Lakeland, Fla. — He was given a window of opportunity and he leapt through it.
Barring some unforeseen mishap, Tyler Collins is going to break camp with the Tigers as the fourth outfielder. That became clear Tuesday when the Tigers sent Wynton Bernard to Triple-A Toledo.
“I am going to fall short of saying he’s on the roster,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “But he’s in the driver’s seat.”
The opportunity came when Cameron Maybin suffered a fractured wrist in his first spring at-bat. Collins responded first by showing he could be more than a serviceable back-up to Anthony Gose in centerfield, and second by doing what he does best – providing some punch from the left side of the plate.
“Tyler Collins has always been kind of interesting to me,” Ausmus said. “You can see he’s maturing. He can get in his own way sometimes. He’s very strong-willed and he’s still learning that sometimes less is more especially when it comes to hitting a baseball.”
He has worked tirelessly with hitting coaches Wally Joyner and David Newhan on staying calm in the batter’s box and softening his leg kick. It’s helped him see pitches better and stay on them longer.
The results: He came into the game Tuesday hitting .318 with a MLB-leading five triples.
Whether he’s merely holding a place for Maybin or not, Collins has earned the right to be on the 25-man roster.
As for Bernard, he has continued to improve his standing in the organization – he’s just not ready yet.
“Wynton needs more time to develop,” Ausmus said. “He’s come a long way in two years and we feel he has a chance to be Major League player. But he needs to do down and learn, not only himself, but he needs to continue to improve in centerfield and at the plate.
“This is two-fold – it’s best for him and best for us.”
Other news before the rain fell:
■ Maybin is progressing ahead of schedule. In fact, the Tigers have had a hard time holding him back. He has been taking swings in the cage and he’s getting antsy to face live pitching.
“I know he feels really good,” Ausmus said. “He wants to ramp up quicker than we’re allowing at this point.”
Maybin will start the season on the disabled list.
■ As catcher Bryan Holaday was bolting through the clubhouse before the game Tuesday, he was asked how serious his left thumb injury was.
“It’s not,” he said, and kept walking.
True enough, Holaday hit in the cages, caught a bullpen and was expected to play half the game Tuesday. He had bent his thumb back Saturday in Clearwater when a cutter from Justin Wilson was fouled off his glove.
Holaday’s fight with Jarrod Saltalamacchia for the backup catcher spot in the final roster battle left among position players. Ausmus said he expects it to go right to the final day.
■ Victor Martinez (hamstring strain) returned to the big-league lineup Tuesday. Ausmus said he will be off Wednesday and then play the remaining three spring games.
“At this point I’d be shocked if he wasn’t ready to go (to start the season),” he said.
Martinez lined out to shortstop in his lone at-bat Tuesday.
“I felt good,” he said. “I didn’t do too much but it felt good.”
■ Left-hander Daniel Norris was cleared for baseball activities and threw for the first time since he suffered hairline fractures in the L2, L3 and L4 vertebrae on the spinous process in his lower back.
He was on medication for five days after the diagnosis and wouldn’t have been cleared if the inflammation weren’t completely out of the area.
He is expected to begin the season on the disabled list.
■ Lefty reliever Blaine Hardy, also likely to open the season on the DL, threw for the second time since being diagnosed with a slight shoulder impingement. He said his arm has felt good but he’s going to proceed cautiously.
He is expected to throw long-toss on Wednesday.
Pitchers Norris, Hardy, Alex Wilson, Angel Nesbitt and Jeff Ferrell are all likely to begin the season on the DL.