Lakeland, Fla. — Notes, thoughts, and items from one scribe's spring-training journal after two weeks at Tigertown:
1. One of the driest, deadliest barbs during last autumn's playoff series came from a press-box Yankees writer after Austin Jackson homered in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series at Comerica Park. The Yanks were about to be evicted in four games when Jackson launched a seventh-inning rocket that pushed the Tigers' lead to 7-1 as it simultaneously raised the ire of a town not particularly happy with its baseball team.
"And by the way," the Yankees writer said, his sarcasm a match for all of the Bronx's bitterness, "nice trade."
Jackson, of course, is a one-time Yankees prospect who ended up in Detroit as part of the Curtis Granderson trade in 2009. He turned 26 three weeks ago and you can see the maturity. There's more muscle. More confidence. He hit two long drives to the warning track in Saturday's game against the Blue Jays. Expect a heavier slugging percentage from him in 2013. You'll also see a more seasoned player the Yankees galaxy wishes was still wearing pinstripes.
2. Bruce Rondon will be calmer the next time he pitches. And calmer still his third time out. The Tigers' supposed bullpen closer made it through Saturday's baptism and did about as expected. He struck out two batters, walked one, got another batter on a soft pop-up, and gave up a double on a ball Adam Lind's pure strength and a strong wind carried to the fence despite Lind breaking his bat.
Rondon's edge, which was advertised Saturday, is hitters have a tough time centering his pitches. His fastball is a 100-mph bullet. It moves. It bores. It's wicked. If the kid settles down and throws a reasonable percentage of strikes — in his case, achievable — the Tigers have their closer.
3. No one knew how Victor Martinez would handle these first at-bats after a 16-month hiatus. His timing might be askew. He could appear uncomfortable, as silly as that notion would seem for a hitter as naturally skilled as Martinez.
He looked no different during Friday and Saturday than a guy with a .303 career batting average appeared when he last batted in a big-league game in October, 2011.
He hit the ball hard twice Friday. He had a sharp single to left and drew a walk Saturday. Martinez is 34 and at some point twilight will become part of a man's baseball life. But it doesn't look in February, 2013 as if much has changed.
4. Speaking of 30-something guys who aren't acting their age: Torii Hunter. I watched his at-bats Saturday and wondered again how a guy a few months from 38 does it. It's a seriously advanced age for any athlete, let alone an outfielder who's obliged to hit high-90s fastballs. But his bat speed is striking. Ask a manager named Jim Leyland how he feels about sticking Hunter's name in that No. 2 spot.
5. Things that could trip up the 2013 Tigers:
*A pair of starting pitchers blowing out an elbow or tearing a labrum.
*Rondon falling apart as the Tigers struggle to close games and keep their back-end bullpen aligned.
*Cabrera catching his wrist or elbow on one of those inside fastballs he will see a thousand times in 2013 and missing six weeks. If he and his teammates make no more than standard visits to the disabled list in 2013, Leyland's team has a chance to be beyond good.
6. Doug Fister. Remember him? He comes to the clubhouse. He gets in his work. He conditions that long, lean body. He pitches. He says a few words afterward. And he's gone. One of the simplest, quietest, most reliable players on the Tigers roster.
7. One soap opera the Tigers aren't missing in 2013: second base. Omar Infante has dropped anchor. A year ago, the Tigers were dealing with a Brandon Inge-Ryan Raburn-Ramon Santiago maze that was something of a portent for how a team's offense and lineup would struggle. Infante is an anti-anxiety agent for a team tired of too many infield issues.
8. Still suspect there will be a significant Tigers trade. Too many extra pieces (starting pitchers, outfielders). The question is whether Dave Dombrowski, the Tigers' chief, can get his asking price during spring camp. If not, the deal waits, as it normally does with Dombrowski, until July.
9. It's obvious the Tigers like Rule 5 pick Jeff Kobernus and the speed he brings. Leyland's team is faster than a year ago but is still bogged down by too many heavy legs at too many places. Kobernus is a second baseman who played the outfield in college. Still believe he'll win a job ahead of Opening Day.
10. Great scene at Marchant Stadium, as always, during Saturday's home opener. Nothing says spring baseball like the left-field grass berm and the folks parked on their beach blankets. Those two new thatched-roof Tiki bars haven't hurt the atmosphere, either. Cheers, folks. Looks like the good times are under way.