All of 2012, Tigers fans wondered what Detroit's lineup would look like when Victor Martinez returned from his knee injury.
The early returns were not very encouraging. Martinez expanded the strike zone too often the first two months of the season, mainly because he was overanxious.
Martinez hit .221 in April and just slightly better in May at .235. Yet, as June rolled around, Martinez got back to being his old self. He walked 13 times in June and showed more plate discipline and patience. By the time July arrived, Victor was back to being the upper echelon, middle of the order talent the Tigers saw in 2011.
Martinez put together a strong July, hitting .390 for the month, driving in 20 runs and posting an on base percentage of .429. His numbers may earn him Player of the Month in the American League, but he will have some competition. Here are some other strong July numbers:
AVG HR RBI OBP SLG
Kyle Seager .396 6 14 .464 .635
Mike Trout .379 4 14 .476 .623
Torii Hunter .374 7 22 .377 .697
If Martinez is able to turn in a strong final two months of the season, the Tigers offense will reach its potential and a lengthy post season run is in the cards.
Newest Tiger Jose Iglesias
I didn't see it coming. I should have. I was convinced that the acquisition of Jose Veras from the Houston Astros was going to be it for Tigers trades this year.
With a possible suspension looming for Jhonny Peralta and injuries to Omar Infante and Miguel Cabrera, it stands to reason that Dave Dombrowski would work the phones for an infielder, specifically a shortstop.
Jose Iglesias has long been considered one of the best shortstop prospects for some time. He has been compared defensively to some of the best shortstops in recent history. When Dombrowski acquired him in a three team deal with Chicago and Boston, the Tigers appear to have secured their shortstop for years to come.
Iglesias' offense is seemingly catching up to his defense. He hit .330 with the Red Sox this year with a .376 on base percentage. While he is not a base stealer per se, he does provide the Tigers lineup with some speed and athleticism.
No one expects Iglesias to hit .330 at the end of the season, but his bat has started to mature at the big league level.
His glove however remains his calling card. That can be a valuable attribute, especially for a club that boasts a pitching staff that has induced a greater percentage of ground balls (59%) than other staff in the league.
The cost was Avisail Garcia and Brayan Villarreal. As Jim Leyland said, a big bat and a big arm.
Garcia started showing some power in the big leagues this year and Villarreal has always had a major league arm.
Dombrowski realized that there are times that you have to roll the dice. Give him credit for sending Garcia to a divisional opponent. Garcia will almost assuredly have some big hits in the future against he Tigers, but this is a move that improves the Tigers in the short and long term. And Dave Dombrowski had the courage to make the deal
Astros closer Jose Veras is a Tiger.
It was Alex Avila's signature moment of the first half. His two-run homer in the top of the ninth inning at Minute Maid Park lifted the Tigers to a 4-3 win over the Houston Astros in May.
The game winning shot came at the expense of the Astros closer Jose Veras. Today, Veras learned that he will jump four spots in the standings with the trade that brings him to Detroit.
The Tigers dealt for Veras despite the fact that he did not pitch well against Detroit this season. In 3 2/3 innings, he allowed the Avila home run and walked three. Yet, his numbers for the season were good.
Veras saved 19 games for the last place Astros in 22 opportunities. He adds an experienced arm to the back end of a bullpen that has shown signs of improvement the last two weeks. Since the middle of the month, the Tigers bullpen has been solid. In 22 1/3 innings, the pen has struck out 19 with only 5 walks and opponents are hitting just .195 against.
Joaquin Benoit is still clearly the closer, and he deserves to be. He has embraced the role after some early reservations and has been fantastic. However, Jim Leyland has warned that Benoit needs to be watched closely and probably would not pitch three days in a row. Veras provides insurance for that scenario.
The arrival of Veras strengthens the Tigers relief corps, but the continued contributions of Drew Smyly and Bruce Rondon are just as critical. The Tigers could easily have proceeded with their current crew, especially with the possibility of Octavio Dotel's return, but adding this piece makes them stronger.
The only question is how much the Tigers gave up in return. Class A outfielder Danry Vasquez heads to the Astros in return. By all accounts, Vasquez is a fine prospect with nice upside. Giving up prospects is never easy. Yet, the one thing I have learned is that Class A is a long way away from the big leagues.
When the Tigers traded for Jarrod Washburn in 2009, they included pitching prospect Mauricio Robles in the deal with Seattle. Robles had high strikeout numbers in Class A that season and some felt the Tigers would rue the day they allowed him to leave the organization. After 3 1/2 sub-par seasons in the Mariners organization, Robles is now in the minor leagues with the Phillies.
Only time will tell if adding this piece was worth the risk. I think it was. The Tigers have an opportunity to win the whole thing again this year, and to sit by idly would not have enhanced their chances.
