Friday, May 29, 2009

No More Mr. Nice Guy: Verlander Turns Mean And Wins Again

Being a nice guy is overrated.

A team's ace pitcher doesn't have to be a Dale Carnegie protege.

The exact opposite, in fact, is often what's needed.

Bob Gibson had it.

"It" was the disposition of a hungry, caged lion.

Especially on the days that he was slated to pitch.

It was best to stay out of Gibson's way on those days. Gibson was never really known as a congenial man--still isn't, frankly--but he turned positively wretched when his turn in the rotation came up.

His teammates stayed far, far out of his way. Gibson, they said, walked around with a puss about as sour as under-ripe lemons. Then he went out and treated opposing hitters as if they went pee-pee in his Corn Flakes.

Jack Morris, one of the best money pitchers of his time--or anyone's time, for that matter--also had "it."

Morris was an angry man, especially when he played in Detroit. I ought to know. I followed Morris from the day he arrived from Evansville as a rookie in 1977, to the day he fled after the 1990 season as a free agent.

Morris was the Tigers' Gibson: the unequivocal ace who was mad at the world--or at least at the Yankees, or the Orioles, or the Blue Jays.

There was plenty of hate in Morris to go around.

The writers weren't safe. Neither were his teammates.

Morris reminded me of another high-strung Detroit athlete, Lions quarterback Bobby Layne.

Layne was known to kick his offensive linemen in the shins when they blew an assignment.

There was a line attributed to Layne, probably true.

It came as he entered the huddle prior to the game-winning drive in the 1953 NFL Championship Game.

"Alraght, fellas," Layne drawled, "y'all block and ole Bobby'll pass y'all raght to the champeenship."

The Lions blocked. And Layne, true to his word, passed the Lions to the championship over the Cleveland Browns at (then) Briggs Stadium in Detroit.

Morris, when a Tigers player would boot a baseball, forcing "The Cat" to get four outs that inning, would glare at the offending teammate.

The teammate wouldn't glare back. He knew better.

Morris's will was never more on display than in Game Seven of the 1991 World Series.

He pitched 10 innings of shutout ball in the Metrodome, leading the Twins to victory over Atlanta.

Manager Tom Kelly didn't dare remove Jack.

For my money, if I needed a baseball game won, I'd want Jack Morris on the mound.

The Tigers' ace of today, Justin Verlander, is shucking the nice guy label, kind of.

"I'm not as nice anymore," JV said recently, explaining his mood on the days he starts.

Verlander is on a roll right now, mowing down hitters and giving up runs begrudgingly and miserly.

He's becoming angry on the mound now, and there's nothing wrong with that.

I've seen the Verlander of old on the days he was slated to throw, and he was anything but mean.

Quite the contrary.

Laughs. Smiles.

Loosey-goosey comes to mind.

Which was fine--then.

But after a miserable 2008, JV thought that walking on the dark side was worth a try.

Right now, his stuff is filthy and his mood is nasty.

It's a combo that has worked for the Bob Gibsons and Jack Morrises of the world.

If you can't beat 'em...

Monday, May 25, 2009

Monday Morning Manager

My weekly take on the Tigers, also known simply and affectionately as "MMM."

Week of 5/18-5/24: 4-2

This week: 5/25-27: at KC; 5/28-31: at Bal

Goat of the Week

Not too many goats on a team that ripped off seven straight wins, which the Tigers did until stumbling over the weekend against the Rockies, of all teams.

But righthanded starter Armando Galarraga is MMM's first-ever two-time Goat, and on back-to-back weeks, no less.

A-Gal improved slightly in his last start on Saturday, but he's still the weak link in a rotation that now includes Dontrelle Willis, who was feared to be the mother of all weak links.

My hunch?

Galarraga becomes a long relief man when Jeremy Bonderman returns to the rotation, which is perhaps two weeks away.

It's a game of production in the big leagues. No jobs are given away out of charity.

Galarraga was a bright spot last year on a team with few of them.

But he's not producing in '09, and that means his spot in the rotation is up for grabs.

Hero of the Week

Let's hear it for Willis, by the way.

Another strong start on Sunday, although in a losing effort.

