Posts Tagged ‘MLB’

Austin Jackson delivers the game-winning hit in the ninth inning on Thursday against the Boston Red Sox at Comerica Park. Jackson went 3 for 5 with a triple, run and RBI. (AP photo)

Much of the hype and hoopla surrounded Prince Fielder and the Tigers other two big stars in Thursday’s season opener at Comerica Park.

After all Fielder, the $219 million offseason acquisition and son of former Tigers masher Cecil Fielder was making his debut in a town where he spent a good portion of his childhood.

And reigning AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander was back on the mound looking in midseason form.

And Miguel Cabrera was playing his first game at third base since the 2008 season, making his move across the diamond to accommodate Fielder’s arrival. (And he did make an error)

In the end the day belonged to Austin Jackson, the Tigers much maligned leadoff hitter who has been constantly criticized for his numerous strikeouts over his first two professional seasons. It also didn’t help that he took over center field for Curtis Granderson, who put together an MVP-caliber season for the Yankees last year.

After spending the offseason working on his hitting approach (Jackson got rid of his leg kick and shortened his stride to the ball), the center fielder came through with an impressive start to the season. Jackson went 3 for 5 and delivered the game-winning single down the third base line in the ninth inning to score pinch runner Danny Worth and lift the Tigers to a 3-2 win over the Boston Red Sox.

It was the first career walk-off hit for Jackson, who bailed out the Tigers after closer Jose Valverde blew his first save since the 2010 season by giving up two runs in the ninth.

Austin Jackson (right) drove in Danny Worth (29) for the winning run in the ninth inning in Detroit's 3-2 win over the Red Sox on Thursday. (Getty Images)

Jackson used all parts of the field with his hits, singling the first pitch he saw from Boston starter Jon Lester into center field to start the game. He tripled to right field to lead off the eighth inning before scoring on Fielder’s sac fly to put the Tigers ahead 2-0. Then with the bases loaded and one out in the ninth he tucked the winning hit just down the third-base line.

Besides using all fields, Jackson didn’t strike out and displayed a good approach when he had two strikes on him. That is worth noting since Jackson has struck out 351 times over his first two seasons in the majors and his strikeout-rate of 27.1 percent was the fifth worst among qualified hitters in 2011. In the third inning, Jackson got down in the count 0-2 before working it full. After seeing a ball, Jackson fouled off a pitch before getting two straight balls. Jackson ended up flying out to center field. In the fifth he was ahead in the count 3-0 before Lester worked it full. He then flied out right.

While it was just one game, the Jackson performance was an encouraging sign for the Tigers to see. The outing resembled some of the many strong performances from his rookie year, where Jackson’s batting average was above .300 for a vast majority of the season and he finished runner-up in the voting for AL rookie of the year.

Him being a table setter for the four power hitters behind him (Brennan Boesch, Cabrera, Fielder and Delmon Young) will make the Tigers offense that much better. And it could be one of the big keys in helping the Tigers accomplish their goal of bringing a World Series title back to Motown.

And more performances like Thursday’s will make fans forget about that guy that patrolled center field in Comerica Park before him.

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Will Rhymes, who opened the 2011 season as the Tigers starting second baseman, is now a free agent after the Tigers declined to offer him a new contract before Monday's non-tender deadline. (Brian Calloway photo)

Will Rhymes might have been short on size but was high on heart.

That is what made the 5-foot-9 and 155-pound Rhymes – a 27th round draft pick out of the College of William and Mary in 2005 – endearing to fans upon his arrival to the big leagues in 2010.

Rhymes wasn’t regarded and didn’t have the tools/skills set of a top prospect like one-time competitor at second base Scott Sizemore had, but turned in a strong showing once called up to the majors during the 2010 season. Rhymes hit .304 in 54 games with 12 doubles and three triples and won over fans with his play. That strong showing over the second half of the season helped in part earn Rhymes the first shot at second base to start the 2011.

Will Rhymes hit .306 in 104 games at Triple-A Toledo in 2011 and was a Triple-A All-Star. (B. Calloway photo)

But Rhymes never got going early in 2011 , batting .221 with 1 double in 19 games before being demoted to Triple-A Toledo and replaced on the Tigers roster by a hot-hitting Sizemore. From there, he pretty much fell out of the Tigers plans.

