03/16/2013 5:30 PM ET
Tigers brass makes trip to watch roster hopefuls
By Christina De Nicola / Special to MLB.com
JUPITER, Fla. -- Though All-Stars Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera didn't make the long bus ride from Lakeland, Fla., to the Cardinals' Jupiter facility Saturday, Tigers manager Jim Leyland called the weekend matinee an opportune time for players to impress the organization.
"We didn't leave anybody home," Leyland said. "All the brass is here to look at these guys who are fighting for jobs. You always find a way that your job is productive, and I think this is a pretty productive day."
Quintin Berry, who was set back by knee tendinitis during the early part of Grapefruit League action, started in center field. Jeff Kobernus manned the left-field spot, while Avisail Garcia started in right before top prospect Nick Castellanos replaced him in the second inning. Garcia suffered a right heel contusion and will be re-evaluated Sunday.
Non-roster invitees Matt Tuiasosopo and Don Kelly started at first and third, respectively. Even right-hander Shawn Hill -- another non-roster invitee signed as an insurance policy, according to Leyland -- is vying to be a sixth starter.
"I think the fact we're getting to play all these guys fighting for the opportunity -- I think it works out good," Leyland said. "I think that's why you do it when you take a long trip. They've got to go."
Rondon strikes out side after brief loss of control
JUPITER, Fla. -- Two days after tossing his first 1-2-3 inning of the spring, right-hander Bruce Rondon delivered his fourth consecutive scoreless outing Saturday afternoon in a 3-0 win against the Cardinals.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland remained adamant afterward that a decision on the team's closer will still go down to the wire and probably won't happen until the end of Spring Training.
"When I'm convinced that we have one," Leyland said, "we'll have a closer. Somebody will close games."
Rondon, ranked by MLB.com as the Tigers' No. 2 prospect, struck out the first two batters -- Oscar Taveras and Ty Wigginton -- swinging before throwing seven consecutive balls in his fifth-inning appearance.
Pitching coach Jeff Jones visited the mound to speak with Rondon, who proceeded to strike out Ronny Cedeno on a full count with Tony Cruz at first.
"He told me I was moving my body a little bit too fast and just to calm down a little bit," Rondon said through a translator.
"You can't get the third out before you throw a pitch," Leyland told Rondon upon his return to the dugout.
Two of Rondon's strikeouts came via his breaking ball, but fans cheered when the 22-year-old reached 100 mph on a fastball.
Detroit shows improved defense in spring
JUPITER, Fla. -- The Tigers needed time last season acclimate to new positions and teammates, evidenced by its 16th-ranked defense in the Major Leagues.
Eighth-year infield coach Rafael Belliard said he took part in 20 interviews last year when Miguel Cabrera shifted from first to third base, making room for free-agent acquisition Prince Fielder. Detroit later acquired second baseman Omar Infante in a trade with the Marlins in July, further altering its infield.
"Cabrera played shortstop when he was young," said Belliard, who spent 17 seasons as a Major League infielder. "He has good hands and good arms. He worked a lot and hard to be where he is now, and I think he played pretty good defense last year."
Entering Saturday afternoon's game against the Cardinals, the Tigers ranked third in all of spring baseball with a .986 fielding percentage, committing 11 errors in their first 21 games, with five of them credited to players no longer in Detroit's big league camp.
Since spring schedules differ for each player, it can be tough for the projected infield to get enough work in together. Against the Cardinals on Saturday, shortstop Jhonny Peralta made the trip to Roger Dean Stadium, but Ramon Santiago started in place of Infante. Peralta made a throwing error in the first inning of a 3-0 win.
Belliard makes sure Peralta and Infante turn 15 to 20 double plays apiece before every home game, and in the next 10 days before Opening Day, he hopes to have them put in extra work.
"I like to work around the bases and in the cage," Belliard said. "It's a repetition. We try to make the routine plays so every time we turn double plays -- if we get two -- the starting pitchers stay in the game longer. That's why we work a lot on them."
• Avisail Garcia left Saturday's game against the Cardinals in the bottom of the second inning with a right heel contusion. He jumped at first base while running out a grounder in the top of the frame, rather than catching the front of the bag with his stride, and felt soreness in his heel as he made his way back to the dugout.
Top prospect Nick Castellanos replaced him in right field.
Garcia sported a bandage on his heel and hopped out of the clubhouse to the team bus after the game, but hopes he will be good to go on Sunday against the Nationals.
"I don't like that because I want to play," Garcia said. "That happens when you play the game hard."
• Leyland offered a reporter one shot at predicting Detroit's starting rotation for the first five games of the regular season and heard a guess that started with Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister, before the reporter blanked on the fifth spot.
"You're totally off," Leyland said. "If you had it right, I was going to tell you. You do not have it right and you will not get the rotation now until probably the last day of Spring Training."
Leyland called the home opener more of a "happening" for Detroit and predicted fans would be excited no matter who started the game.
• Outfielder Brennan Boesch, whom the Tigers unconditionally released Wednesday, signed with the Yankees on Friday.
The 27-year-old played parts of three seasons with the Tigers, beginning in 2010. He hit .240 with 12 home runs and 54 RBIs over 132 games last season.
"I knew he would sign, and hopefully things work out for him," Leyland said. "[I] thought he was going to be the right fielder for the Tigers for a long time. It just didn't work out, and at this time, it wasn't a good fit for our club, and he's moved on. The New York Yankees -- that's pretty impressive. We wish him the best. He was a great kid."
• Austin Jackson was the designated hitter for Saturday's game against the Cardinals since he played six innings in center field against the Blue Jays on Friday. Leyland wanted to "get him off his feet."
Christina De Nicola is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.