04/12/09 1:25 PM ET
Comerica a challenge for Granderson
Tigers center fielder hasn't gotten comfortable in outfield
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
"It's amazing. Even after [playing here since] '04, I still don't have it right," Granderson said.
He's more comfortable playing center on the road. But if Saturday is a sign, he's at least getting more comfortable playing shallow here.
It's the positioning he had two years ago before retreating last year, and he wanted to get back to it when he focused on defensive work early in Spring Training. His time in the World Baseball Classic cut short his work, but he's making progress.
Plays like Saturday's mad dash into the center-field wall, painful as they look, are signs of progress. He's had two this week, the other capping Wednesday's win at Toronto, and both required him to take his eye off the ball for a few steps while he ran back.
That, manager Jim Leyland said, is a key adjustment for him.
"Outfielders, when the ball's hit over their head like that, they have to try to run to the spot where they think the ball's coming down," Leyland said. "You can't try to time it and stutter-step and all that. You won't catch up with it. That's a big difference with any outfielder."
Given Granderson's depth, it's particularly important. He drifted deeper last year, partly so he could better judge deep fly balls like that one. Playing shallow forces him to get a good first jump, but quickly judging where the ball is headed is just as important.
That initial read can be tough here, particularly in day games. Whether it's fans wearing white behind home plate, or tricky winds that are hard to judge by the outfield flags, or the sound of ball meeting bat, or even the low rise of the stands from field level to the main concourse, Granderson still isn't comfortable here compared with other places.
"I still don't know what it is on this field," Granderson said, "but there's some days you see fine, and there's other days where you just can't find the ball."
That, plus all that outfield to cover, leaves Granderson hesitant to creep in that far. He played far deeper in Friday's home opener, he said, than he did Saturday.
"I'm still just a little nervous, just because there's so much behind me," he said. "Other ballparks, I've got no problem coming in. Every other ballpark I feel comfortable doing it, except this one."
He tries settling in by tracking fly balls in batting practice, taking flies from outfield coach Andy Van Slyke and talking with corner outfielders Carlos Guillen and Magglio Ordonez. Still, he isn't sure he'll ever feel as comfortable here as elsewhere. His consolation is that few visiting outfielders feel comfortable here, either.
"I've seen Ichiro misjudge a ball here," Granderson said. "I've seen Torii [Hunter] misjudge a ball here."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.