Detroit Tigers Inside Pitch

What exactly are manager Jim Leyland's feelings on the upcoming season, and how does he feel about the .500 monkey that the Tigers have not been able to get off their backs. Plus, how are the Tigers injured players coming along?

A couple of spring incidents indicate Detroit pitchers may have a little different outlook on the mound this season.

Nate Robertson was pitching an early spring game, and doing decently enough, when suddenly he heard chirping from the Tigers' dugout. It was manager Jim Leyland, urging him to forget a runner at first and concentrate on getting his hitter out.

By Leyland's reasoning, he wants his pitchers to have most of their concentration on one thing at a time. If they're throwing over to first, think about that. If the target is the batter, think about that.

Don't have your mind on one thing while you're doing another.

Leyland also has squashed any talk about the contrast between the way he does things and the way fired Manager Alan Trammell did them. He keeps noting that without injuries last season, Trammell might still be the boss.

Another of his pet peeves is whining about run support. It's fashionable to point out who gets a lot of runs when they start and who doesn't. Sometimes even pitchers will point it out, especially when they lose a close game.

"I don't want to hear any of that waaah stuff," Leyland said. "Shut them out then. Shut somebody out.

"Do I buy that it happens? Yeah, but what do you want me to do about it? Sometimes it seems they match up all year long against the No. 1 guy. That's tough. But this is baseball, professional baseball. Let's play. I don't want to hear excuses."

He also doesn't want to hear anything about .500 being a reasonable goal for the Tigers after 12 years of sub-.500 play.

"Under normal circumstances, is .500 good? No, not at all. But when you're 20 games under and haven't done it for 12 years, you have to start somewhere," he said. "When it's been 12 years, if you can improve eight games you're happy.

"If someone says, 'If you guys get to .500 this year, would you be happy?' No, I would not be happy."

Will outlook translate into wins? Probably not. Good players having good years usually translates into wins.

What a good outlook can do is help good players weather the bad times a little better. Maybe chop off some of those losing streaks.

--LF Craig Monroe, sidelined by an oblique muscle strain since the beginning of spring training, strained a quad muscle in the outfield and has been shut down until early in the week. Monroe, who led Detroit with 89 RBIs last season, was told to refrain from all baseball activities until at least Sunday.

--DH Dmitri Young, out because of a strained quad since his first exhibition at-bat, was told Mar. 9 to stop all baseball related activity until Sunday. Young played third base for a half-inning in his first game, then hurt his leg attempting to run to first in his first at-bat.

--RHP Jason Grilli could sneak onto the Detroit roster through the World Baseball Classic. Grilli pitched 4 2/3 shutout innings in Team Italy's first game in the WBC, with seven strikeouts and just one hit allowed. He pitched well for Detroit in a couple of September appearances after a decent season at the Triple-A level.

Grilli began the spring considered a longshot for the open rotation spot but a possibility for the bullpen as a swingman with a decent spring. Strong showings against strong national teams in the WBC could be better for Grilli than a spring training with the Tigers.

--INF Omar Infante is suffering from right shoulder tendonitis for the second spring in a row. Infante, in a repeat of last year, didn't admit his shoulder was bothering him until someone noticed soft throws.

"I told him to go into the training room with (infield coach) Rafael Belliard and get it checked out," Manager Jim Leyland said. "In reality, this is nothing new. Talking with (CEO/President/GM) Dave Dombrowski, there was some history to this. Sometimes, if you watch what you're doing, you can see it. There was discomfort there. You could tell by the look on his face.

"I wasn't jumping the gun on this. I felt like, 'Hey, I'm not going to talk about this every day.' To me, that's dumb. Let's find out."

--RHP Matt Mantei might be looking at the end of his career. Mantei had to leave an exhibition game with a strained left oblique muscle March 7 and Manager Jim Leyland said it's unlikely the reliever can recover in time to break camp with the Tigers.

Having been on the disabled list 12 times in his career, Mantei came into spring training saying if he gets hurt again, he's going home rather than spend time in the minors. Mantei pitched well for Boston last season until hurting his foot and having to undergo season-ending surgery in July.

"Not to make a sob story, " he said before spring training, "but for everything that I've been through, I've had enough. If I can't do it anymore, if I get hurt, that's it. I'm going home."

