SPORTS COMMENTARY

Panic time could be upon Tigers

8/13/2014
BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

It was two weeks ago, to the day, that the David Price trade news broke. The Detroit Tigers suddenly had three Cy Young Award winners in their starting rotation, along with ERA champ Anibal Sanchez and then-12-game winner Rick Porcello.

It was an embarrassment of riches. There were instant discussions on whether Porcello or — gulp — Justin Verlander might be dropped from the postseason rotation.

 

Now the Tigers have to worry about getting there.

 

Sanchez is on the disabled list with a right pectoral strain and could be on the shelf for as much as one month. Verlander left a lousy start against Pittsburgh after one inning and 40 pitches Monday, the shortest start of his nine-year career, citing right shoulder soreness (maybe whiplash from watching the defense behind him), and a waterlogged Motown had another worry waiting for the result of his MRI.

 

Verlander said the problem had been lingering for awhile, which might explain his ups and downs this season, and admitted, “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous. I’ve never been through this before.”

 

The MRI did not show any structural damage; it is apparently an inflammation. He will likely miss at least one start. It makes you wonder, though, considering Verlander’s high-velocity, big-strikeout arm has been worked hard over the years.

 

Robbie Ray was to be called up from the Mud Hens to start in place of Sanchez tonight, but when Porcello had a scheduled start burned by a relief appearance during a 19-inning loss at Toronto on Sunday Ray’s start was moved up to last night in Pittsburgh. With the series against the Pirates shifting to Comerica Park tonight, the Detroit starter will instead be George R. (Buck) Farmer.

 

As recently as July 25, Farmer was pitching for West Michigan, four levels below the majors in low-A ball. He made a double jump to AA Erie for two starts, now a double jump to Detroit.

 

It makes you wonder about that off-season trade of Doug Fister. It brought Ray to the Tigers organization, which hasn’t exactly paid off yet, and as it played out necessitated the Price trade, which cost Detroit a decent, young fifth starter (Drew Smyly) and its starting centerfielder (Austin Jackson).

 

Now, Buck Farmer gets a start in the mid-August heat of a pennant race.

 

That’s the state of the rotation. The bullpen? It may be “Bring Your Mitt Night” at Comerica.

 

There have been so many transactions in the last 24 hours that manager Larry Parrish and pitching coach Al Nipper of the Mud Hens can’t be sure until game time exactly who is on their roster. The Tigers may know better who they have available, but nobody has to feel good about the answer.

 

The Tigers’ pen has been inconsistent; thus, often ineffective. These guys are gas cans. At least Joba Chamberlain already has the beard for witness protection. Newly acquired reliever Joakim Soria is also on the DL with an oblique strain that, optimistically, would see him return in two or three weeks.

 

But Detroit’s issues go deeper.

 

Entering Tuesday night’s game, the Tigers had lost six of eight. In half of those six losses, the offense produced two runs or less. That doesn’t include the 19-inning affair in Toronto, when Detroit’s bats accounted for five early runs followed by 14 2/‚Äč3 scoreless innings against the Blue Jays’ bullpen.

 

At least it’s a team effort. If it’s not rotation or bullpen problems, it’s a power failure, or it is defensive miscues that mimic a Pony League team.

 

As another writer suggested, if you employ the stars-and-scrubs financial approach the Tigers have for several years, you’d better not be worrying about your stars.

 

What it all adds up to, at least entering Tuesday’s action, was second place. Yes, a Tigers team that on paper, and especially after the Price acquisition, figured to win the AL Central by a dozen or more games, dropped into second place behind Kansas City after Monday’s loss to Pittsburgh.

 

The red-hot Royals are no fluke. They’re in it for the here and now, a philosophy which Cleveland forfeited by becoming a seller at the trade deadline. If the Indians had predicted the Tigers’ woes, I wonder if they would have instead opted to hang in there with Justin Masterson and Asdrubal Cabrera.

 

Regardless, the Royals figure to stick around in the Central race and Toronto, Seattle, and New York all could make a wild-card race interesting, although it’s too early to get too far into that.

 

It’s not too early for Tigers’ fans to panic, though.

 

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.