Thoughts from Leyland’s busy arrival
Tigers manager Jim Leyland doesn’t usually arrive here in Lakeland until the a day or two before the first official workout. The fact that Leyland reported Thursday, 2-3 days earlier than usual, was a big surprise. The fact that he did it in good spirits said a lot.
“I can’t say I’ve ever looked forward to a spring as much as this one,” Leyland said.
He said that soon after he said this: “I have a lot of business to take care of — big business.”
Leyland has a good team, and he knows it. He also knows he has a team that has a lot of potential issues to work out if they’re going to be really good, and a lot of questions to answer. What to do with Brandon Inge was already on the list. His move to second base adds a whole new facet to that.
Inge has never played second base in the big leagues, or the minors. He was a shortstop in college. He has demonstrated enough times that he’s a natural athlete, but even for him, this is a new one. And he’ll be trying it at age 34.
All he learned on the left side of the infield, he’s going to have to think in reverse. He’ll have to learn to turn the double play again, only on the blind side. He’ll have to know to cover the bag on relays from left field. He’ll have to develop a working knowledge with Prince Fielder on who goes for ground balls in the hole on the right side.
Inge’s athleticism, even at his age, will get him through quite a bit of this. He’s going to have to learn some more to really make it stick.
Oh, and he has to hit.
Keep in mind, this idea came from Inge. His agents knew about it and discussed it with the Tigers as well. It isn’t out of financial reasons; he has $6 million coming this year ($5.5 million salary, plus $500,000 buyout) no matter what happens from here. This is him trying to find a role.
Huge challenge? You bet. Impossible? I’m learning my lesson not to say that around the Tigers this winter, and I wouldn’t have said it here anyway.
In any case, what do the Tigers have to lose? They’re paying him the same either way, and Leyland said he’ll get Ryan Raburn the games he needs at second. Ramon Santiago will lose the most, but as Leyland pointed out, he has no question whether Santiago can be ready at second.
Believe it or not, there were other tidbits coming out of Leyland’s interview Thursday:
- Leyland gave a target on Miguel Cabrera’s weight: “I want him at about 255.” Last reports suggested Cabrera will report at around that weight. Leyland suggested that’s about the weight he carried a few years ago. “I think that retains all his strength,” Leyland said, “plus gets him more quickness.”
- Leyland said he’ll monitor how Cabrera is doing at third base.
- Expect a lot more talk about increased intensity in early camp workouts, especially for the defense. Leyland wants to get closer to game speed than usual so that he can prepare Cabrera and Inge for what they might see.
- Both Leyland and pitching coach Jeff Jones reiterated Thursday that they don’t want their fifth starter candidates treating this camp like a competition. “Don’t think of spring training like you’re trying to make the team,” Leyland said. “Think of spring training like you’re preparing yourself to get in the best possible shape to get ready to pitch wherever you’re supposed to pitch.”
- Leyland’s reasoning on this: “Sometimes you don’t see the real guy if they know that they’re in that position. They go out first outing, they give up two or three runs and [they think], ‘Well, I’m done. I’ve got no chance to make it.’”
- Another reminder from Leyland that Clete Thomas has a chance to make the team: “He’s an interesting guy for me who certainly hasn’t been written off by me. What’s he going to look like coming back healthy? This guy was a good player. … I think Thomas is a good, exciting player. I’ve always liked what he can do.”