Impressions From Week One of Grapefruit League Action


In the first week of camp, it’s always important to maintain perspective. Players that look like all-stars at the beginning of March rarely look so good as Opening Day draws near, especially the young guys. One possible exception is hopefully going to be Austin Jackson. Jackson has played in all five contests thus far and has more than held his own with the bat. Jackson has five hits in nine at bats, but has also drawn five walks. All of hits have been singles, but that is to be expected. The power will come, but probably not anytime soon.

Gerald Laird has himself a new stance, and a more relaxed approach at the plate. If his transition goes as well as Brandon Inge’s from a year ago, we can expect much better numbers from the Tigers catcher. So far, so good for G-money as he has already shown more pop than last year. He has doubled twice and gone yard once in nine at bats this spring. He homered only four times all of last year.

If you were among the group that figured Don Kelly had no shot at making this club, he is serving notice early. Kelly’s versatility figured to be the reason to consider keeping him, but his bat has been hot this week as well. Kelly is smoking line drive after line drive so far, and he has shown some power to go along with it.

If Kelly isn’t the 25th man, the other option figured to be Clete Thomas. Thomas hasn’t done anything to hurt his chances so far, but along with Kelly, Casper Wells and Brent Dlugach are trying their best to apply pressure. Thomas ha four hits (one home run) in 11 at bats, while Dlugach has homered twice and Wells has gone 2 for 5 with a homer of his own.

Unlike Kelly, who has played early in some games, Thomas, Dlugach, and Wells have seen much of their time in the later innings. Given that most of the big league talent is out of the game by then, you might be able to see what the Tigers are thinking. Expect to see more from Dlugach, Thomas, and Kelly early in upcoming games.

The pitchers are much more difficult to judge, especially early in camp. Often times veteran hurlers will be “working on” different things in their outings and not worried at all about results. Jeremy Bonderman failed to survive the first inning yesterday, but spent much of his start throwing a splitter, a new pitch for him. Bonderman had pitched well in his first effort of the spring, and most still expect he will be the number four.

Nate Robertson followed up a rough outing with a very good one. Nate threw three scoreless innings yesterday and, according to Jim Price, was coming right after hitters. This isn’t a new approach for him. In his most successful times, Robertson was known for his “bulldog” mentality. Over the past few years, injuries have sapped him of some of the life on his pitches and forced him to be more fine. If he can keep challenging hitters and getting results, this is a very good sign for the Tigers, as they have far too many pitchers who don’t seem to trust their stuff.

Speaking of those guys, Armando Galarraga and Zach Miner have been doing their usual thing so far, which isn’t good. Neither Miner nor Galarraga seem to think that strike one is at all helpful. Both have made two appearances and both continue to make a habit of falling behind hitters. I know I said veteran guys like to work on different things during camp, so I wish these two would try something different as well. Like getting ahead of a hitter, for example. No one really figured that either of these guys was in any real trouble of not making the team, but Galarraga has an option left and Miner makes less than $1MM this year. Don’t be shocked if neither guy goes North unless they start pitching more aggressively.

Dontrelle Willis is still in the running for a spot in the rotation and he makes his second appearance today versus the Braves. In his first outing, he allowed a lead-off walk in each of his two innings, but gave up just an infield hit while striking out two. His command was better when a left hander was in the box, so he’ll look to tighten up versus righties as well. It’s a long road back for Willis, but the initial signs are encouraging so far.