I watched some of the game Sunday, and Dontrelle appeared to show no ill effects from his time spent on the disabled list due to anxiety disorder.

He one-hit the red-hot Texas Rangers into the seventh inning, then followed that up with a strong performance against the Rockies.

For what he's coming back from, Willis deserves to be last week's MMM Hero.

Quick scouting reports: Royals, Orioles

If slugfests are your thing, you might not want to tune in to the Tigers-Royals series this week.

Pitching abounds on both teams.

But if you like that kind of thing, have we got a series for you!

Justin Verlander vs. Gil Meche on Monday.

Edwin Jackson vs. Zack Greinke on Tuesday.

Rookie Rick Porcello vs. Kyle Davies on Wednesday.

Oh, and the Royals are the closest threat to the Tigers' first-place status in the division.


As for the Orioles, they can hit but can't pitch. A statement that fits more teams than not anymore.

Young Adam Jones is getting all Eddie Murray-ish: a .359 average; 10 HR; 32 RBI.

And he's just 23.

Jones hit just nine homers all season in 2008.

He's not on the juice, is he?

Seriously, it's Jones and two usual suspects -- Nick Markakis and Aubrey Huff -- who are inflicting the most damage. The three of them have combined to drive in 106 runs already.

Trouble is, the O's haven't gotten much from anyone else in the lineup.

The ERAs of the Baltimore starters should come with an NC-17 rating.

They range from the low fours to the eights. Mostly they're in the fives--well into the fives.

The Orioles win by outslugging their opponents.

Correction: they win by having Jones, Huff, and Markakis outslugging their opponents.

Which is why they're below .500.

Three men do not a lineup make.

Under the microscope

Let's put Brandon Lyon there.

The free agent reliever is quickly getting Neifi Perez-like derision from the Tigers faithful. But to compare position-to-position, Lyon is a poor man's Todd Jones -- a pitcher who's not overpowering and who relies on location and balls being hit to where the fielders are positioned.

Lyon is surrendering homers and extra base hits with alarming frequency, and doesn't seem to be fooling too many hitters right now.

He's booed when he enters the game at Comerica Park.

It'll be interesting to see if Lyon, who lost the closer's role in spring training to Fernando Rodney, will be run out of town. He doesn't have strong ties to and roots in Detroit, like Jonesy had.

That's all for this week's MMM. Join me every Monday!


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Willis's Performance Terrific, But It's Just One

Dontrelle Willis isn't back. Let's get that straight right out of the box.

The demons aren't gone. Some of the dragons still lie in wait.

Willis's career is a house of cards, still.

So when you exhale after every hopeful outing, turn your head and blow in the opposite direction, just in case.

Last night, at Comerica Park, Willis won himself a baseball game.


His first win in the big leagues since 2007.

A masterpiece. Not just for him. For anyone.

Willis, infamously placed on the disabled list with anxiety disorder at the end of spring training, made his second start of the season against the Texas Rangers, they of the seven-game winning streak and the multitude of .300+ hitters with so much raw power.

And Dontrelle handled them. Easily.

Seventeen Rangers in a row, Willis retired at one point.

It was not too long ago when we feared that Willis wouldn't be able to hit the Atlantic Ocean with his pitches.

Last night?

Six and one-third innings. One hit. One. And just two walks.

One-hundred pitches thrown, and more than 60 percent were for strikes.

Oh, it's cause for celebration, alright. Cause for optimism.

No question.

But this is still a work in progress.

Remember Todd Van Poppel?

Van Poppel was the much-ballyohooed rookie draft choice of the Oakland A's back in 1990.

He never came close to living up to the expectations.

Van Poppel became, for a time, a Tiger.

By the time he arrived in Detroit, Van Poppel was washed up. At age 24.

But he had one moment of glory as a Tiger: a complete-game, five-hit shutout against the Royals at Tiger Stadium. It was August 30, 1996.

Despite the shutout, Van Poppel's ERA as a Tiger was an unsightly 11.39 in 36.1 innings.

Point being, I remember folks sprouting hope after Van Poppel's shutout of the Royals.

Maybe he's back, they said. Maybe he's the pitcher everyone thought he could be.

