Feb 18, 2014; Lakeland, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers first base coachOmar Vizquel
during a team practice at Joker Marchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
Baseball is back! Yesterday, the Detroit Tigers defeated the Atlanta Braves, 6-5, in their first Grapefruit League game of the spring. It was great to hear some Tigers baseball, whether it is a Spring Training game or the playoffs.
The Tigers looked interesting yesterday, doing some things fans haven’t been used to in recent years while the conservative Jim Leyland was at the helm.
With that said, here are four minor takeaways from the first Grapfruit League game for the Tigers.
1. The good and bad from Rajai Davis
In 2014, the Tigers trimmed down the lineup and added more speed and better base running this offseason. One of those acquisitions was Davis, who the Tigers signed to a two-year, $10 million deal this past offseason.
More than likely, Davis will platoon in left field with Andy Dirks. Davis adds more speed in left field, which has been inconsistent for a number of years.
In yesterday’s game, Davis was 1-2 with a walk and two stolen bases. The Tigers don’t get multiple stolen bases too often, who had 35 stolen bases as an entire team in 2013.
While it was great to see Davis use his best skill, sometimes that skill is detrimental. The Tigers first baserunner came in the fourth inning when Davis got on base with a walk. Then, this happened:
Ausmus is apparently giving his team the green light, at least during spring training. Against a left-handed pitcher, Davis was beat on the pickoff. He beat a bad throw to second base for the stolen base.
Davis is a menace on the base path, having swiped at least 25 bags in each season since 2008. But, he has been known for his mistakes while on base. He was caught stealing 13 times in 2012, which led the league.
Davis cut that down to 6 last year, but he did so in 34 fewer games. Davis’s speed is both helpful and hurtful for the Tigers. The Tigers need Davis’ instincts to use the speed on the bases to their advantage.
2. Phil Coke pitched one scoreless inning
I believe that if Coke struggles this spring, the Tigers will cut him and not have to pay a dime of his salary since it isn’t guaranteed.
With that said, Coke pitched well in his debut this spring. He pitched a scoreless fourth inning for the Tigers, which is a good sign for the organization.
Oct 17, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Phil Coke (40) throws against the Boston Red Sox during the seventh inning in game five of the American League Championship Series baseball game at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Coke has struggled as a Tiger since being traded from the Yankees. He hasn’t found his role on the pitching staff because of his inconsistencies. This is why I believe a poor spring will ultimately leave Coke off of the Tigers regular season roster.
But, if Coke can be consistent with outings like he had against the Braves, he can be a tremendous asset to have in the right situations. I’m more in the Ian Krol and Casey Crosby camp, but it is nice to see a nice debut from Coke this spring.
3. Drew Smyly is back as a starter, well sort of.
Smyly pitched two innings against the Braves, allowing one run on two hits and one walk. Smyly did strike out two batters as well. It was his first outing since June 23, 2013 in which he pitched more than one inning.
The Braves couldn’t get much going besides back-to-back hits which created their only run off Smyly. Smyly only went through the order once, but it was good to see him on the mound for more than one inning. It will be interesting to see how Smyly does as rosters are trimmed down and pitchers are extended. Keep an eye on Smyly for the rest of the season as he is a big x-factor this season for the Tigers.
4. Brad Ausmus and his “green light” for his players on the bases
According to tweets by Beck during the game yesterday, the Tigers have a green light on the bases, for now. I don’t expect guys like Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez to take him up on this regarding stolen bases, but you could see more aggressiveness overall from the Tigers this spring.
You could see more pickoffs and guys caught stealing this spring because of Ausmus will experiment with the guys he has on the roster. With that said, guys like Davis shouldn’t be getting picked off. I can live with a bad jump on a pitcher with good pickoff moves and then a catcher with a good arm finishes the play.
I believe Ausmus is giving his players the green light on the bases for confidence. In past years, Leyland like to hit players from base-to-base. So far, it looks like Ausmus wants to use different skill sets to generate runs. This will help tremendously later in the season or in the postseason.
Last season, the Tigers offense struggled against the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship series. The Red Sox were the better all-around team during that series. They used former Tiger (who should still be a Tiger) Quintin Berry as a pinch-runner because of his ability to steal bases. Berry is 29-for-29 in his career regarding stolen bases. The threat alone made the Red Sox a better team, even with his quiet bat.
Overall, the new-look Tigers might be different, but sometimes, a change is good for a team. Look for the Tigers to use even more of their speed as Spring Training continues today against the Braves in Lakeland.