Tigers to have heavy influence on World Baseball Classic

Chris McCosky, The Detroit News
Former Tigers manager Jim Leyland, here speaking with bench coach Gene Lamont, will guide Team USA in the World Baseball Classic.

Start with Team USA, which will be managed by former Tigers’ skipper Jim Leyland. Former Tigers Tom Brookens (bench coach), Jeff Jones (pitching coach) and Alan Trammell (first base coach) are on his staff.

As are Willie Randolph (third base coach), Tino Martinez (hitting coach) and Marcel Lachemann (assistant pitching coach).

Playing second base for the Americans is likely to be Ian Kinsler, who gave Leyland a firm but not an official commitment.

“I won’t say it’s etched in stone,” Leyland said. “But I talked to Ian. I got a good feeling about it.”

Then there’s Team Venezuela. The general manager is Carlos Guillen. The manager is Omar Vizquel. Miguel Cabrera has not only committed to play, he helped quell a minor revolt within the organization.

Early last week, it was reported that Vizquel was fired, presumably by Guillen. Several players protested the move in the Venezuelan press and said they wouldn’t play for anybody other than Vizquel. Cabrera and others intervened and on Monday, there was Vizquel and Guillen sitting side-by-side, all smiles.

Henning: It’s big week for Tigers as Avila ponders ’17, beyond

“When you work with somebody that you haven't worked with before, there is a new dynamic,” Vizquel said. "How do you handle things and all that? There were a lot of misunderstandings and differences between him and myself.

“All we had to do was sit down at a table and clear everything up. What do you want? What do I want? The only way we solved that problem was sitting down and talking at a table face to face.”

Vizquel took a good part of the blame for the miscommunication.

“Somethings were said that weren’t agreed upon,” he said. “And I got my ears pulled off a little bit. They were like, ‘You can’t say that.’ …The best thing for us was to sit down and work it out. I’ve known Carlos for a long time. When we sit down to talk baseball, you can feel the chemistry between our two minds. He played shortstop and second base and I played shortstop.

“Once we started talking baseball, it all came together naturally.”

Vizquel said he expects Tigers pitchers Anibal Sanchez, Bruce Rondon and Francisco Rodriguez to play for him in the tournament. He is also waiting for word from Victor Martinez.

Tigers right-handed reliever Joe Jimenez is expected to play for Puerto Rico.

Wear and tear

Tigers general manager Al Avila said the organization has no say on whether his players can compete in the WBC.

“We can’t influence their decision to play or not to play, unless they are injured,” he said. “You just have to trust the people who are running that team will take care of your players.”

Team Venezuela will play its first exhibition game on March 8, so players will be leaving their respective spring training camps after only three weeks. The Tigers have to be a little concerned about an older player like Cabrera, especially with his history of ankle issues.

Certainly, Vizquel is aware of that.

“It’s an opportunity for him to get ready,” he said. “No doubt that (playing in the WBC) will be better than playing in spring training games. There will be moments when you really have to push yourself. That’s why we’ve been telling guys to prepare themselves – not to just to play, but to be ready to play 100 percent, game level.”

Vizquel said he’s seen video of many of players, including Cabrera, already in full workout mode.

Zimmermann healing

Avila said the medical reports on Tigers’ starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann were encouraging.

Zimmermann, whose season was derailed by groin, neck and shoulder issues, has continued to see a neck specialist this offseason.

“He continued to get injections in the neck to block the pain in the area,” Avila said. “He needs just one more. Through all the rehab work and physical therapy, he said there’s been no pain. He can do everything he used to do. He’s feeling really good right now.

“We are keeping our fingers crossed that carries into spring training and into the season and that it’s fixed everything. We think it has.”

Twitter @cmccosky