So far, veteran Kinsler good fit for Tigers on field & in clubhouse
Little scenes from the Detroit clubhouse reflect Ian Kinsler's love of the game and care for his teammates.
'The ultimate goal in team sports is to win the championship, the World Series.' -- Ian Kinsler
Rick Osentoski / USA TODAY Sports
By STEVE KORNACKI
Ian Kinsler has accomplished plenty in eight major-league seasons.
He made three All-Star teams; hit .311 in 34 postseason games for the Texas Rangers; and twice achieved 30-30 status in homers and steals in one season.
The new Detroit Tigers second baseman has plenty to be proud of, but what about his career gives him the most satisfaction?
When asked that question, Kinsler, sitting on his clubhouse stool, paused for several seconds before coming up with the answer.
"I'd like to say, I've been a good teammate," Kinsler said. "That's so important to me. We spend a lot of time together with the same people, and that time should be as easy as possible and as fun as possible.
"So I hope I've been a good teammate. You can ask them if I have been."
New Tigers closer Joe Nathan was Kinsler's teammate the last two seasons in Texas.
"Ian is a competitor," Nathan said. "He loves to compete and he loves to win. But he also really cares about the other guys on the squad. That makes Ian a very, very good teammate. He's already fit right in."
Several scenes from the Detroit clubhouse reflect Kinsler's love of the game and care for his teammates:
• When Kinsler saw shortstop Jose Iglesias with his head down -- depressed about the stress fractures to his shins that will end up costing him at least four months of playing time -- Kinsler approached him and placed an arm around Iglesias before whispering encouragement in his ear. Then Kinsler softly tapped Iglesias on the chest and walked away.
• When veteran shortstop Alex Gonzalez was spending his first game day with the Tigers at Comerica Park, Kinsler was the teammate having lunch with him.
• As batting-practice time approached for a game with the Baltimore Orioles, Kinsler sat on the comfy leather couches in the clubhouse with teammates Alex Avila and Austin Jackson. They watched replays of separate American League games on two big-screen televisions, and Kinsler was animated in pointing out plays in both games.
Talking the game and making teammates feel comfortable and better about themselves is important to having success over 162 games and beyond. Kinsler, 31, is the kind of player who assures that. He's also a productive, clutch player.
Kinsler was batting .313 and leading the Tigers with six runs while sharing the lead with 10 hits headed into Friday night's game at San Diego. The leadoff hitter also has one homer and three RBI, and has been a sparkplug for a team off to a 5-3 start.
His leadoff double in the ninth inning off Los Angeles Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen on Tuesday night set the stage for Victor Martinez's game-tying single. Kinsler also stole two bases on Wednesday to reach third base and score on a sacrifice fly by Martinez.
"I try to do whatever it takes to help my team win," Kinsler said. "This year is about scoring runs. The more I score, the happier I will be."
Kinsler has scored 100-plus runs in four of the five seasons in which he reached 500 at-bats, and was second in the American League with 121 runs in 2011.
"I worked on my speed and quickness all winter," said Kinsler, who is from Arizona and resides in Dallas with his wife and two children. "I want to be a real threat on the bases. I did a lot more running. I did a lot more sprinting. I did acceleration drills to work on my starts."
Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said Kinsler could end up being this team's best base runner, noting that Kinsler "knows when to take the extra base" and has superior instincts.
Kinsler also is adept at keeping innings going. He was the third-toughest batter in the AL to strike out in 2013, with one every 10.4 at-bats. And only five hitters were less likely to hit into a double play than Kinsler, who did so once every 109 at-bats last year.
While it was Prince Fielder's job to knock in runs, Kinsler's is to score them. Detroit traded Fielder for Kinsler on Nov. 20, and it could end up being a good deal for both teams.
Kinsler made headlines during spring training when he criticized Rangers general manager Jon Daniels for a number of things: Not informing Kinsler of the trade before it was reported in the media; trading Michael Young; and forcing Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan out of the organization. Kinsler also said he hoped the Rangers would go 0-162 this season.
"Daniels is a sleazeball," Kinsler reportedly told ESPN The Magazine. "He got in good with the owners and straight pushed Ryan out. He thought all the things he should get credit for, Ryan got credit for. It's just ego. Once we went to the World Series, everybody's ego got huge, except for Nolan's."
Kinsler went to the World Series twice with Texas, losing both times.
"The ultimate goal in team sports is to win the championship, the World Series," Kinsler said. "That's still something I haven't checked off my list."
He thinks he can do that with the Tigers, and enjoys the personalities and clubhouse atmosphere with Detroit.
"It's refreshing," Kinsler said. "It's a new start with new teammates. I like it here a lot."