Tigers' 2010 Fortunes Rely On Health Care
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If you want to know why the Detroit Tigers blew a seven-game lead last September, look no further than the office of Kevin Rand. The team trainer and director of medical services was busier than Ryan Seacrest in 2009. Like the American Idol host, Rand said goodbye to a lot of “stars.” Goodbye (insert name here) … to the disabled list.
“We certainly had our share of injuries, that’s for sure,” said Tigers' relief pitcher Joel Zumaya.
“Zooms” was one of the many walking wounded. He has spent oodles of time on the D.L. since his bust-out year in 2006. Two different trips in ’09 were followed by a season-ending surgery on his right arm in August. Only now is his fastball back in the 100-m.p.h. range.
Jeremy Bonderman, Nate Robertson, Dontrelle Willis and others joined Zumaya on Detroit’s M*A*S*H unit. Bonderman and Robertson were supposed to anchor the back end of the starting rotation. Instead, they combined for only seven starts while making $20 million between them. Nate ended up in the bullpen, and then finally in Florida. Despite a good spring, Robertson was traded to the Marlins last week. He began his career with them.
“I’m sad to see him go,” Willis told the media on the day Robertson was dealt. “He’s been a big part of this organization.”
That same day, Dontrelle got the word from Manager Jim Leyland that he had made the team. “D-Train” battled arm troubles and anxiety issues in 2009 that limited him to seven starts. Since arriving here in the trade along with Miguel Cabrera in 2008, Willis has made 14 starts with a one-and-six record. His earned run average of 8.27 looks more like a weight on TV’s Biggest Loser. Willis hopes the injuries are behind him.
Left-handed reliever Bobby Seay began 2010 with problems. A torn rotator cuff landed the Sarasota native on the D.L. before he could get his spring work cooking. Rand believes Seay will be out for six weeks, but it could be much longer. Seay was being counted on in the bullpen, though Phil Coke, acquired in the Curtis Granderson deal from the Yankees, may take that spot. This is the 13th time in his 13-year pro career that Seay has been leveled by injury.
“This is an injury that could very well end my career,” Seay said to reporters.
He will try and rehab himself through it, but right now, who knows? The Tigers cannot afford to lose innings and still be competitive in the improving American League Central Division.
Rand had plenty of everyday players to worry about, as well. Cabrera’s infamous “battle with the bottle” landed him in jail for a night. It may not be classified as an injury, but it's part of the “health and well-being” of the squad. Miggy claims he is “alcohol free.” He still had a good year in ’09 with 34 homers, 103 RBI and a .324 batting average. Imagine what he can do sober. “A new man,” Cabrera terms himself.
Third baseman Brandon Inge has always been a medical marvel. Last season he hit a crescendo. Somehow, he played in 161 games, missing only one tilt. Inge did it on two bad knees. Amazing! His numbers dropped dramatically after his All-Star first half but he continued to play. In November, Brandon had surgery on both knees.
“I just felt I had to battle over it,” Inge said. “It wasn’t easy but it had to be done for the good of the team.”
Inge makes our cover for countless reasons. Impressing Kevin Rand is one, but entering his 10th season in Detroit is another. “B-Inge” has seen the good (World Series ’06), the bad (last place ’08) and the ugly (119 losses in ’03). He’s played a bunch of different positions and has endured injury woes three different times. Being a workout freak has helped, he claims.
“Anything I do on the field starts in the weight room,” he has said.
Ex-Tiger skipper Sparky Anderson was well known for hating the weight room. He believed baseball players got too bulked up. This was “pre-steroid era.” Nowadays, the weights are essential to staying off the disabled list.
Other than Inge, only three Tigers played more than 135 games in 2009. Two of them are gone; Granderson to the Yanks and Placido Polanco as a free agent to Philadelphia. Cabrera managed to get into 160 games despite the bout with alcohol. Magglio Ordóñez had various issues last season. It limited him to 131 games, his lowest total since his first Tiger year of 2005.
Mags did hit .310 with a strong finish, but his power numbers were way down in 2009. Ordóñez hit only nine homers and drove in 50 runs. He’s making too much money to have an injury-filled campaign. Ditto for Carlos Guillen. He went on the D.L. last May and appeared in only 81 contests. Injuries to his knees have helped Guillen miss 129 games over the past two years. Rand has had to keep huge ice packs ready after each game Carlos has played in.
“It’s been very difficult,” Guillen said late last season.
Catcher Gerald Laird has had his own health concerns. So has shortstop Adam Everett. Those two don’t hit very well and need to be healthy for defensive purposes. Everett had an awful spring with the bat. The Tigers are riddled with guys 33 and older. As age creeps in, the injuries will mount.
New Tiger outfielder Johnny Damon has been an exception to the rule. Damon has never played less than 141 games in any full season since his rookie year of 1995. He is 36 and the Tigers are praying that Johnny D can be counted on for his usual 600-plus plate appearances.
All teams have injury problems; that’s a given. In 2006, the Tigers kept them to a minimum and, thus, a World Series push. 2010 needs to be a carbon copy — if for no other reason than to give Kevin Rand a breather. | RDW
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