Lakeland, Fla. – Jose Iglesias looked into the mirror at the end of last season and didn’t like at all what he saw.
“I got to the All-Star game,” he said. “I got a .300 (batting) average. And at the end of the day, I went home as a loser. It wasn’t fun. I look at that, I look in the mirror and say, ‘It’s not about you. It’s about team.’ No matter how good you do as an individual, it’s not fun if you lose. Most definitely I have a different mindset and I am really happy where I am.”
At this point, those are just words, but to the Tigers, they are very pleasant ones to hear.
“To his credit, he came to me (after last season) and we talked,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “But the old saying is, anyone can talk about it. So far his words are what you hope they’d be. But, and it’s not just him, it’s the actions that matter.”
Most of Iglesias’ issues last season were documented. The most famous one, his dugout scuffle with catcher James McCann, played out in front of television cameras. And his terse, non-apologetic response to it – “I don’t feel like I did anything wrong” – didn’t win any favors publicly or within the clubhouse.
He rankled his teammates last year, too, by not wanting to travel when he was injured.
There were times on the field where it appeared he gave up on balls too quickly. That’s what precipitated the dugout scuffle. There were times when he was selfish at the plate, not giving himself up to move the runner or being upset at having to bunt and giving a half-hearted stab at getting it down.
These are things Iglesias, just 26 years old, has acknowledged and is seeking absolution from.
“Every year that you put under your belt is an experience,” he said. “You kind of learn what’s best and what you need to do to be a better teammate.”
Ian Kinser, his double-play partner, has taken Iglesias under his wing, as has Miguel Cabrera.
“Iggy probably looks up to Kinsler more than any other player, other than Miggy,” Ausmus said. “If he can emulate those guys, and I don’t mean from a performance standpoint but a teammate standpoint, that’s a pretty good start.”
Iglesias said he’s learned, too, that it’s not enough to just make the spectacular plays at shortstop. He needs to make “winning” plays, especially in key situations. That he was near the bottom among shortstops in defensive runs saved (minus-4) last season is alarming to him.
“Over the years, by learning the hitters, the pitchers, the league, if you really want to get better you will,” he said. “Learning the speed of the hitters, understanding situations, all these things help make a good defender better.
“There are little natural things you can’t teach. I work hard to get better every single day.”
Asked about his goals, Iglesias first says health. He only played 120 games last season, and that was his career-high. The stress fractures in his legs that cost him the 2014 season are healed and not an issue. The broken finger that shelved him late in the year is healed.
He would like to play a full season.
But that’s the only individual goal he mentioned.
“For me, it’s winning,” he said. “It’s always been like that, but now I am more like, ‘I really want to win.’ That’s the only thing I worry about.”
Deeds always speak louder than words, for sure. But for Iglesias to publicly hold himself accountable for his actions and vow to be a better teammate this year hints at new level of maturity.
New Tigers closer Francisco Rodriguez (57) takes warmup tosses Thursday in his first team workout at spring training.