3/26/2014 7:21 P.M. ET
Tips from teammates help improve Coke's slider
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The deadline came and went Wednesday for Major League teams to place arbitration-eligible players on waivers in order to release them for a quarter of their salary. Phil Coke, once thought to be at risk of making the team when he struggled early in spring, wasn't even a consideration for a move by the final week.
That might have been a curveball for some. For Coke, his Spring Training performance has come down to a slider, a better one than he threw last year, or even a few weeks ago.
"They told me that they wanted me to work on the breaking ball and I've been working on it, obviously," Coke said. "I hope it's obvious."
It's a different pitch, thrown harder than the old breaking ball, with some late break and better life. Instead of a low-80s curve, he's throwing 85-86 mph with it. Essentially, it's Coke's rendition of Joba Chamberlain's old nasty slider.
"It's sharper and crisper," manager Brad Ausmus said, "more sliderish than slurvish."
The pitch came about during a session in between appearances. Coke asked Ian Krol how he threw his breaking ball. He tried the grip, but didn't feel comfortable with it. Then Chamberlain joined in the conversation and explained how he threw his slider.
"It made sense to me, like I understood why he gripped it that way," Coke said. "And I started throwing it, and he was like, 'Man, I wish I had that,' which was appreciated by me.
"I've been working and working and working and just not quite getting the results I'm after. And then the grip adjustment started getting me more of the results I'm looking for."
It's still new enough that catcher Alex Avila didn't know what Coke was doing when he threw it in warm-ups Wednesday. Getting similar reactions from hitters, though, has been key. Though he walked the first batter he faced Wednesday, lefty slugger Ryan Howard, to put runners at first and second with one out, he regrouped to strike out right-handed hitting Marlon Byrd with the pitch. He threw another one for a first-pitch strike on Tony Gwynn Jr., who eventually flew out to center to end the threat.
"I feel really good about where I'm at with it, considering I've thrown it in two games and faced some big league hitters with it," Coke said. "I was pretty happy with the turnaround."
Coke gave up four runs in a two-inning stretch in early March, then escaped a jam against Toronto with a diving catch from Ezequiel Carrera a few days later. Since then, he has thrown 5 2/3 scoreless innings on three hits with seven strikeouts.
Most of those outings didn't feature the slider. He seemingly has a better chance to keep rolling with it.
"I'm seeing the result," Coke said, "and it's a really good result."
Davis to join with Motte for good cause
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- New Tigers speedster Rajai Davis has teamed up with Cardinals reliever Jason Motte in his effort to help raise money to fight cancer. Davis will be the Tigers' representative in a fundraising effort, selling T-shirts in Tigers blue and orange.
It's an early charitable effort from Davis, who signed a two-year contract with Detroit in December.
The website 108stitches.com went live on March 17, with 108 Stitches showcasing the "Strike Out Cancer" tees in each team's colors. Each is promoted by a different player who agreed to join Motte in a partnership that will benefit multiple charities. Each participating player has chosen a charity that will benefit from the T-shirt sales, and for each shirt sold, $5 will go to the Jason Motte Foundation and $5 to a charity of that player's choice. A full list of recipient charities will be listed on the 108 Stitches website soon, along with a photo of each player rep in his team-colored shirt.
"At the end of the day, it's about reaching people," Motte said. "Baseball is great and everything, but there are other really important things going on out there that affect a lot of people. Wearing these T-shirts shows people that they're not alone. They're not sitting there doing chemo by themselves where no one cares. People do care, whether it's friends, family or baseball players. There are people who this has touched and this has affected. This is something we're trying to do to get the word out there and try to raise money to help."
Ausmus to keep green light on for most players
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The team-wide green light that new manager Brad Ausmus put on his baserunners at the start of camp is about to turn yellow in spots.
That was long expected. The clearance to run was a way to promote an aggressive mentality and heighten awareness on the basepaths, resulting in a Major League high in stolen bases this spring. Now that Ausmus has seen how players run, he's going to curtail some of them, but it might not be as many as expected.
"Some of these guys will have the green light yanked away from them when we leave here," he said, "but most of them will continue to keep them."
Moreover, if he senses players aren't looking to run as much as hoped, he might send out a message.
"That's the thing about baseball: It's such a long season, it's easy to forget what we were trying to accomplish early on," Ausmus said. "Into the season, there'll be reminders."