Then Todd went out and surrendered 30 earned runs over his next five starts, which spanned just 12.1 innings total.

I'm cautiously optimistic about Willis's performance last night. It should do him a world of good.

But he's not out of the woods yet. Not even close.

This is a game of performance, big league baseball is. Consistent performance.

What is it they say about blind squirrels? Or a broken clock?

This is, as I've written and said on Blog Talk Radio, going to be done in stages, Dontrelle Willis's comeback.

Stage One: get through that first start and survive it without blowing up.

Status: Accomplished.

Stage Two: build on that and learn how to pitch again, working the plate and gaining more and more command.

Status: In progress.

It's not fence-sitting to say, "Check back with me in September about Dontrelle Willis."

It's smart.

Is the D-Train back on the tracks?

See three sentences ago.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Monday Morning Manager

My weekly take on the Tigers, also known simply and affectionately as "MMM."

Week of 5/11-5/17: 3-3

This week: 5/19-21: TEX; 5/22-24: COL

Goat of the Week

Last year, I suspected that right-handed starter Armando Galarraga had pitched over his head. I doubt I was alone.

The Tigers picked Galarraga off from the Texas Rangers' trash heap last spring training, and his rags-to-riches story was terrific, but I was leery.

Do it one more time, Armando, I thought. Or something close, to make me feel that this wasn't one of those one-hit wonder deals.

Sadly, Galarraga has now pitched himself onto MMM's weekly Goat list.

Galarraga soiled the mound once again on Sunday, his fourth straight poor outing. That the Tigers picked him up and won the game anyway doesn't change his MMM status.

In his prior start, Galarraga had big time trouble in the first inning, but survived it.

Yesterday, he didn't even do that.

Dishonorable mention goes to the bullpen, which blew multiple leads in Minnesota during a three-game sweep at the hands of the Twins.

Hero of the Week

I'm going to cop out and lay the MMM Hero tag on the entire Tigers offense.

They scored 34 runs in sweeping the A's over the weekend, including digging out of a six-run hole on Sunday. In Minnesota, they scored enough runs to win at least one, maybe two games.

I love Ramon Santiago. Always have.

All he does is hit, and drive the ball into the gaps. Sometimes, he drives it over the fence.

He clubbed a three-run homer Sunday, completing the team's comeback.

But we'll probably never know what this backup infielder can do if given 500 ABs. Santiago being a full-time player just doesn't seem to be in the cards in Detroit.

On the other hand, what a treat it is to have a bench player like Santiago, whose glove is sweet, and who can deliver a key hit when you need it, too.

Quick scouting reports: Rangers, Rockies

Interleague play debuts this weekend, but the Tigers won't have to deal with the thin air and pinball-like ballpark in Denver. The Rockies come to town, and in they're in a familiar spot--their 2007 Cinderella season notwithstanding: with a losing record and bad pitching.

An exception is lefty starter Jorge De La Rosa, who's 0-3 despite a 3.16 ERA in seven starts. But the Tigers are likely to miss De La Rosa, because his next start is slated to be just before the Rockies hit town.

Two other pitchers on the Rockies' roster are of interest to Tigers fans.

Reliever Jason Grilli, ex-Tiger, has a 2.57 ERA in 14 innings.

The Rockies' closer is Huston Street, and the last time we saw Huston (it seems), he was surrendering that walk-off home run to Magglio Ordonez that won the 2006 pennant for the Tigers.

Offensively, the Rockies are led by outfielder Brad Hawpe, who has an amazing 32 RBI in 109 AB. Plus, he's hitting .358 with an OPS (on base pct. plus slugging) of 1.067.

Before the Rockies, the Tigers must deal with the Texas Rangers. And these aren't the Rangers that the Tigers swept in Detroit during opening week.

They've won seven in a row and lead the West by 4-1/2 games.

Talk about offense!

The Rangers have three players in double digits in homers (Ian Kinsler, Hank Blalock, and Chris Davis). And Davis is only 23 years old.

Kinsler's having an MVP-type year, and 3B Michael Young is back to his old tricks, hitting at a .351 clip.

Starter Kevin Millwood was cruising along in his start in Detroit last month, then manager Ron Washington inexplicably pulled him from the game after six innings. The Tigers then roughed up the Rangers' bullpen and won the game.

