Anthony Gose's red-hot bat surprising Tigers' brass

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Tigers' Anthony Gose is hitting .545 this spring.

Lake Buena Vista, Fla. — In those weeks and months after the Tigers traded for Anthony Gose, his new bosses never quite bought into the notions about his supposedly wimpy bat.

"We think he's a better hitter than he's shown," Dave Dombrowski, the Tigers front-office chief, said more than once when media asked why Detroit had anointed a .234 career hitter as its new center fielder.

"Wally Joyner (hitting coach) has looked at video and thinks he has a chance to be a much better hitter."

Gose's first at-bat Friday, a triple off the right-center field fence, was the latest blast in a Grapefruit League siege that has seen Gose hit .545, with an astronomical OPS of 1.555.

He added a walk in his second turn during a five-run first inning that launched the Tigers to a 12-2 victory over the Braves at Wide World of Sports.

Even if he was 0-for-2 in his final at-bats (groundouts to second base), the steadiness with which he has hit in March, as well as his knack for driving the ball, has become the biggest story and surprise from Detroit's early spring camp.

"I think the organization figured it out," Gose said, explaining why a man who hit .225 in 2014 for the Blue Jays, suddenly has exploded. "I'm just trying to stay with my swing and repeat my swing."

In some respects, Gose's burst is no news bulletin. He was a second-round pick by the Phillies in 2008 when his bat was considered a potential plus tool alongside speed, defense, and a high-powered arm.

The Tigers tended to believe a player, only 24, had a chance to be better than a .234 hitter. They wagered his left-handed swing, which Joyner appreciated all the more after studying video, might add luster to Gose's fielding and throwing gifts the Tigers are eager to unleash in Comerica Park's endless acreage.

"Things had to change if I was going to play in the big leagues," Gose said Friday as he sat at his locker in the visitor's clubhouse.

What, exactly, has changed neither Gose nor Joyner is inclined to discuss in detail.

The closest explanation Friday came from Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, who said Gose "is staying through the ball and not cutting off his swing."

Joyner acknowledged as much, using gestures.

"He's finishing here," he said, sweeping his hands in an upward, 45-degree angle.

"Instead of here," Joyner continued, extending those same hands on a shorter, flatter line.

"Those people who might have said, 'Let's make him a slap hitter,' well, he has more ability than that. When you label someone a slap hitter, I'm not doing my job."

In fact, six of Gose's 12 hits have been for extra bases: three doubles, three triples. He just missed a home run in the first inning Friday when his drive to right-center — it was probably hurt by a quartering wind blowing toward the infield — fell a couple of feet shy of clearing the fence, 390-plus feet from home plate.

"Off the bat, I thought I hit it out," Gose said. "But it didn't go."

It was still good enough for three bases, just as a drive up the right-center field gap in Thursday's game at Kissimmee ended in a triple. Gose's speed plainly turned what would have been a double for most players into a three-bagger.

Ausmus had been just as pleased Thursday by a Gose double that soared over the left-fielder's head at Osceola County Stadium. It made a couple of things clear to the skipper.

A hitter who seems to be discovering himself and his offense not only could take an away pitch to the opposite field, but also slam it with enough crunch to drive in runners and put himself in scoring position.

Gose is not one for speeches. He says he simply is trying to follow a script he and the Tigers coaches, including assistant hitting coach David Newhan, are steadily crafting.

It doesn't always work. That old tendency to chop off his swing, Gose said, led Friday to those two groundouts to Braves second baseman Alberto Callaspo.

But it remained, at the very least, insight into what to avoid. And, more important, what to continue as a sizzling spring continues.

"He's very athletic, very talented," Joyner said. "He looks good up there. He likes what he's doing. He feels good."