Tigers' Opening Day batting order still in flux
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Tigers break camp on Friday to head north. They open the regular season Monday afternoon against the Royals at Comerica Park. It might be Monday morning before manager Brad Ausmus' batting order is public.
"I'm still working some of that out," Ausmus said.
For the manager who has been posting his next day's lineup in Spring Training to let guys know ahead of time when and where they're hitting, it's a last-minute process.
All he has ensured so far is that Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez will bat third and fourth, and that Austin Jackson is unlikely to bat leadoff. Everybody around the middle of the order is currently in flux, and could remain so even after the Opening Day roster is set.
"I will say it's probably not going to be the same nine in order every single day," Ausmus said. "I think it might change a little bit on a game-by-game basis. There'll be guys in similar slots all the time, but not necessarily always in the exact same spot.
"There'll be some flexibility in the lineup. When you lose [Jose] Iglesias, who's an everyday player, and you lose [Andy] Dirks, who was kind of partnering with Rajai [Davis] as the left fielder, you have to adjust. Part of that is the lineup probably not being set in stone."
That could include the leadoff spot, where Ian Kinsler seemed poised to hit for much of spring. Davis led off Wednesday against Philadelphia, and he's set to do the same on Thursday against Atlanta, with Kinsler batting second both days. Both games feature left-handed starters.
"The upside to Davis [hitting] first in that situation, not so much Kinsler hitting second, is [batting] two spots in front of Miggy, which gives him a little more freedom on the bases," Ausmus said.
Spring performances 'encouraging' for Verlander
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Justin Verlander went into Spring Training with the goal of being ready for Opening Day. Then he said he's going into his seventh consecutive Opening Day start with a goal of showing his 2013 struggles were a fluke.
After 20 shutout innings this spring on eight hits, five walks and 17 strikeouts, he seems to be on his way toward the latter.
"That's why I worked so hard," Verlander said. "After [core muscle] surgery I worked my butt off to get back. This spring's been encouraging."
Encouraging, he said. Surprisingly, he did not. Nor, for that matter, did his new manager.
"Did it amaze me? Not really, based on everything I've been told about him," manager Brad Ausmus said. "He's an extremely hard worker. I've been around a number of pitchers who have been like that. They have the stuff to be successful, but they have the work ethic to make themselves one of the greatest in the game.
"[Roger] Clemens was that way. [Roy] Halladay was that game, I heard. [Andy] Pettitte was that way. They leave nothing to chance. He's one of those guys."
Verlander's final tuneup of the spring on Wednesday against the Phillies might have been a little more than encouraging. The only base hit he allowed over 6 1/3 innings against a lineup of mostly Phillies regulars was a first-inning bloop single into shallow left-center from Chase Utley. Verlander retired 16 consecutive hitters from there until he walked Jimmy Rollins to lead off his seventh and final inning.
Seven of those 16 consecutive outs were strikeouts. Five, he estimated, came on pitches other than his fastball, as he tried to use a regular-season mix of pitches. Just two out of the nine balls put in play escaped the infield.
"Fastball control was good. Offspeed stuff was good," he said. "Can't ask for much more than that going into the start [of the season]."
The command and crispness was more than the work to get back to health, but the mechanical adjustments he made once he was cleared to pitch. In the matter of a couple weeks, he adjusted his arm angle to put his shoulders on an even level in his delivery, something he says he had in 2012 but lost in 2013.
The results, at a time when hitters tend to start catching up to pitchers, seemingly reflect it.
"Yeah, I'm definitely encouraged," he said. "Obviously there hasn't been a lot of solid contact, so I know that what I'm working on has been beneficial to me. I think I've got a good angle on my fastball and my offspeed stuff's been really good."
• Don Kelly was feeling improvement in his strained right hamstring Wednesday and was scheduled to resume baseball activities. While there's no timetable for his return, Ausmus said he expects to have him back later this week. "I'm not concerned about him," Ausmus said. "My guess is we'll get him some at-bats."
• Ben Verlander's latest Spring Training appearance in a Tigers uniform Wednesday gave him a chance to play in a game his older brother Justin pitched. The younger Verlander pinch-hit for Torii Hunter in the eighth inning, after Justin Verlander pitched the first 6 1/3 innings.
"Today was the first time I've ever played in the same game as my brother," Ben Verlander tweeted later. "That was fun."