LAKELAND, Fla. -- The morning cloud cover hadn't yet cleared from the sky when Miguel Cabrera was out on the field, getting tested on balls at third base with infield coach Rafael Belliard. They weren't simply hits off the fungo bat; it was a coach throwing balls to the dirt in his direction from close range.
It's about the only way the Tigers can ensure their new third baseman gets challenged these days.
Manager Jim Leyland can't come up with many complaints about his team with the start they've enjoyed, but Cabrera's lack of activity at third base is becoming a lament. He didn't have a single play at the hot corner on Thursday despite playing most of the game at Port Charlotte.
He has had two plays of note -- an error on a ground ball in the hole on Sunday, and a good field and throw on a slow roller Wednesday against the Blue Jays.
"I'm so ticked off right now, I can't see straight," Leyland said. "I've played Cabrera every game at third base. He's had two freaking ground balls the whole time we've played. Opening Day, he'll get 10. But I can't tell where they're going to hit it.
"I want that to happen. I want them to get some grounders, but you can't direct the ball. I don't know where the other team's going to hit. That's why he's doing live stuff today, because he hasn't gotten many grounders in the game. Can't help that. ...
"I keep talking about it every day. It's the most amazing thing I've ever seen in baseball. I have him out there every day, almost, and he's got two, three grounders at the most. I take him out, and they hit six freaking balls to the third baseman. I've got to be the dumbest manager in the history of baseball, I guess."
Patterson gets best of Halladay in rematch
LAKELAND, Fla. -- When Eric Patterson made it to the Padres' roster last April, he singled in his first start before going into an 0-for-17 slump. Three of those at-bats came in a start against Roy Halladay, not exactly the easiest of situations for a spot starter.
Patterson struck out once and grounded to first base twice that afternoon, but considering Halladay struck out 14 that day, it could've been worse. It couldn't have been much better in the rematch, even if the setting was so much different.
"I'm not a guy that's going to hit a bunch of home runs," Patterson said of his two-homer effort off Halladay in Friday's 7-5 loss to the Phillies, "but I feel like if I get a good pitch and put a good swing on it, it'll go. And I was fortunate to do that a couple times today."
The first came on one of Halladay's early pitches, a cut fastball that wandered over the plate in the opening inning. Patterson sent it into a wind that was blowing out, and it landed in the trees near the right-field light tower to open Detroit's scoring.
Two innings later, he hit a no-doubter on a changeup that Halladay later said "came out like a spitball." The resulting drive cleared the batting cages beyond the right-field fence. He finished the day with four hits and four RBIs.
"Like I said, it's one game," Patterson said. "It's Spring Training. Obviously you want to go out and make a good impression, have some good ABs."
He hasn't had many chances to do that. As a non-roster invite on a team with three candidates at second base and a pretty set mix in the outfield, he came into Friday with just four plate appearances against big league teams this spring. With Brennan Boesch having made the long road trip to Port Charlotte on Thursday, Patterson got his shot.
"He hasn't gotten a whole lot of chances," manager Jim Leyland said, "but he's certainly been taking advantage."
That doesn't mean he improved his chances to open the season with the team. But he's the type of player who gives the team an option if injuries or inconsistency forces a move.
"Those guys -- Matt Young, Quintin Berry, Patterson -- they're all guys that have had big league experience," Leyland said, "and that's nice to have."
Stohr happy to be in camp and healthy
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Tyler Stohr was staying with Casey Crosby in the Arizona Fall League this past offseason, when Crosby got the call that he was being added to the 40-man roster. No sooner did he congratulate Crosby than his own cell phone began ringing. It was the same area code as the one Crosby got.
Thus, barely a year and a half after Tommy John surgery put his career on hold, he was on track for a big league shot. He hasn't taken his opportunity to learn in big league camp for granted.
"The biggest thing I've learned is how the veterans go about their business," Stohr said. "I mean, I'm in a pretty good row [of lockers] with [Justin] Verlander, [Brandon] Inge, Alex [Avila]. They're all across from me. Just [watching] how they go about their business and the way things are up here as opposed to Minor League camp -- I learn more from sitting back and watching and keeping my mouth shut than going out and doing my own thing."
Stohr struck out 50 batters over 57 innings of relief between Class A Lakeland and Double-A Erie last year to go with a 3.79 ERA, and he cracked the top 20 lists of Tigers prospects. His stuff now feels better to him than it did then, mainly due to health. He entered Friday's game against the Phillies trying to protect a one-run lead and retired his only batter, Pete Orr, on a comebacker.
"I feel a lot more comfortable with my secondary pitches," he said. "Coming back from Tommy John, the fastball came back first, but the secondary stuff was a little bit behind. And this year, there's no hesitance to throw a slider this year. I can follow through, and it's fine."
Rotation candidate Below to start Monday
LAKELAND, Fla. -- The next piggyback start among the fifth-starter candidates will feature a new candidate opening. Duane Below, who has two appearances out of the bullpen this spring, will make his first start of camp Monday against the Mets.
Top prospect Jacob Turner made the start in that spot in the first turn through the rotation, with Andy Oliver following him. Manager Jim Leyland initially planned to switch them up, with Oliver getting the start, but moved up Below.
Below pitched Thursday against the Rays, but was held to one inning rather than two so that he could come back on short rest. He'll be the fourth candidate to get a start this spring; Oliver started the exhibition game against Florida Southern, and Drew Smyly is scheduled to start for the Tigers' split squad Sunday at the Astros.
Leyland: Save it for the season, Miggy
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Miguel Cabrera said Thursday he was taking advantage of an opportunity and testing his jump when he stole third base against the Rays, a play that first-base coach and baserunning instructor Tom Brookens called a good read. As good as it was, manager Jim Leyland wishes he had waited on that.
"I wish he had saved that for the season," Leyland said Friday morning.
Cabrera usually ends up trying to steal more than a few times during the season. He went 2-for-3 on steals last year, 3-for-6 in 2010 and 6-for-8 in 2009. One of those three attempts last year was third base, and it accounted for his only caught stealing.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.