Tigers Looking for Pitching, but Third Base Remains the Biggest Problem

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Well, it hasn’t taken long to figure out what the return of Carlos Guillen means to the Detroit Tigers, or what it means for displaced second baseman Ryan Raburn. In the three games since Guillen was activated, he has played every inning of each one and Raburn hasn’t seen the field at all. The Tigers have won two of those three games and Guillen has contributed four hits, including a homer, in his ten at bats.

Meanwhile, Brandon Inge pops up on the infield, commits an error, then pops out again.

Entering the weekend, the Tigers had holes at both second and third base, along with a void at the back-end of the rotation. Getting a healthy Guillen back for the first time this year is akin to landing a veteran hitter in time for the pennant race. So long as he stays on the field, the Tigers have themselves an upgrade in the lineup even if Guillen finds himself to be less than what he once was at the dish.

Left hander Duane Below will make his major league debut this evening in hopes of stabilizing the rotation. Below, who features a low-90s fastball, a curve that has been called the best in the organization, and a somewhat erratic changeup, might not be the long-term answer for the Tigers, but his start tonight buys the club an extra few days to pull the trigger on a trade for a veteran arm. Where Phil Coke, Andy Oliver, and Charlie Furbush have failed to be the lone lefty in the rotation, now Below will attempt to nail it down.

Meanwhile, Inge strikes out on a check swing.

The Tigers may or may not have an answer to their starting pitching issues. You have to assume that guys like Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello, who have each been inconsistent this year, will get themselves ironed out. You have to hope they will, anyway, because the Tigers won’t be adding three starters this month; only one, if that. In all reality, a fifth starter is important, but only vital every fifth day.

And yet, even as the Tigers have shuffled southpaws in and out of the rotation this year, on a seemingly never-ending quest to find the right guy, Inge remains in the lineup.

Oh sure, Jim Leyland has used Don Kelly much more frequently at the hot corner of late, but Kelly, like Furbush and Oliver in their auditions for starting roles, hasn’t done enough to solve the problems at third.

Yes, he’s been far better than Inge has, but Kelly’s numbers are a bit misleading as well. His overall line of .239/.289/.342/.681 isn’t great by any stretch, but in the games he’s started, Kelly’s line is only .226/.284/.282/.576. In other words, he’s lethal off the bench, but terrible when given multiple chances to fail.

Sadly, even Kelly’s paltry .576 OPS as a starter represents an improvement of almost 100 points over Inge. That really says more about how bad Inge has been than about Kelly being anything close to acceptable; it’s simply a case of the lesser of two evils right now.

You’ll see commenters and message board posters clamoring for any available third baseman to come in and take the job, but the Tigers don’t need an all-star at the hot corner, they simply need a guy who can play average defense (because that’s really all they’ve been getting anyway) and average offense. Even slightly below average offense would be fine.

They don’t need to mortgage the farm to land Aramis Ramirez or anyone like that. All they need to do is to find a guy, be it in the minor leagues (Danny Worth) or off the scrap heap of a non-contender (Wilson Betemit, Adam Kennedy) that can provide slightly above replacement-level contributions.

Kelly isn’t the answer. Inge? He just popped up to first… again.

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