He was showing his good fastball in camp and in his one-out inning before getting hurt.

Detroit will not have to make an immediate decision and neither will Mantei. He might stay behind when Detroit breaks camp and see how things progress.

--OF Brent Clevlen is taking advantage of the absence of veterans to make a good impression on Detroit's brass.

Clevlen hit his second home run of the spring in an exhibition loss to Cleveland and Manager Jim Leyland said last year's Florida State League MVP was "the real deal, no question about it.

"Every now and then, you see a guy in his uniform and you know that guy's a big-league player. It doesn't happen very often, but certainly he looks the part to me. He looks like a baseball player to me.

"I like him a lot. I like (3B Kody) Kirkland a lot. I like (RHP Humberto) Sanchez. We've got some prospects. And that's what they are and you've just got to let them go play and don't want to get carried away. But when you see that kid, he looks a little bit different. Obviously you see his talent and you see how he plays the game. I've never been one to get carried away with anybody, and I'm certainly not getting carried away, but he looks like he ought to be a pretty decent player."

Former Tiger player and hitting coach Larry Herndon, Clevlen's hitting coach last year at Lakeland, said the player's progress "doesn't surprise me at all. And you're going to see that in Detroit real soon."

--RHP Troy Percival has come to terms with the end of his playing career. He said when he left Detroit's camp that he'd spend the season doing whatever the Tigers wanted, which he'll get paid $6 million to do under terms of the two-year deal he signed prior to 2005. He also told his old team, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, he'd like to work with them next season.

"I'm going to try to get back in the game, in some capacity," Percival told the Los Angeles Times. "I definitely want to get into coaching or managing, and the Angels said there would be something available to me when I'm ready."

--RHP Colby Lewis will be holding his breath along with everybody else as his so-far successful comeback from shoulder surgery goes along.

Lewis, a hard-throwing one-time prospect with Texas, turned in three scoreless innings March 9 to follow two innings of shutout ball in his previous appearance. They were his first two competitive appearances since April 17, 2004, when he came down with a sore right shoulder that required surgery. He had not pitched since then, although Detroit signed him prior to last season in hopes he could eventually come back.

"It's so enjoyable just to be able to do what you've done your whole life," Lewis said. "It's so much fun, man."

He made 44 major league appearances with Texas from 2002-04.

BY THE NUMBERS: 530 -- Total chances for 3B Brandon Inge of Detroit last season, most in the major leagues. Second-highest was 461 by the Mets' David Wright.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Last time, the butterflies were running through my toes all the way to my head. But I had all my pitches this time. I even had a good curve. I don't know where that came from, but I hope it stays." -- Rookie RHP Joel Zumaya, who followed a nervous first start for Detroit with three innings of shutout, one-hit ball against Toronto on March 9.

The primary goals of spring training for Detroit will be determining a fifth starter, settling on a center fielder, thinning the excess of OF/DH/1B types on the roster and possibly finding a second left-hander for the bullpen. Manager Jim Leyland will focus on those decisions but mostly will spend the exhibition season getting to know his players.

ARRIVALS: RHP Todd Jones (free agent from Florida), LHP Kenny Rogers (free agent from Texas), RHP Matt Mantei (minor league free agent from Boston).

DEPARTURES: OF Rondell White (free agent, signed with Minnesota), OF Bobby Higginson (free agent, not offered arbitration), RHP Jason Johnson (free agent, signed with Cleveland), INF John McDonald (sold to Toronto), RHP Sean Douglass (waived, rejected claim by Cleveland and will pitch in Japan), 2B Fernando Vina (free agent, signed with Seattle).

PROJECTED ROTATION: The lessons learned over three losing seasons under former manager Alan Trammell are expected to start paying off this year for RHP Jeremy Bonderman and LHPs Mike Maroth and Nate Robertson. Bonderman and Maroth have improved each year, while Robertson has been walking in place. Signing free agent LHP Kenny Rogers to replace RHP Jason Johnson should be a plus -- but only if Father Time doesn't slam him down as he did to that cameraman with Texas last summer. There is one open spot, and the Tigers hope one of their prized young power arms is ready to seize it.

