Before giving Ryan Raburn his second start at second base yesterday, Tigers manager Jim Leyland said he was looking to add “a little thump” to the lineup. Will Rhymes has been struggling at the plate and Raburn’s versatility provided the opportunity to get a better stick into the lineup while also creating a solution to the outfield logjam.
To a point, Leyland’s decision to start Raburn at second base paid off. Raburn got the Tigers on the board in the first inning with a solo homer and walked and scored a second run later in the contest. On the other hand, starting a defender as challenged as Raburn is at a position so vital to the defense is a serious gamble and one that could have easily cost the club a win yesterday.
Rick Porcello is a ground ball specialist and yesterday in Seattle he was working his magic. In the bottom of the fourth, the Tigers lead 2-1. Porcello allowed a single through the hole between Raburn and first baseman Miguel Cabrera to start the inning. After falling behind to Jack Cust, Porcello induced another ground ball that wound up getting through Raburn and the Mariners were in business. Porcello worked out of the jam and escaped with the lead intact, but the fact that he was able to wiggle free doesn’t make Raburn’s defensive play acceptable.
The ball that Cust hit is a play that a good second baseman would have turned into a double play. At the very least, an adequate second baseman would have knocked it down and gotten an out at first. Raburn misplayed a ball that could have been a double play and instead of having bases empty and two outs, Porcello was faced with a two on and no out situation. Now, obviously it’s no guarantee that had Rhymes (or Ramon Santiago for that matter) been in the game at that time that a play would have been made, but the chances would have been increased greatly.
Unfortunately, it looks like we’ll be seeing more of Raburn at second base, at least against left handed pitchers. Rhymes just isn’t hitting at all and Raburn’s bat is a significant upgrade to that of Rhymes. But with the injury to Victor Martinez freeing up the DH role, the outfield crunch is already alleviated. Brennan Boesch will get everyday at bats in one of the three spots (LF, RF, of DH), Magglio Ordonez will play as much as his ankle will allow and Raburn can see everyday time as well. Given that Ordonez’s physical ailments are limiting him to less-than-everyday duty, Casper Wells can even see some time in the outfield. And all of this can be accomplished without using Raburn at second, at least for the next two weeks until VMart is eligible to return.
You may have already guessed where all this is going by now, but if you haven’t here’s a clue: it’s headed south on I-75.
I’m not sure what more Scott Sizemore needs to have happen before he gets another shot at the starting second base job. He needed to put up good numbers in Toledo; so far he’s hitting .389/.463/.556/1.019 in 41 plate appearances. He needed Rhymes to struggle; Rhymes is hitting .208/.283/.208/.491 in 54 plate appearances. He needed at bats to be available; VMart’s injury takes care of that problem for a while at least. Now all he needs is to get the call.
The Tigers are off today and I can guess (and hope) that Dave Dombrowski and Jim Leyland have already had this discussion. While it might not have made a ton of sense to make a non-injury-related roster move while on the left coast, it certainly is much easier to do while back at home.
If Rhymes isn’t playing everyday, he doesn’t bring much value to the club. The fact is that he’s not a great defensive player at second (though light years better than Raburn), and even when he is hitting, he’s not an extra-base threat, certainly not the way Sizemore is.
If the Tigers are willing to go with a weaker defender (and again, Raburn is pretty much the worst option they have at second base) in order to add extra-base thump to the order, then it just doesn’t make sense for Sizemore not to be getting called up.