Notes from Tigers Winter Caravan
By John Parent
It’s that time of year, people. Very soon, you will be overwhelmed with stories about how you favorite player is “in the best shape of his life” as Spring Training is set to open in a matter of weeks.
The Detroit Tigers set about their usual round of stops on their winter caravan ahead of TigerFest this Saturday. If you don’t have tickets to Saturday’s event at Comerica Park, the caravan is the only way you’ll get a chance to meet and greet your favorite Tigers.
While the Mudhens fan fest isn’t an official stop, a couple of Tigers and manager Jim Leyland joined their Triple-A affiliate last night. Among the topics discussed by Leyland was the catching situation, which thanks to having Victor Martinez serving as a most-of-the-time DH, will become a bigger story this year than in years prior. Leyland discussed how utilityman Don Kelly would see some time behind the plate during camp this year in order to prepare him for a role as the club’s emergency catcher. Kelly, a shortstop throughout his minor league career, has logged major league time at every position except pitcher, catcher, and ironically enough, shortstop in his brief Tigers career.
Ryan Raburn, who is penciled in as the regular man in left field, has served as the emergency catcher the past two years, so he remains an option should a need arise. Leyland stated flatly that Brandon Inge, a former starting catcher for the Tigers, will not be an option behind the plate.
Is this news? Not really. Raburn, despite the tag as emergency catcher, has never caught a single major league pitch. So it probably won’t matter much if its Raburn or Kelly or even Justin Verlander they give that designation to. Unless both catchers get hurt during a game, you won’t see it happening. Even if you have a game where Avila starts and VMart is DHing, if Avila leaves the game for any reason (injury, pinch-hitter, ejection, etc.), Martinez will move behind the plate and the Tigers will finish the game National League style, as in without the DH.
In other non-news, Leyland said that while he’s optimistic that Carlos Guillen could be ready for Opening Day, he’s not betting on it. Guillen’s timetable for recovery doesn’t have room for setbacks between now and March 31. If he has any problems, and he hasn’t so far, he won’t be on the active roster when the Tigers travel to New York to open the schedule. Knowing Guillen and his history of long recovery times, I wouldn’t count on Guillen being back until May.
There are reports from many outlets today about right hander Joel Zumaya and his recovery from the grotesque injury that left him with a shattered olecranon (tip of the elbow). Zumaya talked about how excited he is for the season and how he’s had no problems whatsoever in rehabbing his latest ailment. From the Freep: “This injury is nothing. It wasn’t close to my shoulder or finger (injuries). It is a piece of cake. It’s regaining the strength, mobility and flexibility. I went ahead and started throwing in November.”
Zumaya has thrown off a mound twice so far and says he’s feeling no pain at all. He has a screw in his elbow, but that can be removed if it causes him problems down the road. Zumaya is in his last season before hitting free agency, so you know he’s hopeful that he can avoid another lost season. Obviously, the Tigers are hopeful as well. Not only would a healthy Zumaya be a force in the middle innings for Detroit, but he’s most likely the man who would take over for closer Jose Valverde should Papa Grande have to miss time. Joaquin Benoit, who will be the primary set-up man, has expressed in previous years that he’s not comfortable closing.
There has been no mention in this piece thus far of Armando Galarraga. Seeing as how every article I’ve written recently has centered around him, I’d better take care of that. Just did.
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