Tigers aren't shopping for another shortstop
Dombrowski says club is pleased with Romine, may add bullpen arms
KANSAS CITY -- While the Tigers addressed their most pressing need by dipping into the free-agent market for an in-season signing, there are no indications they're anywhere close to doing the same to address their much-rumored situation at shortstop.
Team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski downplayed the possibility when asked about adding another free agent on a Friday conference call announcing the signing of former All-Star closer Joel Hanrahan.
"At this point, we're really looking at a focus on what we have right now," Dombrowski said. "We tried to fill our situation here. ... The one area we wanted to address the most on our ballclub is our bullpen if we had the right opportunity."
As for shortstop and other positions, Dombrowski said, "We really haven't approached those specific topics yet."
That seemingly reinforces the belief from others that any chance of the Tigers signing free-agent shortstop Stephen Drew would be following next month's First-Year Player Draft. To sign Drew beforehand would require the Tigers to give up their first-round pick, the 23rd overall selection. Signing Drew anytime after June 5, by contrast, would come without that required compensation.
Dombrowski gave a vote of confidence to Andrew Romine, who has handled the bulk of the playing time at shortstop for the past two weeks since Detroit parted ways with Alex Gonzalez.
"Andrew Romine has done a very good job for us at shortstop," Dombrowski said.
Torii makes pitch to bring Hanrahan aboard
KANSAS CITY -- There are no recruiting coordinators in Major League Baseball. If there were, Torii Hunter might have a side job.
When the Tigers signed Joe Nathan last November, Nathan gave credit to Hunter for relentlessly keeping in touch with him about Detroit and its strengths. On Friday, Joel Hanrahan did much the same.
"I had a good recruiter in Torii Hunter," Hanrahan said. "He's a good friend of mine. We stayed in touch this offseason."
Hunter initially played dumb, then admitted to it. He not only sold Hanrahan on the clubhouse and the opportunity, but Hunter put in a good word with the Tigers about the reliever.
"I was trying to keep it discreet," Hunter said. "I know he'll be a good fit. He's a bulldog. He had that closer mentality with Pittsburgh. He just didn't get that opportunity with Boston. I worked out with him this offseason and for the last seven years, and I know the mentality that he has. He wanted to come over here and win and play, kind of learn a little more from Joe Nathan."
Hanrahan and Hunter have worked out together at some point for the last seven offseasons in the Dallas area, and they share the same agent, Larry Reynolds. When Hanrahan began throwing again just before Spring Training, Hunter said, he stood in the box to give him a reference point and see his pitches.
"He was throwing pretty good," Hunter said, "and that was two, three months ago. Obviously, he's got his velocity back up. He can go down to Lakeland [Fla.], have a Spring Training, come back and help us win."
Hunter kept in touch with Hanrahan after that, including following his showcase workout for teams. Hunter also got in touch with the Tigers, who had already been scouting Hanrahan and other free-agent pitchers' throwing workouts.
"I just threw it out there to Dave [president/general manager Dombrowski]," Hunter said.
Not all of Hunter's recruiting works out. Among the Major Leaguers who have worked out with Hunter and Hanrahan over the years is longtime Major Leaguer LaTroy Hawkins. He, too, was a free agent this past winter. When asked if he made a recruiting pitch to Hawkins, Hunter simply smiled and looked away.
The one thing Hunter couldn't sell to Hawkins was a closer's job, something the Rockies could. Considering the 41-year-old Hawkins entered Friday with nine saves, he made a pretty good choice.
Reliever Belfiore outrighted to Triple-A Toledo
KANSAS CITY -- A month after the Tigers added Mike Belfiore to their stockpile of lefty relief candidates, they dropped him from their 40-man roster. Detroit outrighted the 25-year-old's contract to Triple-A Toledo to make room for the Joel Hanrahan signing.
The Tigers claimed Belfiore off waivers from the Baltimore Orioles on April 3. He has gotten off to a rough start at Toledo, allowing seven earned runs on 10 hits with 14 walks and nine strikeouts over 11 2/3 innings.
Considering Belfiore had to go unclaimed by most other American League teams before the Tigers' waiver spot came up, the fact that he cleared waivers to be outrighted did not come as a surprise. Before the Hanrahan signing, Belfiore was expected to be a candidate next week to make room for Robbie Ray on the 40-man roster.
Instead, the Tigers will have to remove another player to make room for Ray when he makes his Major League debut on Tuesday.
Avila returns to lineup despite back issues
KANSAS CITY -- While most of the Tigers spent Thursday's off-day out and about -- some in Kansas City, others out of town -- Alex Avila barely moved. Between his aching back and the unseasonably cold weather, it was a good day to stay in bed.
The weather warmed up on Friday, and Avila's back loosened up. It wasn't back to normal, but it was good enough.
"The way it feels now, it's something I can deal with," said Avila, who belted a two-run homer in his return to the starting lineup in Friday's 8-2 win over the Royals after missing the previous two games with lower back spasms.
Avila was cleared to play after going through treatment and workouts early on Friday afternoon at Kauffman Stadium, and he said it's still a work in progress. If the Tigers had a game on Thursday, he would not have been able to play, both he and manager Brad Ausmus said.
"Another day or two, I'll be back to 100 percent normal," Avila said. "I mean, this is nothing new to me. I know I have to take care of it. Sometimes it takes me three days to get over it. Sometimes it takes me five or six. It's just a matter of getting it to where I think I can play and be productive."
Even so, the fact that Avila has now had this at least twice this year has Ausmus watching him closely.
"Back issues, I've dealt with them. They come and go," said Ausmus, who dealt with a ruptured disk during his playing career.