February 16th, 2014

Spring Training Day 3: On ragball and pre-workout meetings

Detroit Tigers Workout Detroit Tigers Workout

Special thanks to Tigers team photographer Mark Cunningham, who sent over a couple of photos from the Tigers’ rag ball drill this morning that give a glimpse of the reaction workout. If there’s any difference in the Tigers’ workouts, it’s this. It’s more intense than the usual PFP (pitchers fielding practice), but it’s meant more to test the quick reactions that pitchers need on comebackers. So far, pitchers seem to be raving about it.

“I’m very happy we’re doing this,” Max Scherzer said. “We don’t get much of a reaction drill.”

It’s not that Jim Leyland didn’t try to get his pitchers into PFP. Justin Verlander always used to challenge Leyland to try to get a ground ball by him in PFP, to the point that Leyland would be smacking grounders at a pretty good rate. That was from a longer distance, though.

“It’s coming at you so fast, you have to be 100 percent on your toes,” Scherzer said.

Pitchers got such a kick out of it that Ausmus made it into a team competition, separating the roster into groups and keeping track of how many comebackers they field from infield coach Omar Vizquel and defensive coordinator Matt Martin.

“There is a prize at the end,” Ausmus said.

We’ll see how much of a difference it makes in the season, but it makes things interesting. So, too, will Kenny Rogers’ annual visit to Tigertown this week to work with pitchers on their fielding technique and holding baserunners. Rogers would have loved a drill like this, as he was a maniac fielding his position, whether in Spring Training or during the season.

“He really preaches the footwork aspect,” Scherzer said.

The other tangible difference Ausmus has brought to this camp happens before the workouts begin. Leyland made one speech to his players every spring — first before the initial pitchers/catchers workout, then before the full squad worked out for the first time. He would then have a brief meeting on the field before the workout. Ausmus has the same speech schedule, but he has met with players in the clubhouse before they head outside. They bring chairs around to one end of the clubhouse in a seminar type of layout and gather.

“It’s just a mixture of baseball discussion and some team fun,” Ausmus said.

Team fun?

“It’s really just, a lot of times, getting to know young players,” Ausmus explained. “In some sense, it’s a little bit of team building type stuff. It’s fun. We laugh at each other. We laugh at things that are happening in the world. Nothing earth-shattering. It’s a way to get to know each other. There is baseball discussion.”

This wasn’t something Ausmus picked up as a player, he said. He got it from Padres manager Bud Black, having seen it over the past few Spring Training as a special assistant. The Padres, of course, have had much younger squads than the Tigers, with fewer veteran players.

Ausmus, you may remember, was in the running for the Cubs opening. Had he taken that job, it would’ve been a much different clubhouse he inherited. He can’t say how his camp approach would’ve been different with a younger team, since he has only put his planning into this one.

“But I would say, absolutely, yeah, it would be probably a different approach if you had a young team that was developing, a few years away from winning,” he said. “You would certainly cover things differently than you would with a veteran group, especially as you go deeper into camp and you’re kind of paring down the roster.”

That said, Ausmus added, “Even with veteran guys, I know that as a veteran, I learned things about the game, or someone pointed something out that I never noticed. I make a habit of trying not to assume that somebody knows something, even if I sound like moron telling them. If you assume they know it and they don’t, then I think it’s my mistake. But if I tell them and they think I’m an idiot for telling them because it sounds elementary, I’d rather that they think I’m an idiot and have it covered.”

More notes from Sunday:

  • The unofficial reporting date for position players is Monday, so one would’ve assumed that many guys would’ve taken Sunday to enjoy the rest of their weekend before getting to work. Instead, several hitters filed into camp, including Ian Kinsler, Jose Iglesias, Austin Jackson, Torii Hunter and Danny Worth. They joined several who had already been in camp, such as Rajai Davis, Don Kelly and Daniel Fields. Together, they had enough of a group to begin unofficial workouts and take batting practice on the back fields. Even Ausmus was surprised and impressed by how many players were already around. It’s different from team to team, but the Tigers have had this culture of early reporting for a while. Reporting day has been a mythological date around these parts for at least the last five years.
  • Ausmus sounded a bit like Leyland when asked today about Bruce Rondon and how he compares to the hardest throwers he caught. “He’s certainly up there, probably 10 people I caught who throw as hard as him,” Ausmus said. “But just because you throw hard doesn’t mean you’re an instant success. Everyone loves velocity. They want to see triple digits. Doesn’t mean you’re going to be an excellent pitcher. … Matt Anderson was here at about 102. He got injured. So there’s nothing guaranteeing success because you throw hard. Velocity doesn’t guarantee anything. It just gives you a little bit more margin of error.”
  • Good news for anyone making the trip to Tigertown to watch workouts this coming week: The Cirque Italia wrapped up on Sunday, meaning there should be many more parking spots available. No offense to the circus, but it caused its share of confusion, including to Kinsler, who wasn’t sure if he was at the right place when he pulled in. Drew VerHagen planned on heading over and asking them about the show (not to be confused with The Show).

Kinsler arrives at Tigers camp

It took a little longer than planned, because the circus tents in the parking lot can prove a little confusing, but Ian Kinsler rolled into Spring Training this morning, making his physical presence with the Tigers for the first time since the early offseason trade that sent him from Texas to Detroit. He also talked at length with reporters for the first time since his November conference call following the trade.

Among the highlights:

  • Kinsler long suspected a trade was coming, based on the Rangers’ glut of middle infielders, last year’s contract extension to Elvis Andrus, the team’s recent history, the front-office history and the never-ending rumors.
  • Kinsler’s 10-team no-trade list that he had in Texas centered around non-contending teams. “The teams that were left off were teams I thought had a great chance to win,” Kinsler said, “and Detroit was at the top of the [contender] list among AL teams.”
  • Kinsler dropped about 10 pounds from his frame because he no longer has to worry about losing weight during the summer in the Texas heat, and because his running game could be more of a premium skill in the big dimensions of Comerica Park. “I want to go back to where I’m a line-drive hitter,” he said. “It’s spacious [at CoPa].”
  • After the trade, Kinsler talked with Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia about playing alongside Jose Iglesias. Pedroia told him to keep his glove up or else he could get his teeth knocked out by a strong, quick throw. “He said, ‘Iggy’s special, you’re going to have a lot of fun,'” Kinsler said.

Adam Berry has the full story here.

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