Jayson Stark: Jose Iglesias

Tigers searching for answers

March, 22, 2014
Mar 22
4:02
PM ET
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The latest blow was Bruce Rondon, now headed for a Tommy John surgery operating room near you and done for the season.

Before that was Jose Iglesias and those pesky stress fractures in both shins, which have put his 2014 season in peril.

And lest we forget, even before that was left fielder Andy Dirks, out for several months following back surgery last month.

Down they’ve all gone this spring for those injury-ravaged Detroit Tigers, one after another, all before their new manager, Brad Ausmus, got to manage a single game that counts.

It’s left the Tigers calling around, hunting for last-minute reinforcements at all three spots. And it’s creating doubts around the sport about the Tigers’ seemingly perennial status as favorites in the AL Central.

But one thing it hasn’t done, in case you’re wondering, is cause the manager to wonder why he thought taking this managing job was such a great idea last winter.

[+] EnlargeBruce Rondon
Mark Cunningham/MLB Photos/Getty ImagesReliever Bruce Rondon (Tommy John surgery) is the latest significant injury for the Tigers.
"No. No. No. Not at all," Ausmus said Saturday. "It’s part of the game. You’ve got to roll with the punches a little bit. If I bury my head in my hands, it’s not going to make Rondon or Iglesias come back any sooner. We’ve got to find a way to get through it. And, hopefully, we find some guys who step up and fill the voids."

That’s what any manager would say at a time like this, of course, but finding actual answers to these questions is the hard part. And even with the season nine days away, Ausmus admits this is still a team that doesn’t have those answers. So how big a concern are these latest injuries? Let’s take a look:

Bottom of the order: Two years ago, Alex Avila was the Tigers’ primary No. 8 hitter. Jhonny Peralta was their most frequent No. 7 hitter. But the days when this team had that sort of lineup depth are over -- at least for now.

Barring a late trade or free-agent addition, the Tigers appear to be looking at a lower half of the order that includes some combination of Avila and Austin Jackson in the 5-6 slots, rookie third baseman Nick Castellanos in the No. 7 hole, followed by their left fielder (likely a Rajai Davis/Don Kelly/Tyler Collins combo plate for the moment) and the shortstop (tentatively looking like a hodgepodge of just acquired Andrew Romine, splitting time with either Danny Worth or Hernan Perez).

While Ausmus says that injuries haven’t had a major impact on that lineup depth, "because Iglesias was going to hit ninth anyway," lineup depth "could be" a concern, he admitted.

Asked if he’d at least settled on Jackson and Avila mostly hitting fifth and sixth in some order, Ausmus replied: "That area of the lineup is probably the most in flux, really. There may be a situation where it changes, depending on who the opponent starter is. I would prefer that be a situation where someone hits in that spot, or those spots, and excels and we can leave them there. But they’re not etched in stone."

Jackson has had a big spring (.442/.478/.767, with only four strikeouts in 46 plate appearances), but it’s Avila (.263/.364/.316) whom Ausmus singled out as being a pivotal figure in the construction of this lineup.

"We’d like to see Alex bounce back," the manager said. "I think he’s a much better hitter than he showed last year. … He’s had some good at-bats [this spring]. He’s had some normal spring training at-bats. He’s had some good at-bats against left-handed hitters, which is good to see. I’m hoping that Alex bounces back."

One bright spot in that mix is Castellanos, who has hit. 373, with seven doubles and two home runs in 51 at-bats, and has had scouts raving all spring about his quick bat and polished approach. The hope was that the Tigers could hit him down in the order and keep the pressure off him offensively. But it wouldn’t be a shock if they rewrote that script in a hurry if Castellanos keeps hitting.

The bullpen: The Tigers were already poking around for bullpen help --– particularly an upgrade on Phil Coke as the primary situational left-hander -- even before Rondon went down. But other teams say they’ve stepped up that hunt in recent days, since Rondon blew out his elbow ligament with no warning whatsoever.

