February 10th, 2013
Justin Verlander will report to Spring Training with pretty good bragging rights about his golf game, having done more than holding his own in the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. He and PGA Tour pro Robert Garrigus teamed up for a 13th-place finish, five strokes off the lead and two strokes out of a top-10 finish.
After making the cut Saturday with a third-round 63, Verlander and Garrigus carried their momentum with a solid final round on the Pebble Beach course for a second straight day, threatening the top 10 before a bogey at the end cost them. They finished in a three-way tie for 13th at 26-under, tied with 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh and businessman David Novak.
Verlander beat out Matt Cain, who didn’t make Saturday’s cut. Whether that gives Verlander top billing for baseballers at Pebble Beach this year depends on how folks consider Astros owner Jim Crane, who finished tied for third.
Verlander, whose competitiveness has been known to carry over to the golf course, seemed to have a good time with it this weekend, if his Twitter feed is any indication. He snapped off several pictures along the way, and talked about playing catch with his caddy on the fairway at hole #1 Saturday. That should be good news for pitching coach Jeff Jones, who had talked with Verlander about maintaining his throwing program while he was away this week.
No word yet on when Verlander joins the team in Lakeland. Though Monday is technically reporting day for Tigers pitchers and catchers, Verlander already reported, having worked out at the ballpark for several days before this past week.
Dave Dombrowski was settling into his office at Joker Marchant Stadium on Sunday morning and taking text messages from his family asking what the weather is like in Lakeland. It was headed towards 80 degrees on a sunny day when he answered.
His temperature on his team was pretty similar. Asked what he wants to see out of the Tigers this spring, he said his main concern is health.
“If we stay healthy, I’ll take our chances,” he said.
He said that fully knowing the questions they have to answer this spring. Big picture, however, he likes where they’re at, barring any significant losses. He was in a good enough mood that he had a lengthy conversation with reporters who were waiting around for someone to talk to on a morning when there were very few players around.
He is not writing Bruce Rondon in pen as the Opening Day closer just yet, but in noting him as the leading candidate, he expressed confidence that Rondon can answer the questions he needs to take on this spring.
Some of them, like how Rondon will handle the pressure of a big-league save, will be tough to answer. How he’ll handle big league hitters will take some tweaking to set up, and Dombrowski left open the possibility that Rondon could pitch early in some games this spring to make sure he faces hitters from teams’ Major League starting lineups.
In terms of his stuff and his makeup, Dombrowski feels confident. He would’ve been in the big leagues last September, Dombrowski said, except they didn’t feel they needed a one-inning reliever at the time. That, obviously, was before Jose Valverde completely fell apart, though Valverde struggled down the stretch.
“Is there some risk? Sure, there’s always some risk,” Dombrowski said. “But when people say, ‘Aw, they’re crazy. They don’t know,’ it’s like, how many times have you seen him pitch? What do you know about him yourselves? Where do you get this information, other than tradition? But tradition would have led you to say the same things about all those other guys. But I understand it, because it really comes down to: Anytime you’re not established, question marks surround you. …
“Pick an established closer — a decent closer, not a top-of-the-line guy. Don’t you have some question marks about that guy coming into the season? I know I do, unless you have a dominant type of guy, and they’re hard to find. … Again, we’re not anointing him, but I think he’ll be fine.”
One reason Dombrowski cited, beyond the 102 mph fastball, is that he has other pitches he can use effectively. Another reason is his behavior from the minor leagues.
“I do know that we know his personality enough, even from the minor leagues, when he blew a save, he’d come back the next day and he was fine,” Dombrowski said. “We know that he likes the ball in the ninth inning, he’s not afraid to pitch inside — I mean, a lot of those things that are important. Now, is it different at the big leagues? Sure, it’s always different, but that’s the best you can do in developing games to try to replicate those situations in the minors. That’s what development is about. Again, you never know until a guy does it.”
Other notes from Dombrowski’s conversation:
- No answer yet on whether Justin Verlander will pitch for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. Dombrowski downplayed concern about it to an extent, noting that pitch counts and workloads are so managed that it wouldn’t be much different than what he would be doing in his second or third start of the spring in a Tigers uniform. “With the limitations that they have, I’m not worried about him getting overworked,” Dombrowski said. “It would be very similar to what he would be doing at the same time here.”
- When talking about the need for a right-handed hitter off the bench that can play the outfield, especially if Brennan Boesch makes the club, Dombrowski mentioned Danny Worth and Jeff Kobernus. “Jim [Leyland] usually will want a guy that’s a right-handed hitter like that,” Dombrowski said. “And who knows, the guy might not be in camp, but you have guys. Worth has played some outfield. Kobernus can play some outfield. Those are a couple guys that would be candidates to do that.” Worth has a game of experience in left field from Triple-A Toledo last year. Kobernus has none, but the Tigers took him in the Rule 5 Draft with the idea of outfield capability.
- Dirks “is on the club,” as Dombrowski put it. In other words, if Boesch makes it, it won’t be at Dirks’ expense.
- Add Dirks with other guys with spots on the team, and you’re talking about two open spots with a handful of candidates. “It’s really a situation where you have two other guys,” Dombrowski said, “so how do you mix and match them? You would think that Boesch, Berry, Worth, Kobernus, and I’m sure I’m missing somebody, but those are guys that would be candidates.”
- Dombrowski reiterated that he does not envision Boesch being optioned to the minors unless there’s an unanticipated situation that requires a short-term move. “I don’t think there would be anything to gain by us sending him to Triple-A,” Dombrowski said. “He’s had enough time.”
- Look for baserunning consultant Jeff Cox to spend about two or three weeks at camp working with Austin Jackson, Andy Dirks and others, mainly on basestealing. He’ll then make periodic visits during the season with the big club. He will not visit the minor-league teams.