Notes: Leyland, Perez see eye to eye
Utility infielder doesn't take offense to manager's statement
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Neifi Perez understands how Jim Leyland feels.
One of the Tigers' late-season acquisitions became one of Leyland's quotes of the offseason last month when the manager said the Perez deal might look like "a mistake" in hindsight after Perez struggled down the stretch.
"I hope Neifi will prove us wrong," Leyland said that day on WDFN Radio. "I think he'll be much better than what he showed last year, because he showed absolutely nothing when he came over. That's the way it is. There's no hiding from this stuff. You face the facts and you make a decision on a player and you take a chance. If it works out, fine. If it doesn't, you admit that maybe we made a mistake. We don't know that yet. I think you have to give him time to settle in and see if he can be a member of our team this year."
Not only does Perez understand the criticisms, he wasn't going to argue against it.
"I just came here to do my job, and I think that I didn't do it last year," Perez said Friday. "I wasn't playing to my level, and I'm going to do better. That's the bottom line. When you don't play well, you get booed. When you get hits, when you make nice plays, you're going to get a lot of noise. That's it.
"I understand that, and I'm 100 percent with the manager. I understand, but he knows and a lot of people know that wasn't my game. So I just forget about last year and come back with a positive mind this year."
One of three experienced utility infielders on a team that only has enough spots for two at most coming out of camp, Perez finds himself likely battling with Ramon Santiago for the last spot on the roster. It would be an odd position for him after spending the better part of nine seasons as a starter.
Like the criticism of his performance, Perez agrees with Leyland that he had a difficult time settling in -- first from the National League back to the American, then from regular starter to bench player again once Placido Polanco returned from the disabled list.
Perez hit .200 (13-for-65) in 21 games once he came over to the Tigers in exchange for Minor League catcher Chris Robinson last Aug. 20, less than a week after Polanco separated his shoulder. At the time of the trade, he was hitting .254 for the Cubs with 13 doubles, two homers and 24 RBIs in 236 at-bats. He went 0-for-4 in one start during the ALCS. But he doesn't believe the transition is an excuse.
"It is difficult," he said. "I have to get used to it. When you're used to playing every day for nine years, and all of a sudden you have to get used to being a backup that doesn't play for four or five days, that's going to be difficult. But a lot of guys are doing it, so why can't I?"
Leyland plans to give him a chance to settle in during Spring Training. Despite the strength of his January comments, which he later said didn't come out the way he intended, he remains a Perez supporter.
"I think he's just got to play," Leyland said Friday. "He's going to get quite a bit of playing time this spring. Hopefully we can get him going. I think it's hard when you're coming over and you're basically not playing all the time and everything. I don't know. We'll just have to wait and see.
"Neifi's been a real good player. It's in the book. So hopefully he's still got enough left to be an asset, and I think he does. He's one of the players that I have to get ready."
Leyland is looking at Perez exclusively as an infielder. He will not get playing time in the outfield like Omar Infante.
"He can catch it and he can throw it," Leyland said. "Obviously, I'm sure he was a little disappointed [last year], but up until recently Neifi's been an everyday player for a long time. All of a sudden, it takes a little time to know how to sit around and keep yourself sharp enough. I don't care how long you've played. If you're a regular player and all of a sudden you're not anymore, that's an adjustment. And that's just what this was."
More infield talk: Leyland continues to downplay expectations for Marcus Thames defensively as a first baseman, noting that somebody would've tried to move him to first earlier if he had that much potential there. Between Thames and Chris Shelton, however, he feels comfortable enough that he doesn't expect to work starting catcher Ivan Rodriguez or shortstop Carlos Guillen there like last year.
Rodriguez was an occasional starter at first last summer; Guillen started at first for an injured Sean Casey during the ALCS because the Tigers couldn't activate Shelton to the postseason roster.
Tickets going fast: The Tigers announced on Friday that they've already surpassed last year's entire Spring Training ticket sales in terms of dollar amounts and are running 72 percent ahead of last year's pace to date.
The team has already sold out its weekend home dates for March 10 against the Red Sox and March 25 against the Yankees. Standing room only tickets will go on sale the day of the game at the Joker Marchant Stadium box office. Tickets for remaining games, including the unofficial spring opener next Tuesday against Florida Southern College and the Grapefruit League home opener against the Phillies next Thursday, are on sale online at tickets.com or at the Joker Marchant Stadium box office. The box office is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET on weekdays and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.