For the moment, the seventh and eighth innings would now appear to fall into the hands of Al Alburquerque (11 strikeouts and just one run in six innings this spring) and that ghost of Yankees past, Joba Chamberlain (3.00 ERA, but with a 1.83 WHIP and still-diminished velocity) this spring. But Ausmus says that will be a work in progress early on.

"You just deal with it," the manager said. "You can’t dwell on it. You’ve got to find another solution. And the truth is, we’re going to need someone to step up to fill the role, and we’re not sure who that person is going to be. … It’s like the 5- or 6-hole in the lineup: I hope someone grabs it and runs with it."

One name to watch: 28-year-old right-hander Evan Reed, claimed off waivers from the Miami Marlins last April, who has hit 97 miles per hour and racked up 12 strikeouts, while allowing just three hits in 11⅓ innings this spring.

But the real good news has come from Joe Nathan, who hasn’t allowed a run all spring and is being depended on more than ever to put an end to the Tigers’ ninth-inning dramatics of the past couple of seasons.

So at least this team isn’t looking for a closer anymore. But they’re as likely to make some other addition -- a left-handed-hitting outfielder, another bullpen arm and possibly even shortstop Stephen Drew -- as any contender in baseball over this last week of spring training.

Better hands: Iglesias or Vizquel?

February, 22, 2014
Feb 22
3:19
PM ET
LAKELAND, Fla. -- If ever a man was born to coach Jose Iglesias, it was Omar Vizquel. If ever a young shortstop was born to be coached by Omar Vizquel, it was Jose Iglesias.

And now here they are, together in the spring training camp of the Detroit Tigers, where Vizquel still so looks so good when he takes an occasional ground ball that his manager, Brad Ausmus, joked Saturday that “Omar’s our Plan B” at shortstop.

Later Vizquel said of Iglesias, “Everyone knows what kind of hands he has.” So I couldn't help but ask Vizquel afterward: “Who has the better hands -- you or Iglesias?”

He smiled.

“It’s still me,” laughed Vizquel, whose three different seasons with five errors or fewer (and at least 130 games played) are as many as all the other shortstops in history combined.

And why did he vote for himself?

“I’m already done,” said Vizquel, who is in his first year of coaching after a 24-year big league career. “And I've already proved what I can do. Now it’s his turn.”

Standing a few feet away was rookie third baseman Nick Castellanos.

“What was the answer to that question?” Castellanos asked.

“I said, 'Me,'" Vizquel told him. “I’m already gone. And I already did my thing. It’s his turn to do it.”

“You guys are different,” Castellanos told him.

Vizquel’s response: “It’s just different styles of playing. I think his style is just a little bit more flashy than mine. Even though I was flashy, I have a different style of fielding the ball. But the end result is still the same. Make the out.”

Oh, and there's one more way in which they’re different, Vizquel chuckled: “He talks more than me.”


The past couple of days have reminded me of something I'd almost forgotten. There is life after A-Rod-Palooza.

There is a great baseball season going on out there, friends. So let's stop talking about that third baseman for the Yankees and start focusing on all the fabulous baseball stories that are roaring toward their dramatic conclusion.

And what stories do I have in mind? How about these Five Stories I'll Be Watching (Instead of That Guy):

[+] EnlargeStarling Marte, Travis Snider and Andrew McCutchen
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesIt's hard not to get excited about the Pirates.

1. The Pirates


The Pittsburgh Pirates are going to finish with a winning record, ladies and gentlemen. I have never felt more confident about saying that.

They are not going to have 10 pitchers undergo Tommy John surgery in the next 20 minutes. They are not going to lose 37 of their next 48 games. They are not going to reenact August and September of 2012, or August and September of 2011.

