When the Tigers completed their sweep of the Yankees in the Bronx last week, it completed a 12-5 stretch that made Detroit's 2-10 start seem like nothing but an injury-plagued fluke. Since then, the Tigers have gone 1-6 against the Twins and Red Sox, throwing things into doubt once again. Since leaving New York, the Tigers have scored just 3.14 runs per game, with 10 of the 22 runs they've scored over that stretch coming in their lone win on Wednesday. In the other six games, they've averaged just two runs per game.
Much like the Indians, who reacted to an offense not living up to expectations by punting a veteran platoon outfielder in favor of a rookie and dropping their aging DH to sixth in the order, the Tigers have responded to their own offense's underperformance by releasing Jacque Jones, calling up 23-year-old lefty-hitting rookie outfielder Matthew Joyce (.299/.367/.536 with five homers at triple-A Toledo before his promotion), and dropping Gary Sheffield (.202/.366/.315 thus far) to sixth in the order (though, curiously, they've also made Sheffield their left fielder).
It won't do them any good. Even if the Tigers got their offense up to last year's level, it wouldn't be enough to out-slug the performance of their pitching staff, which is allowing 5.53 runs per game, the second highest mark in the majors. Taking the season as a whole, the Tigers have actually had the third-best offense in the AL, but they've still been outscored by 27 runs.
Of course, in three games last week, the Tigers outscored the Yankees 20-10. The Yanks will face the same three Tiger starters this weekend in Detroit that they faced last year in the Bronx. What's different is who the Tigers will face, starting with Kei Igawa tonight and Darrell Rasner tomorrow.
Assuming Ian Kennedy's second triple-A start goes even half as well as his first, Kennedy will likely return to reclaim one of those two rotation spots when his subsequent turn comes due. That means Igawa and Rasner are competing to be the man who occupies Phil Hughes' spot in the rotation until Hughes is able to return from his fractured rib. Rasner already has the lead in that race as he was sharp in his season debut against the Mariners last Sunday.
In parts of four seasons now, Rasner has never posted a major league ERA worse than league average and has a solid 4.01 mark (110 ERA+) in 58 1/3 career innings along with a respectable 1.23 WHIP and 2:1 K/BB ratio.
Igawa's another story entirely. In 67 2/3 innings last year, Igawa posted a 6.25 ERA (72 ERA+), 1.67 WHIP, and a limp 1.43 K/BB while allowing a Farnsworthy two homers per nine innings. Worse yet, there were no encouraging streaks during his season. Igawa posted a 7.63 ERA in six outings (five starts plus his six innings of relief following Jeff Karstens' broken leg) before being demoted in early May. After working with organizational pitching guru Nardi Contreras, Igawa returned to the major league rotation in late June and put up a 5.97 ERA over six more starts. After being banished to the minors a second time he reappeared at the end of September to pitch 5 1/3 scoreless innings, but walked five against just two strikeouts along the way.
Here are Igawa's triple-A rates from amid those ugly major league stints along with his triple-A line thus far this year:
Igawa's triple-A homers are down, but his walks are up. Otherwise, there's very little meaningful change between those two lines, and thus, it would seem, very little reason to expect Igawa's major league performance to differ from what he did last year. To lower expectations even further, Igawa gave up eight runs and walked six in his last 12 innings for Scranton. Igawa is a Three True Outcome pitcher in that he clutters his pitching line with walks, homers, and strikeouts. The heavily right-handed Tigers, whom the left-handed Igawa did not face last year, tend to do those things a lot as well.
Come back Ian Kennedy, all is forgiven!
In other news, Chris Britton (surprise!) was optioned to Scranton to make room for Igawa and Sean Henn was claimed off waivers by the Padres. Alex Rodriguez is working out in Tampa, will have his MRI on Monday and could play in an extended spring training game on Monday. Also rehabbing in Tampa: Jorge Posada and Jeff Karstens. Kyle Farnsworth got his suspension for throwing behind Manny Ramirez's head (cripes, was that this season?) reduced to one game and will serve it tonight.
Johnny Damon gets the night off against the lefty Kenny Rogers tonight, though interestingly Wilson Betemit remains at third base. Shelley Duncan starts at first base, pushing Jason Giambi to DH and Hideki Matsui into Damon's vacated left field position. Melky leads off, Duncan hits fifth. Chad Moeller will catch as Jose Molina played yesterday's day game after Wednesday's night game.
Damon doubled and homered yesterday and is a career .302/.373/.434 hitter in 69 plate appearances against Rogers. He went 1 for 4 with a single and two strikeouts against Rogers last week. Hideki Matsui went 1 for 3 with a single and Jason Giambi went 0 for 2 with a walk against Rogers in that game. Giambi is a career .400/.545/.920 hitter in 33 PAs against Rogers. Matsui is 3 for 6 with a homer against Rogers on his career.
Manager: Jim Leyland General Manager: Dave Dombrowski
Home Ballpark (multi-year Park Factors): Comerica Park (101/101)
Who's Replaced Whom:
Matthew Joyce replaced Jacque Jones
Francisco Cruceta replaced Jason Grilli
Freddy Dolsi is replacing Denny Bautista (DL)
1B - Miguel Cabrera (R)
2B - Placido Polanco (R)
SS - Edgar Renteria (R)
3B - Carlos Guillen (S)
C - Ivan Rodriguez (R)
RF - Magglio Ordoñez (R)
CF - Curtis Granderson (L)
LF - Gary Sheffield (R)
DH - Matthew Joyce (L)
UT - Brandon Inge (R)
OF - Marcus Thames (R)
OF - Ryan Raburn (R)
IF - Ramon Santiago (R)
R - Justin Verlander
L - Kenny Rogers
R - Jeremy Bonderman
L - Nate Robertson
R - Armando Galarraga
R - Todd Jones
L - Bobby Seay
R - Aquilino Lopez
R - Zach Miner
L - Clay Rapada
R - Francisco Cruceta
R - Freddy Dolsi
15-day DL: L - Dontrelle Willis, R - Joel Zumaya, R - Fernando Rodney, R - Denny Bautista, R - Vance Wilson (C)
L - Curtis Granderson (CF)
R - Placido Polanco (2B)
S - Carlos Guillen (3B)
R - Magglio Ordoñez (RF)
R - Miguel Cabrera (1B)
R - Gary Sheffield (LF)
L - Matthew Joyce (DH)
R - Edgar Renteria (SS)
R - Ivan Rodriguez (C)