Notes: Leyland outlines two requests
Tigers skipper wants two-strike approach, smarter baserunning
LAKELAND, Fla. -- When Jim Leyland's Pittsburgh Pirates commanded the National League East in the early 1990s, they were known around baseball for their superb hitting with two strikes in the count. Leyland isn't looking for brilliance out of his Tigers with two strikes; he's simply looking for better.
While the last of the Tigers position players reported to camp on Tuesday, Leyland was thinking about where he wants to see improvement out of his offense. He wants better two-strike approaches out of his hitters, and he wants better baserunning, in that order.
He has good reason. As much as the talk surrounding Tigers hitters centered on too few walks, only Cleveland struck out more often among American League teams. The Indians, in their defense, drew 126 more walks and had an on-base percentage 20 points higher than the Tigers. Placido Polanco's .280 average with two strikes and Carlos Guillen's .266 average comprised two of the AL's top seven, but no other Tigers hitter finished in the league's top 20.
It's an aspect that Leyland hopes new hitting coach Lloyd McClendon, with his emphasis on approaches, can improve. Yet Leyland believes in physical changes with two strikes just as much as mental ones.
"I'm a real stickler on that," Leyland said. "That's always a real touchy one. Some people think you change your thinking only and some people think you actually change your physical approach -- in other words, by spreading out or choking up."
What Leyland likes about some players, he said, is that they'll use their two-strike approach from the first pitch in situations where they need to put the ball in play.
Leyland's Pirates worked on that approach, including Barry Bonds.
"One thing we know for sure, choking up does not have a thing to do with power," he said. "Because the guy that's about to break Hank Aaron's record [for home runs] chokes up from the first pitch on. That, I can assure you. Choking up on the bat has nothing to do with how far you can hit the ball."
How well a team runs the bases has a lot to do with speed. That part, Leyland can't help. He'll readily admit that his team is not fast. If he can't have faster baserunners, however, he can at least make smarter ones.
"They can't become faster, contrary to what everybody thinks," Leyland said. "They're not going to get faster. And I also believe it's hard to teach instincts. But just by watching and paying attention, they can get better, no doubt about it. We can't run them faster, but we can run them better."
Instead of running faster, Leyland believes that baserunners can cut down their times between bases by eliminating hesitation, getting better jumps and knowing opposing outfielders. He knows this by watching the St. Louis Cardinals for six years as a scout. They were one of the best baserunning teams in the league, he said, because they worked on it in the spring.
These Tigers are going to work on it this year.
"Too many times last year, we saw balls hit, our guys stuttering, looking to see if it was going to be caught or not," Leyland said. "When in fact, if he would've looked before the pitch, he would've known that nobody had a chance to catch that ball. That's the kind of stuff I'm talking about. So instead of being held up at third because you waited and hesitated, you score. It's very important.
"It's not a statistic. You don't get paid for it. So a lot of guys don't put a lot of stock in how important it is. I happen to think it's very important."
Lots of lefties for Granderson: Though Leyland won't commit yet to batting Curtis Granderson leadoff against left-handers, he's set on playing his young center fielder just about every day, including against most lefties.
Granderson struggled mightily against lefties last year, batting .218 with a .277 on-base percentage off them compared to a .274 average and .353 on-base percentage versus right-handers.
"When I give him a break, obviously it will probably be against some nasty lefty," Leyland said. "He's in good shape. He's young. He's energetic. He needs to play, and I want him to play, so he's going to get most of the playing time."
Dingman to see doctor: Craig Dingman was excused from camp to visit Dr. Robert Thompson in St. Louis and determine the cause of fatigue in his right shoulder. Dr. Thompson performed arterial bypass surgery on Dingman last March after Dingman was diagnosed with a torn artery in his shoulder. Dingman missed the 2006 season while recovering from the surgery, but he was cleared to throw and work out as normal this spring.
Hair's looking at you: Don't expect Leyland to try to stand in the way of Magglio Ordonez and his trademark long hair with clippers. Asked if he would suggest to Ordonez that he cut his hair, Leyland said he's not that kind of disciplinarian.
"He's a grown man," Leyland said. "I don't think that's a form of discipline, to tell a grown man to get a haircut. My form of discipline is to be here on time, be ready to play hard and be ready to beat the other team. ... I'm jealous, actually. I wish I had it. He's got a nice head of hair. But do I think it looks good? No, I don't. Do I care? No."
Manager for a day: If the managerial calls seem strange when the Tigers face the Blue Jays on March 6, it won't be Leyland. As part of a charity banquet over the winter with several former Yankees to benefit the Connecticut Sports Foundation for cancer, Leyland said, he put up a chance to manage the team for a day in Spring Training. The bid quickly jumped to $10,000 from a California businessman, who in turn gave the honor to a college student named Brandon Teague.
He'll help make out of the lineup and make some of the strategic decisions, Leyland said, but he probably won't make the trips to the mound.
"I would say it's a heck of an honor," Leyland said. "I would say it's a neat thing."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.