Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Doesn't Feel Like It

Photo: Reuters

The Tigers have a knack for doing what you want in ways that leave you feeling disappointed about it. If they go on a six-game road trip, you’d be thrilled if they finish .500 on the road trip, but not if they sweep the first team and get swept by the second (they’ve certainly done that before). Armando Galarraga threw a perfect game, but he’ll never be officially recognized for it, and God knows I didn’t feel very good about it after the last out was made and I’m pretty sure most of you felt the same way. But no one got hurt in that game. Now the Tigers have finally gotten back into first place, but at the price of losing Joel Zumaya. I initially thought he might have somehow broken his arm on the pitch to Delmon Young. I only know of one instance where a guy broke his arm mid-pitch, and other news reports on this story has reminded me that the guy’s name was Dave Dravecky. However, the reason behind Dravecky’s injury was that he had cancer that was weakening the bone structure and he eventually had to have his arm amputated (Dravecky now works as a motivational speaker and I know this because I originally learned of the story from a video our church pastor showed us in Sunday School many years ago). Thankfully, it does not appear that this is Zumaya’s problem. At this point, all we know is that he had an MRI this morning, Gerald Laird heard a pop all the way from behind the plate, the Tigers are describing it as an elbow injury, and Zumaya’s been placed on the DL (which should surprise no one). This makes speculation dangerous (especially since if I do so, we’ll hear something definitive about five minutes after I publish this post), but in general, news of an elbow injury is generally preferable to a shoulder injury because elbows seem easier to fix. The rehab is often lengthy, but guys usually make a full recovery. Tommy John surgery has been floated around a lot in this case, although most cases I know of don’t involve the ligament tearing that suddenly and that dramatically. At the same time, I wonder if maybe this injury wasn’t as sudden of an onset as it seems. I’ve pointed out at least twice that Zumaya had had some control problems recently and that in the past, that has been a warning sign of injury. Perhaps he was already pitching in discomfort or minor pain and that pitch to Delmon Young caused something that was already weakened to snap. But until the Tigers announce something more specific, we have to assume that Zumaya will at least be gone for the rest of the season, and that has some not very favorable implications on the bullpen. We saw in 2007 the type of negative effect that losing your setup men can have. For the time being, Casey Fien, fresh off from playing Ring Around the Waiver Wire in spring training, has been called up, but I’m not sure what they intend for his role to be. Ryan Perry is not that far off from coming off the DL, and if he can return to what he was doing in April and early May, that would be a huge boost. If he can’t, then I don’t know what the next move is.

 There are still other things to talk about with this game. That was the biggest offensive outburst against Francisco Liriano that I’ve ever seen the Tigers have. Granted, most of it was in the first inning when the first six batters reached base safely, and Liriano proceeded to pitch a lot deeper into the game than it looked like he was going to, but the Tigers did manage to tack on a couple of important insurance runs later in the game. And a lot of those were bunts and infield singles (turning the tables on the Twins, for once). All in all, Inge was the only one never to join in on the fun (someone always goes 0-for in these types of games). At the same time, I do wonder when people will get off Laird’s case. He’s been getting hits with a lot more regularity recently, same as Avila. I should note that Magglio was scratched late, partially because of the oblique issue and partially because he was sick. Keep him away from the other Tigers.

And so, high price or no, the Tigers have themselves their first win at Target Field. Thanks to a recent AT&T Trivia Question (I miss the AFLAC duck), I know that in the span of a week, the Tigers have narrowed down the list of ballparks that they’ve never won in from five to three. The three remaining ballparks are New Yankee Stadium, Nationals Ballpark, and Great American Ballpark (and those last two are understandable because the Tigers haven’t played there; yes, it’s really surprising that they’ve never been to Great American Ballpark because it’s been around for about 7 or 8 years now). Now it’s time to get win #2 at Target Field. They’ll be facing Nick Blackburn, who has struggled so much this month that his ERA has gone from 4.28 to 6.10. He did not pitch well on the Twins’ last road trip. However, he has pitched well this year at home, and his career against the Tigers kind of reflects this. For the most part, they’ve hit him real hard at Comerica Park, but in Minnesota, they’ve done next to nothing against him. They did face him this earlier this year at Target Field. Blackburn got a complete game win against them, but not in the way he imagined. He went into the ninth inning leading 3-2 when Brennan Boesch hit a mammoth solo home run against him which tied the score. Blackburn stayed in the game and got out of the inning (only because Alex Avila had rounded third base too far when Santiago hit an infield single), and got the win when Ryan Perry gave up a triple and a wild pitch in the bottom of the ninth (That was the night Ernie Harwell died). On the flipside, however, Armando Galarraga has his own issues with the Twins. Even in his good rookie season they got to him early and often (his best performance resulted in a 3-2 loss, and even in that game he walked five). He did beat them last August, but it wasn’t easy and the Tigers had to absolutely nurse him through five innings just so he’d qualify. At this point, I wonder how much of it is mental, because he knows how he’s struggled against them. Looking at the individual numbers, however, I’ve noticed that the bulk of the damage has come largely from only two batters: Denard Span and Joe Mauer (both of whom have punished many a pitcher). Span is 6-13 (.462) with a double, while Mauer is 8-17 (.471) with a double, two home runs, and a whopping ten RBIs. Other Twins (Morneau, Kubel, and Young) have homered off Galarraga, but they haven’t done as much damage in terms of average (Morneau’s home run was a grand slam, though). Somehow Galarraga’s gotta figure out how to stay confident and not overthink things when he’s on the mound. Making things more complicated is that since Valverde had to record a five-out save last night, Leyland has said that he will absolutely not be available tonight, so the Tigers are without their setup man AND their closer.

UPDATE: The diagnosis for Zumaya has been announced (and it was actually announced before I published this, but I didn’t feel like changing what I already typed). He has a non-displaced fracture of the olecranon (basically, the tip of the elbow). He is done for the season, but there hasn’t been word on what happens after that. Since it’s a non-displaced fracture, he might not need surgery this time. Unfortunately, they don’t teach a lot of orthopedics in pharmacy school, but from what I’ve read, the fracture itself takes about 12 weeks to heal, but most of the information about how long it takes to return to full strength (I’ve read everything from 4 months to over a year) seems to revolve around patients who have surgery, so that’s still unclear.

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