Callups likely to boost Tigers' pitching
Extra catcher, some bats also considered possibilities
DETROIT -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland sounded like someone who had pulled off a great escape as he looked ahead on the calendar.
"We're treading water," Leyland said, "but we're getting closer."
He wasn't talking about the American League Central race. He was talking about the upcoming arrival of September callups. Come Tuesday, when rosters expand, help is on the way.
When the Tigers optioned Eddie Bonine to Triple-A Toledo to make room for just-acquired Aubrey Huff, they took the chance of going with a six-man bullpen rather than Leyland's preference for seven relievers. That goes against a longtime Leyland credo that if he couldn't have a 12-man pitching staff -- five starters plus seven relievers -- he would rather go with 13 pitchers than 11.
It didn't seem like Leyland would go with 11 for long, certainly not through the Tigers' recent West Coast trip, but a stretch of deep starts, a dearth of extra-inning games and some key long-relief performances from Fu-Te Ni, Zach Miner and Ryan Perry have helped get Detroit through. Once reinforcements arrive Tuesday, it'll be sure to include an influx of arms.
"You have a lot more flexibility," Leyland said of a bigger bullpen. "You have guys to pick you up."
Starting Tuesday, anyone from a team's 40-man roster is eligible to be active with the big league club. Leyland has never been a big fan of that, complaining that having so many extra players takes away from the strategy of managing a roster in a close game. A team that might only have a couple left-handed relievers on a 25-man roster, for example, has to use them more judiciously than if it has two more available with expanded rosters.
This year, Leyland isn't going to complain about having a few extra players, but he'd rather keep it to 28-30 players. That said, it isn't difficult to envision the Tigers going beyond that this year as they try to bolster a team that could use pitching depth and a couple more bats.
While the Tigers won't announce callups until Monday night at the earliest, a few needs are pretty close to certainties. Leyland would like to have an extra catcher on the roster, which would allow him to use rookie Alex Avila in pinch-hit situations without having to worry about depth if Gerald Laird is injured during a game. The only other catcher on the 40-man roster is Dusty Ryan, who served as Laird's backup for part of the summer before he was optioned to Triple-A Toledo to make room for Avila a month ago.
Jeremy Bonderman is expected to be recalled from his rehab assignment at Toledo and activated from the 15-day DL to join the bullpen as a potentially valuable arm. He pitched in only one game with the Tigers this year in between stints on the DL with shoulder soreness.
Likewise, Armando Galarraga will return to action when he's healthy, whether it's in the rotation or the bullpen. The Tigers shelved him last week with inflammation in his right elbow, but they optioned him to Toledo instead of placing him on the DL so that they could bring him back in as little as 10 days rather than 15.
From there, the decisions become intriguing. The Tigers have Bonine, Freddy Dolsi and Casey Fien working in Toledo and potentially available for relief depth, while Alfredo Figaro is at Double-A Erie on a rehab assignment. While sidearming lefty Clay Rapada has been a versatile reliever for the Mud Hens, he made just a brief stint in Detroit in late April and early May, comprised of two appearances covering 2 1/3 innings.
On the positional front besides Ryan, it would not be a surprise to see the Tigers add to their outfield corps with top hitting prospect Wilkin Ramirez, who made a couple cameo appearances in Detroit this summer. Toledo's regular left fielder started in center this weekend for the first time in his professional career. He could give the Tigers more flexibility to rest Curtis Granderson against left-handed pitchers.
The most important additions, though, will be on the pitching side. And as the Tigers head into the stretch run of their playoff chase, they'll be quite welcome.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.