February 14th, 2011

Day 1 notes: Leyland targets Valverde for PFP

Remember Jim Leyland’s running challenge to Justin Verlander on PFP grounders in workouts last spring training? Leyland would crow whenever he got a ground ball past Verlander, who’s competitive enough that he wants to win at that. Kept waiting to see if they renewed the challenge Monday, the first day of spring workouts, but Leyland found a new target for his fun: Jose Valverde.

“I set you up, baby! And I can do it again if I want,” Leyland bragged when he got a tricky ground ball past his closer.

“Anytime I want. Just a little on, a little off,” he said after another one.

Valverde loved it. He had a good laugh whenever Leyland said it. And then he came up with some pretty impressive grabs for a Big Potato.

Leyland loved that, too.

“He’s a fun guy,” Leyland said of Valverde after the workout. “He’s really got one of the better personalities I’ve ever been around. And I guess when you’re that big and strong, it’s probably a good thing you’ve got a good personality.

“He’s legitimately fun to be around. I like him a lot.”

Leyland also likes the PFP drills a lot, because the way they set it up, pitchers see a good number of ground balls without a lot of standing around. They separate the pitchers into groups and split them onto the four back fields of the Tigertown complex, then rotate them around. Each field emphasizes a different area.

“I think it’s a good drill,” Leyland said. “And I will do it for as long as I manage.”

Other things worth noting on the first day of official workouts:

  • Leyland mentioned this as a key camp for Tigers pitching prospects Andy Oliver, Jacob Turner and Charlie Furbush, even though their chances of making the team out of camp are slim (Furbush might have a better chance as a potential lefty reliever). Barring injuries, they won’t be part of the starting five, but they stand as the Tigers’ best options for insurance starters if somebody gets hurt, either here or during the season. “We want these guys to start this process today to get themselves prepared to get as close as they can,” Leyland said. “And if something does come up, maybe somebody is ready by the camp.”
  • For someone with such a key role on this team, Austin Jackson had possibly the quietest entrance of any potential star player this spring, which probably says a lot about how much he has learned in his second year. He showed up Monday morning after the clubhouse had emptied and pitchers and catchers had taken the field, then got in his work.
  • Among the arrivals Monday was Max St. Pierre, who reported to camp noticeably lighter. That wasn’t by design. He said he had two bouts of stomach virus and the flu, the combination of which dropped 15 pounds off his frame. He’s fine now, but he wants to regain some of that weight before the season starts.
  • Speaking of weight loss, Joel Zumaya said he’s down to 230 pounds, but wants to put on some weight before the season starts. “I want to be at the 240 range,” he said. “I’m at 230-231. But that’s just getting muscle and eating a little more. … If I can stay between 235 and 240, I think I’m good.”
  • In case you were wondering, Don Kelly was not among the catchers who took their place for bullpen sessions Monday morning. He was working with the other position players. That’s fine, because Leyland said a month ago that Kelly didn’t have to report with the catchers. Kelly was here early by his own choice.
  • Remember the ill-fated mohawk idea that went through the Tigers clubhouse last year? Detroit’s bullpen might have a replacement for it. Because right now, there are a lot of beards among the relievers, and not many plans to shave them anytime soon. Zumaya has pretty much a full beard and says he’s keeping it when the season starts. Schlereth has a beard fit for his native Alaska. Ryan Perry has a bit of one going. If it catches on, it’ll be a little cleaner looking than the mohawk one.

Guillen: I feel good, not sure about Opening Day yet

Most years, Carlos Guillen has come to Spring Training around the reporting date for pitchers and catchers. He hasn’t been lazy about his workouts at all. He just hasn’t been an early arrival. He was one on Monday.

It was the day pitchers and catchers held their first formal workout, officially starting off the Tigers’ 75th Spring Training in Lakeland, Fla. But it was also the day for Guillen to check in and meet with head athletic trainer Kevin Rand, who will work with the rest of the team medical staff to give Guillen a game plan for his return from microfracture surgery on his left knee.

Nobody — not Guillen, nor Rand, nor manager Jim Leyland — wants to project anymore about his chances of being active for Opening Day. But so far, Guillen says, he’s feeling all right.

“I feel good,” he said Monday morning. “I’ve been swinging the bat with no problem, both sides.”

The big thing is that he’s in good spirits. He isn’t yet running, but he said he hopes to be cleared for that later this week or next. The confidence he seems to be getting from organizational people should give him some job security for when he gets back.

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