Interleague play to challenge Tigers' depth
DETROIT — Jim Leyland is going home this weekend.
No, not to Perrysburg or Pittsburgh, but to National League baseball. The Tigers start a three-game series in Cincinnati on Friday, then play three more games under NL rules at Wrigley Field starting Tuesday. That means pitchers batting, double-switches and no designated hitter — the kind of baseball Leyland managed in his days in Pittsburgh, Florida and Colorado.
In one way, that's good for Leyland — he never has made a secret about his preference for the National League rules. The problem is he isn't exactly equipped for NL games at the moment.
Due to the bulk of injuries and lack of hitting talent in the minor-league system, the Tigers are carrying 13 pitchers and just 12 hitters. The lack of a DH means Detroit still will have a four-player bench, but that's not much when you are going to be pinch-hitting for your pitchers and moving players around.
It isn't exactly a threatening bench, either. The Tigers probably will start a lineup like this on Friday in Cincinnati:
1) Quintin Berry, CF
2) Brennan Boesch, RF
3) Miguel Cabrera, 3B
4) Prince Fielder, 1B
5) Delmon Young, LF
6) Jhonny Peralta, SS
7) Gerald Laird, C
8) Danny Worth, 2B
9) Rick Porcello, P
That's the best-case lineup; it assumes that Laird's hamstring passes a fitness test before the game. Young has gotten a couple of games in left recently to prepare him for these games, and Boesch did enough in Thursday's win over Cleveland to hold down the second spot in the lineup for at least one more day.
Given that lineup, the Tigers will have Matt Young, Don Kelly, Ramon Santiago and Bryan Holaday on the bench. Kelly, Young and Santiago all can play multiple positions, which is important, but the Reds aren't going to fear any of them coming to the plate in a key situation.
Luckily for Leyland and the Tigers, this problem should get better after just one game. Austin Jackson is in Toledo testing the abdominal pull that put him on the disabled list. If all goes well, he will be activated from the disabled list on Saturday and move into his usual spots atop the order and in center field. He is expected to replace a pitcher on the roster, which would add Berry to the bench, and although Jackson isn't a power hitter, at least his speed and bunting ability will give the Tigers a couple more options.
The only option the Tigers have, should they decide they truly need an offensive threat on the bench, would be to purchase Brad Eldred's contract from Toledo. However, that would require more juggling of the 40-man roster for a short-term move, since GM Dave Dombrowski and Leyland clearly have decided Eldred doesn't help Detroit in normal circumstances.
Leyland isn't going to count on homers off the bench — even when Jackson gets back, the best power-hitting reserve will be Santiago — but he will have the versatility to double-switch and keep the pitcher's spot from coming to the plate more than two or three times.
He'll enjoy that.