Tigers open camp amid few pitching questions
Leyland finds many pieces already in place in sixth year at helm
LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Ty Cobb portrait in the manager's office at Joker Marchant Stadium is still taped over where a young manager once threw his spikes at the wall. That manager, Jim Leyland, returned to work on Monday morning.
It marked his 20th Spring Training as a Major League manager, and his 49th Spring Training overall -- dating back to his playing days. And it officially began on Monday, with the first official workout for a pitching staff looking to meet lofty expectations.
"It never gets old," said Leyland. "A lot of people say it's old hat, but it's really not. It's an exciting day because we know this is the start of a long grind. It goes fast, but it never gets old. I'm excited. There's no question about it. I think the players are in good spirits, as it is all over camps today. I'm excited about it. I hope they're as excited as I am."
Leyland began his sixth camp as Tigers manager with probably the fewest roster questions he's had since taking over in 2006. With the rotation set and no more than one or two bullpen spots likely up for grabs, Leyland and his staff largely know what they have. This Spring Training will be largely about getting the most out of them, and getting them ready for Opening Day.
That was the main thrust of Leyland's annual speech to his players: It's the players who make the camp. It was also reflected in camp from the first day, when he turned what can be a menial task of pitchers' fielding practice into a focus on quick execution. The more they can relax and concentrate, he said, the better.
"Our job," Leyland said, "is to make the Detroit Tigers organization the best it can be. You do that by getting the most out of your players, getting them to show their skills, and try to make them the best players they can be. If you do that, you've got a good organization. That's what my goal is."
All pitchers and catchers were accounted for Monday, including new arrivals Victor Martinez and Joaquin Benoit. The Tigers signed Martinez primarily to serve as their designated hitter, but he's also expected to start once or twice a week at catcher. He'll spend a good part of the early days in camp focused on learning a new pitching staff.
Benoit's signing last November provided Detroit with a veteran presence in its setup relief.
Martinez and Benoit have been in Major League camp for several years. Justin Verlander has been part of Tigers camp since 2005, Joel Zumaya since 2006. Both had the smiles of youngsters, as they went to work Monday on the back fields behind Joker Marchant Stadium.
"I got an early start," Zumaya said. "I mean, I've been working out since November. So I feel like I'm a little more advanced than the guys. I'm having a ball out there."
For prospects such as left-hander Charlie Furbush, Monday marked the first formal day in big league camp. It was a long way from a year ago, when he began the season at Class A Lakeland.
"It's been quite a ride," Furbush said. "I'm just going to take it all in. I'm excited to be here, obviously, in my first big league camp. But I'm only going to worry about the things that I can control."