02/12/2013 3:47 PM ET
At Tigers camp, all eyes on Rondon, Mercedes
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski has had to answer plenty of questions about Bruce Rondon this winter, which he expected as soon as they named him a closer candidate. But he also made a prediction of sorts on Sunday.
"Don't be surprised in another year if you're sitting here and we're talking about Melvin Mercedes," Dombrowski said. "This guy, when you see him, I don't know if he'll do it here, but he throws 97, 98, 99 [mph] and his breaking ball's improved, too."
Rondon dominated the talk on the first day of camp, especially with the easy delivery that sent fastballs to the plate in his bullpen session. Yet Mercedes, who did not throw, still generated some buzz.
He's a big right-hander, even bigger than the 6-foot-3, 255-pound Rondon, and he has almost as big of an arm. By Dombrowski's admission, the 22-year-old is probably not ready for the big leagues quite yet, but he's somebody they're watching.
Slowing down new Central foe Bourn on Tigers' mind
LAKELAND, Fla. -- The look from Quintin Berry, his jaw dropped in shock, best expressed the surprise of some Tigers to Michael Bourn's four-year, $48 million deal to join the Cleveland Indians. Berry hadn't heard about it until he was asked soon after filing into the clubhouse at Joker Marchant Stadium on Tuesday, three days before Tigers position players have their first formal workouts.
The smile and the shrug from Detroit pitcher Max Scherzer might have been the flip side.
"There's so much talent in the American League right now," Scherzer said. "Every lineup you face in the American League, every time we start, feels like it's loaded. To see another star, it's just common."
The reactions ranged widely around the defending American League champions. Team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said he heard rumors about the Indians' interest, but even he was caught off-guard at the agreement.
"I guess I'd say I was surprised," Dombrowski said. "I had heard more about the Mets in recent times. But I had heard the Indians, too.
Manager Jim Leyland's reaction might be seen in his actions in the coming days.
"That's none of my business," Leyland said. "I'm worried about the Tigers. I don't have any control over that kind of stuff."
All he controls are the Tigers' efforts to defend against Bourn. Two days earlier, Leyland talked with reporters about his emphasis this camp on pitchers doing their part to hold down the running game. He now has his best example why it's important.
The Tigers were in the middle of the pack among AL teams in allowing stolen bases in that 2011 season, giving up 119 stolen bases in 168 attempts. Those numbers jumped all around last season, up to 131 steals in 176 tries for a 74.4 percent success rate. Only the Indians (140) gave up more stolen bases among AL teams.
That said, by throwing out 25.6 percent of would-be basestealers, a four-percent drop from the previous season, the Tigers still had the sixth-best rate in the AL.
A dozen players accounted for 49 of the 131 stolen bases off Tigers pitching last year, and they did so with an efficient rate of success. Alcides Escobar led the pack, going 7-for-8. Former Toledo Mud Hen Dewayne Wise went 6-for-7. Twins speedster Ben Revere, now with the Phillies, went 5-for-7.
The Tigers were in the middle of the pack in pitcher pickoffs (14, sixth-best in AL) and pitcher caught stealing (10, tied for fourth).
Leyland believes they can do better. Get quicker to home plate and hold runners better, and catcher Alex Avila will have a fighting chance to throw out more basestealers.
Victor Martinez was the Indians catcher the last time Cleveland built a playoff team six years ago. When he was asked about Bourn, he pointed to Avila.
"We've got some policemen who give tickets to people who go from first to second," Martinez said.
The one Tigers pitcher with extensive experience against Bourn is Anibal Sanchez, who likewise spent his entire career in the National League before Detroit traded for him last July. Bourn is 6-for-18 with two doubles, two RBIs, a walk and five strikeouts against Sanchez for their careers.
"If you keep him off the base, you're going to have a good game," Sanchez said. "But everybody knows that."
Not only is Bourn a fast baserunner, Sanchez said, but he's an intelligent one.
"He's smart on the bases," Sanchez said.
Verlander tabbed for sixth straight Opening Day nod
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Justin Verlander's standing as the Tigers' Opening Day starter is now enough of an afterthought that manager Jim Leyland has done away with the suspense, announcing it on the first day of Spring Training.
Verlander will get the start on April 1 against the Twins at Minnesota.
Leyland isn't ready to announce the rest of his rotation order, but he has it mapped out, including a spot for either Rick Porcello or Drew Smyly.
"There's no secrets here. Verlander's obviously going to start Opening Day," Leyland said, "and then we're going to fill in after that."
Leyland did not say who will start the Tigers' home opener against the Yankees on April 5, which will be Detroit's fourth game of the season.
In filling in, the Tigers will use all five starters from the outset instead of skipping the fifth starter until they need him. By using all five the entire time, Leyland hopes to control the workload on starters like Verlander and Scherzer, who have racked up a lot of innings over the last two years.
It'll be Verlander's sixth consecutive Opening Day start. He's still looking for his first Opening Day victory. He took a no-decision last year after eight shutout innings when the Red Sox rallied to tie the game off Jose Valverde in the ninth.
The assignment, at least, is now an afterthought. Instead of trying to delay it, Leyland is trying to have fun with it.
"When we were up on the [winter] caravan, I was kidding with him," Leyland said. "I said, 'You can still handle Opening Day, can't you?' And he said, 'Yeah, I think so.' So that was pretty much the end of that conversation."
For old-school Leyland, some new technology
LAKELAND, Fla. -- One of the subtle surprises of reporting day Monday was the shiny new iPad on old-school manager Jim Leyland's desk. It was an offseason acquisition for him, and he knows how to use it.
"I FaceTimed with my wife this morning," Leyland said Tuesday when asked how much he uses it. "She looked good."
He doesn't have that same reaction when he sees himself on it.
"When I see myself on this Face Time," Leyland said, "I see what everybody says now about how old I look. I think I look pretty good until I get on that camera. All the wrinkles I don't see when I look in the mirror, I see on there."