LAKELAND, Fla. -- Ryan Strieby does not take these games for granted.
When he got to Joker Marchant Stadium on Wednesday and looked at the lineup card, there he was, batting seventh and starting at first base for the Tigers. Miguel Cabrera, his previous ceiling at first base, was starting at third. Prince Fielder, the new owner of the position, was getting a day at designated hitter.
Strieby didn't make too much of it, but he tried to treat it with the same intensity as a regular season game. Strieby isn't going to win a job at first base here, no matter what he does, but he could help his own cause nonetheless.
"I'm thinking I'm trying to help this team do well in Spring Training," Strieby said, "and trying to do well for myself at the same time."
Strieby, who turns 27 in August, spent the last few years in a no-win situation, a first-base prospect on a team with a young, MVP-caliber first baseman. When they added Prince Fielder to a nine-year contract, his fate looked worse.
"I think it surprised everybody," Strieby said. "You can't blame them. If you have an opportunity to get a guy like him, it's hard to pass up. But I see him and see Cabrera, and I know what I've got to do to take that next step."
If he needed a position battle for motivation, Strieby would've been in trouble long ago. But after a few injury-riddled seasons at Triple-A Toledo and Double-A Erie, and a bump off the 40-man roster this winter, he has plenty to push him without looking at the depth chart.
Showing he can stay healthy was at the top of the list.
"I feel good," Strieby said. "I put a pretty big emphasis on coming in and feeling good this spring, on being strong. I'm pretty self-motivated, but coming off the roster motivates you even more. I guess you could say I come in with a little bit of a chip on my shoulder and I want to do well."
Strieby singled in the Tigers' first run on Wednesday, slapping a ground ball through the right side off Braves starter Brandon Beachy.
"This guy looks good this spring," manager Jim Leyland said Wednesday. "He's got a totally different look on his face. He's not in pain. He looks like a totally different Strieby."
Boesch cruising in his new American car
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Somewhere along the row of sports cars and massive trucks in the players lot behind Joker Marchant Stadium, there's a new GMC Yukon Denali hybrid with a story behind it. It's Brennan Boesch's first new automobile since he got his license as a teenager.
He's a Californian, born and raised, and didn't become attached to Michigan until he became a Tiger two years ago. But Boesch has always been attached to American cars.
He has owned a Ford Bronco for the last 10 years, putting 80,000 miles on it, and it's waiting for him in Detroit. But this got him off the fence about finally buying something new.
"I just had my eye on the hybrid Denali and just was waiting for it to come out," Boesch said. "Had to get it. I love it. It's got a lot more features than I'm used to, but it's cool. The engine doesn't turn on until you hit 35 mph, so I'm cruising in it like a big go-kart."
Boesch wanted it badly enough to spend three months on a waiting list at Sellers GMC in Farmington Hills. With some help from his agents at CAA Baseball, he ended up with one of the first off the assembly line, which was then shipped to Florida in time for reporting day last month.
There's a little image to it, of course. Boesch wouldn't consider driving an import around Detroit, calling it "borderline blasphemy." But more than anything, he just wanted it.
"I'm trying to support the auto industry, especially in Detroit, and it's a beautiful car," Boesch said. "It's not like I'm getting less of a car. That's a top-of-the-line SUV that I've wanted for a while now. I'm thrilled with it."
He still plans on keeping the Bronco.
"Everyone loves that car," Boesch said. "I got respect for that car. No one poked fun at that car."
Miggy's defensive gem also warrants praise
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Miguel Cabrera's home run over the left-field berm was the highlight of Wednesday's Tigers win over the Braves, breaking him out of his hitless start. Yet his first-inning out in the field might have been the most encouraging play of the day for others.
It was one of what has been few balls hit Cabrera's way so far this spring, but it was a relatively tough one, a slow roller off the bat of Tyler Pastornicky. Cabrera charged it, picked it up and took just enough time to make a deliberate throw and still beat Pastornicky to the bag.
After back-to-back mornings taking extra ground balls, Cabrera's play was a welcome test for manager Jim Leyland.
"He made a good play on a guy that can run," Leyland said. "That guy's fast. He made a good play. That come-in play like that, that's tough for any third baseman."
It was just the third ball Cabrera has seen all spring, including last Friday's exhibition against Florida Southern.
"The funny thing about it is, I can't play him nine innings, and at the end of five innings he hardly gets a ground ball," Leyland said. "I'm hoping they hit a few down there. I'd like to see him get some action, but we can't control where they hit it."
Alburquerque awaiting clearance to throw
LAKELAND, Fla. -- The rehab process continues for Tigers reliever Al Alburquerque, but the throwing program could begin soon. The young right-hander with the nasty slider is expected to be cleared to throw sometime this month.
Alburquerque, who underwent surgery in December to repair a fracture at the tip of his elbow, is awaiting clearance from doctors that his elbow has healed and strengthened sufficiently. Once that happens, he can begin playing catch. For now, he's lifting limited weights and doing an endurance program.
The timetable remains the same. Alburquerque is forecast to return to game action around the All-Star break. He could be a big boost to a Detroit bullpen that added Octavio Dotel to help fill the void in the seventh inning.
Jackson getting time to work on bunting
LAKELAND, Fla. -- After playing in each of Detroit's first four Spring Training games, Austin Jackson was off on Wednesday and will not be on Thursday's trip. This is the time of year when the Tigers want their leadoff hitter to work on his bunting.
While the Tigers were taking batting practice Wednesday morning, Jackson was on one of the back fields, laying down 40 sacrifice bunts. On Thursday, the coaching staff wants him to practice bunting for a base hit 50 times.
Jackson ranked seventh among American League hitters with eight bunt hits, according to STATS, and 10th with 28 infield hits. Manager Jim Leyland believes he has more in him.
"He's been a young bunter," Leyland said, "and he has the potential to be a very good one."
Jackson wasn't the only one working on bunts. Brennan Boesch and Andy Dirks were among others working at it Wednesday, according to Leyland, who's trying to debunk the notion that they're just a slugging team.
"It's a big play for us," he said.
Worth target of amiable jibe after plunking
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Danny Worth isn't going to turn down a double, but he would've rather had it travel down the line than off Matt Dominguez's face on Tuesday.
So would Dominguez's older brother. Jason Dominguez was a teammate of Worth at Pepperdine University who pitched for three seasons in the Astros' organization.
Matt Dominguez was a first-round draft pick out of high school and quickly became the Marlins' top prospect. He made it to the big leagues last year as a September callup.
Worth traded texts with the older Dominguez, who let him know that X-rays showed no major damage and that he should miss just a couple of days. That didn't spare Worth from some ribbing.
"Jason said thanks for picking on him," Worth said Wednesday morning. "He said, 'Why don't you learn how to hit to the middle of the field?'"