Inside Pitch: Granderson's Goal

All in all, Curtis Granderson's first full big league season was a success; but the one area where Jim Leyland still wants to see improvement is with Granderson's strikeouts; an AL-best 174. Plus, which acquisition might have been a mistake last season according to Leyland.

The spring project for Curtis Granderson is going to be cutting down on his strikeouts.

The center fielder led off for Detroit last season and did a pretty good job, except for his league-worst 174 strikeouts.

He hit .260 -- a bad August cost him a shot at .300 -- with 66 walks that were second on the team to shortstop Carlos Guillen's 71.

"The big thing is, I know I've got to be ready for pitch one," Granderson said. "When I'm aggressive, that's when I'm at my best."

But the problem, as manager Jim Leyland saw it, was that too many times Granderson took the same aggressive swing at strike three as he did at strike one. You can't do that.

Suppose Granderson takes 74 of his strikeouts away this season by putting the ball in play. If he hits .260, that converts to 19 additional hits.

So over his 596 at-bats in 2006, that would have boosted his hit total to 174, making his batting average .292 and tacking on 30 points to his .335 on-base percentage. And that's without adding a single walk.

Leyland doesn't want to turn Granderson into a walk machine; he wants him to just cover the plate a little better when the count reaches two strikes.

Eventually, Leyland sees Granderson as a solid No. 3 or No. 6 hitter, someone whose 19 home runs and 68 RBIs batting mostly first and ninth last season will turn into 25 or 30 home runs and 100-plus RBIs with more experience.

But with the Tigers lacking a viable alternative for leadoff -- or a suitable replacement as the No. 2 hitter should 2B Placido Polanco lead off -- Granderson could bat first most of the time for Detroit again this season.

He made progress in those areas in the playoffs, fanning only three times against the Yankees and Oakland combined until whiffing five times in Detroit's five-game loss to St. Louis in the World Series.

What Leyland wants him to do is extend those first seven postseason games into a 162-game season.

--LHP Joey Eischen, who pitched briefly for Detroit in 1996, has signed a minor league contract with an invitation to participate with the Tigers at spring training.

Eischen, 36, has held left-handed batters to a .226 average over his career but was limited to an 0-1 record and 8.59 ERA in 22 appearances with Washington before having to undergo surgery in June to repair a slight left rotator cuff tear. He will earn $700,000 if he spends all of 2007 in the majors, and the contract contains performance incentives based on appearances that could push the total to $1.1 million.

Eischen posted a 3.22 ERA in 57 games two seasons ago. In 10 seasons he is 11-9 with a 3.67 ERA for five teams.

--CF Curtis Granderson knows he needs to put the ball in play more to increase his effectiveness.

Granderson had a .335 on-base percentage last season despite leading the league with 174 strikeouts and compiling a .260 batting average.

"I didn't pop out or ground out much," Granderson said. He had 66 walks, second on the team to SS Carlos Guillen's 71, and had 155 hits.

Granderson finished his first full year in the majors with a .260 average, 19 home runs, 68 RBIs and eight stolen bases, mostly from the leadoff spot. He hit ninth on occasion, and at some point in his career he is going to be a middle-of-the-order hitter.

He is an aggressive hitter, but manager Jim Leyland wants him to cut down his swing with two strikes to reduce his strikeout total.

--Manager Jim Leyland told Detroit radio station WDFN-AM 1130 that the Tigers might have "made a mistake" last August in acquiring INF Neifi Perez to help fill the void created by an injury to 2B Placido Polanco after the All-Star break.

"We're not ripping Neifi," Leyland told a Detroit newspaper (the Free Press) when contacted to clarify his remarks later. "He was a hell of a player and we thought we were getting a similar player to that. But Neifi simply did not perform well. 'Terrible' is an exaggeration.

"We're going to look at this in spring training. If he's capable of performing, he'll be on the team. If not, obviously we made a mistake. The fact of the matter is that he did not play well in Detroit. I stand behind that. That's just a fact."

Perez, 33, hit .200 with no home runs and five RBIs in 21 regular-season games. He will be paid $2.5 million by the Tigers this year whether he plays for them or not.

Leyland, who managed Perez in Colorado, said the infielder would "have to play his way off the team." That is quite possible. The Tigers will carry two backup infielders, and one will be Omar Infante. It is between Ramon Santiago and Perez for the other spot, and Santiago earned the playing time in September and during the playoffs.

