Inside Pitch: Arms Lead the Way

It's only a week into the season, but one thing is becoming obvious; the pitching (especially the starters) are going to be carrying the club again. Part of that though could change as the Tiger bats warm up; at week's end, four regulars are hitting under .200.

They lived by their pitching last season, and it looks as if those arms are going to carry the Tigers again this year.

Detroit had the best starting pitching in baseball by a long margin last season and returned three of the five at the start of this season. You could look at the other two changes as a wash -- soft-tossing left-hander Mike Maroth, injured most of last year, replacing soft-tossing lefty Kenny Rogers, injured at the beginning of this year, while right-hander Chad Durbin is pitching in the spot occupied mostly by right-hander Zach Miner a year ago.

The Tigers' starters have turned in commendable efforts in each one of Detroit's first five games, and closer Todd Jones has converted all three of his save opportunities into his team's three wins.

Meantime, the bats have been largely as cold as the weather they have hit in, which is at or near freezing.

The team batting average hovers near .240, some 100 points below what it was at this time a year ago but suspiciously close to what the club hit after the All-Star break last year. That subpar hitting attack was the main reason GM Dave Dombrowski went out and hauled in Gary Sheffield.

So far Sheffield hasn't hit a lot (.176), but he has been driving in runs. Four other regulars ended Sunday's game with batting averages under .200, with third baseman Brandon Inge still looking for his first hit of the season.

DETROIT 3, KANSAS CITY 2: They haven't hit much this year, but the Tigers retain the knack for hitting when it counts. Held to four hits through eight innings, Detroit got a double by Magglio Ordonez, a walk by Carlos Guillen and a three-run home run by Ivan Rodriguez in the ninth inning Sunday to grab its third win of the season. Todd Jones nailed it down, earning his third save in three tries by allowing just a two-out single.

NOTES, QUOTES --3B Brandon Inge remains hitless through five games for Detroit. He looks good in batting practice, taking a nice, easy swing and hitting the ball up the middle and to right center, but he seems to be pull-conscious when games start. Inge fouled out to left with the bases loaded and two out Sunday.

--RHP Jeremy Bonderman hasn't won a game yet this season but has still pitched well in both of his starts. Bonderman allowed two runs in six innings Sunday, going mostly with his fastball and slider. His control was good for a cold day (one walk, eight strikeouts), and he gave up seven hits. Bonderman did mix in perhaps a half-dozen changeups with mixed results, but staying with the pitch, especially against some left-handed hitters, can only help him.

--C Mike Rabelo will probably get his first major league start this week when Detroit visits Baltimore or Toronto. Manager Jim Leyland indicated he would stick with Ivan Rodriguez behind the plate Monday even though Rabelo caught the starter, RHP Chad Durbin, last season at Toledo. But Leyland likes to keep Rodriguez fresh by giving him days off and seems more likely to do so when the Tigers play on the artificial surface at Toronto this weekend than in Baltimore. Rodriguez has two home runs in his last two games and is likely to keep playing for the next few games.

--OF/1B Marcus Thames started in left field Sunday in place of LF Craig Monroe and might get another start Monday in Baltimore. Monroe has just one hit this season but Manager Jim Leyland says he's got a slight leg strain. Thames was 0-for-2 but walked twice and had good approaches at the plate Sunday. He could start for Monroe or for the equally slow-starting 1B Sean Casey.

--LHP Bobby Seay got his first work of the season Sunday in Kansas City, pitching a scoreless inning. Seay, added to the roster when LHP Kenny Rogers was put on the disabled list, will work out of the bullpen. He faced four batters in the seventh, walking one. His fastball was low or away from the prime hitting zone, but his curve looked a little flat. Seay will probably be a late inning situational pitcher with LHP Wilfredo Ledezma operating as the early reliever.

--RHP Todd Jones was a little shaky for his first save of the season but has looked very sharp in his most recent two. Jones was locating his fastball well and placing his curve where he wanted, mixing in the odd cutter to keep hitters off balance. He allowed a two-out single Sunday but got the next batter to hit a soft grounder right back to him, the same formula he used the previous night to close out his second save of the season.

--C Vance Wilson might be out of action for a month or more if his sore right elbow continues to bother him. Wilson was in Kansas City with the Tigers on Sunday but was scheduled to pay Dr. James Andrews a visit in Birmingham, Ala., at midweek to further pin down the source of his pain. He underwent an MRI, arthrogram and an electromyogram last week before Detroit's medical team recommended a trip to Dr. Andrews for consultation. "It's not good," said manager Jim Leyland, who also added, "not to my knowledge" when asked if surgery was in Wilson's future.

BY THE NUMBERS: 1,505 -- Career RBIs by DH Gary Sheffield entering play Monday at Baltimore, tying him for 45th place with Mickey Mantle on the all-time list. Another 100-RBI season by Sheffield would put him in the top 30 all-time, getting him past such Hall of Famers as Joe DiMaggio and Al Kaline.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It feels like home. It's not all about money. Some people tell me I'd make more on the free agent market. Yeah, but maybe I wouldn't feel the same way I do now. What we've built here would be tough to build on another team." -- SS Carlos Guillen on some of the reasons why he signed a four-year extension with Detroit for $48 million even though he probably could have made more by hitting the free agent market at the end of the season.

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