Jim Leyland can handle a little criticism, and the way his Detroit Tigers are playing, he expects it.
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”I’m a grown man, and I’m a realist, and I think if you’ve seen me over the six years that I’ve been here, I get a little snippy once in a while when I think people are unfair,” Leyland said. ”They’re not being unfair right now. I can take it. I’m a man. We have to take it. We’re not performing well.”
The Tigers were 18-20 entering Friday night’s game against Pittsburgh, a strikingly mediocre mark for a team that won the AL Central by 15 games in 2011 and added Prince Fielder in the offseason. Although there’s plenty of time for Detroit to turn things around, first-place Cleveland had a four-game lead on the Tigers heading into Friday night’s action.
Patience is running a bit thin while Motown waits and hopes its team will hit its stride. Leyland understands the negativity.
”That’s part of this business,” Leyland said. ”You don’t snap at reporters and everything if you’ve got it coming. Right now, I have nothing to come back with, because we haven’t been very good. It’s that simple. You’ve got to take it when you’ve got it coming, and right now, we’ve got it coming.”
The Tigers were only 20-18 at this point last year, and they didn’t pull away from the division until August and September. But they ended up in the AL championship series, and although designated hitter Victor Martinez has been out with a knee injury, they signed Fielder to a massive contract in January.
”When you have the expectations that we have, and you perform the way we have up to this point, you expect severe criticism, and if you don’t, you’re not very smart,” Leyland said.
So the longer Detroit lingers around .500, the more the frustration builds among fans. Ace Justin Verlander — Friday night’s starter — has been outstanding. Fielder and Miguel Cabrera form a potent middle of the order. But there have been problems throughout the rest of the roster.
Closer Jose Valverde has struggled after going the entire 2011 season without a blown save, starters Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello have been inconsistent and the team has gotten little production from its second basemen.
One thing Leyland isn’t about to do is stage a contrived temper tantrum to shake things up.
”The yelling and screaming and throwing (stuff) like I did 20 years ago. That doesn’t work anymore. Forget it. … That doesn’t help anybody hit a slider. That doesn’t help anybody throw one over the plate,” Leyland said. ”If people are waiting for me to start throwing stuff and yelling and screaming, to put on a show for the media, I’m not going to do that. That’s not going to happen. I’m not going to put on some phony show.”