GIBSON’S “IMPOSSIBLE HAS HAPPENED.”

By:  Kurt Snyder

Kirk Gibson was my favorite Tiger. He was the heart and soul of the 1984 World Champion Tigers, the team that I knew so well.

Sparky Anderson once compared Gibson to Mickey Mantle, which was completely unfair. Sure, Kirk possessed great speed and power, but comparing him to Mantle, well, I guess that was just Sparky.

In 1979, when Sparky became manager, he said the Tigers would win a title within 5 years. And he delivered. But he knew what he had. And by 1983, you could see the Tigers were ready to explode. And Gibson brought all the intangibles needed to lead a team primed to win.

The home runs he hit in the final game of the ’84 World Series were majestic blows, the second one ultimately clinching the Series victory.

Who can forget Gibson rounding the bases, crossing the plate, thrusting his fists in the air as he headed to the dugout? It was pure pandemonium.

Unfortunately, Gibson would eventually leave for the Dodgers in 1988. It was tough for me to see him leave, because he was the engine that made the Tigers go. A lot of air left the balloon when Gibby boarded the plane for L.A.

But all that drive and zest for winning didn’t leave him when he left Detroit. In his first season, Gibson won the National League MVP, leading the Dodgers to a World Title. Gibson entered the World Series with a badly injured leg and was not in the lineup for Game 1 of the Series. In fact, his prospects for playing at all in the Series were quite bleak.

As it turned out, Gibson would only have one at bat in the entire series. But it was an at bat for the ages. In Game 1, Gibson, after letting Tommy Lasorda know he could hit if he needed him, hobbled to the plate with 2 outs in the ninth. He looked miserable, swinging wildly, almost flailing at every pitch Dennis Eckersley had to offer.

But he continued to battle, getting to a full count with a runner on and the Dodgers trailing by a run. Gibson was their last hope. But he didn’t belong at the plate. He didn’t belong in that game. He was too wounded, it seemed.

But the most clutch hitters in the game possess the same characteristics. They persevere. They never give up. And they love the big stage. But what Gibson did on that great October night in L.A. is forget. He put all the bad swings behind him, kept himself alive in the count and anticipated what pitch Eck would throw next. And with the count full, Gibson guessed right; he got the backup slider, and made Eckersley pay.

It was one of the greatest and most improbable home runs of all time. Vin Scully, the long-time radio voice of the Dodgers emphatically proclaimed, “the impossible has happened!” It was magical. And Gibson rounded those bases again, wounded but victorious.

So, why have I chosen to rehash all of this? Well, it’s important to remember what made Gibson so successful on the field, as a ball player; a man who competed, who knew he could beat you, who knew he was tougher.

His competitive fire was often unmatched. Rich Gossage couldn’t defeat him in ’84 and neither could Eckersley in ’88: two moments in time that helped define the legacy of Kirk Gibson.

Sadly, this week, we learned that Kirk has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. And I have to admit, I felt a little sick to my stomach when I heard.

But Gibby possesses all the intangibles to challenge more than what he faced on the field. You can’t be passive in life. If you want something, you go after it. If you are experiencing something that causes you pain, don’t run from it. Meet it head on. That’s what we can expect from Gibby going forward.

He has the biggest challenge of his life in front of him; one far bigger than any World Series at bat against Goose Gossage or Dennis Eckersley.

There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease. But if there is anyone who can stare menacingly into the face of this disease, it’s Gibby. And I am certain he will give it all he’s got, like he always did on the diamond.

Since the very first time he stepped on the field in 1979, I have been pulling for Kirk Gibson. And now, I will be praying for him. And I would hope all Tiger and Dodger fans will do the same.

ONE TOPIC – TWO TAKES

By:  Holly Horning & Kurt Snyder

Thursday’s edition could really be treated as a check up on the development of someone we hope is our future behind the plate for the Tigers.

Ironically, James McCann ended up having the best offensive game of his career Wednesday, just one day after we came up with this question to sink our teeth into. I’m not kidding, McCann responded at the just the right time for our purposes.

