LAKELAND, Fla. — Speed can kill and the Tigers want to use it to their advantage this year.
With players like Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez, the Tigers will never be considered a super-fast team.
But they’re not slow either.
Last season they were seventh in the league in stolen bases with 106. Top-ranked Kansas City had 153.
That’s a far cry from 2013 when they were dead last with 35.
Outfielder Rajai Davis had 36 alone in 2014.
"You can add (Jose) Iglesias to the mix this year, add (Anthony) Gose to the mix this year," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "And after watching (Yoenis) Cespedes run the bases yesterday, he’s not slow. I think we’re probably a faster team overall than we were a year ago."
Iglesias is coming off bilateral tibial stress fractures but could learn to be more of a base stealer.
"There’s a learning curve," Ausmus said "Part of it is just being aware of some things the pitchers are doing before you even get on base. We’re talking about we’re trying to avoid all our pitchers getting into bad habits. Well, we’re also trying to take advantage of other teams’ pitchers who do have bad habits. Part of it was what Rajai Davis has and that’s fearlessness, not being afraid to be thrown out. You’ve got to be a little fearless."
Gose had 15 stolen bases in 94 games last season.
Cespedes has had seven in each of the last two seasons but had 16 in 2012 with Oakland.
"I talked to him, he had a leg injury one of the years, where he kinda got shut down kinda in terms of stealing," Ausmus said of Cespedes. "But he was running really well yesterday. I knew he could run, I knew he was athletic, but he was flying around the bases yesterday."
But better speed does not necessarily translate into more stolen bases.
It could translate into more runs, both for and against, though.
"It just puts more pressure on the defense across the board," Ausmus said. "One, you hit a ground ball to shortstop in the hole, the guy can run, well, he’s got to try and make the play quicker, maybe he rushes, he throws it away or he boots the ball and now you’ve got a baserunner.
"Makes it easier to go first to third on a single, or second to home on a single, or first to home on a double. Generally when you have speed, it translates into more outfield coverage, more range in the infield. All these things play in, especially over the course of 162 games."
The flip side of it is preventing other teams from using their speed, especially teams like the Royals.
The onus falls on the pitchers.
"They’re stealing on the pitchers," Ausmus said. "There’s certain catchers that change the running game, guys like Pudge Rodriguez, Yadier Molina that base stealers are more aware of. Generally it’s the pitcher they’re concerned with."
So while the Tigers are encouraging their players to force the defenders to make plays, they’re also making their pitchers aware of things they can do.
"There’s a number of ways a pitcher can mitigate a baserunner’s ability to steal," Ausmus said. "It’s not necessarily just the time to home plate but when you come set, holding for varying amounts of time rather than holding the same amount of time every pitch. Having different head movements — pitchers get in the habit of doing the same thing. They come set, they look, they pitch. They come set, they look, they pitch."
Ausmus and his coaches are taking every opportunity in bullpens and live batting practice to remind the pitchers to vary their times and holds.
Next week they’ll finally get to test the things they’ve been practicing in actual games.
UPDATES ON CABRERA, AVILA
It appeared to be good news for both Alex Avila and Miguel Cabrera Saturday.
"Alex feels a lot better today, he’ll be held out today," Ausmus said. "I’d be shocked if he wasn’t back tomorrow."
Avila’s back tightened up Friday so he did not participate in workouts.
Cabrera took a day off from running on the AlterG anti-gravity treadmill Friday due to a little soreness in his surgically repaired right ankle.
"He was walking fine, I haven’t asked him about it," Ausmus said. "He’s planning on hitting today. I asked him what he was doing today and he said he was gonna run but I think he was joking. Actually, at the end of the day yesterday, (he) felt better than he did earlier in the day. He started hitting and he was his normal jovial self."
MARTINEZ IN LAKELAND
Ausmus was afraid of this.
Victor Martinez, who just underwent surgery on his left knee Feb. 10, is supposed to be able to resume full activity 4-6 weeks following surgery.
So Martinez has been doing his rehab work near his home in Orlando.
Ausmus said the other day it might be better for Martinez to stay away because if he was in Lakeland, he’d be tempted to do more than he should too soon.
On Saturday morning, Martinez and his son, Victor, arrived in Lakeland for Photo Day.
The current plan is for Martinez to return Monday and run on the AlterG anti-gravity treadmill.
"He said he’s going to run on the AlterG and he said he might swing the bat," Ausmus said. "I said, ‘What are you going to do, hit off the tee?’ He said, ‘Yeah, maybe soft toss.’ So see, he’s already trying to get more involved. I said, ‘Let’s hold off on the soft toss because then you’ll want to hit live.’"
Ausmus said Martinez probably needs to check with head athletic trainer Kevin Rand and his doctors before hitting off a tee.
"My understanding is when he gets here, he’s going to start doing his rehabilitation here," Ausmus said. "We really just wanted to keep him away from the facility until he can start doing baseball activities because we don’t want him to be tempted to do it too early."
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