07/21/07 6:50 PM ET
Notes: Casey can hit lefties
First baseman to have closer to an everyday role
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
The other end of the Tigers' adjustment to not having Marcus Thames came on Saturday, when manager Jim Leyland made out his lineup against Royals left-hander Jorge De La Rosa. While Craig Monroe returned to his regular spot in left, his back feeling better following muscle spasms earlier in the week, Casey was at his usual spot in an unusual situation.
Normally, Thames would start at first base against lefties, but Thames isn't available. With shortstop Carlos Guillen the only other seasoned first baseman -- and he was off Saturday to rest his sore knees -- Casey is going to have close to an everyday role.
The irony of the shift is that he was really never a platoon player to begin with. Statistically, he came into this year as arguably a better hitter against left-handed pitchers than right-handers.
"I don't have any problem playing him against left-handers," Leyland said. "Really, that just was a way to get Marcus in there to keep getting him some at-bats."
Casey batted .302 against right-handed pitchers from 2004 through last season, but his average versus lefties was .314 in just about half as many at-bats. For his career, he entered Saturday as a .287 hitter against lefties, 15 points below his overall average.
During his decade-long Major League career, he had never really been sitting against lefties on a regular basis until this season, so he never really had a chance to fall out of a comfort zone against them.
"You know, I've always enjoyed hitting against lefties or righties," Casey said. "I always feel like it all boils down to you hitting a baseball, and sometimes it's just [coming at you] at a different angle."
If anything, Casey believes, facing lefty pitchers can sometimes help his overall approach.
"It helps you stay in there a little longer," Casey said. "You're not pulling off. You've really got to wait [to swing] and stay in there, especially against guys that have a lefty slider or curveball. And that's the same thing with a righty against a righty. Guy with a nasty slider, it kind of keeps you in there a little longer than you would if it was a lefty or something. You have to wait a little longer for that break to come."
There were times in his career, he admits, when he'd rather face a lefty than a righty because of how comfortable he felt. Still, when Leyland approached him before the season about giving up at-bats to Thames, Casey had no problem.
"Marcus Thames is a guy who'll eventually be an everyday player, and he needed to get at-bats," Casey said. "And Skip found at-bats for him at first base. The thing for me, when you play for a guy like Jim Leyland, if he says you're going to play short today and I've never played short before, I'll do the best I can. Wherever."
Zumaya throws again: Joel Zumaya played catch with bullpen catcher Scott Pickens from 120 feet away on Saturday afternoon and came through the session fine. He'll continue playing catch for the time being before he progresses to bullpen sessions.
Ordonez, Sheff swapped: While Guillen had the day completely off, Leyland gave Magglio Ordonez a night at designated hitter to keep him off of his sore left heel, which has bothered him to some extent since before the All-Star Game. Gary Sheffield started in right field, his first start in the field since Interleague Play ended a month ago.
Meanwhile, Placido Polanco is expected to have Sunday off for rest. He has started five straight games after playing once in the previous six days to relieve soreness in his back.
Back to work for Byrdak: Tim Byrdak's second rehab outing for Triple-A Toledo showed more of the effectiveness that earned him a shot in the Majors earlier this season. He scattered a hit and a walk with four strikeouts over two scoreless innings, earning a hold in the Mud Hens' 4-1 victory at Richmond.
Byrdak's rehab schedule entering his assignment calls for the left-hander to throw a light bullpen session on Monday before he's re-evaluated. He could be back in the Tigers bullpen sometime during their upcoming series at Chicago.
Coming up: Nate Robertson (6-6, 4.53) makes his first start against his onetime home team since 2005 when he takes the mound in Sunday's finale against the Royals. The Wichita, Kan., native will oppose Brian Bannister (5-6, 3.87) in the 1:05 p.m. ET start.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.