Here is the question we took on for this week, followed by our blind (from each other) responses.


Is James McCann living up to the expectations that he will become the starting catcher next year?

HOLLY

I’m starting to believe so, especially after Wednesday’s game, but he hasn’t played enough this year to generate enough stats for me to feel totally comfortable saying “yes.” What is important is that McCann’s hitting and defensive skills are gradually trending upward. Avila, although he had a promising start to the season, is trending downward and I’m not sure the rigors of the season ahead will be conducive to achieving better numbers.

Avila has approximately double the play time so far. But defensively, what is telling is how both catchers handle potential base stealers. McCann has the better record with half the play time, catching more runners stealing than Avila. Fewer opponents run on McCann because he has a quicker release and more accurate throws to second.

No surprise with the offensive stats. Avila is king of OBP but that’s about it. HIs OBP is negated by stats showing he strikes out on half his at-bats while McCann strikes out only 1/6th of the time. And over the last two weeks, Avila’s batting stats are trending downward, while McCann’s are going up.

The biggest speed bump will be getting Ausmus to give McCann more playing time. While I don’t believe those nepotism urban myths, it’s logical to think that giving less work to your immediate boss’s son has to have some influence on Brad.

Avila, a free agent at the end of the year, has many believing the Tigers won’t make him a qualifying offer, which of course means no draft pick. If McCann continues to trend upwards, there’s a chance Avila may be traded mid-summer.

But given that his father ranks #2 in the organization, consider that this unique relationship may generate an unusual arrangement. Could the Tigers sign Avila to a one-year contract extension later this year? Could Avila become a free agent and then re-sign with the Tigers for less than the assigned qualifying figure?

Stranger things have happened. More playing time for McCann will be the first indicator of his position with the team next year.

KURT

Boy, if you could take one day out of the season to determine how things are going with our young, up and coming Tiger catcher, Wednesday would certainly be the day. James McCann had a fairy tale kind of game highlighted by an inside the park home run.

We will have to check the record books to see how many players first career homer was of the “inside the park” variety. Great day for James.

But let’s set this game aside for a minute. When McCann made the team out of the spring with the intention to platoon with Alex Avila, it seemed like a sneak peek into the future. The Tigers are gradually getting younger, and they need to be. And they are more athletic as well and they have needed to be. And as we move through this season, we will find more and more that McCann can be included in the “more athletic” category.

All indications point toward someone who has been very nimble behind the plate, showing an ability to be pretty agile, someone who looks comfortable with handling the pitchers and the position.  McCann has shown a strong arm too as he has thrown out his fair share of runners in a short amount of time.

On the other side of the coin, and keeping in mind the small sample size, McCann has shown signs of having the tools of a pretty decent hitter. He has showcased some power even though he hadn’t homered until Wednesday, albeit inside the park. But he has some pop and it’s certainly fair to say that as we move through the season, James will get more opportunities to prove that this could be the changing of the guard.

Alex Avila has shown no signs that he is about to put together a comeback year at the plate, however it is encouraging that, to this point, there haven’t been any concussion issues. None of us really want to see Alex go through any more of that.

But we will keep tabs on McCann. As much as the Tigers have been ridiculed for not having a very deep farm system, James just may silence some of the critiques. With some more playing time, McCann will get the opportunity to continue to interview for next year’s full time catching position. It’s early, and the batting average is still low, but there are certainly signs that we have someone young who possesses the tools of a catcher we can build on for years to come.

SHOWDOWN AT THE KC CORRAL

By:  Holly Horning

Who ever thought that the phrase “bad boys”, would refer to the KC Royals? But yes, in this changing baseball world where power has been shifting to the AL Central, there is one team seemingly bent on taking down the perennial division winner before the season ends.

So what is going on with the Royals? They have been brawling with their opponents in half a dozen games. Either the Midwest is now trying to keep up with the East Coast in attitude or they’ve adopted a new strategy. Conceivably, there are several explanations for their behavior.

