January 23rd, 2010
Scott Sizemore still has some small pins in his left fibula from the surgery he underwent in the fall to repair the fracture from the Arizona Fall League. But he doesn’t have the big pins that were in place to hold everything together.
More importantly, he doesn’t have any hesitation in his belief that he’ll be ready for Spring Training in about a month.
“It feels good,” Sizemore said of his ankle. “Good range of motion. It doesn’t feel achy or anything. I’m excited to start working out.”
He’ll have to wait another week for that. The holes in his bone from where the big pins were inserted through the bone, those holes still have to fill in. From there, he’ll be cleared for more running and lateral movement.
Before those pins were removed, Sizemore said, he was hitting and taking ground balls. So this coming week will be more of a short break.
He believes he should be ready. Leyland is definitely hoping for it. He could be Leyland’s best choice for a No. 2 hitter. And they need him getting time at second base alongside Adam Everett and Ramon Santiago in Spring Training.
It’s starting to sound more and more like the Tigers’ decision on catching prospect Alex Avila is going to involve how much time he can get as a backup catcher, not how much he could share a starting role with Gerald Laird.
“We know Gerald Laird’s going to be our everyday catcher,” team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said during his question-and-answer session at TigerFest Saturday at Comerica Park.
So that takes care of that. The main question as far as the starting catching spot, then, is how much more Laird can provide offensively. On that, both Laird and the Tigers are optimistic.
“I think Gerald will hit more than he did last year,” Dombrowski said. “I was surprised that he did not hit as well. Of course, he caught and threw outstanding.”
Laird sounded surprised as well. But he also emphasized that defense and his pitchers were his focus, and they’ll continue to be a priority while he works with hitting coach Lloyd McClendon in Spring Training to hit better.
The difference will be that he already has worked with a lot of his pitchers, and he won’t have to spend as much time learning them.
“I talked with Mac about my offense,” Laird said Saturday. “I want to definitely work in the cages and work a lot in the spring. Because I know I’m capable of having a better year. Obviously, offensively I had a disappointing year, but my biggest thing last year was to come in and get these guys on the same page. With a whole new staff, 13 guys, I wanted them to want to throw to me. That was my biggest thing. And now being familiar with a lot of them, I can put more focus on my offense. I can go to the cage and do that, rather than go to the bullpen all the time and get to know these guys as much as I can.”
Laird said hitting coach Lloyd McClendon has noticed some mechanical tweaks he’d like to make to keep him level in his swing, so that he can get base hits out of some pitches he fouled off last year.
As for Avila, look for him to get a good amount of playing time in Spring Training as the Tigers try to figure out how much more seasoning he needs and whether he’s close enough that he can benefit from staying in the big leagues rather than playing every day at Triple-A Toledo.
“We’re not putting him on [the team yet], and we’re certainly not writing him off,” manager Jim Leyland said. “At the end of Spring Training, we’re going to try to weigh everything out.”
Then Leyland added another factor that probably works in Avila’s favor.
“We know what sometimes would be the best thing for a guy,” Leyland said. “But if he gives us the best chance to win games up here, he’s got to be up here. That’s just the way it is. There’s too much pressure on everybody anymore. You guys, us, Dave, the fans, they want to win. And if we think he’s the best choice to win games, even though his development may not come along as much as you want it to, we have to take him, I think. …
“The best part about it is he’s got a long Spring Training to go with us this year. He needs to catch is all. It’s just a matter of repetition and doing it.”
Jim Leyland says he doesn’t have a clue who’s going to bat leadoff for the Tigers when the season opens. But he has an idea who will probably leadoff for them when the Spring Training schedule opens in a little over five weeks.
“I assume starting off that Jackson’s going to probably lead off in Spring Training to see what he looks like,” Leyland said Saturday at TigerFest. “I’m not really sure who’s going to hit second just yet. We’ll take a look at it.”
Leyland raised the possibility that Jackson and fellow rookie Scott Sizemore could bat first and second, but Leyland also wondered aloud whether he’d want two rookies batting immediately ahead of Miguel Cabrera in the lineup.
“There’s one thing I know about Jackson: I know he’s a Major League center fielder,” Leyland said. “The question with him is how soon does he progress at the plate to become a good Major League hitter. There’s no question, I’m real comfortable that he’s going to be a very good center fielder. I’m not worried about that. His defense is going to be fine. That’s not even a question for me.
“But you can’t expect him to just come in and tear it up offensively. It’s tough. It takes time. So you have to break him in, nurse him and not throw him to the wolves. But if you’re going to play every day, you’re going to face some good Major League pitching.”
Leyland said he’ll be looking at plate discipline from Jackson, both in terms of not chasing bad pitches and his ability to take a walk. But his remarks reinforce the idea that Jackson is the closest the Tigers have to a natural leadoff man in their lineup.
“I don’t know who’s going to be the leadoff guy Opening Day. I would like it to be him,” Leyland said. “But that doesn’t mean I know who it’s going to be.”
Leyland talked a lot about the protoypical leadoff guy, much like Dombrowski did as you can see below. Leyland suggested he’s never really had that prototypical leadoff man in his managerial career, and he isn’t calling Jackson one of those guys. His point was that they’ve made it work over the years.
Just in case others thought the Tigers’ search for a left-handed bat had changed their outlook on adding a designated hitter, team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski reiterated that stance Saturday at TigerFest.
He isn’t ruling out adding a bat. But they’d better bring a glove with them.
“If we sign somebody, and we’ve said this all wintertime, we don’t want them to just DH,” Dombrowski said Saturday. “If we would ever do anything, that person needs to be primarily somebody that can play another position. Because we want to keep our DH spot open. Magglio and Carlos are in [the stage of] their careers, and even Miguel — but not to that extent — we’d like to give them a day off now and then. So for us, it’s important to be able to have that guy play another position. There are a lot of what I consider DH-type bats out there, but we’re really trying to put an emphasis on going and getting the ball and playing good defense. And so that flexibility for us is important.”
One of the questions that came out during the morning Q&A session with Dave Dombrowski was the oft-asked question about who will be Detroit’s leadoff hitter. Dombrowski said they don’t have have a traditional leadoff hitter in line for this season, but they didn’t last year, either. That drew some surprised reactions from the crowd. One fan could be heard saying, ‘Wow.’ Dombrowski clarified his remarks as he went along, then rephrased it a bit when talking with reporters later.
Here’s the quote:
“We really didn’t have a leadoff hitter last year, as far as your traditional leadoff numbers. I mean, I’m not taking away anything from Curtis’ performance, but when you look at leadoff numbers, those last year were ones where we scuffled at times, especially versus left-handers. So we didn’t have a traditional, on base percentage, high stolen bases, that type of thing out of that role. We had a guy who hit hte ball with pop in that [role], and very good. So I don’t think we’ll have the traditional leadoff hitter once again. We don’t have that type of guy. I don’t know who we’ll have hitting No. 1 at this point.”