Detroit Tigers Inside Pitch

The Tigers are relying on a few fresh faces, including veteran manager Jim Leyland, to lead them back to competitiveness. Check inside to see what Leyland brings to the team, and what players are making positive impressions this spring.

INSIDE PITCH
If Jim Leyland can succeed where those before him have failed, it would make a great difference for the Detroit Tigers.

Previous managers, like Leyland, have sent out the message of what to do. Players receive the message but rarely is it processed into action.

"It's one thing to listen, it's another thing to hear," Leyland said. "We've talked about that. They listen, but do they really hear what you're talking about? That's what you have to get through to them. It has to sink in. It has to mean something to them.

"I can see why we failed in a lot of situations last year. It sticks out like a sore thumb."

Detroit has not had a winning season since 1993. Much of the problem has been a lack of talent, but some of the blame falls to pitchers failing to make adjustments and hitters having poor game plans or no plan at all when they go to the plate.

"When we need a guy to get on base," Leyland said, "you've got to start thinking baseball. It's about time to do that. We're getting a couple weeks away. I've been turning them loose at 3-0 and everything else so far, but here shortly we start playing regular baseball games where we have to start getting with the program."

Detroit struggled with runners in scoring position last year. It had the third-fewest RBIs in close and late-game situations and avoided walks as though they were a negative contract statistic.

"What happens," Leyland said, "is some guys get here and they say, 'This is how I got here. This is how I'm going to stay. This is how I did it.' There's some truth to that, but at the same time, you have to be able to make adjustments. That's very important. We've got some guys in that category. It's time for them to take that next step. If they do, we're going to be pretty good. If they don't, we won't be very good.

"Shortly, we'll start playing regular baseball games and we have to start getting with the program."

What Leyland also wants to see from his hitters is toughness at the plate -- against everybody.

"When you start facing good major league pitchers, which is what we're going to do, you have to grind out every at-bat," he said. "What you try to do you try to boost your average against the mediocre stuff and you try to fight your (tail) off against the good stuff so you can get a hit. What happens is you have to hope that hit comes at the right time.

"If some guy's just nasty on a given day and he gets you out a couple times with nobody on, you have to battle harder when that guy's on. You can't give those at-bats away. I think we give too many at-bats away. I'm not going to get into that because it's spring training, but it sticks out."

"I've always believed that psychologically, when the hitter gets in the box and the pitcher gets on the mound, one of them psychologically has given in a little bit. I don't know which one, but you can tell.

"That's one of my pet peeves. I know they're tough, but this is the big leagues. I can't ask the other manager not to pitch him."

NOTES, QUOTES
--The Tigers' identity has been as a roll-over loser for much of the past decade. There was a flash of charisma once in a while, but it would usually be extinguished by a losing streak.

"When the Yankees take the field, there's a presence, a smell, an odor," manager Jim Leyland said. "We smell like Old Spice. I want a swagger. I don't want us to be tiptoeing out there. I want to see that mean streak when we go to compete.

"The St. Louis Cardinals are a perfect example. There's an air about those guys: (Jim) Edmonds, (Albert) Pujols, (Scott) Rolen, (David) Eckstein, there's something there. The one thing I know in my heart I'm right about is that this team needs a personality."

It's possible for losing teams to have swagger, but other teams won't respect them unless winning accompanies it.

The Tigers would do well to pick up on Leyland's no-nonsense, find-a-way-to-do-it personality. And it may happen, but it also may take a player move or two to drive the message home.

"Sooner or later," he said, "if players don't make the adjustment, we're moving ahead. This is a big boy's game. Nobody's mad at anybody. But to stay here, you have to be able to make adjustments. Some guys are in that category. It's time to take the next step."

For those who don't, their next step will be out of town.

--1B Carlos Pena survived the lightning bolt that struck CF Alex Sanchez last year.

March 16 was the day teams could release their players and owe them only one-sixth of their major league salary, which in Pena's case is a tidy $2.8 million for 2006.

But even after an 0-for-3 that dropped Pena's spring average to .152, Detroit kept the perennially promising first baseman on its roster. The hope, possibly, is the club can get something for the left-handed bat somewhere down the line.

A year ago on the same date, the Tigers pulled a surprise by cutting their previous season's center fielder, Sanchez, who wound up playing for two teams last season.

--1B/DH Josh Phelps understands the window of opportunity to make Detroit's roster is probably four panes thick. But he was still doing a good job of making somebody notice.

"It's just trying to make the most of an opportunity," Phelps said after hitting a hot streak that had him batting .571 on March 16. "Every at-bat is a chance to show not only this organization, but any organization, what you're capable of doing. That's the approach I've taken."

