2/23/2014 3:13 P.M. ET
Tigers get change of pace with some hoops
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
LAKELAND, Fla. -- The odd sound around the Tigers' clubhouse Sunday afternoon was the bounce of a basketball. In this case, it was manager Brad Ausmus' doing, as part of his latest effort to break up the monotony of early Spring Training workouts.
Ausmus, who plays basketball in an over-40 league at home in San Diego during the offseason, decided to hoop it up against his players in a shooting contest. It wasn't full-fledged basketball, but enough of a break from baseball to provide a change of pace.
"Bud Black did it in San Diego," Ausmus said, "so I kind of brought it over."
Teams were generally organized by position, with catchers, infielders, outfielders and members of the coaching staff opposing each other. Those players who weren't picked for their team were eligible to be drafted by Torii Hunter's squad.
It wasn't the first time a Tigers player made news on the court. Austin Jackson's dunk at the end of an offseason workout drew plenty of pageviews online last month after Hunter tweeted the link. That's a lot different, however, than a jumper.
"The jumper is gone," Jackson lamented Sunday. "If you don't practice it, it goes."
Kinsler leading off, Jackson fifth in spring opener
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Tigers manager Brad Ausmus hasn't yet announced his batting order for the start of the season, and he probably won't do that for a while. But he might have laid down a hint with his lineup for Tuesday's unofficial Spring Training opener against Florida Southern.
Ausmus didn't announce the full lineup, but he revealed the top half when asked how many regulars will play in the exhibition game. New Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler will bat leadoff, followed by Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. Austin Jackson, Detroit's leadoff man for the better part of four years, will bat fifth.
Ausmus didn't reveal the rest of the lineup, because some players involved hadn't been informed of his plans. He has made communication a point of emphasis as manager, and he said early in camp that he doesn't want players reading about their roles before they're told personally.
Ever since Kinsler's arrival in the Prince Fielder trade, Detroit's leadoff spot has been a mystery. He sat atop the batting order in Texas for five of the past six seasons, reaching base safely from that spot at a .346 percentage rate for his career and at a rate of .355 last season. Austin Jackson has a .342 career OBP leading off, .337 last year.
There's no guarantee that the batting order for the first spring exhibition game equates to the batting order for Opening Day, even if the regulars are playing. Like his predecessor, Jim Leyland, Ausmus said he plans to play most of his regulars long enough to get one at-bat before substituting for them. In some years, Leyland would put a player near the top of the order to get him an at-bat early and avoid playing him in the field too much.
Rondon returns rust-free after sitting out with allergies
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Bruce Rondon's allergies settled down on Sunday, allowing him to pick up his pitching program where he left off a few days ago. The hard-throwing Tigers reliever threw his second session against live hitters and showed little if any rust, mixing sliders and changeups with some fastballs against a few Detroit batters.
"Today we were just trying to get him back on track," manager Brad Ausmus said.
Danny Worth, who faced Rondon for the second time in four days, said he was tough on Sunday, about the same as before despite not working out in between sessions.
Rondon was sent home Friday morning while dealing with illness, later diagnosed as allergies. He did not work out Saturday, raising the level of concern, but was a full participant on Sunday.
Avila taking it easy due to back spasms
LAKELAND, Fla. -- If the season opened Sunday, Alex Avila would be playing through back spasms. He gets them a couple of times a year, he said, but it usually doesn't force him out of the lineup.
Since Grapefruit League play hasn't started yet, however, Avila isn't pushing it. He missed a second day of Tigers workouts Sunday, spending most of the morning in the clubhouse while receiving treatment and doing lower-back exercises.
Avila felt enough improvement by midday that he expects to return on Monday, when Justin Verlander throws to hitters for the first time this spring.
"The way I'm feeling today, I most likely would be available [Monday]," Avila said. "That's according to how I progressed from yesterday."
If the second week of workouts seems early for annual back spasms, Avila wouldn't argue.
"I've never had them in Spring Training," he said. "I've gotten them sometimes during the year and ended up just playing through it, but I've never had them in the spring."
The Tigers had more than enough catchers to pick up Avila's workload. Without Avila hitting against him, however, Max Scherzer had to find another teammate to oppose him. He envisioned Andy Dirks at bat with runners at second and third base and two outs, but Dirks got enough of a first-pitch changeup to dump it into center field.
• Verlander will throw 45-50 pitches on Monday morning in his first session against live hitters this spring, and he'll do it on the hill at Joker Marchant Stadium. He'll be the only Tigers pitcher throwing a mound session on Monday during a shortened morning workout, to allow players and coaches to take part in a charity golf outing that afternoon.
• Tigers first base prospect and Canadian Jordan Lennerton was quietly reveling in his home country's Olympic gold medal victory in men's hockey on Sunday. Lennerton never played ice hockey growing up in British Columbia, having caught baseball fever at the age of five, but he played a lot of street hockey.
"It's kind of our stereotype," Lennerton said. "We have to hold our own in hockey and curling."