--LHP Kenny Rogers was 14-8, 3.46 for Texas before signing with Detroit as a free agent. He typically starts a season in sensational fashion but tapers off in the second half, but that wasn't as much in evidence last summer because he missed some time when he was suspended for shoving a television cameraman. The Tigers feel he has value remaining even at the age of 41 and hope he can impart some of his knowledge of working hitters to their younger pitchers, especially the two other left-handed starters. Early in camp he was named the club's Opening Day starter.

--RHP Jeremy Bonderman tied for the club lead with 14 wins and is expected to take the next step toward being a dominant rotation leader. He pitched much of July and August without telling management a muscle on the outside of his elbow was bothering him, which plumped his ERA to 4.57, and the club shut him down in September. Bonderman was nominated to Team USA for WBC play but the club denied him permission to participate (as was its right) because it wanted to monitor the strength of his elbow. He will spend some time continuing to work on his changeup this spring.

--LHP Mike Maroth lost 21 games in 2003 but improved each of the following two seasons and was 14-14 with a 4.74 ERA in 2005. Similar in style to LHP Kenny Rogers, the Tigers hope he can learn more about setting up hitters from the veteran lefty and take another step forward in 2006. Maroth just signed a two-year contract, and Detroit envisions him having a similar career to Rogers or Seattle's LHP Jamie Moyer, still pitching at 43.

--LHP Nate Robertson has had second-half falloffs each of his two full seasons with Detroit, so he spent the winter working with former Tigers strength and conditioning coach Denny Taft to build up his leg and trunk muscles. Robertson fell from 12 wins in 2004 to just seven a year ago, and his fastball wasn't as lively, which diminished the effectiveness of his excellent slider. He continued to have trouble getting two-strike outs.

--RHP Justin Verlander zoomed from high Class A to two cameo major league starts in his first pro season. He has an upper-90s fastball, a great 12-to-6 curve and a major league changeup. All he lacks is the experience in mixing all of them. It didn't matter in the minors that he couldn't command his fastball, but major league hitters quickly showed him that's a weakness he'll need to overcome to succeed in the big leagues. Verlander was shut down in August due to a tired shoulder, but that was attributed to the rigors of the daily pro grind, and he came back in the Instructional League to show he was healthy. Still, he needs a good spring to fend off challengers.

PROJECTED BULLPEN: The Tigers went through closers last season the way manager Jim Leyland used to go through smokes during a game. They had four closers with six saves or more and RHP Craig Dingman with four as they went from RHP Troy Percival to RHP Ugueth Urbina to RHP Kyle Farnsworth before going back to Percival and then finishing with RHP Fernando Rodney as the primary stopper. Signing free agent RHP Todd Jones, who emerged from three seasons of ineffectiveness to save 40 games for Florida last year, to a two-year deal was supposed to close that hole. Trading Farnsworth to Atlanta at the end of July (they didn't think they could stop him from becoming a free agent at the end of the season) and losing Percival to an elbow muscle injury for the second time caused the bullpen to collapse the last two months of the season after the bullpen had been a team strength. Having Rodney as the setup man in his second season away from Tommy John surgery and having RHP Chris Spurling to work the middle along with LHP Jamie Walker should give the bullpen stability. Also, for the first time in years, help awaits in the minors if anyone falters.

--RHP Todd Jones saved 40 games for Florida last year after earning just three saves in the previous three seasons combined. While there's a question of which is the real Jones, the former Detroit closer (1997-2001) was energized when the Marlins turned to him to finish games. He has four major league pitches to work with, compensating for a diminished fastball. He also should help teach the Tigers' other relievers.

--RHP Fernando Rodney made an impressive comeback from 2004 Tommy John surgery with nine saves and a 2.86 ERA, finishing last season as Detroit's closer. But timidity in throwing his quality slider, attributed to expected normal soreness in the repaired elbow, sometimes let hitters tee off on his fastball. Even so, Rodney can get by on his mid-90s fastball and a changeup that's among the best in the majors. The setup job is his to lose.

--RHP Chris Spurling also made a stout comeback from 2004 Tommy John surgery, posting a 3-4 record and 3.44 ERA working largely middle relief. He shows a nice fastball, good control and a sometimes dominating breaking ball as he carves out a bullpen career. Spurling should work the same role for the Tigers in 2006.