Major League Baseball announced today that Tigers right hander Rick Porcello has received a six-game suspension and fined for intentionally throwing at Tampa's Ben Zobrist Sunday at Tropicana Field.
Porcello said he will appeal the decision, but at the most he would miss only one start if the suspension stands.
Porcello declined to comment on the situation before tonight's game.
Alex Avila returns Tuesday from the D.L.
Catcher Alex Avila will be activated from the disabled list on Tuesday and Bryan Holaday will return to Toledo, the Tigers announced today.
Avila was hit on the arm by a pitch in Minnesota in June and suffered a deep bruise. After an 8 game rehab in Toledo, the backstop is ready to return.
Avila probably avoided a longer stay in Toledo by turning his offense up a notch. After a slow start, he was 5-13 with a homer and four RBI's in his last three games. The Tigers, it seemed, were also using the trip to Toledo to help Avila find his swing.
He has battled through knee injuries and has never regained the form that led to an All Star season in 2011. In his place, Brayan Pena filled in nicely. Pena hit safely in seven of the 10 starts he made in Avila's absence.
Yet, make no mistake that Avila is the starting catcher for a reason. Jim Leyland has often talked about the presence Avila brings behind the plate and it is much more difficult to quantify a players value defensively than it is to look at his offensive stats.
The bottom line though, is that the Tigers need a jolt offensively and hopefully a healthy Avila can provide it.
The Tigers need to start scoring some runs. Late in games. Soon.
Again on Sunday, the Tigers bats went silent when the game was on the line. Down by two runs at Tropicana Field in the seventh inning, the Tigers loaded the bases with nobody out. Yet, just minutes later, the Rays bullpen wiggled out of a major jam when Bryan Holaday flied out, Austin Jackson grounded into a force play at home plate and Torii Hunter lined out to center. In effect, the game was over.
The Tigers inability to strike late in games is perplexing to say the least. An offense with Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder anchoring the middle and Jackson and Hunter at the top should have some comeback ability. The numbers indicate otherwise.
Entering Sunday's contest, the Tigers were hitting .226 in the seventh inning or later and have scored 80 runs, the lowest totals in the American League.
The Tigers have scored only 14 runs in the ninth inning the entire season. Again, surprising given the statistics the Tigers top hitters have put up.
You can't blame the lower part of the lineup for the woes either, not when Jhonny Peralta and Omar Infante are having the seasons they are enjoying.
While the bullpen has taken the brunt of the backlash, the truth is that the offense needs to start producing some big innings, especially late in games. When they start tacking on runs, the bullpen's job will become much easier.
Bruce Rondon's return the major leagues gives the Tigers another power arm in a bullpen that has been inconsistant this season. For the most part, the pen has had the luxury of pitching behind a starting staff that has gone deep into games, yet the relief corps, aside from Drew Smyly and Joaquin Benoit, has had its struggles.
The Tigers bullpen this season has thrown only 223 innings, second fewest in the American League behind the Royals. They certainly haven't been taxed. Yet, manager Jim Leyland has admitted that he hasn't done a good job of getting his pen in sync.
If the Tigers are to make a deep run in the post season this year, the bullpen will have to improve. The Tigers also realize that they will have to add a part or two at the deadline.
Don't look for the Tigers to trade for an established closer this July. The pickins are slim and even the stablished guys are struggling at times. Jonathan Papelbon, Fernando Rodney, Jim Johnson and Andrew Bailey have all dealt with elevated blown save numbers. Combined, they have blown 19 saves this year. The cost to acquire a front line guy will also be steep.
Instead, I expect the Tigers to add an arm or two to beef up the depth of the pen.
While any acquisitions the Tigers make before the trading deadline will be key, so too will the performance of some of the in-house pieces the Tigers currently have. Al Alburquerque, Rondon and Phil Coke have to pitch up to expectations. Alburquerque has wipe-out stuff and Rondon can be a big wild card in that respect.
Rondon's first shot at the big time fizzled in spring training when the pressure of winning the closer's job was just too much. A subsequent call to Detroit in late April prompted Leyland to admit that he was just not ready.
Rondon's numbers in Toledo this season were very good. He had a WHIP of 0.91 and 40 strikeouts in 29 2/3 innings. Hopefully the announcement that he will not close this time around will help him settle into a spot in the pen that will allow him to succeed.
The pieces are there, and with a few additions in July, it could be a good bullpen.
Nothing like a ninth inning implosion to rile up a fan base. For the second time in the last two weeks, Jose Valverde allowed a home run that eventually sent the Tigers to defeat. Closers are not supposed to do that. That's why they are called closers.
Twitter nation responded, shall I say, "negatively" when I described Wednesday's loss as "stunning."
