The return to the rotation is that of Virgil Vasquez, who makes his return tonight. Vasquez, who had made seven starts with the SeaWolves before heading to the disabled list, hasn't appeared since June 20th, being sidelined for more than a month with a strained oblique muscle.
The SeaWolves' rotation has been a revolving door of players, with numerous pitchers stepping up at one time or another. But, barring injury, things should settle down, at least for the final month of the season.
Justin Verlander should now remain with Erie for the coming weeks, where he can actually settle in and get back into a regular rotation, rather than being shifted in every which direction. The shifting was caused by everything from the Tigers promoting him to make spot starts, to an appearance in the Futures Game, and even Mother Nature seemed to want to keep him from pitching.
But now, Verlander can concentrate on ironing out his issues, mainly pin-pointing his location and staying calm and making his pitches.
As for the other rotation spots, they'll go to Humberto Sanchez, Vasquez, Jeremy Johnson and Nate Cornejo. Preston Larrison, who had been called up to Erie and made a pair of starts, will return to Lakeland where he can get back on his rehab program, working with the Tigers' medical staff on a daily basis to ensure he's 100% by spring training next year.
If there's any concern from that group, it is likely placed on the shoulders of Sanchez, who has a 5.60 ERA since returning to action in early June. Sanchez's arm appears to be healthy (55 strikeouts in 54 innings), but control and mental issues appear to have crept into his head.
Sanchez is still striking out a good number compared to his walk rate, but his WHIP is still high at 1.56. Granted, Sanchez has always had a high WHIP (1.52 coming into the season), but where as he was able to work around that by buckling down and striking batters out when necessary against lesser competition, he's likely finding that far more difficult at a higher level. While it is something to watch, this is hopefully nothing more than growing pains of a typical hard-throwing arm.
A bigger concern for the SeaWolves though is why exactly the offense isn't producing like 2004. The team did lose two of their best bats in Curtis Granderson and Ryan Raburn, but they were replaced with Don Kelly (for the first half), Tony Giarratano, and Byron Gettis. But, the struggles of Juan Tejeda and Giarratano, the loss of Kelly to Toledo, and the inability of utility players like Chris Maples and Scott Tousa to provide solid everyday play has kept the offense from truly breaking out in a hitters' park.
Of most concern has to be Tony Giarratano. Giarratano had a breakout 2004, was a borderline Top 100 prospect in all of baseball, and impressed everyone in spring training, especially manager Alan Trammell. But then something happened, and since, Giarratano hasn't been the same player. It's hard to say if it's a confidence issue (from not getting the chance to stick in Detroit), an injury thing (re-injuring the shoulder that sidelined him for the last month of 2004), or something else. But whatever it is, Giarratano hasn't been the same player he was a year ago, and that applies to every facet of his game.