--LHP Jamie Walker continues to excel as a multi-purpose reliever entering his fifth season with the Tigers. Walker had no saves but was 4-3 with a 3.70 ERA in 66 games. Detroit has never had an effective lefty companion for Walker in its bullpen, so it can seldom afford to bring him in for just one hitter. He has been very effective against left-handed hitters since taking Hall of Famer Al Kaline's advice to become more of a sidearm pitcher.

--RHP Craig Dingman filled every bullpen role after being brought up from Toledo at mid-year but his 2006 season was delayed when he reported to spring training unable to pitch due to a blood leakage in a vein in his right shoulder. He needed a vein from his left leg for a bypass in order to pitch again and was looking at more than two months before he could begin pitching seriously again. He compiled four saves and a 3.66 ERA. The journeyman has shown a better fastball since the Tigers picked him up two years ago and has proven to be a serviceable middle relief man.

--RHP Franklyn German displayed his control problems the second half of the season after seeming to have them solved while winning a job last spring training. He walked 34 batters in 59 innings while striking out only 38. Everything revolves around setting up his deadly split-finger with first-pitch fastballs for strikes. When he gets behind in the count, hitters sit on his fastball or pass on anything low, figuring it will be out of the strike zone when it crosses home plate. Out of options, German will have to win a roster spot in the spring again this year.

--RHP Roman Colon isn't nearly as effective in relief as he is starting, historically, but he's probably looking at a role as an early reliever as his ticket to the majors this season. He will need to show something extraordinary to win the vacant spot in the starting rotation. Colon prefers to start because he feels he can use all of his pitches that way. He performed well in spots when it was obvious he was going to work three early innings out of the pen, though. Colon a good arm, but it's time for him to start showing some consistency.

--RHP Jason Grilli pitched well in two of three September appearances for the Tigers and is a long shot for the vacant fifth starter's spot. Grilli (1-1, 3.38) could squeeze into the hole created with the inability of RHP Craig Dingman to pitch due to a blood vessel injury in his right shoulder.

PROJECTED LINEUP: Detroit's starting lineup seems set as there's a regular returning at every position, but an excess of players with starter-sized salaries in the outfield, at first base and DH could prompt a change or two by the time spring training's over. The health questions that dominated last spring's camp appear to be over for now. The challenge this season will be finding playing time for the $3 million-plus players who appear not to be as good as some of their minimum-wage competitors. Some of those on the fence will get extra looks in exhibition games due to the absence of four starters (C Ivan Rodriguez, 2B Placido Polanco, SS Carlos Guillen and RF Magglio Ordonez) for much of March as they participate for their countries in the WBC.

--CF Curtis Granderson provided the Tigers with a little power at the top of the batting order in his limited late-season playing time. He'll need to cut his strikeouts (43) and increase his walks (10) to establish himself, and that's just what he was doing early in spring training.

--2B Placido Polanco is the only player assured of his spot in the batting order entering the season. He might have won the AL batting crown (.338) if he'd been with Detroit all season. Polanco is the ideal No. 2 batter because he hits for average and can move runners.

--C Ivan Rodriguez will have to show he's abandoned his free-swinging ways of last season to retain his spot in the order. Chased too many pitches out of the strike zone and tried to pull too much, in contrast to his first season with Detroit. Was very sharp with the Tigers before leaving to join Team Puerto Rico, where he also was performing well in the World Baseball Classic. Look for him to get more rest in 2006 as age becomes more of a factor.

--RF Magglio Ordonez will need to show he's the player he was three seasons ago (30 home runs, 120 RBIs). His knee, repaired twice in 2004, was fine last season, but a sports hernia put him out of action early and robbed him of his power when he did return after the All-Star break.

--DH Dmitri Young was asked and vowed to come to camp about 30 pounds under the reported 260-70 he played at a year ago -- but immediately suffered a pulled quad muscle. Worked out with his high-profile brother, Delmon of Tampa Bay, during the winter in response to manager Jim Leyland's request that he be in shape to play more games at third and in left field.

--SS Carlos Guillen missed most of the second half because of weakness in the muscles around his right knee, subject of two ACL surgeries in his career. He returned in September and successfully played a few test games and served as a DH in winter ball. He improved his batting average for the fifth straight year but the knee injury, which had him in and out of the lineup in the first half of the season, robbed him of his power. Was playing first base for Team Venezuela in the WBC.

