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First-guessing Jim Leyland

10/2/2009

At this writing, the Tigers have been smashed by the White Sox and the Twins are thoroughly smashing the Royals. In the midst of all this, Mack Avenue Tigers' Kurt Mensching skips ahead to Game 161:

    Why does everyone keep insulting the decision to start Alfredo Figaro tomorrow? Who do you think the Tigers should have started? Rick Porcello was not available. A 20-year-old can't pitch on short rest. And he's at 165 innings already anyway. Maybe you wanted Armando Galarraga or something? Figaro has been fine outside a game he was injured. Yes, I went for the trifecta on that. It's not idea, but this is where the Tigers find themselves due to injuries, so deal with it.

Look, as nutty as it seems, the Tigers are still in pretty good shape. If Zack Greinke beats the Twins tomorrow, the Tigers need to win just one of their next two games to clinch, and the worst that could happen is a 162-game tie. As for Mr. Figaro, though, I think Kurt is bending over just a tad too far backward here.
Figaro has started only twice for the Tigers this season, both games back in June. In the first he pitched reasonably well: five innings, two runs. In the second he got beat up pretty good, and went on the DL immediately afterward with a sprained wrist. He rejoined the Tigers a couple of weeks ago and hasn't done much in two relief outings. Sure, he's given up just one run. He's also walked four and struck out two.

My point is that Figaro's performance in the majors this season -- a grand total of 15 and 2/3 innings -- tells us almost nothing about how he might fare tomorrow. Unfortunately, his performance in the minors doesn't tell us a whole lot, either: 3.60 ERA and a solid K/BB ratio, sure, but that's just 80 innings in Double-A. He does throw hard and he's been around for a while. But there's a reason he was just 16th on the list of Tiger prospects before this season.

Which isn't to say he can't give the Tigers five or six solid innings. And I should say that Jim Leyland knows his pitchers better than I do. Still ... I can't help but first-guess this decision. No, maybe it doesn't make any sense to start Porcello on short rest ... but what about Justin Verlander, who is a) one of the best pitchers in the league, and b) a horse. A horse, I say!

If Verlander started on short rest tomorrow, Porcello could start Sunday on regular rest.

Granted, that doesn't leave Leyland any thrilling options for a potential playoff with the Twins on Tuesday. But right now, Tuesday seems like a million years away. Or should, to Leyland. He needs to win at least one of these next two games, and preferably both. And I can't help thinking that Verlander on short rest is better than Figaro on any sort of rest.