Lakeland, Fla. – For Brad Ausmus and the veteran Tigers players, the annual tune-up game against Florida Southern is essentially just a light workout, one you try to get through with no injuries.
For younger players, though, it is a chance to make an early impression.
Mission accomplished for left-hander Kevin Ziomek, who started and pitched two scoreless innings; catcher Austin Green, who homered; and infielder JaCoby Jones, who hit a tie-breaking three-run home run in the seventh inning in the Tigers’ 7-2 win.
“It was just one at-bat,” said Jones, whom the Tigers acquired from the Pirates last July for Joakim Soria. “But going from that, you know, it’s good, something that can carry over. First at-bat in Detroit’s spring training, hit a home run, it’s exciting.”
Jones, who still has to serve the final 38 games of his suspension for violating the minor league drug policy, played third base Monday, after working exclusively at shortstop this spring.
“Jones has made a good impression,” Ausmus said. “He’s worked hard. He’s a strong kid and he’s got the ability to play a number of positions. I don’t know that we really know which one would be best for him, or if it would be best to move him from position to position.
“That decision will be made over the course of spring training.”
As for Ziomek, the club’s No. 5 prospect in The Detroit News’ rankings (No. 6 at MLB.com), he is slowly rebuilding whatever status he may have lost after a rough start to last season. He allowed one single and struck out two and showed good command of his curveball and changeup.
“He’s funky, he’s sneaky because of his delivery,” Ausmus said. “He’s got a big curve and the changeup looked good today. But, not knocking the Florida Southern kids, but there is a big difference between them and Major League hitters.”
Ziomek is likely to start at Double-A Erie this year after going 9-11 with a 3.43 ERA and a 1.138 WHIP at High-A Lakeland last season. But it was a tale of two halves.
At the end of May, his ERA was pushing 5.00 (4.95).
“I started out a little up and down and got into a funk,” he said. “Baseball is a game where you’ve got to make adjustments. I felt like I settled in at the end of the year and got on a roll and finished strong. It gave me a lot of confidence coming into the season.”
In his last seven starts, he went 4-2 with a 1.37 ERA. Opponents hit .129 against him in those starts.
“Mentally,” he said. “When you have a struggle like that, you can’t get too low on yourself. I just stuck with it and I started to feel my stuff better and I gained confidence.”
Eighteen of his 27 pitches Monday were strikes and the Moccasins hitters had no answer for his changeup.
“The biggest thing going in was to establish the fastball, but the off-speed was feeling good so I worked the changeup in,” Ziomek said. “It’s been a big pitch for me the last couple of years. It’s something I want to keep developing.”
Green, who finished last season at Double-A, is competing to be the No. 4 catcher in the organization behind James McCann, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Bryan Holaday.
“I think he has a real chance to be a Major League catcher,” Ausmus said. “He’s got a strong arm, he’s getting better behind the plate and he’s got some power at the plate. I think he needs to refine some things and develop some things, but he’s got a chance, he really does.”
Other highlights from the game:
* Shortstop Dixon Machado had two hits and made a spectacular defensive play. He was knocked down by a hard smash but still was able to make a strong throw from the seat of his pants to get the runner.
* Florida Southern’s Sam Machonis hit a long home run off Tigers pitching prospect Joe Jimenez.
* Justin Upton gave Florida Southern starter Brady Arenson a life memory by striking out on three pitches in the first inning.
* Tigers regulars started and took one at-bat before leaving. They will open Grapefruit League play Tuesday against the Pirates.