--1B Chris Shelton wore down in the second half of the season but established himself as a player of promise in his first full trial in the majors. He showed 20 to 30 home run potential. Shelton uses the whole field and has great working knowledge of the strike zone.

--LF Craig Monroe led Detroit with 89 RBI but virtually none the month of September. A self-made player, he played all over the outfield in his first season as a regular. Needs to relax at the plate in the late innings. Spring debut delayed by sore side muscle.

--3B Brandon Inge was another Tiger who wore down as the season wound down. He played 160 games and showed a Gold Glove defensive style but will need to cut down on his strikeouts. He figures to get more rest and should be better for it. Inge could wind up as the leadoff hitter because of the .371 on-base percentage he posted at that spot in the order last season.

PROJECTED RESERVES: Detroit has a solid defensive bench, but offensively it's limited, and a mid-market team like the Tigers can't afford to pay one of its subs (1B Carlos Pena) $3 million a year to sit on the bench. Manager Jim Leyland talks about establishing a rotation that will give Pena at-bats as the club waits to see how things shake out early in the season before making a move. C Vance Wilson should play once or twice a week under a plan to give C Ivan Rodriguez more rest, and INF Omar Infante could get 200 to 400 at-bats rotating around the infield. Logan is a wild card because of his extreme speed.

--INF Omar Infante looks like he's going to be a regular middle infielder at some point in his career but needs to show more bear-down consistency both ways before that happens. Has good gap power and is a solid defensive player - most of the time. Bothered by sore right shoulder for the second straight spring.

--C Vance Wilson disappointed the Tigers offensively after coming over from the New York Mets before last season (falling from .274 to .197) but was the solid defensive backup the club wanted when C Ivan Rodriguez wasn't in the lineup. He was very sparsely used early in the season but was playing a couple of times a week toward the end, and that figures to be his role again this year.

--CF Nook Logan has a chance to crack the starting lineup if he becomes a more solid left-handed hitter and puts the ball in play more. At the very least, he will be in the lineup to protect leads in the late innings or be on the bases as a pinch runner when a stolen base is important. Speed and defensive ability will let him carve out a long career as at least a sub.

--1B Carlos Pena has been an early-season disappointment two years in a row, then come on in the late months to tantalize the Tigers with a power display. He's the best defensive first baseman on the team and will give Detroit left-handed pop off the bench. The more he hits, the more he'll play.

TOP ROOKIES: RHP Justin Verlander and RHP Joel Zumaya represent the first wave of the kind of power arms GM Dave Dombrowski likes to accumulate through the draft. Verlander signed too late in 2004 to make his pro debut, but with three major league pitches, he vaulted to the majors (0-2, 7.15) after dominating stints at Class A Lakeland (9-2, 1.67) and Double-A Erie (2-0, 0.28). Zumaya flashes the same high-90s heat, excellent curve but a slightly less developed changeup. He ranked second in the minors in overall strikeouts despite being shut down late with soreness not thought to be serious. Zumaya was 8-3, 2.77 with Erie and 1-2, 2.66 for Triple-A Toledo. SS Tony Giarratano had a brief mid-year cameo and showed a major league glove but will probably spend the season with Toledo to refine his hitting. INF Donald Kelly also will play at Toledo, probably third base, and could serve the Tigers in a utility role if the need arose.

SPRING FOCUS: The three-way battle for the open rotation spot between RHPs Justin Verlander, Roman Colon and Joel Zumaya will draw most of the attention, but whether CF Nook Logan can thrust himself into the outfield could have the most ramifications, as it would prompt Detroit to unload a salary (DH Dmitri Young, OF Craig Monroe, 1B Carlos Pena) were he to succeed.

MEDICAL WATCH: RHP Justin Verlander (tired shoulder) responded well to late-season rest, pitched well in an Instructional League test and was looking well in spring starts; RHP Joel Zumaya (tired shoulder) has smoothed out his mechanics a lot in the past couple seasons and Detroit is not worried that he can't start; RHP Jeremy Bonderman (sore elbow) pitched just twice in September due to a sore muscle on the outside of his right elbow but the organization felt a winter of rest made him 100 percent and he didn't appear to be bothered by it this spring; RHP Troy Percival (torn right elbow muscle) left camp with the belief his career was over after elbow pain wouldn't let him throw with any authority in an intra-squad game.

Tigs Town Top Stories