The Tigers dropped two of three in Pittsburgh over the weekend.
Pittsburgh, PA-  After dropping two games to start the 10-game road trip, the Tigers salvaged one on Sunday thanks to another strong effort from staff ace Justin Verlander.  JV’s  8th win of the season did not come easily though.  It took an eighth inning, two-out, RBI single from Delmon Young to give the Tigers a 3-2 win over the Pirates.

Verlander did the rest, retiring the final six Pirates in a row, striking out three.   Yet, maybe the most encouraging thing about the afternoon was Young’s clutch hit for the game winner.  Getting consistent production from the bottom of the Tigers lineup has been a constant struggle in 2012.

Brennan Boesch, Delmon Young, Alex Avila, Jhonny Peralta and Ryan Raburn have all spun their wheels in an effort to match last year’s numbers.  While there is still a ton of baseball to be played, July is staring us in the face.

Based on current numbers, here are the projections for the players listed above compared to last year’s totals.  As you can see, a couple of the guys will need a strong second half.

Boesch                 2012 (on pace)  .239-16-59                                  2011  .283-16-54

Young                   2012 (on pace)  .264-11-56                                  2011  .268-12-64

Avila                      2012 (on pace)  .234-11-45                                 2011  .295-19-82

Peralta                  2012 (on pace)  .258-9-41                                   2011  .299-21-86

Raburn                  2012 (on pace)  .168-2-18                                    2011  ..256-14-49

The trading deadline can change the look of a team instantly.  Today, the White Sox improved their squad with the addition of Kevin Youkilis.  The Tigers may make moves of their own, but the pieces in place got it done last year.  They just need to step it up.

Tigers lefty Phil Coke.
Detroit, MI-  The Tigers had to deviate from their regular ninth inning plan Tuesday night as closer Jose Valverde injured his wrist and was unable to come in for the final three outs.  As Valverde crouched in the pen holding his wrist, Phil Coke was given the hurry up signal and the adrenalin starting pumping in anticipation of the pending save opportunity.

It was the same feeling Coke experienced in the visiting bullpen at Comerica Park on September 1st, 2008.  Although he was a member of the Yankees, Coke’s big league career began in Detroit.  The Yankees were in town for a make-up game and Coke had just arrived from the Yanks AAA affiliate in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Bright-eyed and nervous like any other rookie, Coke was sitting in the pen soaking it all in when Bullpen Coach Mike Harkey told Coke to start warming up.  Brian Bruney had just pitched the 6th inning and with the Yankees leading 13-9, the 7th inning would be Coke’s.

“Harkey told me to get loose and just do the same thing I did in the minors,” Coke said.  “When I started warming up I was throwing the ball to the back wall of the bullpen, I couldn’t hit the catcher’s glove.”

Not a good sign.

When the Tigers came up in the bottom of the 7th, Coke’s first opportunity had arrived. 

 “When I got to the mound, I looked around the infield and I said ‘Hey, you’re Derek Jeter.’”   “Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi were all standing there, I couldn’t believe it.”

The experience had turned surreal for Coke.

Future Hall of Famer Pudge Rodriguez greeted Coke and asked him what he threw.  After they squared away the signals, Pudge gave Coke a pat on the back and said, “Ok Papi, let’s go.”

Keep in mind that Coke was not feeling a whole lot of confidence at this point.  After peppering the back wall of the bullpen with his warm-ups, things didn’t get any better when he arrived on the mound throwing his first tune-up toss to the backstop.

To make matters worse,  Coke would have to face the top of the Tigers line-up in his debut.  

Miraculously his first pitch to Curtis Granderson painted the outside black at 93 MPH.  Three pitches later he fanned Granderson on a 96 MPH heater.  It was the first time he had reached 96.

As the nerves began to settle, he then retired Placido Polanco on a pop up.  After Magglio Ordonez singled to right field, he faced Miguel Cabrera with two outs.  Coke’s first pitch again went to the backstop advancing Ordonez.  After running the count full, he got Cabrera to swing and miss at a back-foot slider, ending the inning.

Coke marched off the mound wondering what had just happened.  How could he be so incredibly wild with his warm-ups only to knife through the heart of the Tigers order?

After that debut, he would announce his arrival by sprinting in from the pen.

“I had so much adrenalin that I just started sprinting from the bullpen to the mound and I’ve been doing it ever since,” he said.

That sprint has now become his trademark.  On the scoreboard at Comerica Park, a timer clocks Coke from the pen to the mound typically at about 12 seconds.

Coke will always remember every detail of his debut in Detroit, and his sprint is a constant reminder.

