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With rookie sensation Justin Verlander likely to set a career high in innings pitched this year, the Detroit Tigers know they need to do something to reduce his workload. This is not 2003 with Jeremy Bonderman, where they could simply take him out of games or skip starts because they would eventually lose 119 games. This Tigers team has an eye towards the playoffs, which would mean even more starts for the young Verlander.

Will Carroll mentioned that Detroit is thinking about moving to a six-man rotation when Mike Maroth returns from his surgery in August. Normally the six-man–or even the five-man–rotation is a poor idea; work by Rany Jazayerli has shown how the four-man rotation is much more effective, because it gives more innings to better pitchers. This is normally a sensible thought, as well as very sound logic. In this instance, though, the Tigers look like they have six starting pitchers–once Maroth returns, anyway–who are all very capable of pitching well for the remainder of the season, which is a luxury that most teams in history just have not had at their disposal.

One could look at the Batting Average on Balls in Play of the Tigers’ starters, and assume that they have all been very lucky thus far. Granted, not a single starter has a BABIP over .299–the lowest is Kenny Rogers‘ .266–but this is most likely a product of the best defensive team in baseball making their pitchers look even better than they are. Their .726 defensive efficiency is tops in the league, and rates higher than the Oakland and Chicago defenses did in 2005. This may be the main reason why the Tigers could be capable of pulling off a six-man rotation for a short period; having the top defense in the league has certainly made the transition to the majors easier for rookies Verlander and Zach Miner.

Switching to the six-man once Maroth returns in August until crunch time in the playoffs–where one would hope a four-man rotation would take hold–has two recent precedents in Mark Prior in 2003, and Roger Clemens in 2004-2006. Mark Prior is easily explained; the Cubs took a chance with continually pitching Prior that season once they could smell the World Series, and it was all for naught. Prior has not looked the same since, on the rare occasions he pitches. Considering the Tigers are looking to have their own fearsome twosome of Bonderman and Verlander for the next few seasons, ruining Verlander’s arm with a push for the playoffs and a World Series berth are not on the to-do list.

Kenny Rogers is where the Roger Clemens parallels come in. Rogers will be turning 42 after the playoffs end, and as Will Carroll often says in regards to older pitchers, they only have so many starts left in them. Besides the suspension conspiracy theories in regard to Clemens’ delayed start to the season, there were also thoughts that missing April and May would leave him with the gas to succeed deep into the playoffs if necessary. He looked very human in the playoffs the past two seasons–4.61 ERA, 6.4 K/9, 3.3 BB/9–even after his historic 2005 regular season campaign. Skipping an extra couple of Rogers’ starts with the six-man rotation, coupled with the missed Verlander starts, may be the extra boost the Tigers need if they find themselves deep in the playoffs. The second half of Kenny Rogers’ 2005 season agrees with the above idea, although he may have been distracted by other things.

How often do teams find themselves with six high-quality major league starters? The answer is obvious, considering most teams cannot even find themselves three useful starters. We will see if the Tigers are that lucky once Maroth returns.

Marc Normandin

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The Nationals cruised into the 2005 All-Star break in first place, boasting a 52-36 record and two All-Stars, Livan Hernandez and Chad Cordero. Cordero had saved 31 games over the first half, tops in the Majors, and owned a 1.13 ERA.

After the Padres swept Washington last weekend at RFK, the Nationals entered the 2006 All-Star break at 38-52 and in last place. Their pitching is a wreck. In the Sunday finale, starter John Patterson left after the first inning with a strained forearm, capping a four-day stretch by Nats starters that left the bullpen terribly taxed.

Date    Starter        IP   H  R  ER BB SO #Pit  Pen_IP  Pen_#Pit
July 6  Hernandez      1.2  6  7  7  1  0   41    9.1    147
July 7  Ortiz          6.2  9  3  3  4  2  122    2.1     42
July 8  Astacio        3.2  9  5  4  0  1   66    5.1     75
July 9  Patterson      1.0  3  1  1  1  0   31    8.0    176

Needless to say, the timing of the All-Star break’s four-day hiatus couldn’t have been better for this staff. As the bullpen’s established go-to guy, Cordero wrapped up the first half with 13 saves and a 3.86 ERA. Cordero had already worked two scoreless frames (taking 42 pitches) on July 6 to earn the extra-innings victory, and was pushed for a career-high 55 pitches and allowed six extra-base hits Sunday to produce this final line:

                IP      H      R      ER      BB       SO      HR
Cordero        1.2      6      5      5       1        4       2

Squaring off in a three-game set that begins Friday, the cellar-dwelling Pirates and Nationals might have a tough act to follow at PNC Park, considering the week that was. Frank Robinson shuffled his rotation to afford Hernandez nine days’ rest for his next start, which is slated for Sunday. Hernandez has been the subject of trade rumors, which, if accurate, make his next few starts absolutely critical to the Nationals.
After a catastrophic first half, Hernandez is hoping that the extra time off eases the pain in his knee.

One good thing coming out of the break: Tony Armas Jr. is expected to return to the rotation soon, assuming his rehab assignment in Harrisburg goes smoothly. Armas leads Nats starting pitchers in VORP (12.2), and ranks second in SNLVAR behind Michael O’Connor (who was demoted in anticipation of Armas’ return). Nobody could have expected Armas to play such a prominent role in the rotation, not even by default, but he could draw some trade interest as a pitcher tied to a reasonable contract (one year and $2.1 million, plus up to $2 million in incentives).

Some odds and ends…

  • In case you missed it, Will Carroll pinned the Nats as the team now topping the DL Days chart (in the bad way). Nine players are currently on the disabled list, eight of them pitchers, and seven on the 60-day DL. The roll call:

    Tony Armas, Jr. (15)
    Luis Ayala (60)
    Zach Day (60)
    Ryan Drese (60)
    Joey Eischen (60)
    Cristian Guzman (60)
    Shawn Hill (15)
    Brian Lawrence (60)
    Felix Rodriguez (60)
  • It’s only been seven months since the infamous Nationals-Rangers trade, but mercy, how the tides have turned on what most analysts deemed a disaster for D.C. Left fielder Alfonso Soriano started in Tuesday’s Midsummer Classic, providing some solace to downtrodden Nats fans. Soriano’s stock has soared: he’s again posting the sexy numbers that rake in big free agent bank, he’s doing it in a pitcher’s park, and he can now be viably considered either a left fielder or second baseman. Quite the contrast to Brad Wilkerson, who’s been nicked up all season and has a career-low .238 average and .337 OBP at the midway point. Meanwhile, Armando Galarraga has a 5.49 ERA through nine starts at Double-A Frisco, and has spent time on the DL with elbow soreness, and Termel Sledge was flipped over to San Diego, where he’s spent the bulk of the year in the minors. The true barometer of the Soriano deal, from Jim Bowden‘s standpoint, is what happens in the next three weeks. If Bowden can pry away a similar or better package for Soriano than what he paid to acquire him, it could go down as a major heist.
  • Nick Johnson is well on his way to a career year, thanks to his newfound health. He’s already flirting with career highs in homers and doubles, batting average, OBP, and slugging, and he’s even swiped a career-best seven bags.

  • Southpaw reliever Bill Bray, not to be confused with the replacement for the imprisoned California Rep. Duke Cunningham, made his major league debut on June 3. Bray replaced Joey Eischen on the roster, and he’s been quite effective except for a June 14 shellacking by the Rockies. Bray, formerly the closer for William & Mary, was a first-round pick in 2004.

Dave Haller

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