Millwood is 4-3 with a 2.93 ERA and the Tigers will see him again this week.

The Rangers have been another team whose offense is typically brighter than their pitching. But this year, Millwood is joined by Vicente Padilla and Matt Harrison to form a decent top three in the rotation.

Under the microscope

We must go back to Galarraga.

Jeremy Bonderman is getting closer and closer to returning to the team after nearly one year removed from his last big league start due to surgery.

The question begs: which pitcher will lose his spot in the rotation when Bondy returns?

It just might be Galarraga.

If Willis hangs in there and doesn't go sideways, I'm sure the Tigers would like to keep him starting, since he's the Tigers' only lefty in the rotation.

Now you can see why Armando is under the scope at MMM this week.

Galarraga's spot comes up next on Saturday against Colorado.

We'll see if he's on the mound when it happens.

That's all for this week's MMM. Join me every Monday!


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Dontrelle Willis Begins His Demon Exorcising Tonight

Tonight a young man will step onto the mound at the Metrodome in Minneapolis and it'll be amazing if he doesn't sink into the dirt from the weight on his shoulders.

Dontrelle Willis isn't just starting a baseball game tonight.

He's trying to exorcise demons.

Willis hasn't won a big league game since 2007. But it's not just that he hasn't won.

It's how he hasn't won.

To say simply that Willis has gone winless in nearly two years is to say that the Titanic didn't reach its destination, and leaving it at that.

Willis's career is at stake. Right now. It starts tonight, in Minnesota.

It'll soon be known whether Willis has recovered sufficiently from his anxiety disorder and is on the road to being Dontrelle Willis again, or is another of baseball's cautionary tales.

Every pitch that misses the strike zone, every batter who trots to first base after taking ball four, will come attached with excess baggage.

It's hard to pitch when your life depends on it.

And Willis's baseball life depends on it.

Last year, his first in Detroit, Willis lost it. Completely.

His numbers were gruesome (24 IP, 35 walks, 9.38 ERA, 0-2 record). And it was all between the ears.

Steve Blass Syndrome, named after the beleaguered and practically tragic figure Blass, who infamously lost it in 1973 with the Pirates, just two years removed from being a World Series hero.

Willis had it, many folks said. Or something eerily similar to it.

I recall a lefty stopper named Kevin Saucier. He owned Detroit in 1981, nicknamed "Hot Sauce." He was the bullpen version of Mark "The Bird" Fidrych: after every game saved, Hot Sauce would leap around the field, pounding his glove, embracing his teammates as they ran off the field.

Then, in 1982, Saucier retired. In the middle of the season.

"I'm afraid I'm going to kill someone out there," Hot Sauce said, fearing he was losing control--both on the mound and in his head.

The Tigers have played it straight with Willis. They've nurtured him, supported him, taken him through all the proper channels for someone in his situation.

He just completed a minor league rehab assignment and threw the ball fairly well, by all accounts.

Now, it's to the point where further minor league starts are deemed unnecessary.

Dontrelle Willis can only slay his dragons, can only exorcise the demons, by proving that he can throw strikes and retire hitters from a big league mound.

With all due respect to the AAA hitters he's been facing while performing for the Toledo Mud Hens.

This might be one of the most anticipated starts by a Tigers pitcher since Fidrych's much-ballyhooed return from his knee injury in May 1977.

You're excused if you hold your breath tonight while watching the game on the tube. It's OK to wring your hands and even say a little prayer.

This isn't about the Tigers beating the Twins tonight. Screw that.

This is about whether a 27-year-old pitcher will continue to be a pitcher, or should be looking into life after baseball.

And Twins fans, by the way, ought to be pulling for Willis, too. Shame on them if they put winning this game ahead of his mental well-being.

For the record, Willis says he's ready. Says whatever was messing with his head is all gone.

He's all better now. So he says.

If he can get out of the fifth inning with minimal damage, then the Tigers and everyone who calls themselves a fan of the team ought to be ecstatic with that.

If he gets lit up, walks a ton of batters and is driven to the showers before the third inning, it's not good. Not good at all.

Dontrelle Willis's mental comeback isn't necessarily riding on this one start in Minnesota tonight.

