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Q&A With Former Tiger CJ Nitkowski

 Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

 

When Brad Ausmus was hired to replace the retiring Jim Leyland as manager back on November 3, he officially began his third stint with the Detroit Tigers.

Huh?

That’s right.

During his playing career, Ausmus was a Tiger in two separate stints in a span of five seasons from 1996-2000. Those five seasons turned out to be…”unusual” to say the least.

How unusual you ask? You tell me.

June 1996: Traded from the San Diego Padres to the Detroit Tigers.

December 1996: Traded from the Detroit Tigers to the Houston Astros.

January 1999: Traded from the Houston Astros to the Detroit Tigers.

December 2000: Traded from the Detroit Tigers to the Houston Astros.

Huh?

That’s right.

Luckily for Mrs. Ausmus, her husband wasn’t subjected to any more trades as he settled down in Houston for eight seasons before finishing his career with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2010.

During his “trading days,” Ausmus was joined in two of those trades by right-handed pitcher C.J. Nitkowski.

Nitkowski was a first round draft pick of the Cincinnati Reds in 1994 and enjoyed a ten-year career in Major League Baseball. Just like Ausmus, Nitkowski had two stints with the Tigers, from 1995-1996 and 1999-2001. He was teammates with Ausmus for three years in Detroit and one in Houston.

After retiring from baseball last April, Nitkowski continues to be close to the game by freelancing and writing for MLB.com frequently. He is also a radio show host on CBS Radio as well as MLB Network Radio.

Last week, I had the opportunity to talk to Nitkowski about his former teammate, the Tigers, and news around the baseball.

Josh Paulisin: You played with Brad Ausmus for a few years here in Detroit as well as in Houston. What stood out to you about Brad during your time as teammates that would make you think he can succeed as a manager at this level?

CJ Nitkowski: Brad is easily identified as a solid managerial candidate as any teammate that I played with my career. He was already at an advantage as a catcher but there is more to it than that. He was a smart player, a competitor, a guy who studied the game well.

JP: With that said, what do you think his biggest challenge will be this upcoming season in his first year as manager of the Tigers?

CJ: Expectations will be high based on the Tigers roster and recent success. So there will be some pressure there, but pressure that Brad will easily handle. I think for any first-year manager one of the biggest challenges is running a bullpen. Brad’s experience as a catcher and someone who constantly thought along with the manager regarding pitching changes should make him pretty good at this.

JP: You’ve been through a managerial switch here in Detroit when Larry Parrish was let go after the 1999 season and Phil Garner was brought in. As a player, what do you look for from the new manager in spring training and did the guys prefer things to stay status-quo or did they want the new manager to change anything?

CJ: You are always interested in what a new manager has to say, how he will run things differently and you will wonder if it will be better than the last regime. When you’re coming off a recent string of success like the Tigers are, they are likely not looking for major changes as players. At the same time, there may be some things that Brad can bring to the table that may help put the Tigers over-the-top. It’s important for players to be open-minded with their new manager and understand that things will be a little bit different and they have to accept that.

JP: How would you grade the Tigers offseason thus far?

CJ: I like their offseason. Although I thought they may have given Doug Fister away cheaply but we’re not quite sure yet.

JP: The Tigers have won three consecutive AL Central titles, but only finished one game ahead of Cleveland last season. Do you believe the Indians are the biggest threat to overtake the division or is there another team that may surprise the Tigers?

CJ: I think you have to keep an eye on Kansas City as well. They are moving in the right direction. The Tigers for me though are still easily the favorite in the American League Central. There have been some changes but they still have the deepest roster in my opinion.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

JP: Opening Day is a little over two months away. If you had to pick right now, who would you march out there as your Opening Day starter? Max Scherzer or Justin Verlander?

CJ: Tough call. But I think for me Max should be the one who gets the Opening Day start. He had an outstanding season last year and for me deserves to be the Opening Day starter.

JP: Miguel Cabrera arguably is the best hitter in the game today, winning back-to-back MVPs as well as the Triple Crown in 2012. However, sabermetricians are gaga over Mike Trout and still vote him over Cabrera. What is your stance on sabermetrics?

CJ: Sabermetrics are an important part of the game and they are here to stay. I was reluctant to listen while I was still playing but I have come around. There is value in advanced statistics. With that being said, sometimes things get taken a little too far in my opinion. There is a balance there between scouting, real-life games and using numbers to interpret what is going on on the field. They all work together to give you the best evaluations.

JP: Wrigley Field is celebrating its 100th birthday this summer. Tiger Stadium would have turned 100 years old back in 2012. How special was it to play at these types of stadiums?

CJ: I love old Tiger Stadium. It was an honor to call that stadium my home over parts of three seasons. I was fortunate enough to start the very last night game at the corner. I love that place. At the same time the amenities at the stadium were very outdated and it’s time had come. I am sad to see what is left at the corner of Michigan and Trumbull. I wish the stadium could still be there, it was an incredible place, some of the best views that the game of baseball has ever seen from the stands.

JP: Masahiro Tanaka just signed a monstrous deal with the New York Yankees. Last season, he put up dominating numbers in Japan going 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA. You played a few years in Japan and South Korea. How big of a difference is the level of play there as compared to here?

CJ: I tell people all the time that there are a handful of impact players in Japan. But the majority of those rosters are AAA and even AA players.

JP: You were cast in the movie “42″ as pitcher Dutch Leonard. So is your acting career ready to take off? Will we see you in the next Major League movie with Charlie Sheen?

CJ: I was one and done in Hollywood. Being in 42 was an outstanding experience but likely the last time you’ll see me on the big screen.

JP: Last one, can we get an early World Series match up prediction and winner?

CJ: The Oakland A’s lose to the St. Louis Cardinals in five games.

 

You can check out CJ Nitkowski on MLB.com (http://mlb.mlb.com/news/columnists/?id=c_j_nitkowski).

Also on his website (http://www.cjbaseball.com/index.htm) which features lots of great behind the scenes pictures of Tiger Stadium.

Follow Nitkowski on Twitter at: @CJNitkowski

Topics: Detroit Tigers

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