February 11th, 2011

Hardest-working Tiger in camp? Maybe Alex Avila

The Tigers don’t start official workouts until Monday, but most of the pitchers are already in camp. The hardest-working Tiger in the early workouts, though, might well be the starting catcher.

“It’s been a good offseason for me,” Alex Avila said Friday. “I was pumped to get down here two Mondays ago.”

Actually, he drove up here to Lakeland from Miami. He was working out there with Magglio Ordonez and Miguel Cabrera. When they went back to Venezuela for one more stretch at home, Avila headed north.

He wanted to be around to work with the pitchers — especially the ones he hasn’t caught before — and he wanted to get in some hitting work that’s easier to do in a Spring Training facility than it is somewhere else. So right now, he’s doing a lot of both.

“You’re working out and running and everything can get you ready physically,” he said, “but there’s being in good shape, and then there’s baseball shape. That’s why I come in early, to get in baseball shape. Now, if you’re in good shape, it makes it easier to get into baseball shape. I came here to start catching pitchers and getting used to squatting again.”

Since the pitchers start getting their work done around 9 a.m., Avila gets in his hitting work beforehand. On average, he’s catching two or three mound sessions a day. Add in some training work, and he’s in until early afternoon. He’ll probably get out earlier when the actual workouts get going, and the catcher roster fills out, even though he’ll catch more pitchers then. As it is, Don Kelly and some of the minor-league catchers such as Rob Brantly are helping out.

“At this point, it’s just enough to get used to the squatting and get your footwork down and everything like that,” he said. “It makes for good work up until the start of camp. And then once camp starts, it’s like pitchers everywhere. There’s like 50 guys that have to throw.”

It’s a ton of work, and not surprisingly, Avila loves it. He’s the starting catcher, and it’s tough to wipe the smile off his face.

“Honestly, it’s a shorter day than during the season,” he said. “It’s a full-time job. You know. You have to be there.”

Penny steps off plane, arrives at Spring Training

The first official workout for Tigers pitchers and catchers isn’t until
Monday, but it was hard to tell from the procession of pitchers throwing
off the back mounds at Tigertown Friday morning. Most os f the pitchers
in camp are already here. That now includes Brad Penny, who stepped off
his red-eye flight from Los Angeles to Orlando and went straight to
Lakeland for his first workout in Tigers gear.

“Couldn’t wait to get here,” Penny said Friday morning.

Considering he hasn’t pitched in a game since last May, he’s had it with
waiting. The oblique injury that ended his season early is now a thing
of the past, but the time off might pay off dividends this year. Because
he had so much time this offseason, he more this winter than usual. In
past years, he said, he’d throw one bullpen session before reporting to
camp. He has several under his belt now, though Friday wasn’t his day to throw. He worked out with the pitchers and hit the weight room.

Penny won’t need long to feel at home. He received the Spring Training
locker at the start of the pitching corridor, previously occupied by
Todd Jones and Jeremy Bonderman. Max Scherzer, Phil Coke, Jose Valverde,
Rick Porcello and Justin Verlander are down the line.

For those who were wondering, Penny will wear number 31, Zach Miner’s old digits.