DETROIT -- What began as a superstition for Justin Verlander has turned into a way of giving thanks to those who sacrifice for their country.
Monday, the Tigers and their All-Star right-hander announced the creation of Verlander's Victory for Veterans program. Verlander will use his personal suite at Comerica Park to host local veterans who suffered injuries serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, as well as their families.
"He wants to ... commend and congratulate and honor the sacrifice and dedication that all of our veterans have shown, [those] recently returning from Iraq and Afghanistan," Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "And for everything that they do for our country, he's here to thank them through this program."
The program has quietly been going on for a little while, but the team announced it to the public in a press conference at Comerica Park.
It wasn't a grand plan from Verlander, but a little gesture that has meant a lot to those who have been able to take in a Tigers game.
"Thanks to the Tigers organization and Mr. [team owner Mike] Ilitch, I have the opportunity to have a suite here at the ballpark," Verlander said. "And the first time I had the opportunity to use the suite, my girlfriend Emily, did, it was one of my first starts here at home, and it didn't go very well. So me and Emily, both being somewhat superstitious, decided that that's never going to happen again. The suite is not going to be used on my start days."
While on the field just before a game, Verlander continued, he noticed the recent Tigers tradition of having a veteran bring the game ball to the mound and be recognized by the crowd. It's a cause that hits home for him becuase he has a cousin, Christopher Verlander, currently deployed in Afghanistan. His grandfather, Richard Verlander, is a World War II veteran.
"We decided that it would be a good idea to let them use the suite on days I'm not using it," Verlander said. "Why not, just to say my appreciation and say my thank-you? The feedback we got was tremendous. I got so many letters and responses, not just because of the injured veterans or whoever was using the suite at the time, but their families as well. They got to share this moment with their family, which is not something that happens very often."
The result was a formal program this season.
"The situation is extremely exciting for me to be able to say thank you," Verlander said.
The suite holds about 18 people, which allows for up to three veterans and their families to use it for a game. The injured veterans come from the John D. Dingell Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Detroit, and the Veterans Affairs Ann Arbor Healthcare System, on the recommendation from officials at both facilities.
Four injured veterans were on hand for the announcement, including Sgt. Joshua Sparling, who served in Iraq from 2004-2008 with the Army 82nd Airborne. They all received Verlander jerseys, which he signed after the press conference.
"This is great," Sgt. Sparling said. "We've been Tigers' fans our whole lives, especially my family and my wife and her family. It's been a long recovery. For him to be able to bring us all to the ballpark and in awesome seats, it's a real treat. I knew he was really dominant on the mound and a really good pitcher. It's nice to know that his heart's just as big."
Santiago's quiet contribution appreciated
DETROIT -- While second-base duties have transferred from Will Rhymes to Scott Sizemore, Ramon Santiago has quietly gone about his business with another strong start at the plate and in the field. It hasn't gone unnoticed from the manager's office.
"He's a guy that probably does his role as good as anybody in the big leagues," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "If he was a real fast runner, he'd probably be a regular. He gets big hits, catches the ball, throws to the right base. I would venture to say that he might be the most popular player on the team, in the clubhouse. Everybody likes him.
"Santi mixes with everybody, and that's really a compliment to him. He's really a good kid and he does a great job. It's not easy to do what he does: Sit around, sit around, come up and get a big hit, make a play. He's really a nice player."
Santiago was in Sunday's starting lineup before rain washed out the game. He was back in the lineup Monday night against Jays right-hander Kyle Drabek.
"Him and Donny Kelly are real treats," Leyland said. "Sometimes guys get in the game, get two or three hits and they don't know why they're not playing the next day. Those guys, they know what they're supposed to do and they do it. That's a relief. That's really nice for a manager to have. It's not that you don't think about them, because you do, but you don't worry about them."
Leyland may issue Bautista a pass
DETROIT -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland isn't ruling out the possibility of intentionally walking Major League home run leader Jose Bautista if the situation allows.
It's a strategy more than a year in the making. The Tigers tried to pitch Bautista carefully during two games last weekend at Rogers Centre, but paid dearly for two pitches that were meant to be on the corners and wandered over the plate. One came from Brad Penny, which Bautista drilled over the left-field fence for a two-run homer May 8. That hit came with first base open and two outs in the third inning of a scoreless game.
One night later, Max Scherzer tried to jam Bautista with a runner on first in the opening inning and saw Bautista drill a double to the fence in left-center field for an RBI. Bautista singled and walked in his next two plate appearances, improving his numbers to 4-for-5 lifetime off Scherzer. Bautista hadn't made an out off Scherzer since joining the Tigers last year until flying out to right field in the first inning Monday night.
Triple-A reliever Oxspring may leave Tigers
DETROIT -- Triple-A Toledo reliever Chris Oxspring's status in the organization is up in the air pending a potential opportunity to pitch overseas.
Oxspring is expected to be moved somehow to make room for right-handed relief prospect Jose Ortega, who may be activated from the disabled list and rejoin the Mud Hens bullpen as soon as Tuesday.
Oxspring had a 6.53 ERA over 20 2/3 innings of relief, but seven of his 15 earned runs had come in his last two outings. He has pitched only once in the last two weeks, and made another appearance as a pinch-runner for Victor Martinez during his rehab assignment. He spent Spring Training in Major League camp with the Tigers as a non-roster invitee.
Oxspring could return to the Far East; he has pitched in Japan and South Korea in past seasons before undergoing Tommy John surgery last year.