Game 1: All of the green lights
Before Brad Ausmus embarked upon his Grapefruit League debut as Tigers manager, he was asked how he wanted people to view his team.
“If someone came up to me and said, ‘We like the way the Tigers play baseball. They play baseball the right way,’ that would be good,” Ausmus said. “It’s battling for your life with two strikes. It’s finding a way on the mound without your best stuff to get guys out. You can see those things. It’s not giving up on a fly ball in the gap, running it down, or keeping the runner from going an extra base.”
It’s also aggressiveness. And after one Spring Training game (not including the Florida Southern exhibition), that’s what people are talking about with the Tigers.
The Tigers stole 35 bases for the entire 2013 regular season. They stole 17 bases last Spring Training. They stole four bases on Wednesday, including a double steal, setting up three of their six runs. Their game-winning rally in the ninth consisted of a leadoff walk, back-to-back bunts (one for a base hit, the other for a sacrifice) and a flare single into short right field from Hernan Perez that scored two runs.
The Tigers scored a half-dozen runs without an extra-base hit. They’ve only done that once since 2000, a 13-hit barrage against the White Sox in a meaningless late-season game on Sept. 9, 2010.
Yes, it’s Spring Training. But it’s also a topic Ausmus has been harping on for most of this camp.
“We hope we can use some of our leg assets in terms of running the bases and maybe defensively,” Ausmus said afterwards. “But I think it’s the frame of mind that we have to change before it becomes a real factor, the frame of mind of wanting to go the extra 90, the extra 180 feet, forcing the defense to make the play on you.”
Yes, Ausmus used the term “leg assets.” And yes, they definitely wanted to go extra feet.
In fairness, Rajai Davis — the fastest guy in the park — was the sparkplug, stealing two bases in what unofficially marked his first game in a Tigers uniform. Braves lefty Ryan Buchter seemingly had him picked off on the first try, but Davis outran the throw, putting him in position to score easily on Victor Martinez’s single to right.
After back-to-back singles in the sixth allowed the two to move Ian Kinsler around to score following a leadoff walk, the duo pulled off a double steal. A batter later, Davis needed only a Don Kelly popout to Tyler Greene in foul territory behind third base to score. That would be a rare SF5 if you’re keeping score at home.
Then Daniel Fields got into the act. By trying to steal on a two-strike pitch to John Murrian, Fields not only got to second base, he forced a wayward throw and a misplay by Tommy La Stella, allowing him to move to third base and score on a more traditional sac fly deep to the left-field corner.