Tigers Mailbag: No place for Dixon Machado just yet
The Tigers just keep on winning, in all sorts of ways, and the fans are pumped up.
But they still have their questions about this club, so let's tackle some of them in this week's Tigers Mailbag.
Question: Dixon Machado has to be a better alternative than Andrew Romine. -- Booyah! (twitter.com/usarmy_nick)
Answer: Yep, that's how well the Tigers are playing right now. Folks are obsessed with the second-to-last man on the bench.
Romine, actually, is an important piece for this team, because he's versatile, in that he's a plus defender and he can pinch-run or even pinch-bunt late in a ballgame. But he's got almost a year's worth of experience as an everyday shortstop in the major leagues, so when Jose Iglesias needs a blow, he's an ideal fill-in.
Also, Romine can play third base, and very well -- which is important, as the Tigers play to continue replacing Nick Castellanos on defense late in ballgames that they are leading. Even though Castellanos is much improved at third, he's still not great.
The other bench guy, Hernan Perez, can play all over the infield, and both Romine and Perez can move to the outfield in a pinch.
Machado, 23, is not as versatile. In fact, he's played almost exclusively at shortstop in the minor leagues, and the Tigers don't need a second everyday shortstop.
That said, keep an eye on Machado down at Triple-A Toledo. I was down for Opening Day last week, and watched him closely. He's very impressive, on defense and at the plate. He hit over .300 last year at Double-A Erie, and is off to a hot start (.366) in Toledo.
Offense has long been the concern for Machado, but he's worked tirelessly to make that part of his game a plus. He often is the first player to arrive at the ballpark, and he's seeing the dividends.
In the last inning of a game last week, he quickly got down 0-2, but he battled and battled -- and got the ball in play, for a walk-off single up the middle, past a drawn-in infield. He's making much more contact these days, Toledo manager Larry Parrish said, and as Iglesias has proved in the bigs, good things happen when you consistently put the ball in play.
I see Machado being more of a factor in Detroit in 2016, unless, of course, he's traded away in a blockbuster July deal, which is a realistic scenario.
Question: Why does every fan suddenly think (Tigers trainer) Kevin Rand and the medical staff don't know how to do their job? -- Garrett Elliott (twitter.com/BigRed810)
Answer: This, of course, is in reference to Justin Verlander, who finally had an MRI -- after fans have been crying for him to have one.
I will say, I also found it odd that the Tigers didn't do the MRI right away, if for no other reason than to make sure their initial diagnosis on the triceps strain was absolutely correct.
The Tigers finally did it, and the results came back the same. It's a triceps strain.
I'm not going to sit here and blast the fans. They often have strong opinions, and that's what makes them fans.
And their fear here is understandable, given Verlander's age (32), his statistical downward trend -- and the fact he's owed another $140 million.
It's a scary scenario. Not that long ago, Verlander was the best pitcher on the planet. But he also threw more pitches and innings than anyone on the planet for a several-year period, and fans believe that's catching up to his body, on which he needed core-muscle surgery two winters ago, and now has the triceps issue.
Fans also are frustrated that the Tigers and Verlander have no idea when he's coming back, and that there's been zero hint of progress since he first suffered the injury with less than two weeks left in spring training.
Fans just want answers, and they're unsettled when they don't get those answers.
It doesn't seem like those answers are coming any time soon.
Question: Would a stint on the DL help with Victor Martinez's recovery or is this something that will have to be watched until surgery in the offseason? -- Michael O'Connor (twitter.com/mikepcam)
Answer: Good question, Michael. Wish I knew the answer.
My mom always wanted me to be a doctor, but sadly, here I am, writing about baseball.
I will say this: It is tough to watch Martinez play right now. A couple days ago, he looked awful cringing after every swing of the bat. And on Monday, he looked awful trying to run around the bases, though he did manage to score the winning run from second base.
The Tigers are 11-2, which would seem to provide them the buffer to sit him down for two weeks and hope that knee-cap issue starts to feel better.
But there's a chance it doesn't feel any better, he'll have to play through pain all season -- and then they'll have wasted two weeks of not having him in the lineup, hitting behind Miguel Cabrera.
Martinez clearly remains a threat, despite the achy knee. He had three hits Sunday. He took two great swings Monday against CC Sabathia, only to be robbed of two doubles -- one in left-center, one in right-center.
Even Yankees manager Joe Girardi still recognizes he's a threat, as Girardi intentionally walked him to get to J.D. Martinez in the seventh inning.
I see the Tigers sticking with their current plan -- starting Victor Martinez against all the lefties (it hurts him to swing left-handed), starting him against some right-handers, and getting him out of those games if they're blowouts, or if he's a candidate to be pinch-run for. Other games, he can come off the bench, giving Detroit quite a weapon there, as well.
The Tigers have the luxury of using this plan, because with or without Victor Martinez, the lineup is deep, versatile and dangerous.
Question: Realistic targets for Dave Dombrowski in terms of starting pitching and relief? Too early to tell? -- Mitch Holdwick (twitter.com/Mch110)
Answer: It definitely is too early to tell, Mitch.
That's because we don't yet know which teams will be out of contention in July, and thus in sell-mode, and which teams will be buyers.
We can assume the Tigers will be buyers, since they're off to a ridiculously hot start -- plus Dombrowski, the president and GM, always is aggressive at the deadline, landing in the last three years Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez and David Price.
I'm not convinced the Tigers will be too desperate for bullpen help. I have thought for some time the bullpen, plus the reinforcement pieces available in the minor leagues, might just be a pleasant surprise for Tigers fans.
But starting pitching, I expect that to be addressed, especially if Verlander's injury doesn't heal for another month or more, and even if he does come back this season, there's absolutely no telling how effective he will actually be.
The Tigers are good on top of the rotation, with Price and Sanchez, who will rebound and soon. Shane Greene is the real deal, even if he probably won't have a sub-1.00 ERA all year, or even all spring. Alfredo Simon has been a stunning surprise, but he won't keep it up either. And Kyle Lobstein is serviceable.
You can see, there'll be room for a big addition, especially if that addition allows Simon to move to the bullpen, and provide a boost there.
The early candidate to watch is Johnny Cueto, who's a free agent at year's end, and who plays for a Reds team that's not very good.
Question: Are all the concerns about Jose Iglesias' shins in the past? Or are they still being monitored? -- ChiefBroom (twitter.com/ChiefBroom)
Answer: Iglesias has had shin issues, at some level, since he was a teen-ager, flaring up most last year when he missed the entire season.
But he sure looks like he's playing without any restrictions -- no other Tigers shortstop I've ever seen, not Alam Trammell, not Adam Everett, certainly not Jhonny Peralta, makes that play in the hole in the sixth inning Monday night -- and so, the other day I asked him if he still was getting treatment.
He told me, definitively, no.
I'd say that's the definition of being 100 percent.
A sign of how strong he's feeling came in a recent game, when on a double play he was on the receiving end of a hard slide. Iglesias took the blow right in his legs, and went tumbling to the Comerica Park dirt.
But he hopped right back up, as if he'd been wearing body armor.
He's running as fast and free as any Tiger, and he's playing such spectacular shortstop, you almost forget that he didn't play a lick in 2014.