Leyland really will have to manage the DH spot this season
A whole lot more goes into the daily search for a designated hitter than just writing a name down on a lineup card.
Jim Leyland had it easy last year, when mostly he simply penciled in Victor Martinez down as his DH and put his name right below Miguel Cabrera in the Detroit batting order.
Martinez, who will miss this season because of a left knee injury, was sold on the role when he signed that four-year contract with the Tigers two winters ago. He knew going in he was going to play a handful of games at first base, a few as the backup catcher and the rest as the primary DH.
He went into Spring Training asking questions of the successful designated hitters to see how they approached the job.
This year Leyland will play mix-and-match with the role.
"Some players have to have the adrenaline flowing on both sides of the ball," Leyland said. "Some players know how to sit there and wait it out and still be sharp when they go up there to hit.
"It's not as slam dunk as everybody thinks, that you can just put somebody in the DH because they can hit. He can hit. But whether he can hit in the DH spot is a different question."
The fan and critics' choice to DH for Detroit is Delmon Young, whose limited defensive skills don't match up with the acreage in Comerica Park's left field. The trouble is, Young, at 26, doesn't want to be pigeon-holed as a designated hitter.
It's possible Young, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder will share the role even if they'd rather not.
"That'll be a huge thing for our team," Leyland said. "I believe that everybody out there will make some personal sacrifices for the team. I believe that with all my heart.
"At the end of the day, that's one thing I've got going for me. I've got guys concerned about winning above personal goals. That'll be the savior."
Managers have to weigh whether to have a happy, productive player on the field who is a so-so defensive player or putting a better defender out there who is not a good hitter, while risking poor offensive production from a DH because he's unhappy that he's not on the field.
Fantasy leagues and computer baseball games give fans the mindset that players will post their usual statistics whether they're happy or not, whether they're playing or DHing.
"I understand it totally, but sometimes I think a fan's perspective of what's best for the team and a manager's perspective of what's best for the team are two different things," Leyland said.
"It might be the obvious to the fan. And they might be right. But because it's a little deeper than you think, just what we're talking about today,
it's not as easy as everybody thinks.
"For instance, let's just get this out of the way so we're not discussing it, a fan could say, well, if you've got two guys, why wouldn't you DH the less defender and play the better defender? Well, that makes sense.
"But, if by taking some really good player, and he's not able to do that because it's a DH situation, then you have to think it out a little deeper. I know where this is all going. It's good. It's a fair question."
In the normal course of a day's work, Leyland would check with his chief trainer, Kevin Rand, to see who's getting treatment and for what. Looking ahead to opponents and their pitchers, Leyland might elect to sit an ailing player out or at least take him out of the field for a game or two while keeping his bat in the game as the designated hitter.
It's something he's used for players with nagging injuries in hopes it won't turn into something that would land him on the disabled list. Sometimes Leyland just likes to use the DH spot to give a tired player a break or let a slumping player watch other pitcher-hitter battles.
"Psychology is very important," Leyland said. "This job isn't the slam dunk everyone thinks. It's more of a sensitive position that not all guys can do. You have to be very careful. It's a real tedious situation, and you've got to be careful with that."
It could well be one of Detroit's players will show an affinity for the role and make Leyland's daily decision easier. But through Spring Training and the early part of the season, the manager will spread the role around.
Less weight could mean more years, Cabrera figures
--3B Miguel Cabrera isn't yet 30, but having to lose weight to play third base again is making him think a half-dozen years down the road. He has upped his workout program and changed his diet to limit his intake of fattening foods. "It's kind of helped me a little bit," he said of his new diet. "You know, you've got to sacrifice, you've got to do it, and you've got to work hard to get better. That's what I want, to get better every day and try to do my best." When you (get to) 30-something, you start to have problems with your knees, with your hamstrings, obliques, back. So you've got to see other players at 37, 36. They play for a long career and they don't have injuries, and you have to look to them. They're in good shape. So why don't you do it? Why don't you follow the right step? When you get to that age, if you're lucky, if you have a chance to play to 37, 38, you're still in your best shape." Cabrera is signed with Detroit through 2015.
--RF Brennan Boesch is manager Jim Leyland's choice to be Detroit's primary right fielder this season after waffling between left and right his previous two years with the Tigers. "I really think it will be good for this club if Brennan Boesch could play right field every day for the Detroit Tigers this year," Leyland said. "I think that'd be good for our team." Boesch started 57 games in left last year and 45 in right. In 231 outfield appearances, Boesch has started 130 in right. "I think with the type of personality Boesch has, a bit hyper, I want to settle him in," Leyland said. There will be occasions, though, where Boesch plays left. "You might have to make a move that says, 'That guy is more comfortable in right, so let's move Boesch over,'" Leyland said. "So, I'm not going to etch it in stone."