"If Neifi Perez can play like he's capable," Leyland said, "he can be a key player for us, because he can play shortstop ... when (Carlos) Guillen needs days off, and second for Poli when he needs days off. He can play better than he showed.

"I recommended that we trade for him. I take responsibility. I don't want people to get the wrong impression. I like Neifi Perez, but he did not perform well. It's that simple."

--LHP Kenny Rogers was named winner of the King Tiger Award by the Mayo Smith Society in its annual member balloting.

The award is voted on by society members based on a player's on- and off-field achievements. The organization was founded in 1983 in Washington, D.C., named after former Tigers manager Mayo Smith and claims close to 1,000 members worldwide.

Rogers won in a close vote over SS Carlos Guillen and 2B Placido Polanco. Others receiving votes included manager Jim Leyland, RHP Todd Jones, RHP Justin Verlander, RHP Jeremy Bonderman, 1B Sean Casey, 3B Brandon Inge, LF Craig Monroe and RF Magglio Ordonez.

Rogers tied Verlander for the team lead with 17 regular-season wins and had a .253 batting average allowed, lowest among Tigers starters. Voting was conducted after the World Series, which undoubtedly helped the 41-year-old lefty after he tossed 23 scoreless innings in three playoff starts, including the Tigers' only World Series victory with eight innings of two-hit ball. Only Christy Mathewson pitched more innings in a single postseason without allowing a run.

--The Tigers are optimistic about bettering their season-ticket sales total from a year ago.

Detroit was prepared to leave January nearly halfway to its total of 9,500 full season-ticket equivalents, having already sold enough packages to total 4,000 in attendance per game. The deadline for season-ticket sales renewals is Feb. 21, and single-game sales begin Mar. 3.

"We're extremely pleased," said Duane McLean, senior vice president for business affairs for the Tigers. "We just kicked off our advertising campaign, and already there's been significant growth. That's encouraging."

The Tigers offer packages ranging from 15 games through a full season and hope to better 10,000 this season.

--C Dusty Ryan, who hit .245 at low Class A West Michigan last season, has been invited to participate in spring training with the Tigers this year.

Ryan hit six home runs and drove in 35 runs in 98 games.

Teams typically like to have as many catchers in camp as they can early to catch the pitchers while they get their arms into shape.

BY THE NUMBERS: .188, .202 -- Batting averages by left-handed hitters against right-handed Detroit relievers Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney, respectively, last season. Those statistics show why the Tigers aren't overly concerned if they can't find an effective left-handed complement to LHP Wilfredo Ledezma for their bullpen this spring.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We'll have a great ring ceremony the first homestand, then you won't hear anyone talk about last year. We need to get something out in the open right now, something that people need to understand. Just because we went to the World Series last year, you don't automatically go again this year." -- RHP Todd Jones on the Tigers' attitude entering spring training.

Detroit filled its two primary offensive needs quickly, moving Nov. 10 to acquire DH Gary Sheffield from the Yankees for three minor league pitchers and getting free agent 1B Sean Casey to agree on a one-year contract to return to the Tigers six days later. The Tigers made a long-shot move to fill the hole left when LHP Jamie Walker left for Baltimore as a free agent by getting LHP Edward Campusano out of the Rule 5 draft. Veteran RHP Jose Mesa was signed to beef up middle relief.

ARRIVALS: DH Gary Sheffield (trade with Yankees), LHP Edward Campusano (Rule 5 acquisition from Cubs via Brewers), RHP Jose Mesa (free agent from Rockies).

DEPARTURES: RHP Troy Percival (retired), LHP Jamie Walker (free agent, signed with Orioles), OF Matt Stairs (free agent, signed with Blue Jays).

FREE AGENTS: OF Alexis Gomez (non-tendered).


MEDICAL WATCH: LHP Mike Maroth (left elbow surgery) made a late-season comeback after having bone chips removed on June 2 but wasn't effective enough to make the postseason roster. He needs to show a winter of rest can restore him to full duty.

RHP Roman Colon (herniated neck disk surgery) is expected to be pitching by March 1.

SS Tony Giarratano (right knee ACL surgery) could be ready by the start of spring training.

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