The Tigers made their first ever appearance at Great American Ballpark over the weekend.
Chicago, IL- Slowly but surely, I am starting to warm up to interleague play.  For the longest time I have held on to the notion that American League teams should only play teams within their league and likewise for the National League.  The last three days in Cincinnati has helped change my mind.

Don’t get me wrong, I still struggle with the fact that some teams get punished every year for playing a tougher interleague schedule than others.  When home field advantage for the postseason hinges on best record, that can be a big deal.  Yet, no system is perfect so I’ll just deal with it. 

What made the last three days in Cincinnati so special was the newness of visiting a National League park and city and of the course the fact that the Tigers won two of three.  All three games seemed to carry a playoff feel.  You can’t quite get that when you play a divisional opponent this early in the year.  It also helps that the Reds are a first place team.

Saturday’s two-out rally in the eighth inning started by a Brennan Boesch double and Sunday’s unlikely comeback from four runs down, were two of the gutsier wins by the Tigers this year.  The atmosphere was tremendous because of the thousands of Tigers fans who made the trek to Cincinnati to support their team.

While I’m warming to the fact that interleague play has its merits, the addition of the Houston Astros to the AL next year will have an impact on scheduling.  Beginning next season, both leagues will have 15 teams and baseball is moving toward season-long interleague play.  With the DH in the AL, scheduling could be a nightmare under the season-long plan.  In other words, if an American League team in playoff contention ended the season in a National League park and had to sit its DH, that would not be good.

While baseball continues to mull over the future structure of interleague play, the Tigers take their act to Wrigley Field beginning Tuesday night.  They last appeared there in 2006.  If that series was any indication of things to come, the Tigers might just be ready to roll.

Tigers VP of Amateur Scouting, David Chadd joined us in the booth to talk about the draft.
Detroit, MI-  If you still wonder about the importance of pitching in major league baseball, just take a gander at the Tigers selection board in the just completed draft.  The Tigers have placed an emphasis on pitching in recent drafts and this year was no different.
With their first round pick the property of Milwaukee as compensation for the Prince Fielder signing, the Tigers did not select until the second round when they nabbed Jake Thompson, a 6-4 235 pound pitcher out of Rockwall-Heath High School in Texas.  Five of the Tigers first six picks were pitchers.

Thompson is a hard thrower who sits at 92-93 but has reached 94.  As he matures, his velocity may as well.  Originally committed to play college ball at Nebraska, Thompson switched his choice to TCU, but the Tigers should be able to convince him to sign professionally.

Like most high school pitchers, the development of his secondary pitches will determine how fast he moves through the system.  A good slider and change round out his arsenal.  Thompson has stated in interviews that he enjoys watching Matt Cain and Josh Johnson pitch.  Both have had a lot success in the big leagues and the Tigers hope Thompson eventually will as well.

VP of Amateur Scouting for the Tigers, David Chadd, joined us on the air and said with the new CBA agreement in place, what you can offer kids is more structured through a more concrete slotting system.  

 “That certainly made this draft more of a challenge,” he said.  “Teams are limited in the bonuses they can offer.”

Justin Verlander remains the centerpiece of recent Tigers drafts, but with Drew Smyly, Casey Crosby and Jacob Turner already contributing and Rick Porcello in the rotation, the Tigers have done a nice job of cultivating arms.  The hope is that this draft will continue that tradition.

Two months into the 2012 season, the Tigers sit six games back in the standings behind the surprising Chicago White Sox.  The Tigers offense has fallen short of its prolific expectations. 

Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder have anchored the lineup, and aside from some early season struggles, the dynamic duo has performed as expected.  Yet, on many occasions this year, Jim Leyland has reminded all that will listen that his team is not scoring enough runs.  The lineup simply has not had enough depth.

The Tigers are 8th in the American League in runs scored and homers and 10th in walks.  On too many occasions, the pitching staff has operated will minimal support.

While the main guns in the middle have carried much of the load, it is clear that the extra pieces that made the Tigers a dangerous offense in the second half last year have not supported Cabrera and Fielder nearly enough in 2012.

Alex Avila, Brennan Boesch and Jhonny Peralta have struggled to match last season’s numbers.  Below is a comparison of their numbers through June 4, 2011 and 2012.

                         2012                                                            2011

Avila                .254-5-20                                                    .275-8-31

Boesch            .229-5-19                                                    .259-5-27

Peralta            .247-4-16                                                     .320-8-31

Leyland is also fond of citing track records and the hope is that the rest of the offense can match its pace of last season.  Injuries to Austin Jackson and Andy Dirks in recent weeks have not helped the cause, especially since Jackson was off to a torrid start and Dirks settled into the two hole nicely.

A return to form for Avila, Boesch and Peralta would lend a spark a disappointing start.