CLEARWATER, Fla. -- It wasn't an injury absence technically, but Rafael Belliard's absence from the first-base coaching box so far this spring was a reason for worry. It ended Monday.
When Belliard took his new position coaching first base for the Tigers' 10-1 win over the Phillies, he made what he considered a major step in his road back from prostate cancer. It came less than four weeks after surgery to remove two tumors.
His doctor didn't want him out on the field when games began over the weekend because he worried that a sudden movement to get out of the way of a foul ball could open up wounds from his surgery and cause bleeding. So Belliard waited.
Dr. Vipul Patel was Belliard's guest at Joker Marchant Stadium on Sunday, when the Tigers hosted the Phillies, and he also gave Belliard clearance to begin coaching at first Monday. Belliard hopes to be cleared to take part in batting practice next week.
Miggy's massive homer nearly leaves ballpark
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Few hitters in the game today can make a tape-measure home run look as effortless as Miguel Cabrera. Just as few can make it sound that way.
While the 6,061 in attendance at Bright House Field saw Cabrera test the depths of the ballpark with his three-run homer to left field, Cabrera claims he just saw a way to avoid a double play with runners in scoring position when he blistered a Jonathan Papelbon fastball.
"With a runner in scoring position with one out, I try to hit the ball in the gap," Cabrera said. "I try not to kill the inning with a ground-ball double play right there. It was like my goal to try to elevate the ball, try to hit the gap."
He certainly did that. The ball nearly landed in the players' parking lot behind the stadium. A bartender at one of the tiki bars along the left-field concourse said the ball hit the back fence behind the bar, about 100 feet beyond the left-field fence. Most teams don't even attempt to do measurements on Spring Training home runs, but the best guess was a 450-foot drive.
Players have homered into the players' parking lot in the past, especially during batting practice. Most of those, however, take place during batting practice -- not during a game.
It was the second home run of the spring for Cabrera, who said he's trying to get his timing down quickly before he leaves to join Venezuela for the World Baseball Classic.
The tape-measure drive upstaged Nick Castellanos' first home run in a Tigers uniform, an opposite-field drive to right-center field that looked a lot like a classic Cabrera homer. Castellanos understood.
"I hit a home run. That guy hit a moon shot," Castellanos said.
Smyly keeps eyes on Phillies' Lee to pick up tips
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Most starting pitchers will tell you that they don't care who's starting on the mound for the other team. They try to beat the opponent, not the opposing pitcher.
Cliff Lee is not most starting pitchers. For Drew Smyly, he's the standard for his style of game. So when Smyly wasn't pitching during the first two innings, he was watching Lee, trying to get a tip, to notice something that could help his game.
"Every pitch," Smyly said afterward, "I was in the dugout just watching it. I always like seeing how he attacks the hitters, what he throws in certain counts, because I feel like we're pretty much the same. I always like to take notes when he pitches.
"He commands his pitches so well, in and out. Guys never know what's coming. Watching that, it's what I want to do. You know, I'm not going to blow a fastball by every guy, so I have to work in and out."
They have a lot more in common than that. Both hail from Arkansas, and both were Razorbacks in college. They have the same agent, and they both go home during the offseason, when they've found themselves working out at the same place in Little Rock on occasion, along with Cubs pitcher Travis Wood.
"I don't know if he tries to emulate me," Lee said of Smyly, "but he has asked a few questions and I try to give some pointers here and there, and I'm more than happy to help those guys out."
The intensity of Lee's workouts, and the repetition involved, amazed Smyly, but he did pick up ideas. His best tip of the winter, however, might have been a mechanical tweak that Tigers pitching coach Jeff Jones made during TigerFest to improve Smyly's changeup.
Smyly threw just a few changeups during his two innings of one-hit ball Monday, and he hit the strike zone with only one. He said the feel for it, however, was much easier than what he had thrown last year, when he was trying to force the motion.
"My command for it is better," Smyly said. "My feel for it is better. The angle of it, it's more changeup-like. Sometimes last year it would cut on me. It's a lot more consistent."
Dirks ready to return from rib cage strain
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Tigers have had enough injury news already in their camp that they were due for some good news. They got it Monday morning with outfielder Andy Dirks.
A day after Dirks was scratched from the lineup with a left intercostal strain, manager Jim Leyland said Dirks was feeling much better Monday morning.
"It wasn't near as bad as what they thought," Leyland said.
He could have made the trip for the afternoon game against the Phillies, but Leyland said they decided to play it cautious rather than rush him for a matchup with left-hander Cliff Lee.
Before the injury, Dirks was on the travel roster to Kissimmee for Tuesday's game against the Astros. With Nick Castellanos playing the entire game in left field Monday against the Phillies and Jeff Kobernus at DH, it's likely Dirks will play Tuesday.
"He's ready," Leyland said. "He took some swings today and said he felt fine. He didn't say he felt great, but he could've played today if I had wanted him to."