Much of the media painted the Royals as that fluke team, leaving many of the players with chips on their shoulders. Feeling that they need to validate their talent, they’ve been battling the Tigers for first place since the first ceremonial pitch. Is it any wonder they came out of the chute so fast?

But others will argue that the team is simply responding to the rash of Royals being hit by pitches. Players have referenced feeling that there is now a target on their backs since being anointed as a top contender.

Others point to a very young team missing their older teammates who used to guide team behavior. Experts mention that some of their opponents were playing mental games with the Royals and baiting them into bad behavior. And yet others point to the Royals and their “hot dogging” attitude of over-celebrating great plays and hits. All valid arguments.

But here’s where the Tigers need to be concerned. The first is the obvious one – injury to a key player or two. Injury due to an accidental but aggressive brush-back pitch or hard slide. Injury due to a Tiger hitting a home run and the practice of payback which can easily be a season-and pennant-ending move for our boys. We all remember what happened to Zack Greinke last year. Let’s hope the recent suspensions will allow cooler minds to prevail.

But if you take away this factor, we are left with the issue of emotional energy. And all the former ball players now dotting the airwaves mention this as one of the biggest factors. Simply put, it is the level of focus, determination, “hunger” and sustained effort by a team every time they hit the field. Consistent levels of emotional energy help keep teams from having wild performance swings and rollercoaster win-loss streaks.

The Royals, obviously are showing great emotional energy. The Tigers also, to a certain degree. However, there was concern expressed throughout social media during the Yankee series where many thought the team appeared listless on the field and at the plate.

It’s impossible to quantity emotional energy other than what we see during the games. But, we can ask questions which may become useful as the season unfolds.

How badly do the Royals want that elusive division title in order to prove their worth?

Seeing that the Tigers have won 4 straight divisions, do the Royals see this as “game on”?

Given that the Tigers have won those 4 straight divisions, are they any less hungry for a fifth?

What is the Tigers’ incentive for winning that fifth title? Is it as important as the first one?

How powerful is the Royals’ incentive to get back to the World Series given that they came so very close to winning it all last year?

How capable is Ausmus at keeping team motivational levels high all season long?

How hungry are the Tigers to answer their critics about that “closing window” and return to the World Series?

Potentially, this week may give us a clue or two. Some exciting games on the horizon, so saddle up, everyone!

TWO TIMES TWO FOR TUESDAY

By:  Kurt Snyder and Holly Horning

Two more questions for Tuesday, both on pitching. I don’t know how our answers could be much different on these questions; but here they are, which probably won’t really be answered for weeks.

But we took a stab at them now.


1. Outside of Soria, who do you think is the next most reliable bullpen pitcher?

KURT

The list of reliable bullpen arms is short. And when I say reliable, I mean clean innings. But there haven’t been many of them when a starter doesn’t go 8 innings. Luckily, our starters have been for the most part, very good.

Lengthy starts have allowed us not to have to go to a bullpen that is completely disjointed with few established roles. The bad news about Joe Nathan’s departure is that we still really don’t have an 8th inning guy. So far it’s 8th inning by committee.

Joba Chamberlain has late inning experience, and for that reason alone, he is probably the next most reliable arm. And I don’t necessarily think that is a good thing.

The Tigers do so many things well that the strengths on this team should compensate and buy them time to figure out who will settle into what roles in the pen.

Meanwhile, we wait on guys like Kyle Ryan and that Bruce guy. All the pitchers we felt would have roles on this staff aren’t even on the team yet.

HOLLY

The Tigers’ BP reminds me of the great quote from the movie, Forrest Gump: “My momma always said, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”

The key word here is “reliable” and I think the Tigers have one, but he’s not in the BP yet. There is of course, Bruce Rondon, who shows the promise and talent to fill this void, however I am loath to appoint a reliever with only 28 innings pitched – back in 2013. There is hope with Angel Nesbitt, but he is still a work in progress.