It'll just feel like it.

For us, and for him.

God bless him.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Monday Morning Manager

My weekly take on the Tigers.

Week of 5/4-5/10: 4-2

This week: 5/12-14: at Min; 5/15-17: OAK

Goat of the Week

I hate to do it to catcher Gerald Laird, but I'm going to place the MMM Goat Tag on him for last week. Actually, with him in a 1-for-32 slump, he could be two weeks' worth of Goat.

But the reason I hate to do it to Mr. Laird is that he's still backstopping well and calling good games. It's just that he's been a disaster at the plate. Then again, my being pleased at his acquisition had everything to do with defense and little to do with offense. Plus, no one expected him to remain in the rarified air of .300+, as he was in the opening few weeks.

That said, someone has to be Goat of the Week at MMM, and for last week it's Gerald Laird.

Sorry, Gerry.

Hero of the Week

If you're a Tigers pitcher, especially a starter, then you're likely a Hero of the Week for last week.

My, how the Tigers pitched, especially in Cleveland over the weekend.

Justin Verlander repeated his Hero performance from last week's MMM by twirling a gem on Friday night. Edwin Jackson followed with more mastery on Saturday. And rookie, 20-year-old fuzz-faced Rick Porcello was solid as a rock on Sunday.

Armando Galarraga had a bad first inning in Chicago on Thursday, but recovered. It's just hard to make any headway when the other guy is flirting with a perfect game, as Mark Buehrle was.

The bullpen was good, too--despite a couple rocky ninth innings from Fernando Rodney.

But the official Heroes are the Tigers starters.

Quick scouting reports: Twins, A's

The Tigers' sweep in Cleveland was their first since 2006, and there weren't too many before that, believe me. Now the Tigers go into Minnesota with that damned Metrodome, which I've frequently railed against.

It's no use trying to figure out what will happen in that atrocious stadium this week.

But if the Tigers keep pitching (their team ERA is in the top three in the A.L.) then good things should happen.

As for the Twins, catcher Joe Mauer is still on a tear, batting .485 since returning from injury. Justin Morneau is at .322 with eight home runs. But the Twinkies are 15-18, and as usual, it revolves around pitching.

The starters' ERAs are in the fives and sixes. The bullpen has been volatile. Only closer Joe Nathan (five saves, 1.64 ERA) has been consistently good.

The Oakland A's are scuffling along even worser.

Yeah, I said worser. Deal with it.

The A's are 11-18, and have lost seven of their last ten.

In Oakland, the troubles are on the mound and at the plate.

Only one Athletic is batting over .300: catcher Kurt Suzuki.

Pitching-wise, after Dallas Braden (2.79 ERA) and 21-year-old rookie Trevor Cahill (3.82 ERA), the rotation drops off dramatically. Of course, with the limp noodles the A's are swinging in the batter's box, you'd need five Cy Young Award winners to keep up.

Under the microscope

We put Carlos Guillen under the one-eyed monster at MMM last week, and he went on the DL, as expected.

So the focus now turns to Magglio Ordonez, who last week was dropped to sixth in the batting order by manager Jim Leyland. The power has waned, and the batting average is mediocre. He had two hits Sunday, so we'll see.

But the production Maggs has given the Tigers in the cleanup spot has been virtually nil.

The Tigers are 17-13, but the big guns still have to be the big guns.

That's all for this week's MMM. Join me every Monday!


Friday, May 08, 2009

Colavito's Arm Rivaled His Power At The Plate

The question came to me, quite out of the blue, but it made me smile nonetheless.

One of my colleagues at Bleacher Report had read one of my nostalgic Tigers pieces--the kind I'm so wont to do, as you know--and we started a back-and-forth chat about great players of the past, including non-Tigers.

Then, this.

"Who had the better arm? Clemente or Colavito?," he asked.

Ahh yes. Thanks for asking!

It's pretty much commonly known that Roberto Clemente had one of the finest arms ever in baseball history. A virtual cannon in right field.

I can still see the one throw, from the 1971 World Series.

Clemente turning and throwing, in one motion, and delivering a laser to third base, from deep in the right field corner. The ball never was more than five feet off the ground.

