DETROIT – Tigers manager Jim Leyland said he’s “not 100-percent sure,” but is leaning heavily toward starting Andy Dirks in right field in the World Series opener Wednesday at the home park of the National League pennant winner.
That decision was made necessary by the designated hitter not being allowed in games in NL cities, and Leyland opting to start regular DH and ALCS MVP Delmon Young in left field despite his limited defensive abilities. Quintin Berry, a left-handed hitter, and right-handed rookie Avisail Garcia had been platooning in one corner outfield spot with Dirks starting in the other.
Leyland also said that it was “no secret” that he will pitch Justin Verlander, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer in that order, while very likely keeping the same 25-man roster used in both the ALDS and ALCS.
“I’m probably going to start Dirks the first game,” Leyland said. “Now, people are going to say, ‘How can you not start Berry?’ But you can only start eight guys in the National League city. It is what it is. He’ll play when we get back here.”
Berry and Garcia both are valuable bench players in NL city games because they are strong defenders with well above-average speed who also swing the bat well.
Dirks hit .222 and Berry batted .250 in the ALCS sweep of the Yankees.
If the Tigers play the St. Louis Cardinals, who carry a 3-2 series lead into Sunday night’s NLCS game at San Francisco, they will face all right-handed starters. The Giants likely would start left-handed Barry Zito, coming off a strong outing and win Friday, and then either right-handed Tim Lincecum or lefty Madison Bumgarner.
So, having lefties in the order such as Berry and Dirks would make sense against St. Louis, while righties Young and Garcia match up better with the one or two southpaws the Giants will start. That matchup trend continues when those clubs go to their bullpens.
“The Giants are a little different because they have three lefties in the bullpen,” Leyland said, referring to Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez and Jose Mijares. “The Cardinals have one (Mark Rzepczynski).”
Young this year hit right-handers well (.247, 11 homers, 48 RBIs) in 392 at-bats, but was better against lefties (.308, seven homers, 26 RBIs) in 182 at-bats. That coupled with his showing in the ALCS (.294, two homers, eight RBIs) caused Leyland little hesitation in going with him.
Dirks batted .274 against lefties and .336 against righties this season, while Berry was .268 versus righties and .214 against lefties.
Garcia, who batted .455 in 11 at-bats against the Yankees and has a team postseason record three pinch-hits, batted .294 against right-handers and .333 off southpaws during his five-week call-up at the end of the season.
Having dilemmas with the starting lineup is a good thing, though. It means a manager has quality depth, and that’s a big factor in reaching the World Series.
Darin Downs and Luis Marte threw in Sunday’s scrimmage at Comerica Park and have stayed loose in the Instructional League along with Brayan Villarreal in the event an injury occurs and one is needed as a roster addition. However, Villarreal was not brought up for the scrimmage.
“He throws pretty hard and he’s a little wild,” Leyland said of Villarreal.
…Jose Valverde pitched the first inning of Sunday’s scrimmage. He struck out Austin Jackson before walking Dirks and giving up opposite-field singles to both Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder (RBI). Young then hit into a double play. Valverde did not cover first on Young’s grounder, but a twin-killing was assumed.
Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones has worked with Valverde on a quicker tempo after he was pulled from the closer role with a 27.00 ERA, and his pace was better. Valverde also entered from the bullpen with his usual water-spitting, hat-waving trot and jig to the mound.
…After Thursday night’s clincher, Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski told the Detroit News that Leyland “is welcome back and he knows that” before adding that there was a “time and a place” to deal with a managerial contract for 2013 and perhaps beyond.
Asked if he would be back next season, Leyland, who has taken Detroit to two World Series in his seven seasons, said: “I don’t know about that.”
…The Tigers brought in minor leaguers from the Instructional League for the scrimmage Sunday and another one likely on Monday to stay fresh. Detroit had six days off after sweeping the Oakland A’s in the 2006 ALCS and lost the Series to St. Louis in five flat games. Leyland said his club was “rusty” against the Cardinals.
When asked if he’d preferred less of a break between postseason games, Leyland smiled and said, “When you sweep the New York Yankees, I don’t give a (crap) if you have to wait three weeks to play.”
…Leyland said the Tigers have four scouts following the Giants and another four following the Cardinals to compile reports that will be reviewed Tuesday.
…The scrimmage took place on a sunny afternoon. Before hitting grounders to infielders, Leyland looked up and smiled, saying, “This would be gorgeous for a World Series game.”