January 23rd, 2013

Leyland talks Smyly, Porcello, Dirks, Boesch, Garcia, Peralta at Hens Fandemonium

The 2013 Tigers winter caravan is unofficially underway with the Toledo Mud Hens Fandemonium and the West Michigan Whitecaps Winter Banquet. Here in Toledo, Jim Leyland has had his interview, his first with the local media since the winter meetings a month and a half ago. And as usual, he touched upon a lot of topics:

  • Leyland correctly figures he’ll be asked more about the closer situation than anything else this week, and he said he’ll be following Bruce Rondon while he works this spring. One thing he’ll be trying to do is get an idea how he reacts to save opportunities, especially how he reacts after a bad outing. That, he said, will be the key to how he handles the job when the season begins. He’s hoping that opening the season on the road in Minnesota will allow him to get a save opportunity in without the pressure of the home crowd on him.
  • Leyland suggested he could ease Rondon in on the job. “We’ll give him an opportunity,” Leyland said. “We’re not going to get crazy with it. Hopefully he’ll save a couple, and if he looks real good, save another one, and if he looks a little fragile, maybe use someone else for a day and maybe break him in. It’s tough to do that with a closer, but I think you just use common sense and play it by ear.”
  • Leyland set the stage for a competition between Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly for the fifth spot in the rotation assuming the Tigers don’t make a move. “Smyly’s really good. I really like him, but Porcello’s really good too,” Leyland said. “I just wouldn’t be saying just turn the job over to Smyly automatically. Let’s just see what happens. Competition is great. I love competition.”
  • Leyland also suggested that the loser in the starting competition would have a spot open in the bullpen if he has his way. “Right now, if Smyly was the starter, as we stand right now, Porcello would be some sort of safety valve for us in the bullpen,” Leyland said. “If Porcello’s the starter, Smyly would be the left-hander in the bullpen right now, most likely, unless something would come up where they’d want him to go out and pitch more. That’s a nice luxury, but that’s a simple one. That’s not hard at all. I know we’ve got six. We probably don’t have seven right now.”
  • Another competition is going to be in left field, where Brennan Boesch (again, if the Tigers don’t make a move) will get his shot to beat out Andy Dirks. “I think you’re going to see Boesch and Dirks competing,” Leyland said. “I think that’s great. Brennan Boesch has done some pretty good things. Andy Dirks has done some pretty good things. So as this team stands right now, let’s compete.”
  • Leyland on Avisail Garcia’s situation in camp: “Well, I’ll put that one as an I-don’t-know,” Leyland said. “He hasn’t done very well in winter ball. He hasn’t hit very good. First of all, I’ll preface it by saying he’s a terrific prospect with the potential maybe to be a star player. And I think what we’ll have to decide, my boss will let me know, if he doesn’t want to take him and play him part time and not get enough at-bats. Obviously, he’s not going to be the everyday left fielder, most likely, at least not right now. So that’ll be a decision: Will he be that extra right-hander to platoon a little bit out there, or would we rather him play at Toledo and get a lot of at-bats? I don’t really know the answer just yet.”
  • Leyland stopped short of saying Dirks would be an everyday player, citing a concern about wearing him down. “I think you’d be pushing it to say that you could play him every day right now,” Leyland said. “I mean, I could, but you might get better results playing him most of the time. If him and Boesch compete for that spot in left field, who knows? Let’s open up the competition.”
  • Leyland sounded encouraged by the reports about Jhonny Peralta’s offseason work in south Florida. “Peralta’s going to look real good when he comes in,” Leyland said. “Peralta’s got a chance to play good.”
  • When asked if Boesch has a clean slate this year after a 2012 season to forget, Leyland said, “We all come in with a clean slate. Every one of us. Nobody care that we swept the Yankees.”
  • Leyland is not concerned about losing Miguel Cabrera, Anibal Sanchez and (likely) Omar Infante to the World Baseball Classic.
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