Austin Jackson is hitting .182 this spring, but much of it has been bad luck. (Robin Buckson/Detroit News)
Lakeland, Fla.— Pluses and minuses as the Tigers' spring training scorecard is tabulated:
Plus: Austin Jackson has been hammering the ball. Bullets to shortstop. Deep fly balls to the warning track. Drives up the gap.
Minus: Jackson is hitting .182. It's the most absurd .182 in modern Grapefruit League history. Almost every at-bat he rakes a pitch that somehow finds leather. Statistics and probability experts would offer an analytical term for Jackson's spring: weird.
Plus: Bruce Rondon had a decent outing Monday — two soft hits, a strikeout, a double-play grounder, no walks, good mix on his pitches.
Minus: A team's in trouble when, with a sense of relief, it cheers strikes and pitch variety from a guy who is supposed to close out ninth innings beginning in 20 days. More and more, it looks as if Rondon — if he goes north — could end up as a back-end guy who is gently moved into the closer's slot. The Tigers are asking a 22-year-old kid to take giant strides in a short time.
Plus: Miguel Cabrera, Omar Infante, and Anibal Sanchez are expected back in camp today after their sojourn in the World Baseball Classic.
Minus: None — for the Tigers. The Venezuela team got its tail kicked. But the WBC is about as popular with managers and front offices as day-night doubleheaders. Or, perhaps that was detected when the Tigers refused to let Sanchez pitch for his countrymen on short rest.
Plus: The Tigers have too many outfielders.
Minus: None, unless you're Jim Leyland, the Tigers manager, who must break the news as he simultaneously breaks hearts when the final roster is announced in 2-1/2 weeks. Jeff Kobernus and Don Kelly would today be your winners. Brennan Boesch and Quintin Berry are looking either at trades or tough odds as a "hairy" — Leyland's word — bid for jobs continues.
Plus: The Tigers have all but named Brayan Pena their backup catcher.
Minus: Bryan Holaday has played well enough to be Alex Avila's stand-in. Holaday is solid. Defends and throws well. Can get a base knock and drive the ball. He testifies to how lush the Tigers have become at a position that only a few years ago was an organizational desert.
Plus: Jhonny Peralta is fine.
Minus: Peralta needs to either watch more carefully what he eats or hire a food-taster. He is allergic to shellfish. He mistakenly ate clam chowder Monday. The only guy who had a more uncomfortable afternoon was Jordany Valdespin, the Mets player who was nearly emasculated by a 94-mph Justin Verlander fastball.
Plus: The Tigers are at last developing middle infielders.
Minus: They won't be ready when the current big league cast departs. Eugenio Suarez has a chance to be better than good but is two years from Comerica Park. Dixon Machado is stronger and could be in line for a bounce-back season as Detroit's better prospects get ready for their minor league assignments.
But nobody is knocking at the door, including second baseman Hernan Perez.
Plus: Leyland says he can live with a bullpen-closer committee if necessary.
Minus: It's like saying you can get by without a car. One way or another, yeah, you can probably get to a destination. But the stress and the occasional mess-ups make it an all-but-untenable situation.
Or, as Leyland put it, "It'll be a second-guesser's haven."
If the manager is forced to mix and match relievers to finish a game, Leyland before long will don a new Tigers uniform adornment: Kevlar.
The skipper's critics will be firing away with zeal.