OK, so we know about Clemente, but where did Rocky Colavito's invocation come from?

Colavito, a Tiger from 1960-63, gave the team two howitzers in the outfield.

Don't forget about Al Kaline!

Kaline, in my opinion, was just a notch below Clemente in the arm department. Maybe half a notch, on second thought.

Kaline's throwing was based largely on his impeccable form. No one mastered the art of the catch-and-throw like Kaline.

If a runner dared to try to score from third base on a flyball to right field against Kaline, it was far from a sure thing, no matter how deep the ball was hit.

Kaline's footwork as he waited for the ball to arrive in his mitt was where his accuracy and strength originated. He'd circle gently, gauging the ball's trajectory, then position himself perfectly so that he could make the catch and the throw in one motion.

No one did that better than Al Kaline. Not even Clemente.

Ah, but what of Colavito?

Colavito could bring it from the outfield--right or left

Rock is normally known in baseball for being the home run champ who was traded for a batting champ. The Tigers and the Indians swung that deal, on the eve of the 1960 season: Colavito for Harvey Kuenn.

But Colavito was more than just a power hitter. His arm was so good that the Tigers moved Kaline to center field and put Rock in right in 1960.

But then the idea was hatched to switch Rock to left field and return Kaline to right, starting in 1961. They pretty much played that way from '61-'63.

If Colavito's arm was one of the best in right field--and it was--then it was terribly over-qualified for left field.

But opposing base runners ran at their own risk against the Tigers in those days, with Kaline and Colavito patrolling the outfield corners.

Rock was traded by Detroit to the Kansas City A's, then became somewhat of a journeyman as his power mysteriously waned. A New York kid, Rock finished with the Yankees in '68.

With the Tigers, Rock slammed 139 homers in four seasons.

He also recorded 61 outfield assists in those four years, and 123 for his career. By comparison, Kaline had 170 outfield assists, and Clemente an amazing 266.

So how did I answer the question, asking about the arms of Clemente and Colavito?

Clemente, of course--but Rock was no slouch. Not at all.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Monday Morning Manager

My weekly take on the Tigers.

Week of 4/27-5/3: 3-3
This week: 5/4-5: MIN; 5/6-7: at CWS; 5/8-10: at Cle

Goat of the Week

The Tigers' bullpen had managed to keep themselves out of MMM's doghouse, but after blowing up on Tuesday against the Yankees, spoiling Edwin Jackson's start, we have to make them the goats, collectively.

Dishonorable mention goes to Carlos Guillen, who still can't get his bat going. Of course, Guillen's been battling a sore achilles. He's always battling something, it seems.

Hero of the Week

Turnabout is fair play. Last week, Justin Verlander was MMM's Goat of the Week. Well, welcome to the penthouse after spending a week in the doghouse, JV!

Verlander had himself two fabulous starts last week: seven shutout innings against the Yankees on Monday, and seven uber strong innings against the Indians Sunday.

The totals for the week? 14 innings, 9 hits, 20 strikeouts, one earned run.


It was so important that Verlander follow up his Yankees start with another good one, or else we'd think that he was in the "blind nut finds a squirrel" category. But JV's confidence is soaring; when he got himself into a bases loaded, no out situation Sunday in the seventh inning, Verlander all but prayed that manager Jim Leyland would leave him in.

Leyland did. And Verlander got three outs and stranded all three runners.

When a pitcher wants to stay in under those circumstances, that's a sign of confidence and belief.

Is JV back to his 2006-07 form?

Ask the Yankees and Indians hitters.

Quick scouting reports: Twins, White Sox, and Indians

Catcher Joe Mauer returned to the Twins last week and slammed a home run in his very first swing of the season. He went 7-for-10 out of the gate. As usual, the Twins stayed afloat during Mauer's absence. Of course, that's easier to do in a logjammed division.

The Twins' other usual suspect, Justin Morneau, is having a fine season: .327 BA, six homers, 21 RBI.

A tale of two starting pitchers: Kevin Slowey is 4-0, despite an ERA of 5.17. Francisco Liriano is 0-4, with an ERA of a tad over 6.00. Looks like someone's getting offensive support, and someone isn't.

