Lakeland, Fla. — Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire likes to take teaching points from these spring games. He will have quite a selection from the game here Wednesday — a 6-5 loss to the Blue Jays — examples both good and bad.
Ronny Rodriguez, getting the start at third base, had a rough day. Two tough plays — a topped slow roller and a ball hit in the hole to his left — went off his glove for infield singles. A third he booted for an error.
There was a misplayed foul ball by second baseman Niko Goodrum which would have been the third out of the fifth inning.
BOX SCORE: Blue Jays 6, Tigers 5
On the next pitch from young right-hander Sandy Baez, Kevin Pillar drilled a two-run double off the fence in right-center field.
Catcher Derek Norris had three passed balls. There was also a wild pitch and a virtually uncontested steal of third base by Jays' Dalton Pompey.
“We’ve been sloppy for about four days in a row defensively,” Gardenhire said. “Bouncing the ball around, walking people. We’ve been sloppy. But it’s not for a lack of work. They’re working. You just go through these stretches when it’s sloppy and you’ve got to clean it up.”
Starter Matthew Boyd needed 65 pitches to get through three innings. One of them floated in at 67 mph and was whacked to the fence in left — caught by Victor Reyes after he first lost it in the sky. He spun, had to race back and caught the ball going face first into the fence.
“I screwed up the sign on Derek,” Boyd said. “I was going to throw a curveball and he set up for a fastball. I didn’t want to hurt him, so I just tried to flip it up there. In hindsight, I should have just thrown it into the ground. That was my mistake.
“Fortunately, Victor made a great play for me in left.”
On the positive side, switch-hitting designated hitter Victor Martinez hit his third home run of the spring, the second from the right side. And Nick Castellanos walloped his fourth homer, a howitzer blast over the batter’s eye beyond the 420-foot marker in center field.
Castellanos’ two-run shot put the Tigers up 5-4 in the sixth inning.
More:Bosio explains his plan for Tigers’ Daniel Norris
The Tigers also played some small ball, which was always a staple of Gardenhire’s teams in Minnesota.
In the first inning, left-handed leadoff hitter Leonys Martin singled — a two-strike hit off Jays lefty Thomas Pannone — and stole second. Jose Iglesias smartly hit the ball to the right side, a groundout that moved Martin to third.
Miguel Cabrera drove him home with a sacrifice fly.
In the third inning, Rodriguez led off with a double and was pushed up to third by Martin's deft bunt, and he scored on Iglesias’ sacrifice fly.
“I think that’s beautiful,” he said of Martin’s third-inning bunt. “That was a drag bunt, obviously, but it’s another way to get them over and in. We did that play with Iglesias, too. That’s a great way to play baseball.”
Asked about bunting, even for a hit, early in a game, Gardenhire said, “He has to practice that, and the only time he can is in a game situation. That was a great opportunity to bunt and they made a heckuva play to get him.”
Get 'em on, get 'em over, get 'em in — an axiom as old as the game and very dear to Gardenhire’s heart.
“I love that kind of baseball,” he said. “That’s playing the game — trying to do a job (advance the runner) and get yourself a knock, too.”
Working on it
It was a grind for Boyd, but he limited the damage to two runs (one earned) and three hits. Of his 65 pitches, 36 strikes — a bad ratio for him.
“Lot of pitches,” he said with a shrug. “Ideally you want to get guys out in three pitches or less. So that’s something I want to sharpen up — minimize my pitches. You don’t want to throw 65 pitches in three innings by any means.
“But I feel good where I am at and I know what I need to do for next time.”
It was his third start in the spring and he threw more sliders and off-speed pitches than normal. In fact, 22 of his pitches registered at 80 mph or less.
“Just working on stuff,” he said. “Mixing everything and attacking with everything. It was my first time working with Derek, too, so I wanted to use everything. I used my slider quite a bit.”
The slider was his fifth pitch last season. He used it only 10 percent of the time, according to Brooks Baseball. He hopes it can become more of a weapon for him this year.
“Boz (pitching coach Chris Bosio) helped me tighten it up a little bit and showed me some different spots where I could use it,” Boyd said. “I’m starting to use it not just as a strikeout pitch but more of an action pitch. A couple of those ground balls today were off sliders.”
Starting catcher James McCann has played in just five games thus far, just once in the last five including the trip to Bradenton Thursday, which he is not making. No worries, though, there is nothing physically wrong with him.
“Norris hadn’t caught (much) and we’re trying to get him in the loop, too,” Gardenhire said. “They are all going to catch. Steve Liddle (assistant coach in charge of the catchers) wrote out the list for the next four or five games and McCann is going to be doing a lot of catching from here on out.”
The club was conscious of McCann having two newborn, preemie twins at home and kept him off the longer bus trips. But Gardenhire said the plan was always to ramp up his workload later in the spring.
“He’s fine,” Gardenhire said. “You want to take it easy with him. There are what, three weeks left down here? That’s a long time. There’s a lot of squatting. Just like with the pitchers, we pace them out. Right now they are catching five innings. Then seven and eventually they will catch eight and nine.”
If McCann needs more at-bats, Gardenhire said he will send him to hit in the minor-league games where he could lead off every inning.
Around the horn
JaCoby Jones is at it again. He’s putting together his second straight impressive spring. He’s hitting .429 but more impressively, he’s showing improved discipline. He drew a walk in the seventh inning, his third walk in two days.
…Of Baez, Bosio said, “One of the hardest-throwing young stud starters that we have.” Baez’s fastball topped at 97 and sat at 96. He also showed a good mix of sliders and change-ups. He finished last season at High-A Lakeland.
…Left-hander Chad Bell fighting to win a spot in the Tigers bullpen, gave up a pair of run-scoring singles — one in the eighth to Tim Lopes and one in the ninth to Max Pentecost — both with two outs.
…Second base prospect Dawel Lugo, who was reassigned to minor-league camp on Tuesday, was playing with an ankle injury during his stay in big-league camp. “We found out he had an ankle problem that he’d been fighting through,” Gardenhire said. “I didn’t think he was moving well at all, but he wanted to play so he didn’t say too much.” He’s been getting treatment on the ankle the last couple of days.
…The Tigers have lost the last five Grapefruit League games.