It's going to take a terrific offer to pry RHP Ugueth Urbina loose from Detroit before the July 31 trade deadline because the Tigers got a look with their closer last week just what life would be without him.
There's been a recent uptick in chatter about Detroit dealing Urbina -- and there will be more of it rather than less as the end of the month approaches.
With Detroit treading water a handful of games below .500, that would seem to make president and general manager Dave Dombrowski a seller rather than a buyer as the first of two monthly trade deadlines approach.
But things are going well for Detroit as it seeks to re-establish its credibility as a franchise with the buying public.
Anything that would jeopardize that by sending the Tigers into a tailspin, costing the club its hard-won gains in the media and at the gate, would be like setting off a firecracker to scare away a skunk.
Urbina has trade value. He may not have enough in his arm to blow hitters away any more but he's got enough in his head to get them out. Most of the time.
The Tigers got by without a legitimate closer last year because with 119 losses there were precious few wins to finish up.
Urbina got permission to go home to Venezuela to take care of a personal matter June 27-28, the first of which was an off date. But it was a certainty Detroit would need Urbina for the game he was gone -- and it happened.
RHP Franklyn German, who at one time was felt would be the Tigers' closer, pitched to two batters and failed to get either out. The second hit a home run and handed German a blown save.
The pitcher Detroit was hoping would develop into its closer, RHP Fernando Rodney, had to have elbow ligament transplant surgery this spring, which is why Urbina is on the scene.
So unless Dombrowski comes up with a bona fide prospect who could replace Urbina as the closer immediately, it would make no sense to go through the rest of the season without him.
--C Ivan Rodriguez was named Player of the Month for the American League after hitting .500 in June. Rodriguez had 43 hits, 17 RBIs, 16 runs, nine doubles, a triple and three home runs in the month.
He was the first Tiger to win the award since Cecil Fielder in August of 1990 and the seventh Detroit player overall. Rodriguez was Player of the Month twice with Texas.
Elias News Bureau initially announced Rodriguez was the first Detroit player to hit .500 in a month, but Trent McCotter of the Society for American Baseball Research informed the Tigers that Ty Cobb did it twice, in June of 1911 and July of 1912.
Only three players in the majors have batted .500 or better for a month since 1990. Colorado's Todd Helton hit .512 in May 2000, Colorado's Larry Walker hit .528 in Sept. 1998 and Robbie Alomar hit .500 in Sept. 1997 for Baltimore.
--CF Alex Sanchez has returned to the Detroit lineup despite a right hamstring he described as "so-so."
"It's not hurting too much (in the field)," Sanchez said, "because I don't try to push too hard. When I'm bunting, I have to push hard to get to first base."
Bunting is a different story, however, because of the need for a burst of speed getting down the line.
"I'm real leery before the break," manager Alan Trammell said. "He probably needs to rest, but I don't know if we can do that."
--President/General Manager Dave Dombrowski of Detroit finds an interesting thing happening as he talks with his counterparts in baseball -- for the first time in years there is interest in Tigers' minor leaguers.
Detroit has stocked its Double-A Erie farm club with promising young pitchers and it's those who have drawn the eye of scouts from other teams.
"We have the pieces that people want," he said. "I'm not sure that we'll deal pieces, but our system has started to come on. Let's face it, everybody's looking for pitching all the time. So you say, 'Who's got some young pitching?' We're one of the clubs that people now say has some young pitching."
--David Vincent, the recognized authority on home run milestones, reports the Tigers' three straight walk-off home runs (June 26-28) is the second time Detroit has done it -- and the fourth time in major league history.
Detroit took three straight games on walk-off home runs in 1998. No team has won four in a row that way.
The only other teams to end three straight games with home runs were the 1999 Arizona Diamondbacks and the 2000 Kansas City Royals.
--Detroit has already sold enough tickets to guarantee the Tigers will surpass last year's attendance total of 1.36 million, the club reports.
The recent spate of 30,000 crowds indicates Detroit's attendance, already up some 25 percent, will increase even more. The Tigers return home after the All-Star break to host the New York Yankees, a four-game set that could draw capacity crowds of 40,000.
--RHP Danny Patterson was placed on the disabled list June 30, retroactive to June 28, because of bursitis of the right shoulder. LHP Steve Colyer was brought back up from Triple-A Toledo to replace him.
Patterson, who was 0-4 with a 3.98 ERA, had just turned in two strong outings before warming up twice for a game and discovering he was having trouble lifting his arm above his shoulder.