I’m sure Dave Dombrowski started putting feelers out as soon as Rondon went down with tendonitis and with Nathan out, his phone is currently smoking from overuse. Other than Soria, the Tigers have 3 relievers verging on their expiration dates, with three others barely hatched. Polar extremes are never good.

And this is where Lobstein comes in, a guy named as a spot starter and who cannot possibly take over a full-time rotation role. I expect changes with JV will put him into the BP where he will become the next most reliable reliever. To be continued down below….


2. What do you think it going on with JV?

KURT

The silence is deafening on Verlander. But I guess we can take solace in the fact that nothing major was found in the MRI. But what is it then that is keeping him from throwing?

Verlander has the type of personality where I am sure he’d rather not talk about it if his progress doesn’t include a timetable for his return. And we will have our ears peeled next time he throws, hoping and pleading for progress or an announcement of a projected start.

This is a tough question to answer, because no one really knows what’s up, with very few clues on the horizon.

But the longer it goes before he throws, the longer his rehab will be just stretching out his arm again. And assuming he finds his way back into the rotation, the Tigers had better arm themselves with another veteran at some point, because who can trust JV’s future right now?

The trade deadline, if we can wait that long, will look very familiar once again as the Tigers will shockingly (kidding) need bullpen help and JV insurance.

HOLLY

In the beginning, we were getting JV updates on a daily basis. Then, updates became sporadic, the questions started flying and the Tigers flew into damage control over the leaked news that management was hiding medical tests performed on him.

Despite the fact that we are told everything is clean, JV has not pitched since April 15th, 4 days after he was scheduled to come off the DL list.

He has not thrown in the 13 days since and announcements that Lobstein will start have become matter-of-fact and no longer include Justin’s name. We are told that when he starts throwing again, it will be a slow process with gradual build-up until his arm regains strength. To expect anything earlier than June would be unrealistic.

Unfortunately, this is starting to resemble the Joel Hanrahan rehab saga with the soreness, re-starts and then stoppage. I think the Tigers are more concerned than they let on.

Lobstein, his replacement, is still somewhat green and not ready to assume a full-season starting pitcher role. Not inconceivable that the Tigers will add a starting pitcher via trade which will then move Lobstein back into the BP where he is desperately needed.

1 AND 3 NOT RETIRED – BUT STILL HONORED

By:  Kurt Snyder

During a week where we continued to see extraordinary defensive work from both Ian Kinsler and the remarkable Jose Iglesias, we were reminded again on Sunday of the guys that wore their numbers together for 18 years.

The days of players playing their entire careers together are sadly and mostly gone. Money has changed the game and as players gain success, they demand more and more money, ultimately forcing their departures. Here ends the fans desire to have stories develop like Tram and Lou’s.

Whitaker was honored on Sunday, given some sort  of “legacy award,” which sort of incensed me. This is more evidence that the Tigers do not have a short-term or maybe any plan to retire the numbers of the best double play combination in their history. I will continue to be puzzled by the Tigers inability to see what needs to be done for their franchise and for Whitaker and Trammell themselves.

Sure it was nice that they recognized Whitaker on Sunday, but if you’re going to honor, do it like you mean it. Lou spent an inning with Rod and Mario, which is always very riveting (snore) as their questions were very light and milk toast.

In reality, these guys should have given Whitaker the opportunity to speak on the elephants in the room. The Hall of Fame. The retirement of numbers.  And a statue, one that honors the legacies of Tram and Lou and their 18 years of play.

But while the two numbers continue to be in circulation, I guess they are certainly being honored by the guys who are wearing them. Actually there is no guessing about it. Every game, and I mean every game, Iglesias and Kinsler are forming their own legacy.

It’s almost like they are playing the infield together in protest. Daily, they remind fans and Tiger management of the last time the team was in such great hands at the middle infield positions. And they remind them by their astonishing play, the kind we were accustomed to with Tram and Lou.

