Lakeland, Fla. — New manager, same old drills, right?
With Brad Ausmus now at the helm, the Tigers began spring training in earnest Friday when the pitchers and catchers went through their first workout.
Most of it looked familiar. There’s not much a team can do with standard drills, after all. Pitchers still have to cover first. They still have to stretch. They still have to run.
But all in all, it went well.
All in all, actually, it went “surprisingly smoothly” Ausmus said, “for a new manager and an almost entirely new staff.
“There wasn’t like a, ‘Eureka, I’m the manager!’ moment.”
So he was pleased everything which has gone well for predecessors went well again, but he was also pleased with a new twist.
It took place in deep center on one of the practice fields. So deep that it was difficult to see what was going on.
Various coaches were hitting hard grounders to the pitchers at closer-than-usual range.
So close, in fact, that it looked a painful drill. The shots being hit to the pitchers — “lasers,” Max Scherzer called them — were bouncing off their chests and their arms.
“We call it rag ball,” Ausmus said. “It’s something I brought over from San Diego.”
And the pitchers loved it.
“Most fun part of the day,” relief pitcher Evan Reed said.
It turns out regulation baseballs weren’t being used. The balls were the size of baseballs, but softer.
A brand called “IncrediBalls,” to be exact.
And the drill wasn’t a black-and-blue, survival-of-the-fittest-pitcher drill at all. It was about fast reflexes — specifically, as Ausmus said, “for pitchers to react to balls hit right back at them without the risk of being hit in the face.”
It’s not a drill that can be done with a regular hardball; there’d be too many bumps and bruises. But if a pitcher knows for sure he’s not going to get hurt, a new drill can also be a fun drill
“If you take one off a forearm,” said Ausmus, “it’s no big deal.”
It was a big deal for the pitchers, though.
“We didn’t need a culture change around here,” said Scherzer, “but it’s nice to have a little different feel in the clubhouse.
“Skip (Jim Leyland) was great, but Brad is going to add some new stuff and make us even better. Like those lasers that were being hit at us today.
“We’ve never had that in the past, where someone about 20 feet away was smoking balls right at us,” Scherzer added. “I liked it.”
Breaks from the past were not the theme of the day, though.
It wasn’t a change, for instance, that Ausmus addressed the players before the workout.
He kept it short, though.
“I said what I needed to say,” he said, “The longer you drone on with these guys, the more you lose them.”
However, with his message to the players, followed by the workout, Ausmus’ tenure as manager of the Tigers began for real.
“I do think this kind of feels like where it starts,” he said. “Like I said the other day, I’m not uncomfortable, I’m not nervous. I can’t really explain it.”
But he doesn’t have to, because the new job seems to be coming to him naturally.