Tigers take first strides in correcting base running blues

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Victor Martinez and the Tigers do base running drills at spring training.

Lakeland, Fla. – Brad Ausmus was dead serious about putting in the requisite work to improve the team’s base running efficiency this season.

He and assistant coaches Omar Vizquel and Matt Martin assembled a small group of players at 8 a.m. Saturday morning for a brisk tutorial.

“Just reading the ball off the bat, runners on first or second, having the mindset of going first to third or second to home but being smart,” he said. “Running the bases intelligently is the biggest thing.

“People talk about being aggressive, but sometimes being aggressive runs you into an out. It’s about being smart.”

Nick Castellanos, Jose Iglesias, Cameron Maybin and Ian Kinsler were among the players taking part in the workout. Ausmus brought over several outfielders from the minor league camp, including Michigan State product Cam Gibson, to assist.

He stationed runners at first, then at second, and hit balls to the outfielders. He challenged the runners to read the outfielders to determine the feasibility of taking the extra base.

“See the outfielder,” Ausmus said. “Is he moving laterally? Is he moving away from the throw to third, or from the throw home? Then knowing whether you can take the extra base.”

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The mindset, Ausmus said, is to consistently think 180 feet, or two bases.

“Instead of when a ball is hit thinking, ‘Oh, I can get to third,’ it should be, ‘I am going to third until I can no longer get to third.”

It’s been a source of frustration for Ausmus that he has put a high level of emphasis on base running in his first two years as manager, and yet the Tigers were dead last in net runs gained by base running, minus-107, according to Bill James’ research.

The Tigers made 60 outs on the bases last season, including 25 at home. They were picked off 19 times. They went first to third just 73 times out of 321 chances, second to home 100 out of 183 chances and first to home 29 times in 75 chances. Only two teams (Dodgers and Orioles) took fewer bases than the Tigers (130).

“You can give them the concepts but a lot of times they have to experience it,” Ausmus said. “We told them, ‘Don’t worry about getting thrown out here in spring training. Let’s do it, try to learn and recognize what you are capable doing during this month-long, 30-game schedule.’”

Kirk Gibson will be back in Lakeland in early March to work with base runners, some individually and in small groups.