March 3rd, 2012

Game 1: Fielder can hit, not just homer

After weeks of anticipation, the Tigers finally unveiled their new-look middle of the order against Major League competition on Saturday, lining up Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder back-to-back for pitchers to try to handle. They didn’t go deep — minor-league signing Jerad Head had the game’s lone homer — but Prince Fielder didn’t miss beat, producing two singles a walk in his three plate appearances.

It was a comfortable move to a new lineup, much like everything else about his move so far.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Prince said Friday of his Tiger tenure to date. “This is a great group of guys.”

Granted, $214 million can make a lot of places feel comfortable. But as history has shown, it can make a bad place feel worse. So far, Fielder has fit in like he has been here for two years. It has been a natural fit.

Granted, it’s just one big-league spring training game and one exhibition, but he looks comfortable at the plate. His first home run in a Detroit uniform (as an adult, at least) is still to come, but he has yet to make an out in four plate appearances. Saturday’s game saw two quality hits on ground balls — one a well-placed bouncer through the middle, the other a nice shot through the right side.

Against Florida Southern on Friday, Fielder pulled a double just inside first base and down the right-field line in his lone at-bat for an RBI.

For all official purposes, Fielder will make his Lakeland spring training debut Sunday against these same Braves (weather permitting). And with a good crowd expected, he should get quite a reception, louder than what he got the last couple days (though those were good, too — even at Disney, where every sound effect, every word spoken on a microphone, seems to be loud).

It has been a good atmosphere for Fielder, on the field and in the clubhouse.

“I don’t think anybody here doesn’t like to work hard,” Fielder said. “That’s nice to see.”

What we learned: Brandon Inge can pick it at second base.

What to remember from Game 1: That lingering doubt that Inge could make the shift from third base to second at age 34 with more bulk than before (and I admit, I had it coming in) is hurting right now. On Friday, Jim Leyland said that from everything he’s seen, Inge will play second base fine. On Saturday, Inge went out and made two outstanding plays up the middle — one a diving catch, the other a nice scoop and shovel flip behind second base. Whether Inge makes it now rides on whether he hits; his fielding is no question.

Hey, it’s only spring training: The Tigers took a no-hitter into the eighth inning, which sounds great until you consider how many pitchers combined to do it. When the Marlins no-hit the Tigers on March 23, 2009 at Joker Marchant Stadium, Ricky Nolasco flat-out dominated them for seven innings, though the Tigers lineup still hadn’t gotten back Miguel Cabrera, Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen from the World Baseball Classic at that point.

How much suspense was there about Saturday’s no-hit bid? Not enough to keep most of the starters around to battle Disney traffic once they were out of the game.

The highlight play you may have missed: Clete Thomas wants back on the Tigers roster, and the Tigers still think highly of him. His acrobatic catch while flipping over the bullpen fence in the first inning, and his running catch into foul territory in left field later, were good signs for somebody less than two years separated from microfracture surgery on his knee.

Non-game note of the day: The Tigers sold more than 66,000 tickets on Saturday, the first day single-game tickets went on sale. Online sales accounted for a good amount of them, but there were more than a thousand fans waiting in line on a snowy, windy Saturday morning for their first big reason to look ahead to spring.

Looking ahead: The Tigers will field pretty close to a regular lineup Sunday against the Braves in the Lakeland end of this home-and-home series. They’ll also trot out Max Scherzer in his first spring start. Game time is 1:05 on the Tigers radio network and MLB.com Gameday.

To-do list for tomorrow: Find out how opposing hitters react to Max Scherzer’s two-seam fastball.

Quote of the day: “We’re starting to come together, boys.” — Jim Leyland joking with his players in the Tigers clubhouse after Saturday’s 2-0 victory.

Opening Day tickets sell out in 45 minutes

Apparently the weather around Michigan had little impact on the unofficial holiday that the first day of Tigers single-season ticket sales has become on the first Saturday in March. The available tickets for Opening Day on April 5 against the Red Sox sold out in about 45 minutes once they went on sale at 10 a.m. ET.

The Tigers were ready for a crush of fans at the Comerica Park box office ahead of time, making 1,000 numbered wristbands available — twice the number given out in previous years — for fans to pick up Friday afternoon and evening and then line up Saturday morning, rather than staying overnight in harsh conditions. More than a thousand fans were lined up around the ballpark by the time tickets went on sale.

Between online sales at tigers.com, phone sales at 866-66-TIGER and in-person sales at the box office as well as at Hockeytown Authentics in Troy, the Tigers sold 66,334 tickets by 5:45 p.m., shortly before the close of business at the Comerica Park box office.

The Tigers still have a limited number for Opening Day tickets set aside for fans who wish to buy season-ticket packages, available with the purchase of an 81-, 41-, 28- or 27-game ticket plan. Visit tigers.com/tickets or call 313-471-BALL (2255) for more details.

Saturday: Tigers at Braves

The Major League portion of the Tigers’ spring training schedule gets underway today at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex, and it looks like there should be a very big crowd. Most of the Tigers’ regulars are on the road trip. The exceptions are catcher Alex Avila, second baseman Ryan Raburn and left fielder Delmon Young.

A general trend on the Tigers’ road trips in spring training: If they’re playing around Orlando or on the east coast, a lot of the players who stay out towards Orlando will probably make the trip. Fielder, for one, lives in the area in the offseason.

If, on the other hand, the Tigers are playing in the Tampa area, that might be a day for some of those guys to get a trip off. Raburn, on the other hand, stays around the Tampa area. So does Clete Thomas, but he’s on the trip today, so it’s not a set formula.

Good news for the Tigers today: The Braves agreed to use the DH today. When it’s a spring training game with an AL road team and an NL home team, the AL team can request it, and the NL team can either grant or deny it. This early in the spring, it seems more likely for a team to grant it.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Brennan Boesch, RF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B
  5. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  6. Clete Thomas, LF
  7. Brandon Inge, 2B
  8. Gerald Laird, C
  9. Jerad Head, DH

Pitchers: Doug Fister, Chris Bootcheck, Collin Balester, David Pauley, Luis Marte, Daniel Schlereth, Phil Coke.

BRAVES

  1. Michael Bourn, CF
  2. Martin Prado, LF
  3. Chipper Jones, 3B
  4. Brian McCann, C
  5. Dan Uggla, 2B
  6. Eric Hinske, 1B
  7. Jason Heyward, RF
  8. Matt Diaz, DH
  9. Tyler Pastornicky, SS

P: Mike Minor, Christhian Martinez, Anthony Varvaro, Arodys Vizcaino, Adam Russell, Erik Cordier.

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