LAKELAND, Fla. -- As it turns out, the sure way to get Ryan Raburn at his best is when he doesn't think it can get any worse.
When the hopes he had going into a season are memories, or the numbers from his first half are staring back at him from the scoreboard, that's usually when his season turns around. Understandably, he'd like to turn that around. He isn't completely sure how to do that.
Neither are the Tigers. It's not for lack of trying.
"We've been puzzled why he's started so slow, then come on strong and end up having a big year," manager Jim Leyland said Wednesday. "We've talked about that. That's one of the conversations we've had."
When a pitcher has a history of slow starts and big finishes, they'll start throwing earlier in the offseason, as Justin Verlander did last year and Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello did this winter. When position players have that history, it's not that simple.
Raburn has his ideas. He is very much a confident player, so to speak, and he knows it. After the Tigers and Leyland tried and failed to build it in him, he's trying a different approach.
"Really, the mentality I've tried to take this year is, and I don't want this come off the [wrong] way, but kind of take the mentality that if I go 0-for-4, who cares," Raburn said. "Don't sit there and try to dwell on every at-bat. I do have a bad tendency. Even if I get a hit, if I didn't feel like that was my swing, I'd start thinking the ball didn't come off the bat like I think it should. What did I do differently? And this year, I'm really just trying to go day by day.
"I don't want to come across the wrong way that I don't care, because I do. I want to win. But you ain't going to get hits every time."
After exactly 500 games in the big leagues, he's done trying to prove himself every year. Both he and the Tigers know what he can do, and they both know his versatility is one of his strengths. No matter how much he presses to settle in at one position, it's probably not going to last.
A year ago, he was ticketed as a regular left fielder, and took all his time there in Spring Training. Brennan Boesch's early-season revival scuttled those plans and shifted Raburn's future back to the infield.
After his midseason shift to second base, he's getting this camp to work there the whole time. Yet he's still expecting to get at least a day or two of workouts in the outfield before this camp is done.
"More than anything, I'll probably go out there for a day and take some fly balls or something like that," Raburn said. "As of right now, it's strictly second base."
Leyland's evaluation echoes that. He likes Raburn as a second baseman, and said he felt like Raburn "really improved" as a second baseman down the stretch. With Ramon Santiago, Leyland felt like he had an offensive-defensive platoon. But Leyland also sees some of the same qualities in Raburn that he sees in Don Kelly, only from a right-handed hitter.
"Raburn's a guy that we can do a lot of things with him," Leyland said. "We can play him somewhere and then if you have to make an adjustment during the game, you can move him to the outfield or move him into the infield or whatever. So he brings a lot of versatility for us."
That doesn't mean he's going to be relegated to utility duty. Actually, a bump in playing time is one of the Tigers' ideas to get him going in the first half. But it might not all come at second.
Santiago's return over the offseason ensured the Tigers have depth at second. Then came Brandon Inge's position shift just as camp was about to open.
"I hope it's a competition," Raburn said of Inge's conversion to second base. "That means both of us are doing well. I don't think there's one guy on this team that's going to sit there and root against another guy. We're trying to prepare ourselves to go into the season and our ultimate goal is to win a World Series. It doesn't matter who's playing here, who's playing there. Our ultimate goal is to win."
If,or maybe when, Raburn hits, the Tigers will find a spot for him. The trick, apparently, is for Raburn to not feel like he has to get a hit.
"That's the mentality I'm really trying to stick with this year and not dwell on everything that's happened in the past," Raburn said. "And I think in the second half, that's really kind of what I'm doing. Because I feel like it can't get any worse, so it's like, 'OK, whatever.'"