March 8th, 2012

Game 5: Tigers remain unbeaten

Jim Leyland says each spring training before the games start that he has three goals in mind:

  1. Get the Major League roster ready to play.
  2. Try to get a look at some of the prospects in camp.
  3. Play close to .500 ball so that the fans don’t get nervous.

They’re playing a lot better than that for the first handful of games, which is doing nothing to temper expectations for the regular season.

Normally, when a team goes on a dominant stretch of play in spring training, it means the team has more depth in prospects and minor-league free agents than other clubs. And to be fair, Quintin Berry helped win a game for the Tigers a couple days ago with a two-run triple. But for the most part, this run the Tigers are on centers around a starting lineup — including eight RBIs on three hits in three games from Ryan Raburn — and a pretty stingy pitching staff.

They’re scoring a good number of their runs in the early innings against the Major League portion of their opponents’ rosters. Of course, most of those runs came on that windy Sunday afternoon against the Braves, and against one of baseball’s best pitching prospects.

Take away Sunday’s 18-3 win, and the Tigers have still won four games by a 14-4 margin, not counting Florida Southern. They’ve allowed just seven runs all spring, and two of them came in the eighth inning of that 18-3 game.

“We’re doing OK,” Leyland said. “What I like we’re getting some guys in there and everybody’s getting their work in. I mean, you always want to win games, but I don’t care that we’re 4-0 or whatever we are. You always want to play around .500. We’re OK win-wise, but we’ve got a lot of work. We’re getting a lot of work in. That’s good.”

What we learned: Miguel Cabrera can handle a slow roller.

What to remember from Game 5: Jacob Turner, for all the poise he shows, is still just 20. So if he falls out of form, like he did Wednesday, he might have more trouble getting back into it when he knew he only had a couple innings. At the same time, Andy Oliver is looking early like he’s moving on from last year.

Hey, it’s only Spring Training: If you thought that Miguel Cabrera’s 0-for-8 start was the sign of a longer slump, that maybe he would have trouble hitting at a lower weight, your concerns might have been a bit premature. Not only did Cabrera go deep for his first hit of the spring Wednesday, he hit it all the way over the left-field berm. He’s 1-for-10 so far this spring, but the lone hit was impressive.

The highlight play you missed: It wasn’t necessarily a highlight play, but for Cabrera’s transition to third base, Tyler Pastornicky’s slow roller was an important one. Cabrera had to charge in, but at the same time, he also took into account the lesson he learned the other day about not rushing a play, fielding and throwing with just enough time to get the out.

Looking ahead: The Tigers will potentially get a look at former teammates Fernando Rodney and Will Rhymes on Thursday, taking on a Rays split-squad at Port Charlotte. Doug Fister will get the start, with fifth starter candidate Duane Below among those pitching in relief.

To-do list for Thursday: Watch Fister take on much the same Rays squad that he shut down for a critical win last August.

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