Through the first week of exhibition games, the shift of Miguel Cabrera from first to third has been a non-issue.
Cabrera made an early error but that could have been a timing thing as much as anything else; his post-game analysis included critiques of his footwork. He's made the routine plays thus far and made one eye-opener, coming in for a slow grounder and getting a fast runner at first with two men on base.
Manager Jim Leyland has backed his slugger all the way and done everything he could to make Cabrera's transition back to third as painless as possible.
More tests await as Cabrera goes from three inning shifts to four and five, then nearly complete games the last few outings before the grind of the regular season begins.
Leyland has demonstrated that there are always new things to learn in baseball no matter how many thousands of games you've seen. He had his pitchers throw batting practice live to hitters almost the entire first week they were together and credits that for his Tigers getting off to a quick start in exhibition play.
Most teams don't like their pitchers throwing extensive live batting practice, because there is too great a chance for injuries to occur, while some use screens for their pitchers on a limited basis.
Leyland said he will be rethinking how much live batting practice his pitchers throw next spring.
With so many new infielders -- Prince Fielder at first, Cabrera at third, Brandon Inge making the shift to second and Ryan Raburn needing all the grounders at second he can take -- Leyland had a couple of game-speed sessions for his infielders before the games began.
That might have been largely for Cabrera's benefit, getting him comfortable in his return to the hot corner before the games began.
It might be forgotten that Cabrera was preparing to play more games at third even before Detroit acquired Fielder to cover the loss of Victor Martinez. He reported early and began taking soft grounders from a short distance, gradually increasing the speed and intensity as the days passed.
It's been a different kind of spring for the Tigers as they try to win that World Series they fell six games shy of doing last year.
--1B Prince Fielder is relishing spring ball with his new team. "I'm having a blast," Fielder said recently. "I really like this team. Everybody works hard. Everybody gets it. This year, and in years to come, but especially this year, we've got to get that work in. We've got to do it. We've got to try to be the best we can be. It's a lot of fun being with a bunch of guys that all want to be at their best." He had no complaint about having to make a long bus ride to Jupiter, Fla., for a spring game, noting every player on the expected starting roster has to make at least one. He likes the way the regulars push each other without being harsh about it. "Nobody has to tell anybody to work hard," Fielder said. "I don't feel like anybody doesn't like to work hard here, and that's rare to see. It's pretty cool."
--LF Delmon Young cautions fans not to get carried away by Detroit's good spring start. "You can get hits in spring training, especially early when pitchers aren't mixing in breaking balls," Young said. "That's when it can be misleading. But then the season comes around, the lights come on, and they start mixing pitches. That's when you see the real hitters. Pitchers haven't even started throwing their breaking balls. These guys with guaranteed spots are working on fastball location and getting their arm stretched out." Young sees no complacency with the Tigers. "I just think everyone wants to come out and finish off what we couldn't do last year," he said. "With the addition of Prince Fielder, it gives us another guaranteed 30-home run guy, so the rest of us are trying to feed off what they've been doing."
--2B Brandon Inge has been impressive in his attempt to get playing time at a new position, second base. "If you watch him play second base, you would think he's played there for the last 10 years, he's moved that well to second base," general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "He's been tremendous defensively, he's got a great arm, great hands. He's been phenomenal. People will be shocked when they see him play." Manager Jim Leyland continues to say it isn't the leather that will determine how much time Inge sees on the field, it's the wood, and Dombrowski agrees. "Offensively he's been very good," the GM said. "His key will be, as we start spring training, we don't want to get carried away. ... As long as he continues to use the whole field, it wouldn't surprise me if he went out there and played a lot."
--RHP Jacob Turner walked four of the 10 batters he faced in his first spring outing, but manager Jim Leyland wasn't overly concerned. "You want to go out there and get ready for the season," Turner said. "At the same time, you want to show what you can do." He was relieved by LHP Andy Oliver in their first exhibition games but Leyland said they will reverse their roles for their second outings. "He couldn't get any sink with his fastball," Leyland said of Turner's initial effort. "That's hard to correct when you're scheduled to work only two innings."
--LHP Andy Oliver will start in his second spring appearance March 12 after working three scoreless innings with three walks in relief the first time. Oliver, who has had problems in limited starts for Detroit over the last two seasons, is trying to keep the pressure off himself as one of six candidates for an opening in the Tigers' rotation. "The last thing on my mind is the fifth spot," he said. Manager Jim Leyland is trying to get Oliver to adopt RHP Justin Verlander's approach to throwing bullpen sessions between starts. "Every time he throws on the side, he's got to give himself a simulated hitter and work on getting strike one with his fastball," Leyland said. "His results were good, and he threw well. But I want to see a little bit more command of the fastball, and I think that will come. I kind of gave him a mission, really. He's improved. He's throwing the ball well."
--CF Austin Jackson is trying to improve his bunting ability while trying to ingrain changes in his hitting mechanics. He took a game off to work on sacrifice bunts and bunting for base hits against both batting practice pitching and against a harder-throwing machine. Jackson has the speed to turn even a mediocre bunt or a sacrifice attempt into a hit. "The No. 1 rule of thumb when you are bunting for a hit? manager Jim Leyland asked. "If it's not a great bunt, make sure it's foul. Bunting it hard back to the pitcher isn't worth anything. He's been a young bunter, but he has the potential to be very good."
--RHP Rick Porcello seems to be maturing as a pitcher as he enters his fourth season in Detroit's rotation at the age of 23. C Gerald Laird, returning to the Tigers after a year with St. Louis, caught Porcello in his first spring start and notice a difference. "First of all, I wanted him to throw all his pitches," Laird said, "He threw some good changes, good sliders. But his slider definitely has come a long way. He's maturing now. You can see that." Said manager Jim Leyland: "He's maturing. You can see that in his face, his work habits, his confidence on the mound. Body language tells a lot." Porcello had no strikeouts but did get six ground ball outs. "My slider felt pretty good for this time of year," Porcello said. "They were hitting the ball on the ground, which is also what you like to see this time of year." RHP Justin Verlander was in the middle of his first full season with Detroit at the same age as Porcello. "I don't think of myself as a kid when I'm out there," Porcello said. "Whatever you want to attribute it to, to me it's about finding consistency. That's my goal."
BY THE NUMBERS: 1 -- Spring Training hits for non-roster C Patrick Leyland, who singled March 8 as a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning of an exhibition game against Tampa Bay in Port Charlotte, Fla. It's one more hit than his father, manager Jim Leyland, ever got because he never got an invitation to Major League Spring Training as a young Detroit player.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's a sad day, but a good day really, because he had such a good career. I never mean this to sound cold-hearted, or to come out the wrong way, but more than for guys who played for 10, 12, 14 years and made a lot of money, I always feel worse for the kid at Tigertown who's 19 but gets told he's never going to get a chance. It's hard to feel sorry for someone who had a great career. Sometimes it's just time to go. But I feel bad about the way it happened for Carlos. He was a great teammate and did some great good things for us, but we couldn't keep him on field enough." -- Manager Jim Leyland's reaction to the news that former Tiger INF Carlos Guillen, 36, was retiring after another injury kept him off the field as a non-roster candidate for Seattle.