The styles between the 2 keystone combos are similar in terms of effectiveness,  but certainly executed differently.  Whitaker made playing second place look so easy, like a “can of corn” as Lou so eloquently put it.

Kinsler plays a great second base himself, already having made some dazzling, diving plays. He is again worthy of Gold Glove consideration.

Iglesias and Trammell will go down as the two best shortstops to wear the Old English D. And really,  the more we see Iggy, the more we can safely determine that he is passing Trammel by.

His athleticism distances himself from Trammell. He is making plays you talk about for weeks, still wondering how he was even able to do what he did. Trammell played more of a steady short, but still All Star and Gold Glove worthy.

So as the Tigers honored Whitaker on Sunday and blatantly advertised their lack of intentions to do the right thing, we still know this: If we aren’t going to properly retire the numbers 1 and 3 out on the brick walls of Comerica Park; we can certainly take comfort in the fact that Iglesias and Kinsler are honoring them to the fullest, by continuing their great defensive play on the field.

Whitaker and Trammell can feel good about how their numbers are being represented.

QUICK HITS – OBSERVATIONS BY THE IMAGE CONSULTANT

By:  Holly Horning

As many of you know, my profession as an image consultant is to analyze the visual, verbal and non-verbal aspects of individuals and companies. How you look, communicate, and move speaks volumes about who you are, where you are in life and your level of confidence and credibility.

So what does this have to do with baseball? Plenty! When I watch the games, one of my favorite things is to observe the other action – what is happening in the dugout, who’s talking to who and what the players do once the game is over. It is all very telling.

But one observation does not a blog make. So I’ve decided that every once in a while, I’m going to gather and present a cluster of these stories. Small, tasty bites to keep us all thinking. Just think of them as tapas – or Small (Home)Plates.

So let’s get to it…….

NOT YET BESTIES
Last year, I observed three situations where JV was openly defiant to his new manager, Ausmus. Incidences that involved obscenity-laced tirades, thrown equipment and back-turning.

While things have become less dramatic between the two, recently Brad was seen trying to engage Justin in conversation. Ausmus was trying to make eye contact and using “open” gestures, indicating a desire to connect. But JV would have none of it. He refused to make eye contact and had his arms folded tightly across his chest – an act seen as being defensive as well as resistant. Is it tied to adjusting to a new manager, due to JV’s pitching struggles – or both?

SPEAKING OF PITCHERS AND BESTIES….
This year’s starting pitchers are a tight bunch. JV has found a new best friend in the form of David Price, sharing a fierce competitive spirit, pet dogs and a love of golf. They are always seen next to each other in the dugout chatting on their off-days. But their group has also grown. Frequent TV pans into the dugout show the non-starting pitchers often sitting together as a group.

Interesting that JV and Max were never seen together in previous years but it was revealed that none of the starters congratulated Max or kept in touch with him since he left. Could team chemistry be much better this year?

FAMILIAR FACES IN DIFFERENT PLACES
Jim Leyland was literally front and center for all three games in Pittsburgh. While the location is not a surprise, JL’s purpose potentially was. His job description is focused on the minor leagues but he also does other assignments at Dombrowski’s request.

He was glued to the action on the field and not conversing with those in his party. But he was occasionally taking notes. Just who was he observing?

CUBAN CAMARADERIE
A shout-out to our faithful reader, Katherine S., who asked about how Yoenis Cespedes was faring with his new teammates. And I’ve been watching!

As the Tigers were leaving the field after a game, Iggy stopped suddenly, turned around and headed back out to greet Cespedes. And he was enthusiastic in his greeting with a big hug and congratulatory head rub – not the usual “good game” routine.

Cespedes seemed truly happy at the attention which supports the theory that this is a better team environment for him. Still to be determined is whether being on a team with one of MLB’s largest percentages of Latino players will be a major factor in whether he stays or goes after this year.

