Game 77: Daniel Norris drives me insane

Notes from the baseball wilderness, Vol. 77:

Daniel Norris is a mere 24 years old. It is far, far too soon to write him off and anyone who does so should be roundly ignored and ostracized and targeted with all sorts of truly offensive name-calling like “ninny” and “loser” and “silly doo-doo head” and things of that nature. But at some point, the young left-hander needs to take a step forward.

For pitching prospects who fail, it is rarely a failure of stuff. It’s not talent — every big leaguer has talent, yes, even you, Francisco Rodriguez — but rather learning how to use it. Guys who have gone through their entire minor league career tossing 99 MPH past guys get to the Majors and quickly discover that, yes, these hitters can square up a 99 MPH fastball if it doesn’t move enough or is poorly located. The challenge for a gifted young pitcher isn’t their stuff — it’s harnessing it and learning how to consistently get hitters out with it.

That is where Norris is. He made 13 starts last year, struck out over a batter an inning, kept his walks down, and looked like he’d figured something out. On Wednesday night, he made his 15th start of the season. His strikeouts are down, his walks are up, and he’s worse across the board.

Why? Who knows. You can clearly see the talent when he pitches, he’ll go through good stretches, and then you have outings like this one, where every time he got behind in a count, he seemed to resort to a meaty fastball that was hit halfway to Windsor.

Like for the Tigers, the 2017 season looks like it might be a lost cause for Norris. That may actually work out better in the long-term — with no pressure to lift the team out of their current malaise, he can work on learning to pitch at this level and finding the consistency he will need to become the reliable starter he still can be.

Explaining the Art of the Mini-Sell

As if you haven’t figured out by now, things aren’t going well for the Tigers at the present time. It was a very strange 8-game losing streak in that every game except one seems to have hinged on a single moment (the one exception being the finale against the Rays), but it is a losing streak nonetheless (and that’s a story for another post). It’s only natural that the word “sell” starts to creep into writers’ minds. Al Avila has gone on record saying that they are “open for discussions,” which is about as vague a comment as you can get. Seriously, is there any point in time (other than possibly October) when a team is NOT open for discussion? Still, it raises an important question: What do they mean when they say “sell?” If you’ve been reading much of the local sports media, they’ll have you believe it’s nothing short of full rebuild. I can’t say for sure what’s in the front office’s mind, but I find this approach to be ill-advised and unnecessary (and I’ll get into some of the reasons shortly). Rather, if they don’t get things turned around, I think a much better approach would be to do something akin to what they did in 2015, which was to trade away impending free agents, and I’ll even include guys whose contracts are up at the end of next season. I call this the mini-sell, and I have very specific criteria for how to go about doing it. Now, I have not thrown in the towel yet on this season. I am much too obstinate and stubborn to give up with this much time left until the trade deadline, so for now, think of this as a contingency plan if things continue to go south. And without further ado, I bring you my rules for the mini-sell:

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Tigers Release K-Rod into the Wild, Recall Rondón

A day after another forgettable outing in a long string of forgettable outings, the Tigers decided they had finally seen enough of their erstwhile closer, Francisco Rodriguez. K-Rod, if you missed it, was called upon to keep the Tigers close in a 5-3 game, but quickly loaded and unloaded the bases, giving up a grand slam to Robinson Canó. Afterwards, he declined to speak to the media. One suspected it might not be long until the other shoe dropped.

And indeed it did.

Today, the Tigers finally severed ties with K-Rod, ending a (recently) fraught relationship full of role shuffling, blown saves, homerun balls, and accusations of miscommunication:

The Tigers recalled the hard throwing Bruce Rondón to replace K-Rod. Rondón, who’s been something of an enigma during his Tigers tenure, was shuttled to Toledo after several rocky appearances out of the bullpen in April. He’s come up with mixed results in Toledo, which include a robust 11.1 K/9 and an equally robust 6.1 BB/9, but he’s been much better lately.

In his last ten appearances, Rondón has thrown 10 innings, allowed 2 runs, struck out 12, and walked only 3. It’s imperative—for both the Tigers and Rondón—that the right hander has a strong return.

As for K-Rod, the veteran closer departs as the fourth all-time saves leader (h/t Chris McCosky), and may very well be destined for Cooperstown. It’s sad K-Rod’s ending in Detroit couldn’t be more of the storybook variety, but age catches up to us all one way or another.