They're too good. They have the fourth-best run differential in the National League (plus-60). They've allowed the fewest runs in the major leagues (just 385) -- something they haven't accomplished over a full season since 1984. And opponents are hitting a ridiculous .229 against their pitching staff -- which would be the lowest average against any National League staff since Jim Deshaies' 1986 Astros.

I can't tell you these Pirates are going to win the World Series. I can't tell you they'll win any kind of postseason series. But they're still the best story in the major leagues. So let's just enjoy this ride. OK?

2. The races


The NL East race is over. The AL Central race feels like it's in guarded, but unstable, condition. And over in the NL West, the Dodgers have gained 14 .5 games in the standings on Arizona just in the past seven weeks. So we can see where that one is headed.

But the NL Central is shaping up as a must-see duel between the best offense in the National League (the Cardinals) and the best pitching staff (the Pirates) -- with nine riveting games left between these two teams. Sign me up for that.

And how about the AL West, where the Rangers just made a six-game Oakland lead disappear in a span of nine days. Those teams have two series left against each other. But the schedule, in general, favors Texas, which has the easiest remaining schedule of any AL contender, including 10 games left against their good friends from across the state, the Astros.

And then there's that AL East race, which has a chance to be the best of them all.

The Red Sox just became the first AL team to reach 70 wins -- and did it following a year where they didn't win 70 games all season. Think about that. Elias tells us they're the first AL team to pull off that trick (not counting strike-shortened seasons) since Harlond Clift's 1945 Senators, and (because those Senators got to 70 on the same day as the Tigers) the first to do it outright since George Herman Ruth's 1926 Yankees.

But then there are the Rays, owners of the best record in the whole sport over the past 81 games and a team so hot they just lost their first series in seven weeks. So pick against them at your peril.

And I'm not ready to write off the Orioles, who lead the major leagues in home runs and slugging, upgraded their pitching before the deadline and are currently on pace to become the first team in history to commit fewer than 50 errors in a 162-game season. (Heck, no one else in the expansion era has even finished a season with fewer than 60.) The Orioles have 16 games left against Boston and Tampa Bay. So stay tuned.

3. The awards

NL MVP: Yadier Molina was our midseason pick, but his knee issues are about to sabotage his MVP campaign. So are we ready for a starting pitcher (i.e., Clayton Kershaw) to win this thing? Do guys like Paul Goldschmidt and Joey Votto have MVP finishes in them? And don't look now, but here comes Andrew McCutchen, whose credentials include this nugget: He, Mike Trout and Carlos Gonzalez are the only players in their league to rank in the top 10 in both stolen bases and slugging.

AL MVP: Uh-oh. Here we go again. If you enjoyed that vintage, old-school/new-school Miguel Cabrera-versus-Mike Trout debate last year, get ready for Round 2. As Jared Cross wrote the other day, Trout has injected himself into what once looked like a Cabrera-Chris Davis MVP conversation by charging up those AL leaderboards. But if this keeps up, some great sabermetric minds are going to have to explain to the masses how it's possible that Trout leads Cabrera in offensive wins above replacement, but is trailing Cabrera overall because of (gulp) Cabrera's defense. Incredible, huh? But let's save that issue for another day.

AL Cy Young: Felix Hernandez can tell you all about how Cy Young voters have finally learned to de-emphasize wins. But let's see them try to factor out wins this year, when King Felix is leading the league in ERA but trying to make his case against a guy who is 16-1 (Max Scherzer) -- and first in his league in WHIP, lowest opponent average and lowest opponent OPS. Can't wait for that debate.

NL Cy Young: With all due respect for the awesome seasons of Adam Wainwright, Matt Harvey, Madison Bumgarner, Patrick Corbin, Francisco Liriano, Craig Kimbrel, etc., all Kershaw does every five days is remind us that he's the best pitcher in baseball. Still. Just so you know, if Kershaw can finish with the ERA (1.91), WHIP (0.88) and opponent average (.188) he has now, the only pitchers in the live-ball era who have ever been in that neighborhood (or better) over a full season are Bob Gibson, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Sandy Koufax and Luis Tiant. Whoever they are.