KUDOS, COMMENTS AND CONCERNS

By:  Holly Horning & Kurt Snyder

Oh, we’ve got Kudos, maybe. And plenty of Comments. And Concerns? Oh yes, we have concerns. Trying not to speak for both of us, but I can only imagine where we may head with this week’s edition of KC&C.

We won’t be including anything that has transpired in Friday night’s game. It’s been painful enough this week. So we will let Holly get it started.


KUDOS

Holly

Joakim Soria is finally the official closer!

In the past week, he pitched in 2 of the 3 wins and put up a row of goose eggs with no drama involved.

Can’t tell you how great it feels to finally have the right guy in the right job.

Kurt

It hasn’t been a good week; the 11-2 blast out of the gate has been stalled by a losing streak.

I have kudos for Joakim Soria, the one certainty in the bullpen.

But that would be it, mainly because this is about winning and losing, and I tend to hand out kudos when it contributes to winning, which we have done little of this week.


COMMENTS

Holly

I find it amazing that everyone is so focused on the loss of Nathan and the need to replace him.

We have a bona-fide closer now so the need turns to a less-urgent BP tweaking.

The more important issue, and what is truly scary, is that there are no more management updates on JV.

Kurt

You can watch baseball for your entire life knowing that it’s a 6 month, 162 game season.

But even knowing that, you catch yourself drawing conclusions for the season based on a week or 2 worth of games, good or bad.

So, I will give Brad Ausmus more time to either continue his confounding management of the pitching staff, or somehow figure it out.


CONCERNS

Holly

Will Brad ever get a handle on how to manage pitchers?

He allowed Price to make 51 pitches in the first inning alone, which nearly broke the all-time record of 53.

And in the same week, makes a comment about how the BP isn’t getting enough work.

Kurt

Concerns rule the week. We have dealt with losing more than winning.

And we have lost in different ways just as we have won.

Pitching, defense and hitting all have had roles in the losing streak; all 3 phases have contributed; with a fourth being our manager, who helped dig huge holes in games by doing nothing for too long.

NATHAN FOREVER A THORN

By:  Kurt Snyder

The decision has been approaching. It was going to be a tough one. Would Joe Nathan replace Joakim Soria as closer when he returned from the DL? I never thought he would; however, I did think he would return to pitch.   But the worst happened this week as Nathan tore up his elbow yet again. And for the second time in his career, he will undergo Tommy John surgery.

It’s really quite amazing. Joe Nathan has been a thorn in the Tigers’ side since his days with the Twins. He was a dominant closer his whole career. He underwent his first TJS in 2010, missing all of that season and most of the next before regaining his role later in the year.

It made sense that the Twins would cut ties with Nathan after 2011. It also made sense that he would never be the same pitcher again, especially being in his late 30’s with a TJS under his belt. So they let him go and moved on.

When Joe left Minnesota for Texas, the Rangers were gambling on a comeback and boy did they get it.

Nathan came back with a vengeance, crawling all the way back from his 2010 surgery. In 2012, Nathan made his 5th All Star team, achieving a very tidy 2.80 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 37 saves for the Rangers.

It was everything Texas could have hoped for and more. But if that wasn’t enough, Nathan would follow it up with an encore performance for the ages the following year.

Joe staggered American League hitters boasting some of the best numbers of his storied career: a 1.39 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 43 more saves and a 6th All Star game appearance. Simply amazing.

Just when you thought he may slow down after leaving Minnesota, he gave Texas 2 of his best years.

It was the continuation of a career spent tormenting American League teams time and again. But, Nathan seemed to save most of his thorns for Detroit as the Tigers could never seem to muster much of anything against him. He dominated them for years.

But we finally got an opportunity to end all the pain Nathan had inflicted on us. The Tigers had a chance to turn the page and make him their own.

After his incredible season with Texas in the final year of his contract, it was clear that whoever needed a closer, Joe Nathan would be at or near the top of the list of candidates. He was certainly at the top of the list for Detroit as Nathan despite his age, clearly had plenty left in the tank. And if anyone needed a closer, it was the Tigers. And they won the Nathan sweepstakes.

