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Ailing pitching staff proves no impediment to Tigers

To see the Tigers near the top of the AL Central is remarkable considering the setbacks they've had the first two months.

By EDUARDO A. ENCINA
Published May 27, 2007


To see the Tigers near the top of the AL Central is remarkable considering the setbacks they've had the first two months.

They've been without LHP Kenny Rogers blood clot. Setup man Joel Zumaya (finger) is right next to him on the DL. RHP Jeremy Bonderman just returned from the DL and started Thursday. Those three combined for 37 wins and 398 strikeouts in the wild-card turnaround last season.

The bullpen ERA (5.36) is the league's worst, one year after it was fourth best in all of baseball.

"Last year at this time, we were leading the league in pitching, or were very close, " president and general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "Now, we're in the middle of the pack. We've had some well-pitched games, but the difference there, not that you want to use it as an excuse, is we haven't had Kenny from Day 1. When you take away an All-Star, all of a sudden, the depth is not the same."

The Tigers' 267 runs (5.6 a game) lead the majors, but they're hardly running away with games. Wednesday's 8-7 win over the Angels marked the sixth time this season the Tigers scored at least six and won by only one.

GLAD TO HAVE HIM BACK: The White Sox are happy to have DH/1B Jim Thome's bat back. After averaging 3.8 runs in their first 39 games, the White Sox have scored 33 in the five games since Thome returned from the DL (strained rib cage). They are 10-12 without him, 14-8 with him.

"It looks like when Jim Thome is in the starting lineup, everyone is relaxed, " manager Ozzie Guillen said.

Hitting coach Greg Walker said his presence means a lot because Thome always works the pitcher. He has 31 walks in 95 plate appearances this year, turning a .333 batting average into a .547 on-base percentage. "A difference?" Walker asked. "Without a doubt. First of all, he's really good, so you get good results. He's on base all the time. He's a Hall of Famer. Hitting's contagious."

NOT LIKE LAST YEAR: RHP Fausto Carmona learned how to throw a sinker and suddenly became the Indians' best pitcher. Last season he was 1-10 and failed a three-game trial as the closer. This season he is 5-1 with a 2.77 ERA in eight starts. "When he keeps the ball down like that, he's almost unhittable, " C Victor Martinez said. "You can't believe how much his sinker moves. A 94 to 96 mph sinker? He could pitch a whole game with just that one pitch."

Then there's Mets LHP Oliver Perez, 35, who was 3-13 last season with the Pirates and Mets. This season, he's 6-3 with a 2.54 ERA and has made quality starts in his past three outings. "He's turning into a monster, " C Paul Lo Duca said. "I really think he's going to throw a no-hitter by the time his career is over. He's got that type of stuff, and he's capable of striking out 15 guys, too."

HITTING STREAK: Although Giants OF and former Devil Ray Randy Winn's hitting streak ended at 20 games Tuesday, it is the longest in the majors this season and raised his average from .250 to .327.

Since Joe DiMaggio's 56 games in 1941, only one major-leaguer has hit consecutively in at least 40, Pete Rose at 44 in 1978. Although specialty relievers have damaged hitters' chances of making a serious run at the record, Winn said it will be broken.

"Nobody thought Lou Gehrig's consecutive games streak would be broken. A lot of people didn't think Babe Ruth's home run marks would be broken, and a lot of people didn't think Hank Aaron's mark would be broken, " Winn said. "There are probably people who never thought Pete Rose would break the hits record or that anyone would ever get 4, 000 hits again. It seems that eventually all of those have fallen, so why not DiMaggio's?"

AROUND THE HORN: The Yankees plan to play an exhibition game next year on or near the Virginia Tech campus. The team donated $1-million to the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund on Wednesday, and the players wore Virginia Tech logos on their caps. ... Ramon Ortiz and Carlos Silva were 5-2 with a 2.77 ERA in April. The Twins right-handers are 0-9 with an 8.46 ERA this month. ... With Royals top prospect Billy Butler learning to play 1B in Triple A and Ryan Shealy playing there, current occupant Mike Sweeney said: "I've been talking to my agent, and I'm thinking about becoming a catcher again." The last time he caught regularly: nine passed balls in 91 games in 1998.