Ausmus: First 10 days of camp most important

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit – — For the vast majority of players on the Tigers 40-man roster, the first 10 days of spring training are mostly a fundamentals refresher course, a chance to kick off the winter rust and reactivate the muscle memory.

"Those first 10 days, there are a lot of moving parts," said manager Brad Ausmus, who will oversee his second spring training with the Tigers beginning Feb. 19 when pitchers and catchers report. "The important thing in those first 10 days is you have to make sure you cover all the fundamentals that you want your team to be aware of at least once — bunt plays, pickoffs, relays, defensive positioning, that kind of stuff.

"It doesn't mean you won't cover them again once the games start, but you want to cover them at least once before the games get underway."

But there is another, more subtle layer to those early drill days. That's when the seeds of the team's identity are sown.

"You start building your camaraderie and your cohesiveness," president and general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "We have a situation where a lot of players on the club are pretty well set, but we do have a lot of (new) guys in camp and it's a situation where that stuff starts to form."

The Tigers have two new starting pitchers, Shane Greene and Alfredo Simon, a large group of young relief pitchers fighting for one or two open spots, a shortstop who didn't play at all last season (Jose Iglesias) and two new starting outfielders (Yoenis Cespedes and Anthony Gose).

But, as Dombrowski made clear, the core of the team and its leadership base has remained intact — Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez (injured or not), Justin Verlander, Alex Avila, Ian Kinsler. So the task of establishing identity and work ethic becomes much smoother.

"That's extremely important," he said. "Because those players you bring in, you are building around your core players. And your core players set the tone. Take Justin Verlander. He didn't have the kind of year on the field last year has he's had in the past. But one thing about Justin, his work ethic, his drive for excellence is superlative. No matter what. That is always there.

"So if you are a starting pitcher coming in and you see what he's doing — that's a superstar. You're going to fit in. The young guys aren't for a second going to go halfway. They're going to go full blast."

Cabrera and Martinez can have the same impact on hitters.

"When you see them taking batting practice and how they go about it, the professional aspect of it and how they grind it out even in spring training in the cages, the other players are going to fit right in behind them," Dombrowski said.

The first 10 days of spring training is also a time for Ausmus to initiate projects for certain players and to fine-tune certain aspects of how he wants the team to play.

"From a team standpoint, there will be a handful of things we will incorporate this year that we didn't necessarily incorporate last year," Ausmus said. "Things that I want to be part of our structure."

Those include giving Avila some reps at first base, having Andrew Romine and Hernan Perez get some work in the outfield and perhaps transitioning some young starting pitchers into relievers. It also includes some new wrinkles in defensive alignment which impact relays and cutoffs.

And, after the news broke Thursday that Martinez will undergo another surgical procedure to repair the meniscus on his left knee, Ausmus will be exploring short-term help either for a designated hitter and possibly first base.

"A lot of things that are so-called projects are more on the individual player level," Ausmus said. "Where we want a certain player to do on particular thing or try a particular approach whether it's on offense or defense."

Ausmus also plans to modify the team's baserunning approach. He feels the Tigers gave away too many outs on the basepaths last year.

"I still think we need to be aggressive on the bases," he said. "But we need to be intelligently aggressive. We can't just run into outs. Last year I thought there were times we ran into outs when it wasn't necessary.

"We have to be very aware as baserunners — what the situation is, what the score is, what inning and who is coming up to the plate. I still want guys to force the issue on the defense, to some extent force them to make the play. But we have to be smarter."

Once everybody reports on Feb. 21, there will be 57 players — 40 roster players and 17 non-roster invitees — working during the morning on the four fields at the Tigers complex in Lakeland.

The minor league players take over the fields in the afternoon.

"That's why you have an entire coaching staff because it does take a lot to coordinate," Ausmus said. "The most important thing is that there is not a lot of standing around, no idle time for the players. If they get bored their heads won't be in it.

"We want to keep them moving, keep them doing stuff and hope we get everything done at a fairly decent pace without rushing through it."

On a typical non-game day, Ausmus and the coaches will meet with the full group around 9 a.m.

"It's a combination of baseball things that we need to pay attention to and also a little bit of fun," Ausmus said. "That meeting can go long or short and we adjust on the fly. Then we stretch and throw and get into our schedule."

Many players will do their strength and conditioning work before the morning meeting. Often coaches will use the pre-meeting time to get in extra work with a player or a position group. But for the most part, the players will be on the fields from 9:45 to no later than 1 p.m.

"We don't want idle time," Ausmus said. "Get done and get out. That way if guys want to do extra work, they have time."

Ausmus said the coaching staff will convene in the afternoon to go over the workouts and plan the next day.

"The following morning we get a report from the training staff," he said. "They let us know if there are any injuries or aches and pains we need to be worried about — who's available and who's not."

Once the exhibition games start, the routine changes — less drill work, more in-game evaluations.

"What we're doing those first 10 days is just getting guys in shape and getting them ready to play the games," said bench coach Gene Lamont, who will be taking part in his 51st spring training. "Brad does a very good job, especially for a guy who hadn't done it before last year. But he's been through a lot of spring trainings and he's taken the good out of them and separated the bad.

"He keeps the players moving. Like he said, the less you stand around, the better off you are."