The 26-year old was a Triple-A All-Star in 2011, but the Tigers obviously don’t see Rhymes in the future plans which is why they declined to offer him a contract for 2012 and allowed him to become a free agent.

Even with the Tigers trading Sizemore to Oakland in May, Rhymes never found his was back to Detroit until rosters expanded in September. Instead the Tigers went with a combination of Carlos Guillen, Ryan Raburn, Ramon Santiago and Danny Worth at second base. And the Tigers appear content right now to use a platoon of Santiago and Raburn for that position in 2012.

This decision by the Tigers brass in essentially the best case scenario for both parties. With Rhymes likely being a longshot to make the major league roster out of spring training, he will get a chance to go elsewhere to try to get back to the majors. And the Tigers still have enough options at second base.

The bullpen was an area the Tigers needed to improve this offseason and they did just that with the acquisition of veteran right-handed reliever Octavio Dotel.

The addition of Octavio Dotel should bolster the Tigers bullpen (Getty Images)

Reports indicate the Tigers signed the 38-year old Dotel to a one-year deal with the option for another. Dotel chose signing with Detroit over returning to St. Louis, where he won a World Series. He is the second Cardinal free agent the Tigers have signed this offseason (Detroit signed St. Louis backup catcher Gerald Laird last month).

Dotel gives the Tigers a strong option for the seventh inning and could give the Tigers a formidable back end of the bullpen with Joaquin Benoit as the eighth inning setup man and Jose Valverde as the closer. Dotel has struck out 10.9 batters per nine innings over his 13-year major league career. He spent 2011 with Toronto and St. Louis, appearing in 65 games and going  5-4 with a 3.50 ERA and 62 strikeouts and 17 walks. Opponents just hit .185 against him.

With Ryan Perry being inconsistent and Al Alburquerque struggling with injuries, the Tigers now have a veteran steady presence for the seventh inning. The Tigers also get flexibility and can alternate Dotel and the lefty Phil Coke for the seventh depending on matchups.

As it stands the Detroit bullpen will likely consist of Alburquerque, Benoit, Dotel, Perry, Daniel Schlereth and Valverde. David Pauley, Duane Below, Adam Wilk and Brayan Villarreal all pitched out of the bullpen in 2011 and could combine for the final bullpen slot, barring any other additions or trades. Below and Wilk also could be in competition for the fifth starter spot.

Dotel is the third offseason signing by the Tigers and all have addressed needs. Laird fills a need as a backup catcher, while allows Victor Martinez to be a full-time DH or spell Cabrera at first base. Detroit also re-signed utility infielder Ramon Santiago, who will likely split time at second base with Ryan Raburn in 2012.

Aramis Ramirez is a possible addition that could help improve the Tigers in 2012.The 33-year old third baseman hit .306 with 26 homers and 93 RBIs for the Cubs in 2011. (Getty photo)

The Baseball Winter Meetings begin in a few days and that will give the Tigers an opportunity to address some of their needs either via trades or free agency.

The Tigers have made a pair of small moves with the decision to bring back utility infielder Ramon Santiago on a two-year deal, and signing free agent Gerald Laird as a backup catcher. Still, Detroit has plenty of other needs to address and could go a number of different routes to bolster the team for another run at a division title and World Series in 2012. Here are a few options.

