February 28th, 2014

Game 3: The flip side of aggressiveness

Spring Training lasts around 30 games, all of them mathematically meaningless in the big picture of a baseball season, some of them meaningless towards the pure goal of season preparation. Many hitters, if healthy, don’t usually need that many games to get ready. The ones who truly take advantage of that full time are starting pitchers, who need to stretch out their arms to be ready to throw 100 pitches. What else goes on while pitchers stretch out is up to the manager to determine how to use.

In that light, Brad Ausmus has 30-plus games in which to try to establish an aggressive mentality on the basepaths. He also has that many games to figure out who can really take advantage of that and who doesn’t stand a good chance of taking that extra 90 feet.

If Wednesday’s win over the Braves was a good example of what an aggressive mentality can accomplish, Friday’s loss to the Yankees was the flip side, the reminder of the risk that goes with the reward. The Tigers made three outs on the bases in the first three innings, each by a different player at a different base, and five outs on the bases overall. They saw speedy Rajai Davis, who outran a pickoff play Wednesday, nabbed off second base Friday with Miguel Cabrera up to bat. Then they saw Cabrera try to catch the Yankees napping and go first-to-third following a Victor Martinez walk.

“We told them from day one that we wanted to force the defense to make the play,” Ausmus said. “Well, today they made the plays. But on two of those, three actually, they had to make perfect throws. They put the throws right there on the money and the guys were out, so that happens. …

“We knew going in that we were going to have this aggressive style, and not fault somebody for getting thrown out or taking a chance. That applies to [third base coach Dave Clark] too when he’s waving guys around third.”

The more chances they take, the more they learn their capabilities when they press the issue. That’s part of the goal

“We want them to take chances now,” Ausmus said. “You hope that creates kind of an overall mentality for baserunning as a team that we’re always trying to go the extra 90 or 180 feet. But it gets refined. As players realize what they can and can’t do, they start to understand, well, we can’t run hog wild. But the third day of Spring Training games, let’s go after it. Let’s force them to make the play. They made the plays today.”

That includes the play on Cabrera, who has always been an instinctive player with an awareness for what’s going on at most every spot between the foul lines. Ausmus has no problem with Cabrera testing the alertness level of Yankees starter Adam Warren and the left side of the infield.

“Miggy saw the third baseman was playing over towards the shortstop hole, and he thought he might be able to get there,” Ausmus said. “If he had kind of slowed down at second and acted like he was stopping, rather than just continuing, he might have got it. He also might have got it if he was 10 years younger.”

Iglesias out at least a week with shin splints

The shin splints that have bothered Jose Iglesias off and on throughout his baseball career have flared up again. The Tigers shortstop will be sidelined for a week while the team tries to reduce the inflammation and keep it from coming back.

Technically, it’s being called a stress reaction in both shins, but it’s more a difference of severity. It’s painful enough that it would be an issue even in the regular season. With four weeks to go before Opening Day, the Tigers medical staff wants to use the extra time to find a long-term solution.

“It’s a stress reaction of the shins, left and right, probably from moving on the different surfaces,” head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said Friday morning. “The guy works out all winter and then comes onto the softer ground. And we just want to nip it in the bud. We don’t want it to become an issue.

“Last year he had it when he came to us, and obviously in the middle of the season it’s a little more difficult [to treat]. So we’re taking the opportunity in Spring Training to try to find the program that works best for him.”

Manager Brad Ausmus estimated Iglesias won’t play for “in the neighborhood of a week.”

Iglesias started at shortstop Thursday and played well against the Braves, going 1-for-2 with a walk and an infield single he ran out to beat a throw. While his foot speed seemed fine, his shins were aching. At that point, Iglesias was trying to play through the issue.

The Tigers were aware of it. A bone scan taken Wednesday and an MRI conducted Thursday came back negative for any structural damage. The way Iglesias looked while moving, Thursday, was a concern.

Detroit officials were aware of Iglesias’ shin issues when he came over last July. He had them while he was with the Red Sox, and came down with similar issues last September. The fact that he’s having them again is not a shock to the medical staff, even though it’s early.

“He had some episodes late in the season with us. We treated him the rest of the year,” Rand said. “He also did some offseason rehab for this to try to put it behind him as well. But a lot of times, once you come back onto the baseball surface and you put the spikes back on, occasionally you have those issues. We just have to find a way to get him by that, get a program that he feels comfortable with.”

That includes preventative exercises, treatment, even orthotics and  footwear. Rand said they even looked at his gait in his run. Nothing might completely end the problem, but just lessening the frequency and the severity of the episodes could make a big difference over the course of his career.

“We’re looking to find the right combination from a treatment perspective, from an exercise perspective, to kind of put this behind him. And we have that opportunity,” Rand said. “This is the time to do that, in Spring Training. We have plenty of time to get him ready, so that’s what we’re looking to do.”