February 15th, 2013

Friday’s notes: About that closer, coach Leyland …

Say this for Jim Leyland: If he wanted to show his patience with the media, his closer situation is giving him a pretty good test.

When camp opened earlier this week, Leyland tried to make his point from the get-go that he wouldn’t give daily updates on rookie Bruce Rondon or the Tigers’ closer situation in general. Since then, he has gotten a new question about it from a new set of writers each day, including Friday.

Another question didn’t take place during his media session, but Leyland said he was asked by somebody at some point what he thought of Rondon as the closer so far. Whoever asked it, Leyland said, also called him coach.

That’s a brutal reference for a lot of managers. Leyland, however, said he brushed it off.

“Coach never offends me,” Leyland said. “A lot of people take offense, but I don’t care.”

This is not the response one would expect from a supposed old-school manager.

Football, basketball and hockey teams have head coaches. College, high school and other amateur baseball teams have head coaches. Baseball teams also have hitting coaches, pitching coaches, base coaches and bullpen coaches. Many have strength and conditioning coaches. A few of them even have batting practice coaches. But at the professional level, the guy in charge is the manager, not the head coach.

The only other major sport where you commonly hear the term “manager” used is European football (soccer) when referring to some director or general manager duties, but also the on-field duties of the head coach.

That started a discussion.

“That doesn’t bother me at all,” Leyland said. “I know it affects some guys. I don’t give a care. What’s the difference? Who cares? I know I’m the manager. At least, I think I know.”

The rest of the first day of full-squad workouts wasn’t as busy as expected, simply because the weather forced the Tigers indoors for a lot of work. Other than playing catch and running a little, position players spent the morning in the indoor batting cages.

With that in mind, other notes from Friday …

  • As exciting as Spring Training can be for young players trying to make the team, there might be few players more excited to be here than Octavio Dotel. For the first time since 2008-2009, the well-traveled reliever did not have to change teams between seasons. “It’s very special,” Dotel said Friday morning, “and hopefully at the trade deadline [in July] I’m not going to be on the news.”
  • Count Dotel, by the way, among the Tigers raving about Rondon, but not for the physical attributes. “The good thing,” Dotel said, “is he listens.” Dotel has been talking with him about the attributes of a good closer. The key, he said, is to relax when you enter a game and be able to control your adrenaline.
  • Kenny Rogers arrived at camp Friday afternoon after workouts. The former Tigers starter expected to begin his guest instruction on Saturday, working with pitchers on fielding and holding baserunners. At age 48, he does not look different than he did when he retired in 2008.
  • As Friday’s main story on the home page explains, Miguel Cabrera arrived at camp not looking to rest on the laurels of a Triple Crown. As he talked about his focus in offseason workouts, it became clear he wants to do more at third base. He concentrated his efforts on lower-body strength and quickness, and he wants to get a better first step when he moves side-to-side so that he can get to more ground balls. He’s going to do the same extra work taking grounders early in the morning that he did last spring, until he heads out to the World Baseball Classic to play for Team Venezuela.
  • The lower-body strength is also interesting when you keep in mind that he’ll turn 30 years old in April. As players age, the same weight that they handled well when they were younger can become a burden on the knees. Considering he has been in the big leagues since he was 20, Cabrera has been amazingly durable his entire career, not just with Detroit. This could be a big step towards staying that way.