Rays manager Joe Maddon, left, and Tigers Leyland manager called it quits after nine innings and a 3-3 tie Saturday at Tropicana Field rather than risk a player suffering an injury in extra innings. (Associated Press)
St. Petersburg, Fla. — Thoughts, notes, items as the Tigers head for Minneapolis and say adios to seven weeks in Florida:
Minimal medical misery. Spring training is like studying for the bar exam. You spend two months reinforcing things already learned.
Spring camp is also about staying healthy as a team steels itself for six months and 162 games. The Tigers managed to do both during their February-March dress rehearsal.
No camp in memory had fewer casualties than Detroit's 2013 session. And that was particularly the case with manager Jim Leyland's pitchers. No tendinitis. No sore elbows. No stiff shoulders.
It's why Leyland and Rays manager Joe Maddon called it quits after nine innings and a 3-3 tie Saturday at Tropicana Field. Neither team needed to lose a player to a bad slide or to a fastball on the wrist in the 10th inning of a meaningless game.
"No real nagging things," Leyland said, tapping his knuckles against a desktop in a knock-on-wood reprise ahead of Saturday's game. "We're pretty healthy."
Ten minutes after Saturday's game, Leyland was back at his desk in the visiting manager's office. The Tigers charter was a couple of hours from heading north into the chill at Minneapolis ahead of Monday's opener against the Twins at Target Field.
"Just happy to have gotten through this game injury-free," said a manager who knows the one thing that could sabotage a playoff-grade Tigers club in 2013 is the disabled list.
Analyzing the Tigers rotation. Max Scherzer seemed a lock to pitch Opening Day in Detroit. Leyland likes to spotlight a pitcher who sparkled during the previous season and who isn't named Justin Verlander. At least that's the call when Verlander already has taken an Opening Day turn on the road, as will be the case this week in Minnesota.
But the Tigers will instead feature their No. 2 power pitcher in Saturday's game against the Yankees at Comerica Park. Leyland will go with Doug Fister in Friday's home opener, after Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, and Rick Porcello have all pitched against the Twins.
After quizzing all parties multiple times, suspicions that Scherzer might be hurt or that the Tigers are fearful of getting him hurt are all but baseless. Scherzer feels fine. He vows he is fine. And if you saw him throw the ball Friday against the Rays at Marchant Stadium, you would have concluded he is indeed better than fine.
Rather, the Tigers are aware that Scherzer dealt with deltoid tenderness in his right arm at the end of the 2012 season. They and Scherzer are methodically guarding against risks as this season begins. Scherzer started last among the Tigers starters during the Grapefruit League schedule. He will be the last of the five to pitch when the real-deal games begin Monday.
No one's lying. They're just being careful. No criticisms there.
Spring camp was a crowd-pleaser. Leyland got it right Saturday in his Tigertown review. It was a record spring at Joker Marchant Stadium — 139,000-plus, including 10,451 for Friday's game against the Rays that was the biggest crowd in the 79 years Detroit has been playing in Lakeland.
"I thought yesterday was one of the best spring training atmospheres I've ever been around," Leyland said, speaking of a 78-degree day, and of grandstands and a left-field berm loaded with folks who, in most cases, spend their winters in Lakeland or make a pilgrimage to Tigertown.
"Fans flocked down and we appreciate that," he said.
He made mention of two men who oversee one of the smoother spring-camp operations in big-league baseball: Ron Myers and Bill Tinsley. It was the case of a manager mentioning what so many of us see unfurl during two remarkable months of baseball.
Joker Marchant Stadium's operation on game days runs professionally and cordially because Myers, Tinsley, and their staffers balance dual responsibilities of management and customer relations.
It's not easy. And while spring training is so pristine and spiritual it would be difficult to mess it up, the folks at Tigertown help make it a destination that never disappoints.
The Verlander contract. Notice something about the Tigers under Dave Dombrowski. They go for big pitchers. Tall, big-boned pitchers who project to reduce stress on arms that teams pray can stay intact for the long haul.
Justin Verlander is 6-foot-5, 225 pounds. His workouts are Marine Corps-approved. And if either of those qualities was missing, the Tigers never would have handed him a potential extra $162 million to pitch for them through this decade.
The Tigers based their decisions on research that's proprietary and empirical. In short, they believe the dude will hold up. Even after throwing more innings and pitches than any guy pulling a big league salary, the Tigers believe Verlander, at 30, will endure in the fashion of Roger Clemens (snickers accepted) or Nolan Ryan (snickers unwarranted).
Contrast the Tigers' internal Verlander profile against that of a pitcher such as Jair Jurrjens.
Jurrjens, of course, was a blue-chip Tigers rookie who in 2007 looked as if he would be terrific. And for a long time. The Braves agreed. They made him the main piece in a deal that Tigers fans soon regretted, and not only because the Tigers' trade gift, Edgar Renteria, was a mini-disaster.
Jurrjens pitched wondrously for the Braves. For a while, anyway. But the Tigers didn't trade Jurrjens because they doubted his talent. They doubted his body, not quite six feet in height, would make him a reliable long-term starter. And he wasn't.
He was hurt early and often and now pitches in the Orioles' minor league system.
The two cases are worth comparing only to a point. But in terms of their physical statures they are two pitchers who define the Tigers' disposition toward size and long investments.
Stalking the Tigers. You've heard it before. The Royals are rough. They're rugged. They will topple the Tigers. They will put a choke-hold on the Central Division for years to come.
They are that good, that young.
And as a matter of fact, they are.
They had half their team hurt early last season and never came close to putting things together. But this year they're in one piece. They have added pitching. They have defense and power and a fiery batch of bullpen arms.
And unless opposing scouts are wrong, the Royals are going to be everything in 2013 they've been projected to be for the past couple of years.
I still have them in second place in the Central. The Tigers' starting pitching is better, which should be the difference.
But if the Royals sneak through with a wild-card playoff spot in 2013, don't be shocked. This team has been gestating for a while. And this team is going to be miserable to play in 2013 and beyond.