March 5, 2014 at 1:25 am

Lynn Henning

Despite a few concerns, Tigers looking good at spring halfway point

Lakeland, Fla. — A thought, rather dizzying, struck Tuesday as the Tigers played the Pirates at Joker Marchant Stadium. Spring training is nearly half-finished.

It’s time for some impressions of various Tigers players (and others) following three weeks of spring camp:

■ Miguel Cabrera, first base: It’s nice to see Cabrera swing with his whole body. That wasn’t the case during those closing months of 2013 when a sports hernia destroyed his lower-body dynamism. Cabrera is back at first base and has turned a former defensive sinkhole into a stable position.

■ Ian Kinsler, second base: Solid, steady player and a natural leadoff hitter. Kinsler could well be a one-season performer in Detroit. The kid infielders — Hernan Perez, Eugenio Suarez, Devon Travis — are about ready for Comerica Park and the Tigers will want to make room for one at a friendlier salary no later than 2015. But, for now, Kinsler is superb insurance.

■ Nick Castellanos, third base: The Tigers have a dandy baseball player developing here. Castellanos always has hit and will hit in the big leagues. Expect some rookie interludes, but a guy who Tuesday turned 22 should be a future All-Star. He handles third base comfortably. And has a fine arm.

■ Jose Iglesias, shortstop: Those shin splints that have shelved him are ominous, only because he dealt with the same issue last September. But assuming he makes it back with reasonable ease, Iglesias is the biggest reason Detroit’s infield defense will have improved 50 percent in 2014. Postscript: His bat is probably better than most fans envision.

■ Andy Dirks, left field: Bad news Tuesday when word arrived Dirks will miss three months because of back surgery. He and Rajai Davis were looking like a nifty platoon duo. Dirks was ripe for one of those .290 seasons he puts together when he’s healthy.

■ Davis, left field: No surprises. Davis runs well, he hits lefties — and he can make the occasional bad play in left field. But he should help the offense. He doesn’t hit right-handers so the Tigers will need to get by with Don Kelly, or even Steve Lombardozzi, as Davis’ new partner until Dirks returns. Dave Dombrowski, the Tigers chief, will try to add another outfielder, likely not a big name.

■ Austin Jackson, center field: Jackson is wrecking the ball in this first week of Grapefruit League warfare. Nothing fluky about it. He has his batting stride ironed out. The leg-kick is smaller and smoother. Expect from Jackson the brand of year he featured in 2010 and 2012.

■ Torii Hunter, right field: A few concerns here. Hunter is skilled and savvy enough to squeeze another year from that blessed body of his. But I thought at the end of 2013 he and the Tigers might be dealing with twilight. He turns 39 in August and his at-bats could get tougher. Keep an eye on a player who, simply because he is Hunter, might surprise one critic and have another Hunter-like year.

■ Alex Avila, catcher: Avila should, when healthy, hit .275-.295 with 20 home runs. It would be no shock if his numbers end up very close to those. He has one of the least complicated swings in the Tigers lineup. And he has pop. Tons of fans are down on him. I think he’s headed for a nice year.

■ Justin Verlander, starting pitcher: Verlander, naturally, is ahead of schedule as he makes it back from that trendy injury, the sports hernia. Some argue Verlander should start Opening Day. I would go with Max Scherzer and allow Verlander’s recovery every day available.

■ Scherzer, starting pitcher: Looks as if he never took an offseason break. His pitches are a god-awful chore to hit squarely. Scherzer and his agent, Scott Boras, probably are eight months from one of the sweetest contracts a man who throws baseballs for a living ever signed, let alone imagined.

■ Anibal Sanchez, starting pitcher: Amazing how a man no bigger than Sanchez throws so hard. He adds a witches’ brew of secondary pitches that might as well be primary as niftily as Sanchez tosses them. Simply a great pitcher.

■ Rick Porcello, starting pitcher: Expect another 200 innings. Expect another ERA around 4.00. Expect a lot of bellyaching because he doesn’t mow down left-handers. Expect him to win 14 or 15. Any team with Porcello pitching has a good chance to win. Almost every time out.

■ Joe Nathan, closer: He might have lost a stitch on his fastball eight months from his 40th birthday. But you wouldn’t know it. He locates his heater with absolute artistry. And then you get his slider. Over and out.

■ Bruce Rondon, reliever: The Tigers and Rondon got serious about his offseason conditioning. Last year’s endless spring-camp story is now something of a fixture. He is healthy. He gets the ball over the plate. He struck out three batters in an inning Tuesday. He can work the seventh or the eighth with no stress.

■ Ian Krol, reliever: Krol was grabbed as part of the Tigers’ fan-displeasing deal involving Doug Fister. The Tigers needed a bat-cracking lefty who could throw smoke. Krol has a tough fastball and good optional pitches. Nice pickup.

■ Al Alburquerque, reliever: You know Alburquerque. Nothing has changed. Fastball, slider. When he throws strikes, hitters hate this guy.

■ Joba Chamberlain, reliever: Still hard to say. I never understood this signing. The Tigers insist Chamberlain is getting stronger two years after Tommy John surgery and should be a strikeout-an-inning reliever. We shall see.

■ Phil Coke, reliever: Had a rough outing Monday. And he can’t afford many of those. Not if he wants to pitch a fifth season in Detroit.

■ Luke Putkonen, reliever: He appears to be about the only serious option for long relief. Putkonen has a fine arsenal of power pitches. Experience has helped. You hear little about him. But much is riding on Putkonen.

■ Dave Clark, third base coach: Never have written this before, but Clark coaches a great third base. Seriously. He has real style and authority there.

■ Brad Ausmus, manager: Good start. No missteps. It helps that he hasn’t yet lost a regular-season game. Nothing makes Motown’s managerial critics happier.

New Tigers left fielder Rajai Davis should prove helpful because he hits lefties well and runs like the wind. / Robin Buckson / Detroit News
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