But Joe saved his worst for Detroit. The timing could not have been worse to sign him. Who could have predicted such a quick downturn? Tiger fans endorsed the move. Why wouldn’t we? Those numbers from 2013 made your mouth water and Nathan joining Detroit certainly would shore up the most glaring hole in a weak bullpen.

But it just wasn’t meant to be I guess. Joe Nathan was never supposed to make the Tigers happy. He tormented us when he faced us and becoming a Tiger didn’t change a thing.

But, you can’t be mad at Joe Nathan. No one was more frustrated by his failings here than he was. This team offered him another opportunity to win a title, but we needed him to succeed to have a chance.

But Joe just couldn’t carry the load anymore. And the weight got so heavy that his previously repaired elbow tore apart again. It’s not how any player wants a career to end and Joe insists he plans to pitch again. But the odds are stacked against him like no other. Pitchers over 40 about to go under the knife for a second Tommy John surgery just don’t come back. Few even attempt it.

So how do the Tigers pick up the pieces? Well, Nathan’s injury opened the door for Joakim Soria to stake claim to a closer’s role that he is more than familiar with and more than capable of handling. It’s the rest of the pen that needs help. And we have the whole season to follow that story.

But the tale of Joe Nathan has come to an unfortunate end. His days as a Tiger are over. And one thing has become painfully clear. Joe spent an entire career making Detroit miserable. And he did it in every jersey; as a Twin, as a Ranger and even while wearing the Old English D.

ONE TOPIC – TWO TAKES

By:  Kurt Snyder and Holly Horning

Thursday means we have one topic to tackle, and even though we don’t share, I can’t imagine, in light of the Wednesday news, that Joe Nathan won’t be a common thread in our discussion.  But we will see.

Today we take on a topic about changes, because it appears 1 or 2 may be coming.


Who will be the next player added to the roster?

KURT

Well, with Joe Nathan on the virtual ropes with his comeback, the Tigers really need to concentrate on their bullpen. Imagine that.  Yep, kids, the Tigers have a closer and not much else;   well certainly not much determined, not much solidified, no real rotation or roles, except for Soria.

Joba Chamberlain was brought back, in my mind, for depth. He was a known commodity who, to me, would be more valuable in a limited role.

But the state of the bullpen is lending itself to a larger role again for Chamberlain. And I believe that would be a mistake. We need only remember his performance in the second half of 2014 and of course, the playoffs, if that’s what you want to call those 3 games we played.

So, what do we do? Well, it’s much too soon to think trades at this point in the season. Unfortunately, it’s time, instead, to start the merry-go-round again. Yep, warm up the bus from Toledo, because somehow we have to figure out a formula. Because, the guys on the big club that have appeared prior to the ninth inning, haven’t been real pretty.

Everything else on this team looks dynamite. We have discussed all their strengths. But the weakness, again, is the bullpen, and it will be the area receiving a new addition and soon, at least from Toledo. The Nathan news kind of forces the issue even more.

We are loaded with lefties, but I think one of our best is still in Toledo. It’s time for Kyle Ryan to hop on that bus and see if he can make an impact in an area that once again is very unsettled.

HOLLY

Just as I started writing this, I discovered Joe Nathan left his rehab game in pain which will change my answer somewhat. After initially leaning towards a new starting pitcher, I will now simply say “pitcher” – either starter or reliever.

My rationale starts with JV, who was technically supposed to come off the DL on April 12th. Combined with the cancelled last two throwing sessions and the Tigers attempt to hide recent medical news, it doesn’t look promising that we’ll see him until late May at the very earliest. He hasn’t pitched since March 29th and the Tigers have stated they are going to bring him back very slowly. As confirmation, it was casually announced that Lobstein will be pitching again on Sunday without any mention of JV.

Lobstein, meanwhile, is a good young pitcher, but not fully hatched yet and certainly not ready to take over the duties of a rotation pitcher for a full year. He’s a short-term solution. The Tigers need someone else – someone with experience.

