LAKELAND, Fla. -- After a rash of fielding miscues from pitchers proved costly for the Tigers in the 2006 World Series, they had what might have been the most publicized round of pitchers' fielding practice the next spring. History did not repeat itself this spring with sliding drills.
While Tigers pitchers enjoyed their last round of live batting practice, position players took to the sliding pads. It isn't so much an instructional session as it is a checkup for manager Jim Leyland and coaches to find any reason for concern.
"What you really do it for is to see if you've got somebody who can't slide," Leyland said.
Any particularly ugly slides are referred to baserunning coach Tom Brookens for extra work.
"I try not to look when they're doing that," Leyland said, "but I took a couple peeks and it looked like they were doing all right."
V-Mart eager for first Grapefruit League action
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Say what you will about Spring Training games meaning little. They mean something to Victor Martinez.
Friday's Grapefruit League opener means a lot, maybe more than any Spring Training game in his career. Whether the stats count or not, it'll be his first game since the 2011 ALCS. And yet, it'll mean much more than that.
It means the lost season from knee surgery is over.
"I finally wake up from that nightmare," Martinez said.
If that term sounds a bit strong, consider that Martinez only visited camp once or twice last year while he was recovering from surgery. It was too tough on his emotions to be around knowing he wouldn't be able to play, having blown out his left knee working out last January.
He has been working out with everyone else in this year's camp for a week. Now it's time for him to see real pitching in actual games and see how his knees react.
The Tigers won't bring their entire projected Opening Day lineup to Disney's Wide World of Sports complex for Friday's 1:05 p.m. ET game against the Braves, but they'll bring the middle of their lineup. Martinez in particular was a no-brainer. He lives in the Orlando area and can drive to the complex in about 20-25 minutes. With the Braves agreeing to allow a designated hitter for the game, Martinez doesn't have to play in the field to get at-bats.
Most important, he's healthy and ready to go.
"He's one of those who have so much appreciation for the game, he's in hog heaven right now," manager Jim Leyland said. "He really missed it. He's just thrilled to be back in uniform and out on the field. He's like a little kid."
Like a kid, he was already looking forward to his big day, a day ahead of time. He'll bat fifth in the lineup after Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, meaning he'll step to the plate in the first or second inning against Atlanta starter Tim Hudson.
Realistically, he could've been facing a Minor League starter and it wouldn't have mattered for him. After seeing nothing but games on television and rehab work last season, he just wants to get into a game.
"It's going to feel great, that's for sure," Martinez said. "It'll be exciting. Even a Spring Training game, I'm really excited to get back in there."
At some point, he'll probably get some sort of activity that will test his confidence in his knee, whether he tries to stretch out an extra-base hit or makes a lunge to first base. He's not worried about that because he's not taking anything for granted after no live pitching for a year.
"The first step is hit the ball," he said, "and see what happens."
Leyland has no hesitation.
"Victor looks, knock on wood, 100 percent," he said. "I think that's all behind him."
The Tigers' double-play combination of Omar Infante and Jhonny Peralta will join Cabrera, Fielder and Martinez in Friday's starting lineup. Quintin Berry is scheduled to lead off and play center field, while former Braves prospect Brayan Pena will catch. The corner outfield spots will be manned by top hitting prospects Avisail Garcia and Nick Castellanos, who will bat eighth and ninth respectively.
Tigers taking cautious approach with Scherzer
LAKELAND, Fla. -- When the Tigers said they'd be watching the early workload on Max Scherzer, they weren't just trying to sound cautious. They're going to use the extra-long Spring Training schedule to stretch out his arm slowly.
While most of the Tigers' rotation will get to work this weekend, manager Jim Leyland said Scherzer isn't scheduled to pitch in a Grapefruit League game until Saturday, March 2. He'll throw an extra side session and a round of live batting practice in the meantime.
The Tigers have their only set of split-squad games scheduled for March 2. They haven't set which game Scherzer will pitch, but as a veteran, he would most likely be in line to start the home end against the Pirates at Joker Marchant Stadium.
Scherzer, who has yet to face live hitters this spring, missed time last September with shoulder tendinitis and pitched in the postseason with a relatively tight pitch count. The Tigers and Scherzer have both said he's fine, but they're going to proceed cautiously with him this spring, as much for the shoulder as for his extended workload over the last two years.
Tigers line up order for Opening Day with Twins
LAKELAND, Fla. -- A day before the Tigers play their first Spring Training game, their manager already has his Opening Day lineup pretty well set. That's what happens when he has so few positional battles to take into account.
Jim Leyland's announced lineup, assuming the Tigers face a right-handed starter from the Twins on April 1 at Minnesota, pretty well falls in line with projections that have been published this winter. Austin Jackson will lead off and play center field, followed by new right fielder Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera at third, Prince Fielder at first, Victor Martinez at DH, Andy Dirks in left, Jhonny Peralta at shortstop, Alex Avila catching and Omar Infante at second.
If the Twins open the season with a left-handed starter such as Scott Diamond, one spot could change. The Tigers have been talking about looking for a right-handed hitter for potential starts in left field, but Leyland said on Thursday he could still end up starting Dirks regardless for the opener.
Again, it's nothing that goes against what had already been projected.
"I even saw a few fans [online] who agreed with me on that," Leyland joked.
Coke provides light moment during live BP
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Even in a humdrum session of live batting practice, Phil Coke can be an entertainer, intentionally or otherwise. On Thursday, he was a little bit of both.
The left-hander's celebration after getting a swing and miss from right-handed hitting prospect Avisail Garcia was clearly in jest, as was his request for fellow prospect Nick Castellanos to stay in the batters' box against him. When Coke buried a pitchout attempt in the dirt and skipped it past, manager Jim Leyland ribbed him back.
"What was that?" Leyland yelled out.
Leyland was still chuckling about it afterwards.
"It was supposed to be a pitchout," Leyland explained. "It turned out to be a pitch-in. He's a goofy one, but he's pretty good."
Then Leyland relaxed.
"I'm glad pitchers' BP is over," Leyland sighed. "We're done. We got through it."
Leyland's concern every year is that somebody could get hurt, whether it's a pitcher overdoing it or a hitter getting struck. The only incident of the latter this spring, Leyland said, came from a pitch that a coach threw.
Catchers are relieved, too. A catcher's worst nightmare, Alex Avila explained, is a foul tip that bounces off the top of the cage and hits the catcher in the back, where they don't have padding.
"We had a couple close calls," Avila said.
• Leyland said utility infielder Danny Worth "will probably be out there at some point" in left field this spring. Worth played one game in left at Triple-A Toledo last year, but had taken fly balls there for several days beforehand.
• A day after Justin Verlander turned 30 years old, former teammate and current Tigers guest instructor Kenny Rogers tried to suggest he saw a gray hair on Verlander's head. While Verlander won 124 games in his 20s, Rogers earned all but 53 of his 219 career wins after turning 30.