  • Sign Aramis Ramirez as an everyday third baseman – As of now the Tigers would go into 2012 with Don Kelly and Brandon Inge splitting time at the hot corner. Inge, 34, struggled against right-handers and hit .197 with three homers and 23 RBIs in 269 at-bats and seemed to lose a notch defensively in 2011. He did hit .242 after the All-Star break while in a platoon with Wilson Betemit. Ramirez, 33, would certainly be an upgrade offensively. He hit .306 with 26 homers, 93 RBIs and 35 doubles in 149 games with the Cubs last season. The question on him would be his defense and how much money Ramirez, a career .284 hitter, would command. The Tigers likely only need him for two years because third base prospect Nick Castellanos should be ready by 2013 or 14.
  • Add an outfielder such as Yoenis Cespedes – Cespedes, 26, has been the hot name among international prospects and could become a free agent next week. The Tigers are among the teams to have shown the most interest in the Cuban outfielder, who has drawn comparisons to former Dodger Raul Mondesi.and former Kansas City Royal Bo Jackson. With many teams in on the bidding for the five-tool prospect, it will be pricy for the Tigers to make this addition. A signing of Cespedes likely means the Tigers could trade Delmon Young to address a need. The Tigers could also pursue a lesser name like Coco Crisp, who led the American League with 49 steals in 2011. His speed would be a welcome addition for a Tigers squad  that – outside Austin Jackson – doesn’t have much speed.

Andy Oliver was 0-1 with a 6.52 ERA in two starts with the Tigers in 2011. The 2009 second-round pick was 8-12 with a 4.71 ERA and 143 strikeouts and 80 walks at Triple-A Toledo. (B. Calloway photo)

  • Add a fifth starter – It is uncertain if Jacob Turner will be ready to step into the rotation so the Tigers would be best served to add another starter, and a lefty like Mark Buehrle could be a good option. Internal candidates include southpaws Duane Below, Andy Oliver and Andy Wilk for the fifth spot. All spent some time on the Tigers roster in 2011. Jair Jurrjens, a former Tiger who the Braves are looking to deal, also would be an interesting addition if the Tigers were able to make that move.
  • Make a run at an infielder like Martin Prado, Chone Figgins or Maicer Izturis – The Tigers could bolster second or third base with one of these three players. The Braves appear to be willing to trade Prado, who hit .260 with 13 homers last season. Figgins is in the midst of a  four-year, $36 million deal with the Mariners and hit .188 last season. He could be motivated by a change of scenery and would be appealing if Seattle – a common trade partner with the Tigers – was willing to eat some of his salary. Izturis, a  31, is a free agent and hit .276 with the Angels last season.

When it comes to polarizing sports figures in Detroit, Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge has to rank near the top of the list. Inge, who has spent his entire career with the Tigers, is either adored or hated by most fans.

The section that loves him praises what he brings to the table defensively and believe his offensive contributions are adequate enough. Plus they like they way he hustles and think he is a high character person to have around. The other section isn’t impressed with a guy that has a .237 career batting average and strikes out a ton.

Brandon Inge will make $5.5 million the next two seasons after agreeing to a two-year deal with the Tigers on Thursday. Inge, who has been with the Tigers since 2001, has hit .237 with 136 homers over his career. (Brian Calloway photo)

I don’t fall into either of these sections, but do believe it was good for the Tigers to bring back Inge for a two-year deal for $11 million, which was announced on Thursday.

Some may believe the Tigers are continuing to reward players for being mediocre with the signing. In reality, the Tigers weren’t going to find too much of an upgrade at that position if they opted to go the free agent route. There also is no true replacement for him in the farm system.

Adrian Beltre was one of the most talked about players that the Tigers should pursue. Beltre was an All-Star this season and hit .321 with 49 doubles, 28 homers and 102 RBI with Boston. However Beltre never even hit near .300 in the previous five seasons, which he spent with Seattle. His best average in those years was .276. And Seattle plays in a ballpark similar to Detroit’s Comerica Park.

So Beltre would have cost more and his production would have gone down likely. The costs to get Beltre could prevent the Tigers from addressing some more pressing needs, like getting a bullpen arm and adding a big bat or two.

In my mind, Inge is adequate enough at the hot corner. He is a Gold Glove caliber defender with a decent amount of range. Despite what some may say about his offensive abilities, the 33-year old drove in 70 runs in 144 games this season, which ranked in the upper half among all American League third basemen. Inge also hit .247 this season, which although is by no means great, but was his best average over the past four years.

The move will be even smarter if the Tigers do in fact keep Jhonny Peralta in the fold and make him their starting shortstop for 2011. Inge’s range would help compensate for Peralta’s lack of range and give the Tigers a decent left side of the infield.