Obviously, trades early in the season are challenging. Teams have yet to know if they will be in contention and thus tend to hang onto players until July. There are a few rumors of pitchers being available, including the Nats who are seen to have a surplus. Ironically, one of the best solutions, and more readily available, will be a pitcher bordering on “rental” – someone who will reach free agency at the end of the year.

To make this trade happen, Dixon Machado just may be the bait. He only plays shortshop and given Iggy’s talent, he is expendable. Iglesias will remain the shortshop until 2019 when his agent, Scott Boras, will snatch him away. Both Romine and Perez play multiple positions so expect them to stay, even with their weak bats. Dixon would bring a high price as good shortshops are in very short supply – something we know all too well.

It is conceivable that the Tigers will promote another reliever until it is known if and when Nathan returns this year. But trading for a starter will allow them to put Lobstein in the bullpen, where he is better suited – and needed.

BASEBALLS AREN’T THE ONLY THINGS THAT SPIN

By:   Holly Horning

I happen to live in Washington, DC – or Spin Central as we call it. And for 20 years, I’ve worked with the media and coached clients in how to present themselves to the media. So when it was revealed on Tuesday that the Tigers ran some tests on injured players but kept it secret, well, it feels like home. I just had to write about it.

For those of you who are new to the term “spin”, it is the attempt to imprint a particular interpretation to a story that favors the person or group who puts it out there. They will often use distraction and/or blame in order to deflect attention away from themselves and onto another party. The best spinners don’t leave fingerprints and the vast majority of readers receive no hints that anything’s amiss.

But as someone who regularly interacts with this world, I will say the Tigers are one of the very best sports teams in crafting, protecting and maintaining their reputation and ways of business. They are a truly professional team in which power struggles, difficult personalities, bad strategies and rumors are never divulged. Leaks? Fuggedaboutit. Nothing comes out of these Tiger maws. They are a secretive bunch.

So it’s no surprise that it took a national writer to break the story of JV’s MRI. Someone who generally doesn’t have to fear having his or her access to the club limited or revoked. His story pushed the Tigers to divulge that both JV and VMart had tests and doctor consults despite their statements to the contrary.

But what’s really interesting is what happened next. The Tigers spun the story and offered it to certain select local writers they feel are more receptive than others. A textbook move, by the way, and a good one.

They also made Kevin Rand the official mouthpiece. A guy so quiet that you’d be hard-pressed to find quotes from him on Google. A guy who, when profiled in depth in a newspaper, did not have a single quote attributed to him. A guy who is a complete professional, does his job every day without fanfare and never seeks the limelight. But he and Brad both offered identical quotes – a sure sign that they had been coached. I know because I do this with my clients – except I never advocate memorization for this exact reason.

Now comes the deflection part. Blame comes in the form of criticizing Tiger fans and how they should trust the team. In Washington, Ronald Reagan’s quote “Trust but verify” lives on for a reason. These stories also accuse the fans of “playing doctor” – fans who really just want to make sense about the lingering injuries that defy common sense when it comes to seeking medical advice. Yet even more stories emphasizing the need for medical privacy, when in fact, most teams share every detail, test and doctor’s appointment with their fan base.

The Tigers may not have left any paw prints, at least locally, but in DC it would surely raise our spin sirens to Code Suspicious (Orange Level). What they did not anticipate was how curious this intelligent, loyal fan base would be over an extended period of time, where progress was not seen being made as it pertained to two of this year’s key players. And that’s why they were called out.

So if we take away all the spin, what do we really have here? Despite multiple management statements about physical conditions that did not warrant more-detailed medical attention, it would appear that the Tigers really were concerned about JV and VMart more than they will admit publicly.

And in this case, they may have valid reasons for keeping this info on the QT. Information that may potentially impact this season. Information that, if revealed, may put them at a disadvantage as they consider either short-term or long-term strategies and options. Stay tuned…..