February 12th, 2009

Leyland checks in

Manager Jim Leyland arrived at the spring training complex around late afternoon and talked with a few reporters who were waiting around for him. From the get-go, there was the sense that he had been waiting anxiously for camp to start, which he reinforced the more he talked.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” he said. “I really can’t think of any [spring training] I’ve looked forward to more than this one.”

Asked why, he said, “It goes back to last year. I like little motivational things like that. Those things get my blood going.”

As he got going Thursday, he laid out a landscape for how this camp is going to play out. He repeated his statement that he has four starters and some candidates fighting for the other spot in the rotation, but he said he doesn’t want to give status updates as camp goes along. He said it’s “one of my prayers” that either Nate Robertson or Dontrelle Willis, or both, gets back to their old form.

On Joel Zumaya, who made no secret Wednesday of his desire to fight for the closer’s role, Leyland made it clear he wants to take it cautiously with him. Asked if Zumaya could close off the bat if he’s healthy, Leyland said, “I don’t know about that.”

At the same time, Leyland emphasized that he thinks Zumaya and Brandon Inge are going to be two of the most important pieces on the team. But with Zumaya coming back from injury, Leyland said he wants to Zumaya to pitch three innings at a time this spring to stretch out his arm once he’s ready, rather than simply pitching a bunch of one-inning outings.

He also hinted, though, that he might not have one set closer when the team breaks camp. “That would be a nice bonus if we can do that,” Leyland said.

On his lineup, Leyland gave an early idea on how he sees it playing out:

  1. Granderson, CF
  2. Polanco, 2B
  3. Ordonez, RF
  4. Cabrera, 1B
  5. Guillen, LF
  6. Sheffield, DH
  7. Laird, C
  8. Inge, 3B or Everett, SS
  9. Everett, SS or Inge, 3B

“I think we’re still a little bit lopsided right-handed,” Leyland said, “but they’re pretty good right-handed hitters.”

Leyland hinted that having another left-handed hitter as good as their right-handed hitters would help balance it out. He also gave a little nod to Jeff Larish as a strong candidate for the roster.

“Is he going to be on the team? He’s got a very good chance,” Leyland said. “Is he etched in stone? No.”