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More mature Ian Krol fights for Tigers roster spot

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Tigers pitcher Ian Krol added muscle in the offseason and added speed to his fastball.

Lakeland, Fla. — Brad Ausmus has addressed it, while dancing around the specifics. Ian Krol has addressed it, while becoming more specific about the specifics.

Krol had a problem last year, a problem that extended beyond his ailing left shoulder, and his inconsistency with throwing strikes.

The problem was discussed at length after the season with Ausmus and pitching coach Jeff Jones, and then Krol, home in Chicago, set out to become better.

Better at pitching. Better at life.

Care to elaborate?

"Nah, it wasn't anything too extensive, it wasn't anything too serious," Krol said outside the Joker Marchant Stadium clubhouse on a muggy, overcast Monday morning, following a 15-pitch bullpen session.

"Some days, I would find myself sleeping in a little more than usual, other than that, being young I guess, not really having a grasp on the whole major-league thing just yet, still kind of learning.

"He (Ausmus) just wanted to reiterate what we're trying to do here, what the big picture was. We talked about some random things."

All spring, Krol, one of several lefties competing for just two available spots in the Tigers' bullpen, has talked about how his work ethic wasn't there in 2014. That's about as specific as he got.

He opened up a little bit more Monday in a lengthy conversation with The Detroit News — seemingly chalking up last year to some immaturity.

He debuted as a major-leaguer as a 22-year old with the Nationals in 2013, before being traded to the Tigers in the December 2013 trade for Doug Fister.

"I'm not young anymore," Krol said. "I should understand what the big picture is, and not get off the trail. I've got a great head on my shoulders now. It was good for me and it was good for the club to kind of just go back and kind of reevaluate a couple things that I did last season that I probably shouldn't have."

Ian Krol pitches against the Blue Jays in spring training earlier this month.

Again, no more specifics. But the point is clear. Krol might've been in the major leagues much of the last two seasons, but he wasn't acting like a major-leaguer — or, at least, like most major-leaguers.

Last year was a trying one for Krol, now 23, in that he was pitching under a lot of pressure, given the fans' disgust over the Fister trade. He had good stretches early, then fell off, hurt his shoulder and never really was consistently effective after April.

This offseason, he set out looking for a change — and not just a different length in his golden beard. Workouts weren't a priority last year; this offseason, they were — five days a week, in fact, for at least two hours a day. He also did physical therapy two days a week, all offseason. And he also voluntarily cut short an offfseason so many major-leaguers cherish, given the long grind of the season. In January, Krol packed his bags and headed to the IMG Academy in Bradenton, where he did three-a-day workouts until reporting to Lakeland, Fla.

The Tigers, no doubt, were impressed, and proud.

"He's much more focused on baseball and pitching. He's less distracted. He's here early," Ausmus said this week. "He's been working his tail off. He's got his priorities in the right spot."

Said Jones, who watched Krol work on his offspeed stuff in the cages Monday, after rain had canceled a minor-league game Krol was supposed to pitch in: "You can tell he's a different guy this spring."

For starters, Krol is stronger. He's put on between 12 and 15 pounds of muscle, which, combined with all the physical therapy, has his fastball sitting 94-96 mph. In fact, two weeks ago, Krol even hit 97 mph, for the first time in his life.

His spring-training game numbers aren't great (4.50 ERA, 1.83 WHIP) because things can get kind of skewed when you've had one bad outing, and only thrown six times overall. Throwing strikes remains a concern, but not his makeup.

Krol will pitch again Tuesday, in a minor-league game in Lakeland. It'll be his second outing since dealing with a forearm strain that he categorized as practically nothing.

"He's young. He's had a little bit of that bull-in-a-china-shop mentality. I don't want him to lose that. I've talked to him about kind of his warrior makeup. He'd go through a wall for you," Ausmus said "He's gotta be able to control and harness that adrenaline. That's part of maturing as a baseball player, especially at the major-league level."

Really, that's part of maturing in general.

Krol is in good position to be one of the two lefties in the Tigers' bullpen; it's a long shot for three to be kept, though Ausmus keeps insisting he's not totally against the idea.

Tom Gorzelanny, the veteran with a track record but rough spring results, is in the mix, as is Kyle Ryan, who might be the leader for spot No. 1, because he's looked good and he'd give the Tigers' at least one reliever who can pitch multiple innings.

Krol acknowledged there's pressure to make the team, but he says it's good pressure -- the lefty relievers are all friends, he said, and they dine together. He and Blaine Hardy, another candidate, golf pretty regularly, at Eaglebrook and Grasslands. Krol actually won the last time out, shooting 85 to Hardy's 89. The final result is usually reversed.

But, hey, it's a new day for Krol, who's a new man. He knows only the smallest percentage of baseball players ever get the shot he's getting, to play Major League Baseball, and he's taking it as serious as ever.

"We kind of just straightened everything out," said Krol, "and got on the right path.

"There wasn't one thing I shied away from."

tpaul@detroitnews.com

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