March 8th, 2007

Notes from Sarasota

If you want to get an idea how loose the Tigers are this spring, Fernando Rodney’s at-bat might be the best example yet. It was an unexpected situation brought on when Jim Leyland had to remove Nate Robertson when he reached his pitch count in the middle of the third inning. Rodney finished the inning, but his spot in the lineup came up in the fourth. And Rodney, as anyone who saw him try to hit in Chicago last June knows, fancies himself as a hitter.

His impression of Gary Sheffield’s bat waggle wasn’t a mockery, but it was priceless. His ability to break two bats topped that, until he almost got a hit. Then Leyland did his impression of Rodney afterwards.

It goes without saying that any manager wants his players focused on the task at hand, especially when they’re trying to get in their work in the spring. But Leyland also wants his players loose, and Rodney’s at-bat was a improvised moment of brevity. It didn’t look as good when Adam Dunn homered off of Rodney leading off the next half-inning, but Rodney settled down to strike out another couple batters.

This is a position the Tigers aren’t used to finding themselves in. Usually there are jobs up for grabs, pitchers are trying to make impressions, and the Tigers are trying to find some confidence. That’s really not a factor now, and this is generally a team that’s enjoying itself.

Other news:

  • Don’t take Robertson’s early exit as a sign of his outing. His slider was especially nasty, he said, and Leyland was impressed. He did not throw his changeup as much as in his previous outing. Leyland made a mound visit to see how he felt since he was nearing his pitch count, then took him out before the next at-bat. Robertson was happy with how he threw, but wasn’t entirely happy with his at-bat, a strikeout on a foul bunt when he was trying to advance a runner.
  • Remember Joel Zumaya’s curveball for a called third strike Monday against Yankees first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz? His curveball Thursday was nastier, tighter and with more movement, IMHO. It was the kind of curveball you don’t need a 100 mph fastball to have it be effective.
  • Gary Sheffield played in the field for the first time this spring, starting in left field with Craig Monroe not on the trip.
  • Maybin had a mad dash down the first-base line to beat out a squibber in the later innings, reminding everyone of his speed.
  • Leyland said that Wilfredo Ledezma had a good first inning of relief, then seemed to lose his concentration in the second. That’s something he’ll need to work on if the Tigers hope to use him as a situational reliever. When asked about it, Leyland cautioned that he never said Ledezma would be a situational guy.
  • For those who haven’t seen it, Major League Baseball finally announced its deal with DirecTV for the Extra Innings package. In response to the recent backlash, the deal allows cable companies and DISH Network a chance to pick up rights if they match the terms and carry the upcoming baseball channel. Given the reaction of one provider in the AP story, I would be surprised if any other outlet steps up.

I’m not on the trip to Port St. Lucie tomorrow, so I’ll be back on Saturday.