Tigers skipper Leyland: I’m still here

TOLEDO, Ohio — Tigers manager Jim Leyland ducked past several reporters Wednesday night before an event at Fifth Third Stadium.

“You guys thought you got rid of me,” he eventually said with a smile.

Leyland signed another one-year contract shortly after the World Series, which is just fine with him. He prefers to review his situation at the end of each season.

He was asked, tongue-in-cheek, about his 2014 contract.

“Oh, you’ll have fun speculating on that,” Leyland said. “And you’ll have me fired about 20 times.”

Then he left the reporters and addressed a gathering of Mud Hens/Tigers fans.

“I want to apologize,” Leyland began. “I want to apologize that the World Series lasted six hours and seven minutes … It was close last year, but no cigar.”

The couple hundred fans in attendance laughed along with him.

Hey, you laugh or you cry after what happened in the Fall Classic, which was hardly a classic.

The San Francisco Giants swept Detroit in four games after the Tigers’ sweep of the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series.

Getting over the final hurdle and winning the World Series — something the Tigers haven’t done since 1984 — was a popular topic of conversation during a question-and-answer session with fans.

“Maybe we won’t sweep the Yankees,” Tigers hitting coach Lloyd McClendon said. “But we’ll take it to five or six games and come in sharper.”

When asked about teams making improvements in the American League, McClendon noted that Josh Hamilton was a great free-agent pickup for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim; however, McClendon made it clear that he’s very happy that the Tigers signed the right fielder Hamilton is replacing, Torii Hunter.

On Hamilton in the field, McClendon said, “He’s OK, but he’s not going to be Torii Hunter in the outfield.”

Hunter has nine Gold Gloves to Hamilton’s none.

Leyland also discussed the 2013 season with reporters. He didn’t hesitate in determing that rookie closer Bruce Rondon will be the hottest topic on the team’s winter caravan, which concludes Saturday with the sold-out TigerFest at Comerica Park.

“If he throws it over the plate at 100, he’ll be fine,” Leyland said of Rondon.

Rondon, 22, is getting a shot at replacing Jose Valverde, who collapsed in the 2012 playoffs. Rondon has a fastball that tops out at 103 mph with movement, a plus slider — and not a single day of major league experience.

“I’m excited about the Rondon situation,” Leyland continued. “He’s going to be a big topic — might as well face up to it.”

In 2012, Rondon was a combined 2-1 with a 1.53 ERA, 29 saves, 66 strikeouts, 26 walks and 53 innings pitched for Single-A Lakeland (22 games), Double-A Erie (21 games) and Triple-A Toledo (nine games).

“I’m going to spend a lot of time with him,” Leyland said. “He don’t know that yet … I have to find out if he is he callused enough to do this or to turn the page.”

MORE FROM LEYLAND

On Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly vying for the No. 5 starter spot: “This guy (Porcello) is a pretty valuable piece for us. We’ve got Porcello and we’ve got Smyly … You never have enough of it (pitching). That will work its way out. It’s a luxury … If it’s Smyly, Porcello will be the safety valve in the bullpen. If it’s Porcello, Smyly will be the left-hander in the bullpen.”

On Gene Lamont moving from third-base coach to bench coach: “He got hit three times last year with one-hoppers and line shots. At our age, you do not react as well. He came to me and said, ‘You know, Jim, what would you think about next year putting me on the bench?’ I think Gene Lamont is the best third-base coach in the American League, so I’m concerned. But I think Tommy (Tom Brookens) will do fine at third.”

On Victor Martinez returning after missing 2012 while rehabilitating from knee surgery: “He’s stronger than ever. He’s relentless. He can’t wait. But you don’t know what tempo to go with him at yet.”

On outfielder Ryan Raburn signing a minor league contract with the Cleveland Indians: “Hopefully, he’ll relax a bit there.”

On shortstop Jhonny Peralta reporting to camp after an intense offseason conditioning regimen: “Peralta’s gonna look really good when he comes in.”

On the left-field situation with Andy Dirks and Brennan Boesch: “I see Dirks in left field. I see Boesch and Dirks competing. Boesch has done some pretty good things. Dirks has done some pretty good things. Let’s compete.”