The White Sox feature lefty starter Mark Buehrle, who's slated to start against the Tigers this week. Buehrle is 4-0 with a 3.30 ERA.

Offensively, Carlos Quentin has eight homers, and veteran Paul Konerko is rebounding from a poor 2008. He's batting .310 with 18 RBI.

The Indians, as we saw last weekend, have bullpen issues. Here's a stat with a "wow factor": the Indians have been outscored, 35-12, in the 8th inning this season. Closer Kerry Wood, who signed a fat contract with the Tribe, hasn't been handed many 9th inning leads.

The Tribe still has all-world CF Grady Sizemore, but he has been getting precious little help offensively.

2008 Cy Young winner Cliff Lee, who lost three games all season last year, is 1-4, thanks to his loss to Verlander on Sunday. The Tigers will see Lee again, probably Friday.

Under the microscope

It's a close call, but I'm going to put Guillen under the scope this week. Carlos says his achilles isn't bad enough to go on the DL, but if he keeps not hitting, the Tigers may want to re-visit that assertion.

Also under the scope, believe it or not, is backup catcher Dane Sardinha. Why? With Matt Treanor likely out for the season after hip surgery, the Tigers will need a capable backup to spell Gerald Laird, whose fast start at the plate might wane if the Tigers overuse him. Leyland likes to keep players fresh, especially his catchers.

When the Tigers won the pennant in 2006, Vance Wilson was the supreme backup catcher. Occasional offense, very good defense, wonderful clubhouse presence.

But Wilson was a veteran, and Sardinha isn't. Plus, Sardinha is a notoriously bad hitter. But the Tigers say they're fine with him, despite the Mariners' release of veteran Jamie Burke, a career .293 hitter.

"I need to hit, a little bit," Sardinha told reporters Sunday. "Or else Dusty will be on my tail."

That would be minor leaguer Dusty Ryan, considered the team's best catching prospect, long-term.

That's all for this week's MMM. Join me every Monday!


Friday, May 01, 2009

I Liked Ike: The "Other" Brown

Ike Brown was, for his entire Tigers career, the "other" Brown on the Detroit roster.

The more famous Brown was William "Gates" Brown, who thrilled Tigers fans with his pinch-hitting heroics. The Gator wasn't much of a fielder, so he decided that if he was going to stay in the big leagues it better be with the bat. The designated hitter rule, introduced in 1973, was made for guys like Gates Brown.

But what of Ike Brown, the jolly, happy-go-lucky utility man?

Ike Brown played for the Tigers from 1969-74, which was also the extent of his major league career. He tooled around in the minor leagues for about six years before finally debuting as a 27-year-old rookie.

Ike was mainly an outfielder, but he played many positions. In fact, Ike played them all, except pitcher and catcher, while wearing the Old English D.

I like Ike Brown because he was a free spirit. Kind of like the utility man version of Norm Cash: affable, goofy.

One of the Tigers yearbooks has a photo of Brown, having fun before the team picture was taken. He's got his head beneath the cloth shrowd attached to the camera, pretending to take the photo, with just a few players and coaches on the arranged benches in the outfield.

Then there's another snapshot of Brown reacting dramatically to a Tigers home run -- splayed out on the dugout steps, his hand on his head, as if he's fainted. And with a kidding grin on his face.

Ike never got more than 170 AB in any season, but his career numbers are the equivalent of one full big league campaign: 536 AB, 20 HR, 65 RBI, 90 BB, 130 K, .256 BA.

Yeah, Ike Brown had a little bit of power; in 1971, he had eight homers in just 110 AB.

Ike was a guy who was just happy to be in the big leagues. He didn't fuss, didn't complain about playing time, didn't grouse. Just putting on a big league uniform seemed to be enough for him.

The Tigers released him after the 1974 season, and at age 32, no one picked him up.

Sadly, Ike Brown died in 2001, at the young age of 59. He died in Memphis, TN, where he was also born.

He was one of those players I gravitated to, despite him not being a star. I suppose I was attracted to his fun-loving nature.

Ike Brown may not have captivated Tigers fans like Gates Brown did, but let those folks speak for themselves. I think I favored Ike.

Sorry, Gator. No offense.