Marcus Thames is “country strong”. He showed that Friday night, clubbing two big flies, propelling the Tigers to a 10-4 rain-shortened victory over Milwaukee.
After Armando Galarraga yielded a three-run bomb to Prince Fielder in the first, it was Thames who responded with a two-run shot off Braden Looper in the bottom of the inning to get the Tigers back into the game. Thames then capped the scoring with another two-run blast in the seventh, this one an opposite field shot on an 0-2 count just as the rain began to fall again, ending the Brewers chances and the game.
In 13 games since returning from injury, Thames has gone 12-36 with five home runs, and provided the pop this team has been missing from guys like Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen. He has three bombs in his last two games since being installed into the cleanup spot behind Miguel Cabrera.
It was partly with an eye toward getting regular at-bats for Thames that the Tigers decided to part ways with Gary Sheffield this spring, though Sheffield was still owed $14 million for this season. Unfortunately for Detroit, the Carlos Guillen injuries forced Jim Leyland to play Guillen at DH early this year, taking those at-bats from Marcus. By the time Guillen hit the DL, Thames was already there, having hurt an abdominal muscle during batting practice in April. But the timing couldn’t have been better for his return in early June.
With Guillen still out of the lineup (he could yet miss the whole season), and Magglio Ordonez no longer the threat he once was, Detroit was severely lacking offensive production. While finishing up the last road trip in St. Louis, Leyland decided it was time to let Thames play everyday and see what he could do. The move has paid immediate dividends.
After being held to just three runs in the first game with Thames at cleanup, the Tigers have plated six and 10 in their last two. Slotting Thames to hit behind Cabrera has also allowed Curtis Granderson to move back to the top of the order, while still providing some measure of protection for El Martillo, who is now hitting third.
Thames has shown flashes of brilliance in the past, but this time, perhaps he will get the extended playing time that Leyland has promised before, only to take it away to give to another player. This time, the Tigers can’t afford to not have Marcus and his long-ball ability in the lineup. He is a three-run homer waiting to happen.
The addition of Thames, along with the promotions of catcher Dusty Ryan, who made his season debut Friday, and pitcher Alfredo Figaro, slated to make his major league debut Saturday, are changes that are perhaps long over due for the first-place Tigers. The offense had gone cold, and the lack of production of catcher Dane Sardinha and Ordonez were two of the many reasons for that.
Ryan figures to take over for Sardinha’s role and the upgrade offensively he should provide will allow more rest for starter Gerald Laird. The fresher Leyland can keep Laird, the better his numbers should become as the season goes forward. Ryan stepped into the lineup Friday and clubbed an RBI double to tie the game in the fourth inning, leading to a four-run rally that saw the Tigers take the lead they would not give back.
If Figaro, taking over for Dontrelle Willis, can hold down the fifth spot of the rotation, the Tigers are going to like their chances in a great many games the rest of the way. The additions of Thames and Ryan should allow for much better offensive numbers from the lineup, but it will hinge on whether or not Thames can stay productive over an extended period of time. It’s the chance he’s been waiting his whole career for.