10/02/06 6:30 PM ET
Notes: Thames' health improving
If cleared to play, Tigers DH hopes to hound former club
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
"I've been able to eat the last two days. That's the main thing," said Thames, who spent most of last week battling a throat infection that left him unable to swallow even most liquid food. "Hopefully, I can get some more food down tonight. I'm feeling pretty good right now."
Though Thames doesn't consider himself at 100 percent strength -- the days without food sapped some strength out of him -- he thinks he's close. Tigers manager Jim Leyland said that Thames will be available for Game 1 Tuesday night, though he hasn't yet decided whether to play him. Considering the stage he's entering, he might've slurped soup all day if that's what it took.
Though he never spent a full season in the Major Leagues until this year, Thames has been a well-known name in New York. He was a potential Yankees slugger five years ago, going from a .241 average and 15 home runs to batting .321 with 31 homers in his second full season at Double-A. He shared the Yankees' honor, vaulted in Baseball America's rankings from 30th-best prospect in the system to seventh.
A year later, Thames was hitting .207. Midway through the next season, he was out of the organization, dealt to Texas for Ruben Sierra on his way to becoming known as a Minor League journeyman before the Tigers signed him for their Triple-A Toledo outfield in 2004.
The rest, of course, is a success story, and it's taking Thames back where he once dreamed of playing. He spent 6 1/2 years in the Yankees farm system, during which New York appeared in four World Series and won three. Yet Tuesday night will be the first postseason game he has seen at Yankee Stadium, let alone played. He saw a World Series game in 2001 in Phoenix while he was in the Arizona Fall League, but that was it.
"I'm kind of excited," Thames said. "The time I was in the Minor Leagues, they went to the playoffs all the time. I kind of thought, 'Shoot, hopefully one day I can get up there, go to the playoffs and play for a championship.' Now I'm on the other side, so I'm kind of excited."
A few more burgers down the hatch, and Thames will probably get his chance. Though he hasn't started since last Wednesday against Toronto, he's the designated hitter if he's back. Matt Stairs, Detroit's primary DH against right-handed pitchers down the stretch, wasn't eligible for the playoff roster, leaving Thames as the everyday option. If Thames can't go, Leyland said that he'll use utility infielder Omar Infante there.
More Monroe: Craig Monroe will never forget his shining moment on the New York stage. Considering the situation, the Tigers can't forget it, either.
Five weeks ago, Monroe stepped to the plate with the Tigers down a run with two outs in the ninth inning and launched a go-ahead, three-run homer off Scott Proctor, salvaging a split in a day-night doubleheader. Without that win, they would've been swept in New York and entered September on a major slide.
"It's going to be fresh for a while," Monroe said. "It has to be. Those go down as your moments. I'll always talk about that. I'll tell everybody about it. I'll never forget that moment."
It's not likely the Tigers will, either, considering it's one of two games they won in seven tries against the Yankees this season. It's something that Monroe, at least, will remember when he's soaking in the atmosphere of postseason baseball in the Bronx.
"I think the atmosphere, playing in New York, you have to get over the hype," Monroe said. "You have to get over the excitement, because it is a fun place to play. It's loud. It's rowdy. It's New York. It's baseball. I think now that we came and we had an opportunity to win a big game here, I think it's going to allow us to be relaxed and to understand the situation that we're in."
At that point, Monroe was the hottest hitter the Tigers had. He returns to the Big Apple in a 2-for-18 slump and coming off a .186 average over the final month of the season.
Monroe's home run wouldn't have been nearly as great a story without his mom in attendance. She'll be watching again this week, he said, though they likely won't have time to take in another musical. If he can hit another big shot for the Tigers, he'll be the show.
Room for Zoom: If the Division Series goes the full five games, the Tigers will play five games in a six-day span, all of them likely clutch situations. That could mean many situations for rookie reliever Joel Zumaya, including the tricky spot of key situations on back-to-back days.
That's a predicament the Tigers may have to adjust to meet. Zumaya hasn't pitched on consecutive days since mid-August. Part of the reason for that was the Tigers' reaction to tendinitis in his throwing wrist, but he was also working multiple innings more often.
The final week saw the Tigers back off on high pitch counts with their fireballing right-hander. Though he worked multiple innings in five of his last six outings, Zumaya hadn't thrown more than 30 pitches in a game since Sept. 20 until he threw 38 in Sunday's extra-inning affair.
How Leyland handles his bullpen will be one of the more intriguing factors of the series, especially with Fernando Rodney's battles with consistency and the potential for quick hooks to more Tigers starters.
"I use my bullpen the way I see fit," Leyland said. "Obviously, in recent days, we used our bullpen because we had to and not because we wanted to. That's always a disaster. Hopefully in this series, we'll use our bullpen because we want to. If we do that, we'll be in good shape. If we use it on a consistent basis because we have to, then we'll be going home early."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.