BY THE NUMBERS: 5 1/2 -- Weeks between hitless starts for C Ivan Rodriguez, who went 0-for-6 on July 2 in Colorado.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We've been a roller coaster -- and maybe that's what we are. You wish the team could just take that giant step and get to the next level. But you have to go through the growing pains first, as we are, and learn from your mistakes before you get where we want to be." -- Manager Alan Trammell on his team's following a five-game losing streak with a six-game winning streak.
DH Chris Shelton will be brought back when his 20-day rehabilitation assignment is up later this month (he's been hitting well at Triple-A Toledo). 3B/1B Greg Norton (knee) is about ready to go on a rehab assignment. RHP Danny Patterson was placed on the 15-day disabled list with LHP Steve Colyer being brought back up to replace him. RHP Nate Cornejo went on a rehab assignment to Toledo but probably will be kept down as long as possible while he builds himself back up. OF Marcus Thames would be the obvious candidate to return to the minors when Shelton, Norton or UTL Brandon Inge return.
RHP Jason Johnson and LHP Mike Maroth are struggling to win games but starters overall keep giving Detroit chances to win. An erratic bullpen underwent minor shakeup during the week, but continues to be erratic. RHP Esteban Yan has stepped up and is pitching well late in games.
PITCHERS TO WATCH:
--LHP Mike Maroth is pitching well but can't seem to find the win column. He has just one victory in his last nine starts and too often during that span has been unable to hold leads.
--RHP Esteban Yan is back to throwing his fastball in the mid-90s and it's setting up his other pitches very well. He's pitched well in late-game situations recently after struggling in that role for a time. Will be the primary setup man in the absence of RHP Danny Patterson.
--LHP Nate Robertson is stepping up big among Detroit starters. He's won five straight decisions and is unbeaten in eight in a 7-3 season entering his mid-week start.
--RHP Jason Johnson has been spotty, pitching well in one start then failing to hold a lead in his second start last week. He says quickening his pitching pace has helped him.
Playing a weekend series in Coors Park gives misleading read on offense. Prior to that, however, power had returned, especially in the outfield. Revival by 1B Carlos Pena and 3B Eric Munson gives the team a boost -- but they're still very inconsistent. Bench productivity is down with UTL Brandon Inge on DL.
POSITION PLAYERS TO WATCH:
--C Ivan Rodriguez, AL player of the month for June after hitting .500, sitting out a game in the best hitting scene in baseball, Coors Field? What's up with that? Well, Rodriguez went hitless (0-for-6) for the first time in nearly six weeks in the Coors opener so manager Alan Trammell deemed he needed a day off to refresh, a formula which has contributed greatly to the catcher's leading the league in hitting.
--1B Carlos Pena was victimized the first two games of the weekend by Detroit's need to get DH Dmitri Young into the lineup in a National League city (Denver). Young, the team's cleanup hitter, had to play and first base was the only viable position at the time. Young was shifted across the diamond to third on Sunday, though, so Pena could return to the lineup.
--3B Eric Munson is perking up at the plate, which he needed to do in the absence of UTL Brandon Inge. He faces a critical week because Inge is expected back after the All-Star break.
--CF Alex Sanchez will try to nurse his sore right hamstring through the week. His manager wants him to play as much as possible until the All-Star break, when he will have three days to rest. Sanchez is still bunting and trying to beat out hits, which is the worst possible thing he can do for a sore hamstring.
RHP Danny Patterson (15-day DL June 28, right shoulder bursitis) won't throw for at least a week. UTL Brandon Inge (15-day DL, broken right index finger) expected to return right after the All-Star break. 3B/1B Greg Norton (15-day DL, inflamed left knee) about ready for rehab stint and should return after the All-Star break. UTL Chris Shelton (15-day DL, plantar fasciitis) went on a 20-day rehab assignment to Toledo on June 19 and will return at the end of his stint. 2B Fernando Vina (60-day DL, right hamstring) continues to make slow progress and mid-July might be optimistic for his return. RHP Nate Cornejo (shifted to 60-day DL, right shoulder inflammation) has begun rehab assignment at Triple-A Toledo but won't be back right away. RHP Fernando Rodney (right elbow ligament transplant surgery, 60-day DL) won't pitch again until 2005. RHP Lino Urdaneta (right elbow inflammation, 60-day DL) recalled after one rehab appearance when he complained of lingering elbow pain; still no date for a return. RHP Chris Spurling (right elbow ligament transplant surgery, 60-day DL) is out until 2005.