Guest Post: Andrew Welch Sells the Farm

Editor’s note: At the time of the writing of this article, Shane Greene was indeed pitching badly. However, it took your friends at Glass Half Fulmer so long to review it that Shane Greene is now pitching very well and we’ve made Andrew kind of look like a jackass in the process. Either way, Andrew, longtime friend of the blog, is staunchly not on Team Firesale, and he would like to share his reasoning.
You can find Andrew on twitter at @Grape_Juice13.
            THE TIGERS ARE DONE AFTER THIS YEAR, ACCEPT IT.
    Seriously, this is probably the Tigers last year at contending for a title. It’s not so much that the two players that carry the team are old, even though age regression has yet to set in, it’s that they have key players up for free agency and the front office and ownership have shown a willingness to slash salary and rebuild as they attempted in the offseason. This is why I’m advocating for the Tigers to sell the entire farm system and to make one last run at the playoffs. The team has relatively few holes and the holes they do have are easily acquired or the hole honestly doesn’t matter a whole hell of a lot. They have decent enough talent in the minors, albeit without a marquee name, to make trades for good players or a great player like they did in 2014.
    The Tigers bullpen remains an area of concern for this. Bruce Rondon doesn’t have it all after being lights out for August and September last year striking out 26 in 21 innings with an ERA under 2. K Rod is lost somewhere in the void and teams seemed to have figured out just to not swing at anything that’s remotely low in the zone.
More after this!

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Game 60: Tigers (29-30) @ Red Sox (32-27)

Tigers

SP: Jordan Zimmermann (R)

2B: Ian Kinsler (R)
3B: Nicholas Castellanos (R)
1B: Miguel Cabrera (R)
DH: Víctor Martínez (S)
RF: J.D. Martinez (R)
LF: Justin Upton (R)
C: James McCann (R)
CF: Mikie Mahtook (R)
SS: José Iglesias (R)

Red Sox

SP: Brian Johnson (L)

RF: Mookie Betts (R)
2B: Dustin Pedroia (R)
SS: Xander Bogaerts (R)
1B: Mitch Moreland (L)
LF: Andrew Benintendi (L)
DH: Hanley Ramírez (R)
CF: Jackie Bradley Jr. (L)
C: Sandy León (S)
3B: Pablo Sandoval (S)

Things of Import: James McCann has been activated off the 10-day DL and the Tigers have optioned John Hicks back to Toledo to make room. Justin Verlander will also be able to make his next scheduled start tomorrow, as planned.

What Did the White Sox/Tigers Series Teach Us About the Tigers?

We’re only a third of the way through the season, so not probably not very much. However, it did show us some very important things. Namely, Jordan Zimmermann can resemble his old, pre-injury self when he has a handle on his once deadly slider. It showed us that the Tigers’ bullpen is pretty dang good now, and might have some unsung heroes, such as long-man Warwick Saupold. This series also showed us two different sides to the Tigers’ sometimes explosive, often frustrating offense: they can destroy weak pitching with the long ball and rack up extra base hits and they can play a little smallball, move runners along, and cash them in at opportune moments.

Almost everything went right for the Tigers in their three-game sweep of the lowly White Sox. And when something didn’t go as planned—such as de facto ace Justin Verlander leaving Sunday’s game early with a groin injury or stalwart set-up man Alex Wilson faltering in the eighth—different players stepped up to carry the team.

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Game 56: White Sox (24-30) @ Tigers (27-28)

SP: David Holmberg (L)

CF: Adam Engel (R)
DH: Melky Cabrera (S)
1B: José Abreu (R)
RF: Avisaíl García (R)
3B: Todd Frazier (R)
2B: Yolmer Sánchez (S)
SS: Tim Anderson (R)
C: Kevan Smith (R)
LF: Willy García (R)

SP: Justin Verlander (R)

2B: Dixon Machado (R)
3B: Nicholas Castellanos (R)
1B: Miguel Cabrera (R)
DH: J.D. Martinez (R)
LF: Justin Upton (R)
C: John Hicks (R)
RF: Mikie Mahtook (R)
CF: JaCoby Jones (R)
SS: José Iglesias (R)

Notes: Tigers go for the sweep over the White Sox today.