Henning: Machado, Krol are impressive

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News
Tigers non-roster invitee Dixon Machado singles in the fifth inning. Machado ends up being out at second but Anthony Gose scores on the hit.

Sarasota, Fla. — Notes, thoughts, items after the Tigers beat the Orioles, 5-4, on Wednesday as the biggest crowd (8,367) to have bought seats for a Grapefruit League opener at Ed Smith Stadium absorbed some Gulf Coast sunshine:

Tigers developing a slick young shortstop in Dixon Machado.

We had Machado at No. 5 on The Detroit News Top 50 Tigers Prospects list issued this week. Candidly, he was temporarily slotted No. 2 until a smart adviser suggested throttling down on a 23-year-old who last season had a big year at Double A Erie: .305 in 90 games, with a .391 on-base percentage and .832 OPS.

Machado replaced Jose Iglesias part-way through Wednesday's game and had a pair of singles in three at-bats. But his right-handed bat, which is what will most determine if and when he plays in the big leagues, isn't as dazzling as his defense.

They are plus tools, his glove and arm, and anyone who hung on for Wednesday's final play saw why.

Orioles hitter Steve Pearce lashed a hot ground ball that was within a stitch of skipping into left field. Machado, moving to his right, in a blink stretched and dived and gloved the ball backhanded. He got to his feet and whipped a long, one-hop throw to first baseman Jordan Lennerton, beating Pearce by a shoelace.

This is the brand of play Machado can make. Of course, Iglesias specializes in defensive ballet, as well, which is a nice situation for the Tigers when good shortstops are as hard to find as low-mileage 1960s Corvettes.

"It looks like he's got a good handle on the position," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "He had a nice day today on both sides of the ball."

The Tigers needn't be in a hurry here. Iglesias is 10 days into his comeback from fractured shins and has been feeling and playing spiritedly. He has a chance to be a Grade A shortstop for a long while in Detroit.

Machado? The Tigers will give him time that one of their Venezuelan imports absolutely needs. He probably will play this season at Triple A Toledo — if not on Opening Day then not long into the schedule — and will need to prove his bat is moving closer to big league caliber.

If so, the Tigers will have in Machado a bonanza. He becomes insurance as Iglesias works toward crafting a healthy, constructive season in Detroit. And, in the fine tradition of Tigers infield prospects the past couple of years, he also could be swapped for a hefty player or pitcher the Tigers inevitably might covet.

Unless, of course, the Tigers at some point decide to deal Iglesias and consider Machado as their long-term man there. It's early. But there are reasons Machado is in camp. And those reasons were on stage Wednesday.

Ian Krol looking like a pitcher with resolve.

Tigers fans who have cheered and applauded Dave Dombrowski for his Doug Fister trade — somewhere there must be one — understand an essential part of the, uh, bounty the front-office chief pried from the Nationals was Krol, a left-handed reliever.

Dombrowski Vindicated, Chapter One: Krol came to spring camp a year ago and had the most alive arm of any left-hander in camp. His pitches sizzled. He made the Opening Day roster and displayed some of the same electricity shown in Florida.

Dombrowski Excoriated, Chapter Two: Krol fell apart. By midseason he had a dead arm. By the end of the year the Tigers were ready for a long, serious talk with a 23-year-old whose conditioning and devotion to the pitching industry were in their view less than ideal.

This year, not surprisingly, you're seeing a new and improved Krol. He pitched an inning Wednesday and his fastball popped as it did 12 months ago. He had a nifty curve and change-up and expects to get help from a new cutter-slider he is bringing to a repertoire that needed more variety.

Ausmus raved about Krol. In his visiting manager's office, which was being rattled by an adjacent dugout door that sounded like TNT exploding when it slammed shut, Ausmus talked over the sonic booms to pay Krol some heavy compliments.

"He's been outstanding this spring," Ausmus said. "Not only his work ethic, but he's really paying attention to every part of his career right now."

You can read between the lines there. And should. A guy who probably needed to air-brush a bad year from the blotter looks as if he has new and improved goals. He could be that left-hander the Tigers have been hunting since the prime-time days of Phil Coke.