Fielder, Tigers ready to put on offensive show
''That's pretty hard to mess that one up,'' Leyland said.
Leyland is taking nothing for granted as the season approaches, but the 67-year-old skipper knows a loaded lineup when he sees one, and Fielder's arrival has brought an unmistakable swagger to a team that looks ready to slug its way through 2012.
''This club can hit, I am not concerned about that at all,'' Leyland said recently. ''The defense will come together, but with this hitting, we will be scary.''
Detroit's Justin Verlander won the American League Cy Young Award and MVP last season, and he might be a bit of an afterthought when he takes the mound on opening day against Boston on April 5. That's because of the stunning move the Tigers made during the offseason when they gave Fielder a $214 million, nine-year contract.
The aggressive bid for Fielder came after Detroit lost designated hitter Victor Martinez to a serious knee injury that could keep him out for the entire season. Tigers owner Mike Ilitch decided to act boldly, and now Comerica will be home to a fearsome power tandem. Cabrera won the AL batting title last year, hitting .344 with 30 home runs. Fielder hit 38 homers with Milwaukee, bringing his total to an even 200 over the last five seasons.
Fielder made a name for himself as a youngster with his batting practice displays at Tiger Stadium back when his father, Cecil, played there. Now he'll have to deal with Comerica's spacious outfield after leaving the Brewers.
''It's a bigger yard at Comerica, but I never keep my home runs close. I always give them plenty of room to spare,'' Fielder said. ''The big park won't hurt me.''
With Fielder now at first base, the Tigers are shifting their infield around a bit. Cabrera is moving from first back to third, a position he hasn't played since 2008. Cabrera was hit in the face by a bad-hop grounder Monday, breaking a bone below his right eye, but he's approached the switch to third with excitement.
''We've got Prince in the lineup. I think he brings a lot of power, he brings a lot of positive things to the team,'' Cabrera said. ''You've got to enjoy it. You've got to think about how good we're going to be with him in the lineup.''
When the Tigers decided to play Cabrera at third, Brandon Inge headed over to second, a position he's never played as a big leaguer. Inge hit .197 last year and lost his job as the everyday starter at third. He's hoping a move to the other side of the infield will enable him to play more.
That's one of the big questions still facing Leyland. Inge, Ryan Raburn and Ramon Santiago are all options at second base. Detroit also has yet to name a fifth starter. Left-hander Andy Oliver is one of several candidates. Right-hander Jacob Turner, widely considered the team's top prospect, has been bothered by tendinitis in his throwing shoulder.
The rest of the rotation is set. Verlander went 24-5 in 2011, threw a no-hitter and turned Comerica into the place to be in downtown Detroit whenever he took the mound. Right-hander Doug Fister went 8-1 after being traded from Seattle to Detroit around the deadline. Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello both had their moments.
Detroit's pitchers will be working in front of a potentially shaky defense, especially with Cabrera moving from first to third. That's one of a few pitfalls that could slow the Tigers and turn the Central race into a more competitive endeavor than it was last season.
Will Avila, the catcher, and Peralta, the shortstop, repeat the productive seasons they had in 2011? Does outfielder Austin Jackson's high strikeout total make him a liability in the leadoff spot? Those are some of the concerns.
Of course, even on days the Tigers aren't smacking line drives all over the park, they may be in good hands. Verlander insists he'd like to improve on his spectacular performance of a year ago.
Now there's a frightening thought.
''Last year was great, but it's a new year and it's back to square one,'' Verlander said. ''I turned the page and it's time to start over on opening day.''