. But not a situational lefty.

Bobby Seay? NOW you're talking.

Seay signed with the Tigers as a free agent in November, 2005. He made the team out of spring training last year, but didn't pitch for the Tigers after early June. This is because with Walker around, there wasn't much need for Seay's services. So Seay, who had a mostly undistinguished career with Tampa Bay and Colorado prior to signing with the Tigers, was sent back to Toledo.

This year Seay, 28, is being counted on more and more by manager Jim Leyland to not only get out lefty batters, but some righthanded ones as well. And that confidence is something that the southpaw from Sarasota, FL certainly appreciates.

"Well, with having (Joel) Zumaya out, I think we all have to kind of pick up our roles," Seay told me before yesterday's 12-0 skunking of the Los Angeles Angels. "Having Jim's confidence is definitely a positive for me, and I just look to go out day in and day out and try to get the job done."

That he has -- even though the ERA is a typically misleadingly high 5.40 in 13.1 innings of work. The more relevant stat for a reliever is opponents' batting average. And despite the slightly elevated ERA, opposing batters are hitting Seay at just a .216 clip.

Seay acknowledges that the bullpen is going through a rough patch currently (its overall ERA is scraping near the bottom of MLB), but he points out that those numbers can be misleading.

"We started off pretty hot," Seay says of his bullpen comrades. "The bullpen I think, in my opinion, has been pitching pretty well. We've just had some tough games where we've given up a lot of runs. But for the most part, we're doing our job."

It would be naive to say that the Tigers don't miss Zumaya, despite the team's winning ways ever since he got injured. But Jason Grilli seems to be getting off the schneide, and even Fernando Rodney has settled down, though he's been unavailable for a couple of days due to a stiff shoulder that's not believed to be serious. Jose Mesa is still scuffling along. But Seay has only given up three walks and one homerun in his 13.1 IP -- numbers that also bode well for a manager's confidence in a reliever. And those are numbers that are in alignment with the goals he set for himself prior to the 2007 season.

"Just throw strikes, really. Keep the walks down. Pitch to contact. You know, just not give up any free bases. So far so good, for the most part," Seay says.

A team's bullpen often manages to form a bond and camaraderie unlike anything in team sports, because of the time spent together -- and its distant proximity from the dugout. Seay says the Tigers have established a definite esprit de corps beyond the left field wall at Comerica Park.

"It's pretty loose. Jeff Jones (bullpen coach) keeps things pretty loose down there. We know it's a long season and that we're going to be relied upon to seal up some wins or hold some leads. I think the spirit down there is pretty good."

It usually is, when the wins are coming as consistently as they have for the Tigers in May. And Bobby Seay is no small part of that.


Carlos Guillen is a man of his word.

Before yesterday's game, working for Michigan In Play! Magazine, I hit Guillen with some questions about his health. I had noticed, as did others, that he was wincing at second base the other night, not long after a ferocious swing at the plate.

"I feel great, my friend," Guillen said.

The back doesn't feel stiff?


He also told me that as far as his reputation for not being able to stay healthy, "What can I say? If you play everyday and expect something to happen ... you know, it can happen sitting on the bench."

Hmmm...I suppose.

So what does Guillen do after proclaiming his great health? Only hit two homeruns and drive in five runs as the Tigers had a field day against the Angels.

That'll teach me to question a guy's wince.
Saw backup catcher Vance Wilson and asked him how close he was to returning from his elbow injury, which has knocked him out all season thus far.

"I don't know. Not sure. Just trying to get it to loosen up," he said of the elbow, which is on his throwing arm.

Having as much fun as last year?

"Team-wise, yes. Personally, no," Wilson told me.

Wilson is chomping at the bit -- you can tell. He bounds around the clubhouse and in the dugout -- being one of the most active injured players you'll ever see.

His return shouldn't be considered a minor addition for the Tigers -- no disrespect to current backup Mike Rabelo. For Wilson, at his best, is perhaps the best #2 catcher in all of baseball.


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