Detroit Tigers Inside Pitch

The 25 man roster is set for Opening Day - who made the cut and who didn't? Plus, which past team problems is new manager Jim Leyland going to look to correct on the '06 version of his club?

INSIDE PITCH
Left-hander Bobby Seay has made the Tigers' 25-man roster, giving manager Jim Leyland a complement to left-hander Jamie Walker in the Detroit bullpen.

Seay thought Leyland hollered "Bobby" Thursday when the manager actually was yelling for traveling secretary Bill Brown. So he popped into the manager's office -- and on his way out asked if he should pack to break camp with the team.

"I told him to put his stuff on the truck," Leyland said, "unless he wants to go around naked for a few days."

The addition of Seay, who was 1-1 with a 2.08 ERA this spring, will let Leyland use Walker more sparingly as a specialist against mostly left-handed hitters.

Last season Walker held left-handers to a .228 average, but right-handers batted .285 against him. He pitched fewer games last season and his innings dropped, but Walker still has had to face more right-handers than he should.

Adding Seay will let Leyland use Walker at a critical time for one or two hitters and still have Seay as an alternative.

SEASON PREVIEW
The sun-splashed, get-acquainted times are about to end for Jim Leyland, and soon the Tigers' new manager will be getting to know how his players perform under the stress of the regular season.

"I got to know you, you got to know me, but one thing I want you to understand, there's been no pressure," Leyland said of what he intended to tell his squad before it left Florida.

"If we get into the nitty-gritty of the season and suddenly we lose seven in a row, are you still going to like me?

"Am I still going to like you -- and are we still going to be teammates? Those are the most important questions. It's also important for them to know there's a real serious side of me and that the answer to all these favors isn't always going to be yes. That's when you find out if you're all together or not.

"I hope we are, because this is a good group of guys. I like them, but I can see where they need to understand some things that are important to the formula of winning."

One of the things Leyland is likely to see are those traits that have helped prevent Detroit from having a winning record since 1993. Among them are poor plate discipline, inability to make adjustments from inning to inning and from game to game, bad pitching habits plus bad situational awareness on both sides of an inning.

Bad defense has been a team trait for several seasons and Leyland keeps addressing it. As did his predecessors.

But while Leyland inherits most of the same starters whose inability to put thought into action cost Alan Trammell his job, the new manager sees all of his starters as being healthy.

Last spring shortstop Carlos Guillen was an uncertainty because he was coming off knee surgery (he could still hit, just not with any authority and it turned out he was not strong enough to play a full season); right fielder Magglio Ordonez looked fully recovered from multiple knee surgeries, only to be felled by a sport hernia that cost him half the year; right-hander Troy Percival was headed for two trips to the disabled list that ended his career; and two other closers (right-handers Ugueth Urbina and Kyle Farnsworth) were traded.

The only significant change in the starting lineup (aside from first baseman Chris Shelton, called up in May and who quickly grabbed the job last year) will be the addition of center fielder Curtis Granderson.

Left-hander Kenny Rogers, signed as a free agent, looks to be more than adequate as a replacement for the allowed-to-depart right-hander Jason Johnson, and right-hander Todd Jones was brought back for a second term as the club closer. He hasn't had a sparkling spring but he always gets juiced for games that count more than games that don't.

The one thing Leyland saw this spring he didn't expect was a corps of good young players coming up through the minors. Two were expected to stick to the pitching staff -- right-hander Justin Verlander as the No. 5 starter and right-hander Joel Zumaya as a flame-throwing reliever.

He also liked outfielder Brent Clevlen as an outfield prospect, right-handers Humberto Sanchez and Jordan Tata plus a few other young prospects.

"I like talent," Leyland said. "I don't care what age it is."

He was expected to keep prospective starters Jason Grilli and Roman Colon, both right-handers, as bullpen members, a departure from recent Tiger bullpens. It gives the club flexibility to make an in-season move with its staff. It can do that much more readily than in the past because there are replacement waiting both within the staff and down in the minors, something that has rarely been true for more than 20 years.

Everybody's on the same page now, but the test will come after that seven-game losing streak he was talking about or when it becomes obvious that another "Wait 'til Next Year" has set in.

The young pitchers give the club the potential to be a lot better by the end of the year than it will be on opening day. Getting there will be the hard part.

NOTES, QUOTES
--C Ivan Rodriguez missed his third consecutive game Thursday but is expected to return to Detroit's lineup Friday.

Rodriguez was suffering from a virus and dehydration but took batting practice with the team Thursday morning. He's expected to play Detroit's next two exhibition games and be ready for Opening Day in Kansas City.

--SS Carlos Guillen has cheered the Tigers the last two days with improvement in his sore back.

Guillen had a two-hit game Thursday and looked steady in the field.

He's also Detroit's third-string first baseman, a position he played exclusively for Team Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic.

Manager Jim Leyland would switch Guillen to first if he had to pinch-run for 1B Chris Shelton and Dmitri Young were the DH. He would then insert INF Ramon Santiago at short, or INF Omar Infante when his sore shoulder clears up.

--RHP Jeremy Bonderman got bit by the home run ball Thursday, but he doesn't expect it to turn into anything distressing.

Bonderman gave up three long balls in his five inning tune-up for his first regular-season start next week in Kansas City.

He gave up seven hits, but it's seen as merely getting his throwing in to make sure he's ready when the games count.

--RF Magglio Ordonez is hitting the ball well in the final stages of spring training.

Ordonez, who was bothered by a stiff knee earlier in the week when he served as a designated hitter, collected a pair of hits including an RBI single his first time up. He's hitting .300 for the spring.

Manager Jim Leyland had been worried Ordonez wasn't going to get enough quality spring at-bats to be ready for the regular season, but that no longer is the case.

--LHP Bobby Seay learned Thursday he's going to be on Detroit's Opening Day roster.

Seay posted a 1-1 record with a 2.08 ERA this spring. Detroit has tried several lefties in an effort to find help for LHP Jamie Walker over the last three years, none of them have lasting more than a year.

"From what I've seen so far, he's got a good arm," manager Jim Leyland said. "He's in the best shape of his life. He needs to get his breaking ball away from left-handers a little better. He has to make sure he throws strikes. If he can do that, he's got a chance to get a big-league hitter out. He's kind of an interesting guy. "

--Troy Percival has become "the highest-paid scout in the country," in the words of Tigers' manager Jim Leyland.

Percival will draw $6 million this year although he can't pitch because of a torn muscle in his right elbow. Some of that money comes back to Detroit via insurance.

But in the meantime Detroit is asking Percival to be an advance scout. He's going to Texas to cover Detroit's second opponent while the Tigers open in Kansas City.

"I think I have a good feel for what the players are looking for," he said. "It's not like I'm 10 years removed and have forgotten what kind of information they want.

"This isn't something I want to make a career out of, no. I'm doing it because it fills a need the Tigers had. Ideally, I'd like to be in uniform and on the field."

BY THE NUMBERS: 2.1 -- Millions of dollars the Tigers saved in payroll this season by deciding to cut 1B Carlos Pena before the end of spring training. Pena was scheduled to earn $2.8 million.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's incredible. If they can keep their heads on straight, they'll be great." -- Detroit backup C Vance Wilson after catching both of the Tigers' young heet-seekers, RHPs Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya, on an afternoon when both threw two scoreless innings of an exhibition game.


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