Timing coming together for Larish
Tigers prospect enjoys offensive explosion vs. Nats
LAKELAND, Fla. -- To say that Jeff Larish had to get his timing back after four days off wouldn't be accurate. This early in Spring Training, so Larish normally doesn't have his timing, even if he's playing every day.
He looks pretty locked in right now.
"Today was probably the most comfortable I've felt out there, I think," Larish said after his two solo homers and double powered the Tigers past the Nationals on Thursday. "Forget the time off. I mean, it's Spring Training. It takes a little bit of time to get your timing back and everything. Usually, I'm a slow starter in spring, so it's nice to put up one of these games."
Few players get these kinds of games at this point in Spring Training. For one thing, they usually don't get enough at-bats in a game to have a chance. For another, their timing at the plate usually doesn't give them a shot at three extra-base hits.
In Larish's case, he's making up for lost time. A stiff neck cost him four of Detroit's first five games before he returned to action on Monday. After exhibitions against Florida Southern College, Venezuela and Panama, this was Larish's first game against Major League competition since last Wednesday's opener against the Braves.
Larish pounced on the chance. It isn't just that he homered twice. It's that he homered to both sides of the field against a right-hander and a lefty. Plus, he did it while in the midst of his first Major League roster battle. The Tigers are trying to weigh whether Larish's left-handed power bat is valuable enough to keep with the club out of camp.
Thursday was a display of serious power. It started in the second inning against Nationals left-hander Gustavo Chacin, who tried to start off Larish with a fastball down and away. Larish, who hit just five of his 21 home runs off lefties at Triple-A Toledo last year, went with the pitch and sent it out on almost a line towards the left-field berm, just out of the reach of left fielder Willie Harris.
Two innings later, Larish had just congratulated Marcus Thames on a mammoth leadoff homer to the top of the berm before stepping to the plate against right-hander J.D. Martin. Martin went with a slider against Larish, who drove it off the batting cages beyond right field.
That's two more home runs than he had in 16 at-bats last spring. Add in his double, and he topped his hit total from last Spring Training, too. But he isn't exactly counting these things.
"I don't try to focus too much on results, especially in the spring," Larish said. "It's just about having consistent at-bats and trying to make solid contact. You just take it for what it's worth. Obviously, you go out there and try to be successful, but I don't think just because I had a game like today, doesn't mean I'm going to have a game like that tomorrow or the next day. So it's just about trying to go out and be consistent.
"Yeah, you get excited about these days. But then you've got to throw it away and come back out the next day and try to keep working to be consistent."
To find the reason why he can be consistent, one has to go back towards the end of last season, when Larish was working with hitting coach Lloyd McClendon on his stance. His quiet, upright stance at the plate before he swings was fine, but McClendon worked with him on putting his lower body in a better position to hit right away.
Larish's late-season stint as mostly a late-inning replacement and pinch-hitter, he says, allowed him more time to work on that. By the time he closed out his stint in the Arizona Fall League, he had that down, allowing him to put up some eye-opening numbers against some of baseball's better prospects.
Now Larish is carrying the progress he made from the fall into the spring.
"I've definitely been feeling a lot better as far as being in a consistent position to hit," Larish said.
If he can consistently hit this spring, all the better. Manager Jim Leyland seemingly has plenty of belief in Larish's hitting. The test for him this spring is more in the field, where he's getting a steady diet of time between first and third base. Leyland plans to eventually give him some playing time in the corner outfield spots, where Larish last played as a junior at Arizona State.
All three spots have different skill sets, and Larish is getting practice at all three positions during pregame workouts. For all the consistency he's building at the plate, he's getting to enjoy the variety in the field.
At first base, Larish has to worry about how far towards the hole he can go for a ground ball, because he has to worry about someone covering the bag. At third, he can just read and react.
"That's why I love it over there. You have so much freedom," Larish said. "You just go get the ball."
What it means for his chances at making the roster remains to be seen. Leyland says he isn't afraid to take Larish on his club, but that doesn't mean he'll be on it. Versatility is a consideration in regards to the entire roster picture.
Larish thinks about that about as often as he thinks about his stats. Still, days like Thursday don't hurt.
"I can't say enough about how it feels to have a manager say good things about you," Larish said. "But at the same time, just because he says those things doesn't mean I'm going to make the team. I still have to go out and perform and prepare the best that I can to be successful."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.