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Tigers' Iglesias being patient until luck turns his way

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Jose Iglesias is greeted in the dugout after scoring a run in Tuesday night's game against the Yankees.

Tampa, Fla. -- It's been an odd spring for Jose Iglesias, and that's not a bad thing.

That's because, at the end of every day for several weeks now, he's felt really good, great even, barely a reminder of the shin fractures that wiped out his entire season in 2014.

But the numbers, well, they're a little weird.

After an 0-for-3 in Tuesday's 9-8 loss to the Yankees, Iglesias' batting average fell to .067 in Grapefruit League action. He hasn't had a hit since March 10, which isn't all that surprising, when you consider he's only had two hits.

Panic time? Nah.

"I feel good, I've been having some good at-bats," Iglesias said. "You know, I'm healthy, that's the most important thing for me, finish each and every game healthy is the most important thing and the best thing that can happen for me right now.

"Time will come. I've been hitting the ball well."

And he's been hitting the ball a lot.

In fact, despite all the empty at-bats -- at least in terms of the hit column -- Iglesias has put the ball in play time after time. He had a strikeout in Tuesday's game, and that was just his second strikeout in 30 spring at-bats.

So if you're looking for another good sign, aside from the health, it's that.

"If you're not striking out a lot, 2-for-30 with two strikeouts, there's gotta be a little bit of luck factor involved -- 28 at-bats you've made contact and it didn't find a place to go," manager Brad Ausmus said. "I'm not overly concerned.

"He's got a pretty simple swing, easy to maintain, not a lot of moving parts."

Iglesias, the 25-year-old Cuban star who came over to Detroit in the July 2014 trade with the Red Sox to be the heir apparent to the suspended Jhonny Peralta, has already played in 11 games this spring. That's 10 more than last spring.

He never got going in 2014, because of the constant pain in both shin. First they were called shin splints, then upgraded to fractures, and you didn't need a medical report to tell you that -- all you needed to do was look at Iglesias' sullen face, and his soft words. Things weren't right.

So he sat out all of 2014, getting treatment and working out. And he came to camp 100 percent healthy -- and in a much better mood. He's almost always got a smile, whether he's making another slick-as-can-be play at shortstop, or he's riding around Lakeland with new buddy Miguel Cabrera in Iglesias' vintage Chevrolet Bel Air that's actually decades older than he is.

It's not unusual for players with long layoffs to get their offense back, but the Tigers take solace in the fact Iglesias' defense and speed -- two of his tools that draw far more rave reviews than his bat -- are just fine. He's already stolen three bases.

"I don't know how long it's gonna take," Iglesias said of finding his hitting stroke. "It's the first time it's happened to me. Hopefully not long. I just try to help this team win someway, somehow.

"Every time I go up there, I'm really happy."

Iglesias will play partial games again Wednesday and Thursday, and play his first full nine-inning game sometime next week.

'Getting better'

Nick Castellanos has quite the goatee going on these days. Maybe he wants to look older. If so, it's working.

He also wants to look like a more experienced third baseman. And that just might be working, too.

Castellanos had a rough transition back to third base in 2014, lacking range and making too many errors. So he worked tirelessly this offseason on improving his athleticism, even taking a trip to Lubbock, Texas, to work with defensive coordinator Matt Martin.

At camp, the work has continued alongside Omar Vizquel and Alan Trammell, two of the better infielders in the last 30 years.

"Matt Martin, Omar Vizquel and Alan Trammell have really worked with him on being in a position to have a quicker first step, quicker first move to the ball," Ausmus said. "And he's getting better, he's getting better. He's not quite there yet. Sometimes he's a little late, sometimes he's a little early."

Some of that will come with experience. When Brandon Inge made the move from catcher to third base in 2004, he did so with an extensive knowledge of the hitters and their tendencies. Castellanos, 23, is only a year into his major-league career; he'll learn the tendencies, too, and thus develop a quicker first step.

That's why Ausmus insists, despite some doubters, instincts can be taught. They're not just for those born with such athleticism.

"Don't forgo experience," Ausmus said. "Certain people might get it quicker or do it instinctively, but experience plays a big role in it, as well."

Around the horn

Ausmus continues to be impressed with Andrew Romine, who was the Tigers' starting shortstop much of last year, but is transitioning, with Iglesias back, to a utility role in his bid to stay in the major leagues. On Tuesday, he played first base, and handled several chances flawlessly.

"He's been impressive at all the positions," Ausmus said. "He hasn't looked overmatched, in fact he's looked good. That move to kind of a super-utility role might suit him well."

... Left fielder Yoenis Cespedes banged his knee on the third-base-line wall chasing a ball in the first inning Tuesday at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Ausmus went out to check on him, but Cespedes stayed in the game despite seeming to keep laboring for several moments.

Any pain didn't last long. When Ausmus wanted to take him out a few innings later, Cespedes pleaded for, and received one more at-bat.

... Corner outfielder Tyler Collins has misplayed a few balls during games this week, which is unlike him. Given he came to camp with a good chance to make the team, he might be distracted by all the reports saying Perez and Romine will both make the roster, which would leave Collins back at Toledo.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/tonypaul1984