--CF Austin Jackson won't be reined in on the bases just because Brennan Boesch, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder are batting behind him, at least according to manager Jim Leyland. "I think you've got to be careful with that," Leyland said. "It's one of those things where you get too conservative and then things don't happen. If that's one of his assets, I think you've got to use it." Jackson stole 22 bases last season, five shy of his rookie total from the year before. "He'll always have a green light, but we always have a stop sign," Leyland said. "If there's certain situations where I don't want him to run, I have a stop sign." Jackson picking up his offense is a key for Detroit, Leyland said. "He can steal a base, go first-to-third all the time, score all the time," Leyland said of Jackson, clearly the Tigers' fastest player and one of the AL's fastest. "He kind of makes us go. He's a real important piece for our offense. The other reason I say that Jackson is such a huge key is that we really don't have another leadoff-type guy in the lineup. I know there were times last year that people said I shouldn't (put him) lead-off. But my answer was always, 'Who do you suggest?' Our best scenario is he does well."
--SS Jhonny Peralta is in the same good condition he was in last year, according to manager Jim Leyland. "He got himself in great shape coming into camp a year ago and really hasn't changed," Leyland said. "I'm a big Jhonny Peralta fan, and to watch him is very interesting. He always plays the ball into a good hop. He knows when to back off, when to come in and get it. He never panics. He's a good player." Leyland likes the reliability he gets from Peralta on offense and defense. "I think we knew what we were getting," Leyland said. "That's why we got him. We knew he could play shortstop. We knew we might give up a little bit of range at some point, but I give our scouts a lot of credit. All I know is that I like the ball being hit to him."
--2B Brandon Inge had to find a new glove in his effort to inject himself into the battle to play second base for Detroit. He asked around before settling on a model somewhat smaller than his third base glove. "(It looks) like I've been gypped out on some leather," Inge said. "But I'm getting used to it. At second base, there've been some things I didn't understand. They're completely opposite, like some of the position of your throws, to playing third. It takes some different footwork, but no problem. I like second base." He will see plenty of action at the new position early in the exhibition season.
--RHP Rick Porcello got his throwing regimen going a month early this season in an effort to get off to a quicker start. "I'm trying to get as close to midseason form, by the time the season starts, as possible," he said. "In years prior, I haven't started throwing until the first of the year. This year, I started throwing a month earlier just because I felt like I needed to make sure my arm was stronger when I came to camp than it was last year. It's about making sure that my arm is strong at the beginning of the season." Porcello was 14-9 with a 4.75 ERA, but he didn't win until his fourth start, and through June he was 6-6 with a 5.06 until going undefeated in July. "They know their arms better than I do," manager Jim Leyland said. "There's no shortcuts. You've got to get your plan and stick with it. I think that's one thing that's really helped (RHP Justin) Verlander. He's got it down to a science, exactly what he does, and the rest of 'em are pretty much the same way."
--RHP David Pauley is expected by manager Jim Leyland to bounce back from his poor record after coming over to Detroit from Seattle at the trade deadline last July. Pauley posted a 5.95 ERA in 14 games with the Tigers after having a 2.15 ERA in 39 appearances for the Mariners. "I think he's better than what we saw last year," Leyland said. "When he came to us (in the Doug Fister deal), he'd been very good at Seattle. His name doesn't get brought up very much, but I don't want to slight him because he was pretty darn good over there. Maybe he just didn't settle in with us. Everybody's talking about everybody else, but it gets forgotten that he was pretty good over there." Said Pauley: "I know that things didn't go so well after I came over here, and I took that pretty hard. But I went into the offseason knowing I had to get back to where I was, clear my mind, and start over again. I could have examined a lot of things (about why it didn't go well with the Tigers), but this is a game about failure. In Seattle, it was pretty much a pressure-free situation. We were all pitching just to better ourselves. Then to come over here into a pennant race, you want to do that much better to show you want to be part of that situation."
--RHP Al Alburquerque is on track to begin light throwing late this month after undergoing offseason surgery to correct a stress fracture in his right elbow. Alburquerque currently is doing shoulder and elbow strengthening exercises. "We're working really hard on the strength of his shoulder to make sure his shoulder is good and strong for when he starts throwing," trainer Kevin Rand said. Along with the strengthening exercises Alburquerque is also doing total body conditioning plus weight-lifting workouts at the team's facility in Lakeland, Fla. "The treatment is going good," Alburquerque said. "My arm is feeling like normal and I think everything is going OK."
BY THE NUMBERS: .5 -- Difference in length of the two bats RF Brennan Boesch uses during the season. His primary bat last year was a 34 1/2-inch bat but he also used a 34-inch model as well. This spring Boesch says he likes the 34-inch model because his swing feels quicker with it.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "The goal for me is to become a better pitcher. I can't control the wins, the losses, the ERA, stuff like that. As long as I evolve into a better pitcher, that's all I'm trying to do." -- RHP Justin Verlander, on his target for 2012 coming off an AL Cy Young-MVP 2011.