In the wake of unexpected injury after unexpected injury, many of the Detroit Tigers’ faithful have given up hope for a Championship before the season has yet to begin. It’s understandable, if not a little over the top, to be that upset. Sure, if it was Andy Dirks OR Jose Iglesias OR Bruce Rondon that was out, it would be easier to handle; but with all three riding the IR for the foreseeable future things are looking a little bleak and us passionate fans have a tendency to err on the side of doom and gloom. It’s very easy to let the dark clouds(and there have definitely been some) eclipse the really positive events that have occurred this Spring. So here are my Top Three Spring Training Victories.
Number One: Nick Castellanos. Let’s face it folks, the kid is having an AMAZING Spring. He’s (handily) leading the Grapefruit League in RBI, and has played a VERY solid third base. Anyone who was questioning whether Castellanos is a true upgrade to Miguel Cabrera defensively at third can put that yarn to rest. He is worlds better than Cabrera on defense. Cabrera might even tell you that himself. His offense is the definite stand out though: through the Spring, he’s hit two home runs, seven doubles and has 16 runs batted in over the fifteen games he’s played in. Hitting .396/.412/.667(!) during the first Spring Training where he’s truly expected and counted on to perform is a really awesome sign. Is he a lock for ROY because of his stellar start? No. As good as he’s been, it’s only Spring Training and pitchers will definitely figure him out a bit more over the course of the season. But, he’s as good a candidate as any other rookie at this point. Probably a bit better. If Castellanos can carry even a fraction of his success so far through the regular season, well. The Tigers just may have their second straight Rookie of the Year finalist. And this time, he might win it.
Number Two: Brad Ausmus. No one would characterize Ausmus’ first months as the Tigers’ leader as easy, but I’ll be damned if Ausmus hasn’t made them look that way. He is so laid back with such an easy humor that it’s easy for fans and media to forget that he’s talking about losing key members of the squad for months of the season. When approached about the loss of Rondon, he said “I just bought my first pack of Marlboros”. How do you not like this guy? At the same time, there is no questioning that he’s serious about his team and serious about winning. He’s just not into the whole hand-wringing, woe is me thing. And it’s easy to see that should Ausmus fail, which, in my opinion, is still highly unlikely even with all the injuries, he won’t be content to place blame on that and use it as an excuse for why the Tigers didn’t win. He’s made it clear to the media that injuries not withstanding, he has a World Series caliber ball club, and expects them to perform as one. In a day and age where the buck and blame are passed freely, it’s exciting to see someone who is willing to accept responsibility for failures as easily as they can accept praise for victory.
Number Three: Luke Putkonen and Evan Reed. Both of these prospective bull pen righties have made Spring Training interesting. Putkonen, the stoic Finn, is carrying a 0.00 ERA over ten and a third innings. He’s only given up four hits, has walked none and struck out ten. Putkonen has a real shot at stepping up and grabbing that eighth inning set up man role now that Rondon is out for the season. And while it looked for awhile that it would be either Putkonen OR Reed we were seeing on the Opening Day roster, now chances are we’ll see both. Which is great news for Evan Reed. Out of options, Reed has surely made his case for making the big league club. He’s pitched eleven and a third innings, given up three hits(one of them a home run) and two earned runs with one walk and twelve strike outs for an ERA of 1.59. With the loss of Rondon, it can be assumed that the problem regarding which of these two pitchers to keep on the 40 man roster has been solved. It was a good problem to have in the first place, and an even better one now, if Putkonen and Reed can keep it up and pick up some of the slack.
So yeah, things could be better. Dirks, Iglesias and Rondon could be healthy and playing, but all is not lost because they aren’t. We’ve got eight days until Game 1 of 162, and I’m still optimistic and excited for what’s to come. One thing I know for sure? It’s not going to be boring.