Rookies of the Year: In the AL, Jose Iglesias has a shot to become the first rookie of the year ever to get traded in midseason. But Wil Myers can screw up that claim to fame. And in the NL, this remains one of the wildest rookie-of-the-year free-for-alls ever, with Jose Fernandez, Shelby Miller, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Julio Teheran, Evan Gattis and Yasiel Puig all making cases for themselves that are going to require many, many Advil for the ROY electorate.

[+] EnlargeIchiro Suzuki
Al Bello/Getty ImagesIchiro Suzuki is about to enter some rarefied air.

4. The 4,000-hit man


The folks obsessed with a certain troubled third baseman may differ. But in my neighborhood, the most interesting story in Yankees Land this month revolves around a man who is chasing a number very few living humans have ever seen chased.

That man is Ichiro Suzuki. That number is 4,000.

And no, that isn't how many reporters from his homeland follow Ichiro around every day. It's the number of hits he's about to have on his permanent record if we count the 1,278 hits he spewed in his nine seasons in Japan.

At the moment, he finds himself just 11 hits away. And I hope you don't let that milestone go whooshing by you too quickly before you stop to think about what it means.

The last time we witnessed anyone getting his 4,000th hit was April 13, 1984, when Pete Rose collected No. 4,000 off Jerry Koosman, in a stadium we no longer find on the baseball map (the late, great Stade Olympique in Montreal).

Just for perspective's sake, the Hit King got that 4,000th hit in his 3,259th game. That's nearly 200 more than Ichiro has played (3,075) on both sides of the Pacific. Which means he's going to beat Rose to No. 4,000 by more than a full season. Wow.

The only other 4,000th hit ever? Ty Cobb got that one -- on July 18, 1927. So if you weren't hanging out at old Nevin Field in Detroit that day 86 years ago, you've never seen any American Leaguer do what Ichiro is about to do. Pretty mind-boggling feat -- on any continent.

5. History majors


Finally, here's just a taste of some of the historic pursuits you can keep your eye on over the next two months:

Chris Davis: On pace for 58 home runs, 102 extra-base hits, 151 RBIs and 72 more extra-base hits than singles. There has never been a season like it.

Mike Trout: He's leading the American League in walks. He's tied for the league lead in hits. And if he can wind up leading in both categories, he'd be only the fifth player since 1900 to do that in the same season. The others: Rogers Hornsby, Richie Ashburn, Carl Yastrzemski and Lenny Dykstra.

Joey Votto: See that note above? How unreal would it be if two men finished first in their league in hits and walks in the same season? Well, Votto has a shot, too. He has a big lead in walks. He's three behind Jean Segura for the lead in hits. And Votto and Shin-Soo Choo have an outside chance to become the second set of NL teammates ever to reach base 300 times apiece (via hit, walk and HBP) in the same season. The other: Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio, for the 1997 Astros.

Miguel Cabrera: And then there's Miggy. He might not win the Triple Crown for a second straight year. But if he can stay healthy enough to get on the field regularly, Cabrera still has a chance to do something no Triple Crown winner has ever done -- hit that trifecta one year and then have a better season the next year.

Here are Cabrera's numbers from last season, and his projected numbers for this season. This is truly amazing:

2012: .330/.383/.606, 44 homers and 139 RBIs

2013: .359/.453/.668, 48 homers and 148 RBIs

I chronicled this a few months ago, but here it is again just to help you digest this man's greatness: Only one Triple Crown winner in history (Ted Williams) ever drove in more runs the following year. Just two (Williams and Mickey Mantle) had a better batting average the next season. And none of them hit more home runs The Season After. But this guy could do all of the above.

So once again, we find ourselves drawn to the flat screen every time Miguel Cabrera starts marching toward home plate. And that beats watching A-Rod-Palooza every day of every week. Don't you think?

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