Tigers need to make pitch for more of it Acquiring starter could turn tide in AL East


DETROIT -- The Detroit Tigers can forget about winning the American League East with their pitching the way it is now.

And don't tell me that they were just a game out of first place going into Sunday night's game against the Texas Rangers. They could be in first by themselves, and I'd tell you the same thing.

Their pitching isn't strong enough to win a division. Granted, the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees have had their share of recent woes, too. But their problems have been inconsistency offensively and on the mound. The Tigers, on the other hand, have had a total collapse of their pitching staff -- which could be described as horrid -- and some major defensive trouble as well. Both are bad signs.

Surely, you can't give up nine or 10 runs a game and expect to be contenders in the long haul. As any baseball follower knows, pitching and defense -- not great hitting -- win pennants and World Series. It doesn't hurt to have a powerful punch offensively, but you can't rely on it. It has been proven time and time again, good pitching always will stop good hitting.

And with slim pickings in the minors, the Tigers have no choice but to pull off a major trade to acquire a starter. NOW! Yesterday is too late.

Tigers general manager Jerry Walker, whose nickname easily could be Dr. Dolittle, needs to come up big.

Walker, who was able to land David Wells at the end of spring training, has to get a starter to take Mike Moore's place in the rotation. Moore, the disappointing right-hander, should be banished to the bullpen until he works out his problems. And we'll wait.

The Tigers can't afford to drag their heels in getting pitching help. The Yankees and Blue Jays certainly will secure the necessary pitching to give them an edge down the stretch.

Both clubs, backed with ownerships that will do whatever it takes to win, have gone out in the past and mortgaged some of their future for a chance at winning immediately. If your team truly has a chance, it makes complete sense.

Last season's coup for the Blue Jays was David Cone. With the New York Mets in the dumps, the Blue Jays were able to land cream, not a non-dairy product. Cone, 4-3 with a 2.55 ERA with the Blue Jays, was acquired for farmhands Jeff Kent and Ryan Thompson. Only Kent is in the majors.

Sure, the Blue Jays gave up a couple of players who could turn out to be stars to rent a pitcher for the final two months of the season. They lost Cone in the off-season when the free agent signed with the Kansas City Royals. But the gamble was worth it. Toronto won its first world championship.

And don't believe there's no pitching out there. Or the other excuse usually given by general managers this time of year: "Everybody is looking for pitching."

In the next couple of weeks, teams going nowhere will be eager to unload some high-priced players or potential free agents they can't or don't want to sign. And there will be a number of talented pitchers in that lot. Here are a few ideas for Walker:

* Tim Belcher: The Cincinnati Reds definitely will trade the right-hander. Belcher is a bulldog and could give Sparky Anderson some needed innings in the dog days of August. Some minor-leaguers probably could secure him. Word making the rounds is that the Chicago White Sox are in hot pursuit.

* Dennis Martinez: Sure, he's no spring chicken. But this veteran knows how to pitch and couldn't be any worse than what the Tigers are getting currently. At 38, his price tag wouldn't be that huge, either.

* Sid Fernandez: Granted, the hefty left-hander has been injured (right knee) most of the season. But "El Sid" can pitch when he's healthy. He's expected back to the majors after another rehab start in the minors. This guy has such stuff that even right-handed batters fear his sneaky fastball.

* Frank Tanana: Don't laugh. As it looks now, the Tigers probably shouldn't have let the crafty left-hander go from the get-go. Tanana had a no-hitter into the seventh inning Saturday against the high-powered San Francisco Giants. When was the last time a Tigers pitcher did that?

This isn't the first time I tried to get the Tigers some pitching. Walker didn't listen to my advice in the spring. Having covered the Reds for two seasons, I told him that Chris Hammond could have been had for a song.

In case you or Walker forgot, the column ran March 22. Here's a piece of it telling Walker to call Reds GM Jim Bowden:

A natural, right off the bat, would be Hammond for Rich Rowland. Hammond, 27, is a curveball-throwing lefty with a 14-19 career mark in two full seasons. Rowland, a 26-year-old catcher, has asked to be traded. The Reds are still in search of a backup catcher to strong man Joe Oliver because they don't want their catcher of the future, Dan Wilson, in that role.

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