I was called a shill, a homer, a kiss-up and a few other choice words that are not suitable for a kid-friendly blog, for insinuating that it was surprising that Valverde gave it up. I should have let him have it, the people told me.
Yet, this is a team broadcast, not talk radio. You don't need me to tell you that giving up a game-tying homer on an 0-2 pitch to Lorenzo Cain was unacceptable.
The disappointment in my voice told the story as far as I'm concerned. But I get it, folks are frustrated. You don't invest three hours of your day watching and not get ticked when things go south.
But that is not the issue. The issue is, where do the Tigers go from here to fix the situation?
Most fans realize that a closer can not, and will not, be be perfect. Just check Fernando Rodney's numbers this year. Yet, most fans should be allowed to expect a closer to get the job done most of the time. The problem that Valverde has, is that his leash is extremely short. Already let go by the club once, the tolerance for failure at this point is very low. Actually, non existant.
It's difficult for a "bullpen by committee" to work. In my opinion, relievers perform best when roles are defined. Before the Tigers added Valverde to the roster, the bullpen ERA was 4.53 in the first month. Since Valverde's arrival, the ERA is a run lower at 3.54 during that stretch.
I bring this up only to illustrated how much a defined closer allows the rest of the pen to settle into their roles, even if the closer is not getting it done.
So the question is who should close? The Tigers are actively searching for relief help, presumably for someone that can fill the ninth inning role.
Joaquin Benoit could probably fill the role adequately, but that would pull him out of the eighth inning spot that he has mastered since his arrival three years ago. Again, that would affect everyone else's role.
Could Bruce Rondon do it. Maybe, but he strikes me as a guy that needs to ease into the spot by pitching late in games first and then eventually becoming the long-term answer. He has 10 saves and a .077 ERA at Toledo and some big league time already this year.
The Tigers are clearly the class of the division and they have a chance to pull away from the pack as the summer wears on. For as good as they are, the ninth inning needs to be addressed.
I have a feeling the club knows that.
Tigers first round pick Jonathon Crawford.
The Tigers used their 2013 first round selection to draft another power arm. Jonathon Crawford, a right hander from the University of Florida, was selected with the 20th pick.
Here is the draft scouting report on Crawford courtesy of MLB.com:There's nothing like a no-hitter at a Regional to raise your profile a bit. Truth be told, Crawford would be high on radar screens anyway with his pure stuff, though some inconsistent performances during his junior season kept him from being among the top few college pitchers on this list. He has a plus fastball that can touch 96 mph and throws a hard breaking ball to go along with it, a combination he used well for Team USA over the summer. Crawford is strong with a good delivery and arm action. As big as his stuff is, though, he will have to learn to soften it up somehow in the future. Everything he throws is hard, and the ability to change speeds more effectively will be a necessary skill to refine going forward.
Here is the link to Crawford's bio page from the University of Florida website: Jonathon Crawford
His reputation preceded him before he even stepped near the Tigers clubhouse this spring in Lakeland. By all accounts, those that have played with or spent any amount of time around Torii Hunter, universally speak of his top-shelf personality.
His willingness to share his time and experiences with teammates, media and fans is legend. Until you hang around the affable Hunter for any period of time, you have no idea how much of a good guy he really is.
It is a personalty not typically born from the beginnings that Hunter experienced.
Pine Bluff, Arkansas is a rough town. So rough it seems, that it has been labeled the most dangerous "Little Town" in America. A city of roughly 49,000 people, violence is a way of life and the town's infrastructure has not been updated in years.
It is also Hunter's home town.
Hunter has overcome some log odds to carve out a borderline Hall of Fame career. He already has 2,000 major league hits and is just two home runs shy of 300 for his career. Yet, he has had plenty of challenges in life and has found a way to overcome them all. It's really pretty simple. He just smiles.
"I know where I come from," Hunter recently told me before before a Tigers game. I've had family problems, my father was a drug addict, but at the same time, you would never know. I put a smile on my face and I'm thankful for the chance to put on a major league uniform every day."
That smile has carried Hunter through a lot of tough times growing up.
"We didn't have much, a lot of times the electricity was cut off and we were hungry. My grandmother always told me not to let anybody see you down and depressed, and I try to carry myself the right way."
Wherever he has played, Minnesota, Anaheim or even here in Detroit, Hunter has quickly earned the respect of those around him. When the Tigers opened a three game series in Anaheim on April 19th, Hunter received a standing ovation from the Angels fans in attendance. You don't normally see that for an opposing player.
"It was really cool," Hunter said. The standing ovation was kind of like my grade for my time in Anaheim. I guess it showed that the fans there appreciated the way I play the game."
It's an appreciation that Tigers fans are quickly gaining as well.