Guillen remains key for Tigers, Leyland says

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Tom Gage
The Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — Johnny Damon’s locker at Marchant Stadium awaits him. But there was no Damon sighting Sunday.

And all that GM/president Dave Dombrowski said about the certainty of the signing was that there’s been “significant progress.”

As you might know, that’s usually Dombrowski’s way of saying it’s all over but the physical.

Manager Jim Leyland also wouldn’t comment on the roster ramifications of the signing. In fact, he didn’t discuss anything about his new outfielder, except this: He quickly headed off any talk, any speculation — “any silliness,” he said — about whether Damon’s presence will downsize the role of Carlos Guillen.

“I’m going to make one statement,” he said. “Carlos Guillen will hit fifth and get all the at-bats he wants. Trust me, and I hope I see it in headlines, he will be a major factor in our success this year.”

End of statement.

Nothing about how Guillen will be used defensively — just that, as Leyland said, he will get all the at-bats he wants.

And with that, the manager settled the major flip-side question about Damon’s signing. If others are affected — such as Clete Thomas and Ryan Raburn — they’ll be collateral damage.

Too bad for them, but for every plus there’s a minus.

Leyland, however, wants Guillen to read or to hear, but definitely to know — which is why he’s going to call him — that he’s still a vital component of the team.

That said, Guillen needs to be healthy, stay healthy, and to produce. The Tigers feel if he’s healthy, he’ll hit, because he always has.

Even last year, when he was limited to 277 at-bats because of shoulder problems, Guillen drove in 41 runs. He’s certainly hit better than the .242 he hit last year, but his RBI ratio of one per every 6.8 at-bats was in keeping with his six-year total as a Tiger (6.6 at-bats).

“For us to be good,” said Leyland, “he has to be good.”

Around the horn

Willie Horton toured the Tigers’ complex with a friend — Jake Wood , the Tigers’ rookie second baseman and leadoff hitter in 1961, the year they made a serious run at the Yankees.

Wood, who played most of his seven-year career with Detroit, now is 72 and still plays softball near his home in Pensacola, Fla.

… Gerald Laird arrived, but on only two hours’ sleep after taking an overnight flight following his sister’s wedding. By the way, with some anger-management classes, Laird has put behind him the police matter he got into during the offseason.

… Former Tiger Kenny Rogers will be in camp March 2-5 to help with pickoff moves and pitchers’ fielding practice. He might return for a second session later in the spring.

… Bobby Seay will miss a few days because of shoulder tenderness. The Tigers also have added second-round draft choice Andy Oliver as a non-roster invitee.

… Jose Valverde ‘s hope of wearing No. 74 might go nowhere. The last Tiger to wear it was the currently incarcerated Ugueth Urbina , whose time as a Tiger is not fondly remembered.

… Of his frustration about hitting .225 last year, Laird said: “Outwardly I didn’t show it. It’s not good for your pitchers to see you throwing a helmet, then go back there and have a passed ball.

“They’ll think you’re taking your at-bats to your position. You don’t ever want to do that. They need you back there.”

… He wouldn’t say it’s the strangest, but Dombrowski admitted this has been “the most complicated” offseason he’s ever had as a general manager.

Last Updated: February 22. 2010 1:17AM