Notes: Opportunity knocks for Vasquez
Spring auditions give righty chance to prove ability to Leyland
LAKELAND, Fla. -- As he readied for the unofficial first pitch of the Tigers' 2007 season, Virgil Vasquez looked behind him from the mound and saw the Tigers' regular lineup. He looked to the plate and saw veteran Major Leaguer Vance Wilson.
"It was the Tigers lineup, and me," he said.
That would explain the butterflies he was feeling as he tried to feel comfortable on the mound against Florida Southern College. He walked the first two hitters he faced before going hard and inside with a slider to induce a broken-bat, inning-ending comebacker. Another double play in the second inning completed his afternoon.
"There's so many talented arms here that could've gotten to start," Vasquez said. "To go out there, you get excited, and you have to fight getting amped up."
Said manager Jim Leyland: "Vasquez was a little out of sync a little bit early on, but he got back and threw fine. There's something to work with there, that's for sure."
Vasquez isn't the well-known prospect that Andrew Miller and Jair Jurrjens are, but his track record earns attention. After posting a season better than his 7-12 record would suggest at Double-A Erie, Vasquez garnered attention with his Arizona Fall League performance, including a solid outing in the league championship game. He also earned a spot on the Tigers' 40-man roster, which in turn put him in camp with the big leaguers.
Vasquez is headed for either Erie or Triple-A Toledo to start the season, depending on how the rotations shake out, but he has a chance to make an impression in this camp. In somewhat the same way, Jordan Tata's strong performance last spring earned him consideration for an Opening Day roster spot in Detroit when closer Todd Jones ended up on the disabled list. Tata was eventually sent down, but by spending the rest of the year at Toledo, he had jumped from Class A to Triple-A.
"That's what I try to do with all the young guys -- try to watch them and get to know them," Leyland said. "Because you never know who might be called up in what kind of impression. Plus, it's out of respect to all your young players that it's important for the manager to be paying attention. That's just a respect thing, in my opinion."
Tigers roll in exhibition win: After Vasquez escaped from his first-inning trouble, the Tigers didn't allow much more traffic on the basepaths. Eight Detroit pitchers scattered five singles in the 14-0 victory.
Vasquez was the only Tigers pitcher to throw multiple innings. Jones, Wilfredo Ledezma, Edward Campusano and Jurrjens struck out two batters each in their innings of work, with Ledezma and Campusano tossing perfect innings.
"I thought Ledezma was outstanding," Leyland said. "He went right after [hitters], commanded the strike zone. He was throwing hard."
Ledezma's breaking ball has been one of the questions of camp. Tigers officials believe he'll need it to work against left-handed hitters in big situations, as he'll probably have to do. Tough as it may seem to judge a curveball by a Major League pitcher against college hitters, Leyland was nonetheless watching his pitchers.
"A good curveball is a good curveball," Leyland said. "It doesn't matter who's hitting. Now, a big-league hitter might hit it, but a good curve's a good curve."
Lineup issues: Since Tuesday's lineup included so many regulars, the order was of particular intrigue. But Leyland warned not to make too much of it, especially since they were all out of the game after one at-bat.
Curtis Granderson batted leadoff, with Placido Polanco batting second. The intriguing part, and part of the question for camp, was how Leyland would handle the middle of the order. Carlos Guillen was Tuesday's cleanup hitter, in between Gary Sheffield and Magglio Ordonez.
"I just basically wrote names down today," Leyland said, "and I'll continue to do that for a while. There'll be no substance to anything for quite a while."
Guillen spent most of last season batting fifth behind Ordonez, and Leyland said Tuesday that he could bat anywhere from second to sixth this year. However, Leyland also downplayed the idea of protecting hitters in general.
"I don't think it's overrated," he said, "but I also think that players sometimes use it as a crutch. In some cases, it's overrated."
Dingman update: Craig Dingman hopes to resume throwing on Friday after an examination revealed no damage to his right shoulder, where he underwent arterial bypass surgery a year ago.
The injury was diagnosed as fatigue, said Dingman. It was a surprise to Dingman, who had been throwing since arriving in Lakeland soon after the new year.
"As good as I was going," Dingman said, "I wasn't expecting any setbacks or anything. Everything's been free and easy. It never hurt. I was just tired."
Dingman hopes to be able to pitch again in a couple of weeks.
Promotions announced: The Tigers officially announced their promotional schedule on Tuesday, starting with a rally towel giveaway for all fans attending Opening Day on April 2. The team will hold its 2006 American League championship ring ceremony at its next game, on April 4, but fans can get their replica rings during the first home weekend. The first 30,000 fans in attendance for the Friday, April 20, game against the White Sox will receive rings.
Weather report: The weather report might've been the last thing Jones wanted to hear in his Spring Training opener, but the weather in his hometown was probably the last thing he expected.
In one of Jones' recent columns for The Sporting News, he listed likes and dislikes about Spring Training. The most annoying thing, he wrote, was the habit of announcing the current temperature in teams' home cities compared to the temperature in Florida.
Tigers Spring Training games have long included the comparison of temperatures in Detroit and Lakeland, usually in the middle of the first inning. As Jones was walking out to the bullpen after the top of the first inning, not only did those weather reports pop up on the scoreboard, so did the temperature in Pell City, Ala. -- Jones' hometown.
As Jones noticed it, he raised his hands.
"I'm accountable for what I write," he said.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.