Tigers’ Moya: ‘I think I belong here’

Chris McCosky, The Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — Steven Moya was asked if he remembered what former Tigers catcher Bryan Holaday went through last spring.

“Yeah, I remember,” Moya said with a smile. “He was raking. I did pay attention to that.”

Moya finds himself in a situation not too dissimilar to the one Holaday was in last year — out of minor league options and seemingly at long odds to win a spot on the 25-man roster. Holaday responded by taking a devil-may-care approach, which produced the best spring of his life and ultimately a trade to the Texas Rangers.

Moya seems to be taking a similar approach.

“I am not focusing on being out of options or what’s going on with the team,” he said. “Just play. That’s the only thing I can control, the only thing I can do. I just want to do my best and let God take the wheel.”

Asked if he ever considered that a change in organization might offer him more of an opportunity to stick in the big leagues, Moya slowly shook his head.

“I try to dodge all those thoughts,” he said. “I think I belong here.”

Moya seems to be more relaxed than in past springs — being a new father to two-month-old Zoely has redirected some priorities, for sure. And after tweaking his swing mechanics fairly regularly from 2013-2015, Moya seems to have locked in on and gotten comfortable with one stance and one approach.

“I still got a lot of work to do with my swing; get it a little shorter,” he said. “Now I am not concerned about hitting the ball far. I want to hit the ball hard, not far. That’s the idea I’ve been concentrating on.”

Cutting down on strikeouts and putting more balls in play is the goal. He struck out 40 percent of the time in limited action in 2015 and 38 percent last year. At Toledo, though, he got it down to 22.5, still high but a marked improvement.

He also has spent extra time shagging balls in the outfield during batting practice sessions. Always an average outfielder in the minor leagues, Moya struggled mightily on defense last year in Detroit.

“Last year, sometimes maybe it was a lack of confidence,” he said. “I know I can play defense. I just have to go out there, have fun and get comfortable and know it’s no different that the minor leagues — just maybe the ballparks are bigger, structurally.”

He is basically reprogramming himself to trust his talent. It’s very similar to the approach Holaday took last year — he knew he was talented enough to play in the big leagues, so he just relaxed, got out of his own way mentally and played the game.

“That’s what (Moya) should do,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “It’s really a good situation for him because either he makes the team, or there is a pretty good chance he’s on somebody else’s team.

“I don’t see him making it through waivers.”

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Teaching moment

Right-hander Joe Jimenez threw his first live batting practice session of the spring Monday and overall was impressive. But both Victor Martinez, who hit against him, and Ausmus pulled him aside afterward.

“We talked to him about getting on top of his slider a little more, rather than on the side,” Ausmus said. “Vic saw the same thing I did. Hitters recognize things when they are different. You want everything to look as much like a fastball as possible when it comes out of your hand.

“He was getting on the side, which immediately a hitter will know, it’s not a fastball.”

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Upton convinced

Justin Upton was asked if the first 3 1/2 months of the season would feel like an audition for the Tigers, since, if they are out of contention by the trade deadline, general manager Al Avila likely will go into sell mode.

“We’ll be right there (in contention),” he said. “I don’t think it’ll be a tough decision.”

Several other veteran Tigers have echoed similar thoughts. Ian Kinsler said he expects Avila’s hands to be tied at the trade deadline because the Tigers will be in the thick of the race.

“Mentally, we’re a pretty strong team,” Upton said. “I think having a little motivation — obviously, Mr. I (owner Mike Ilitch) passing and the fact we got a second chance with this ballclub — I think guys are excited about it and they want to do something with it.”

Around the horn

Closer Francisco Rodriguez has been throwing off flat ground, but has yet to throw off a mound.

He said he was going to meet with pitching coach Rich Dubee to determine when he should start his throwing program.

“I need to get that feel for the ball coming off my finger tips,” he said. “I don’t want to get on the mound and throw just to throw, without having any feel on the ball.” It would be pointless, he said, because he couldn’t work on anything.

… The Tigers signed two more older players to minor league contracts Monday — outfielder Matt Murton (35) and infielder Daniel Muno (28). Murton, a former first-round pick, hit 13 home runs for the Cubs in 2006, but spent six years in Japan before returning and hitting .314 at Triple A Iowa last year. Muno got to the big leagues with the Mets in 2015.