Tigers manager Jim Leyland had a plan: even with his team facing elimination in Game 5 against the Rangers, Leyland said Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde were off limits and that he wanted to get through the game with Justin Verlander and left-hander Phil Coke going the distance.
Which is exactly what happened in a 7-5 victory. Leyland rode Verlander for 7 1/3 innings, allowing him to throw 133 pitches before Nelson Cruz’s two-run homer knocked him out of the game. Coke took over after that and allowed one run before getting his fifth and final out to finish the Rangers.
It looked like Leyland’s intention to stay with Coke could backfire in a big way. After two quick outs to start the ninth in a 7-4 game, Josh Hamilton doubled. The Rangers, of course, follow Hamilton with four straight right-handed hitters, each arguably more dangerous than the last: Michael Young, Adrian Beltre, Mike Napoli and Nelson Cruz.
Leyland had his third-best right-handed reliever up in the pen in Ryan Perry. He also had starter Brad Penny up as sort of a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency option.
Leyland, though, opted to keep going with the lefty, even after Young singled in Hamilton and Beltre walked with two outs. Fortunately for the Tigers, it turned out just fine, as Napoli grounded out to end the game with the tying run on. Cruz, the hottest hitter in either lineup, was left on deck and awaiting Game 6.
According to Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post, Nationals infielder Danny Espinosa declined to attend the team’s annual Winterfest because of his dissatisfaction with management following their trade for outfielder Adam Eaton.
A source told Castillo that Espinosa’s unhappiness stemmed from a belief that the acquisition would jeopardize his starting role in 2017. With Eaton in center field, Trea Turner will likely return to his post at shortstop, leaving Espinosa out in the cold — or, as the case may be, on the bench. The move shouldn’t come as a big surprise to Espinosa, however, as Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo spoke to the possibility of trading the infielder or reassigning him to a utility role back in early November.
Offensively, the 29-year-old had a down year in 2016, slashing just .209/.306/.378 with 24 home runs in 601 PA. Defensively, he still profiles among the top shortstops in the National League, with eight DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) and 8.3 Def (Defensive Runs Above Average) in his seventh year with the club.
Espinosa will reach free agency after the 2017 season.
The Red Sox might be trying to move the wrong pitcher, according to the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo. Cafardo revealed that while the Sox have been trying to market right-hander Clay Buchholz, more teams would be interested in trades involving southpaw Drew Pomeranz.
The club appears reluctant to deal Pomeranz, especially because his price tag comes in at a cool $4.7 million to Buchholz’s $13.5 million in 2017. Those who have already expressed interest in the veteran hurlers, including the Twins, Mariners and Royals, also seem put off by Buchholz’s salary requirements as he enters his 32nd year.
Health could be another factor preventing teams from jumping to make trade offers, as Cafardo quotes an AL executive who believes the “medicals on both Pomeranz and Buchholz probably aren’t that great.” Neither pitcher suffered any major injuries during the 2016 season, though Pomeranz missed just over a week of play due to forearm soreness.
Pomeranz outperformed his fellow starter in 2016, pitching to a 3.32 ERA and career-best 9.8 K/9 through 170 2/3 innings with the Padres and Red Sox. He got off to an exceptionally strong start in San Diego, where his ERA dropped to 2.47 through the first half of the year before the Padres dealt him to Boston for minor league right-hander Anderson Espinoza. Buchholz, on the other hand, struggled with a 4.78 ERA and saw a decline in both his BB/9 and K/9 rates as he worked out a career-low 1.69 K/BB through 139 1/3 innings with the Sox.