Phelps, with his fourth organization in three years, went 9-for-12 in a three-game stretch that included hits in six consecutive at-bats. Half of his hits were for extra bases.

"He's had a (heckuva) spring," said manager Jim Leyland, who also noted "I have no idea" how non-roster invitee Phelps could make his Opening Day roster.

"I just have faith that if you work hard, good things are going to happen," Phelps said. "That doesn't mean you're going to break camp with the team, or if somebody gets hurt you're going to be the one who gets called up. It means you've got to make the most of the situation."

--OF Magglio Ordonez and SS Carlos Guillen were scheduled to return to the Tigers after their Venezuelan national team was eliminated from the World Baseball Classic tournament.

"They've been going through everything, so they've been getting a little work," Leyland said.

Venezuela lost 2-1 to a Dominican Republic team that includes Detroit players 2B Placido Polanco and RHP Fernando Rodney.

Also figuring to rejoin the Tigers during the weekend were C Ivan Rodriguez (Puerto Rico) and RHP Todd Jones (USA).

--Detroit said it sold some $700,000 worth of tickets in about two hours March 11 when single-game seats went on sale. The Tigers said they sold roughly 30,000 tickets, including 8,700 for their home opener April 10 and 4,000 standing-room tickets.

Club vice president of marketing and ticket sales Bob Raymond said some 1,000 fans lined up at the Comerica Park box office prior to the start of the sale.

--More and better young prospects are impressing Detroit Hall of Famer Al Kaline.

"The thing that sticks out this spring is young talent," Kaline said. "It's unbelievable. We've got teams calling us about players, and we've never had that before."

One youngster who has impressed him is CF Cameron Maybin, the No. 1 draft choice who signed too late to play professionally last summer but had a good Instructional League and has been given spot at-bats in major league exhibition games.

"There's a guy who's coming fast," Kaline said. "But you could see it with him right off the bat. He's got the skills and the mental toughness."

--CF Curtis Granderson is locking up the center field/leadoff job with a solid spring. "He works hard and, more important, he works smart," manager Jim Leyland said. "You can see it on his face -- he wants to learn. He doesn't have all the answers, but he wants to be a quality major league player and he's going to be. I've been very impressed by him."

--Tigers games can only be seen locally on cable television for the second season in a row.

The Tigers announced they will show 112 games on FSN, the local Fox Sports cable outlet, along with an additional two spring training games. The club could not reach an agreement with its traditional free television outlet on a package of games for the second year in a row.

--RHP Craig Dingman underwent arterial surgery in St. Louis on March 15 to bypass an artery in his right shoulder that was leaking blood and preventing him from pitching.

The surgery was performed by Dr. Robert Thompson, who earlier this month operated on Pittsburgh's Kip Wells to repair an artery in the pitcher's arm that was blocked by a blood clot.

Detroit trainer Kevin Rand said the timetable for Dingman's return won't be known for a while because it's the first time such a procedure has been performed on a major league pitcher. The operation involved taking a leg vein and using it to bypass the bad portion of Dingman's shoulder artery.

--INF Ramon Santiago may not have much of a chance to make Detroit's regular-season roster, but he's made a favorable impression on new manager Jim Leyland.

"I really like what I see of him," Leyland said. "Great range. And he's laying the bat on the ball. Don't get me wrong: He's a defensive player. But I like what I'm seeing."

"I just try to come every day and play hard," Santiago said. "The manager likes that. He doesn't know me. I have to try and show him I want to play. I try not to be too optimistic. Just to be positive. If I'm gonna make it, I'm gonna make it."

"He's really caught my eye," Leyland said. "He's a tremendous-looking infielder. It's pretty good comfort knowing he's around. He catches everything."

--The Tigers sent 12 players to the minors, and they released RHP Matt Mantei. An oblique strain had prevented Mantei from pitching in a Grapefruit League game. RHP Eulogio De La Cruz, RHP Preston Larrison, RHP Humberto Sanchez, RHP Jordan Tata, INF Tony Giarratano, INF Kody Kirkland and OF Brent Clevlen were optioned to Double-A Erie, while C Mike Rabelo, C Danilo Sanchez, INF Kevin Hooper, RHP Colby Lewis and RHP Tim Crabtree were reassigned to the team's minor league camp.

BY THE NUMBERS: 112 -- Regular season games scheduled to be televised by the Tigers' cable outlet this season, a record and two more than were shown last year by FSN, the local Fox Sports channel.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Sooner or later, if players don't make the adjustment, we're moving ahead. This is a big boy's game. Nobody's mad at anybody. But to stay here, you have to be able to make adjustments. Some guys are in that category. It's time to take the next step." -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland, indicating he's not going to settle for the same bad game habits that have plagued Detroit players for more than a decade.


Tigs Town Top Stories