Tigers ready to embrace pressure
For a second straight year, Jim Leyland and the Detroit Tigers
enter the season with sky-high expectations.
That’s no guarantee of success – but it sure beats the
”I love being a target. That means you’ve got a good team,”
Leyland said early on in spring training. ”We’re going to be the
hunted. We were the winner. We were the American League champs.
That’s a good thing.”
After two straight AL Central titles and a World Series
appearance, the Tigers enter 2013 with the same core of stars.
Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, ace Justin Verlander and
slugger Prince Fielder carried Detroit into the postseason last
year, and those three MVP candidates are showing no signs of
slowing down. The only remaining goal in Detroit is to take that
final step and win the World Series after being swept by San
Francisco last October.
”I chose to come here because I knew they could win,” said
right fielder Torii Hunter, who signed with the Tigers in the
Detroit received plenty of attention from the outset in 2012
after signing Fielder to a huge contract. For much of the year, the
Tigers were a disappointment, but they finally overtook the Chicago
White Sox in September and won the division with an 88-74
Behind a stellar performance from its starting rotation, Detroit
beat Oakland and the New York Yankees in the postseason before
losing to the Giants.
Leyland does his best to limit distractions, and this year’s
everyday lineup was mostly set before spring training even began.
Detroit resolved one significant question Tuesday, announcing that
right-hander Rick Porcello would be in the starting rotation, with
left-hander Drew Smyly heading to the bullpen.
The last lingering issue – and perhaps the trickiest – is who
will close games. Jose Valverde had a poor finish to 2012, so the
Tigers let him go. Bruce Rondon could take over that role, but it’s
not clear yet. The hard-throwing Rondon has never pitched in the
”He can throw the ball as hard as he wants, but he needs
movement,” Leyland said. ”At this level, anybody can hit it no
matter how hard it is thrown. You can fire it with a machine gun
and these guys can hit it.”
The Tigers won the AL Central by 15 games in 2011, but they
never opened much distance between themselves and the rest of the
division last year. Their defense was a problem, and beyond
Cabrera, Fielder and leadoff hitter Austin Jackson, the offense
wasn’t all that deep.
That could change. Designated hitter Victor Martinez returns
from a knee injury that cost him all of 2012, and Hunter’s addition
should help both at the plate and in the field.
”I felt fine this year,” Martinez said. ”It was tough sitting
out last year, but I feel great and it’s like I never was
The starting rotation is full of proven arms. Verlander is the
headliner, but Max Scherzer was one of the best pitchers in the
American League down the stretch last year, and Doug Fister was
effective when healthy. When Detroit re-signed Anibal Sanchez, the
Tigers suddenly had six potential starters. Now Smyly is the odd
”It is what it is,” Smyly said. ”I’ll pitch out of the
bullpen. Anything to help the team win. I am just happy to make the
The big question heading into this season isn’t whether the
Tigers will be near the top of the AL Central, but whether anyone
else in the division is ready to mount a serious challenge. Detroit
was hardly dominant in 2012 but finished first anyway. Can Chicago,
Kansas City or someone else in the Central close the gap?
The Tigers will try to set the bar as high as possible.
”It’s a wonderful thing when you start getting more national
attention … but you also have to be smart enough to know how to
handle that. Don’t get carried away with it,” Leyland said. ”I
want them to enjoy the fact that we’re supposed to be good, we’re
supposed to accomplish something. But I want them to understand the
process that it takes to accomplish what we’re trying to