Lakeland, Fla. — Nothing fires up the fan base more than a good debate about the Tigers’ batting order. Even in spring training, even when big-league pitchers are only going two and three innings at the start of games — opinions on who the manager is hitting at the top of his lineup are fierce and divisive.
Leonys Martin, who has a career on-base percentage of .300, has been hitting leadoff in manager Ron Gardenhire’s early lineups. Jose Iglesias, who has a career .316 on-base percentage, has been hitting second a fair bit.
This will not make the analytically-aware fan happy. Gardenhire doesn’t really care.
“I am just trying to get guys at-bats right now,” he said after the Tigers’ 6-3 exhibition win over the Braves Sunday. “I hear you guys say, ‘This could be my lineup.’ Well, it could be. Yes. But will it be? I don’t know.
“I am putting guys up there to get at-bats and see how they feel hitting up there.”
Both have responded quite well. Martin, who hit the first inside-the-park home run of his career Sunday, is hitting .273 with a .314 on-base percentage. Iglesias, who singled, walked and was hit by a pitch in his three at-bats, is hitting .333 with a .464 on-base percentage.
But that’s not the point. Not right now.
“I haven’t even gotten into the analytics yet,” Gardenhire said. “They haven’t written me one lineup out on where they think all the people should go. And when they do, I will kick them out and write my own.”
“I’m kidding,” he said. “This is work in progress here. We haven’t said, ‘Let’s throw all this stuff in the computer and see what it spits out.’ We haven’t done that yet, but we will.”
Gardenhire knows the computer will frown on Martin hitting leadoff, because the computer will be judging him on the numbers he put up in the past, especially the last two years when he struggled mightily with an upper-cut swing.
“But who’s to say from now forth, he might have an on-base percentage of 38 percent?” he said. “Sometimes people adjust. Sometimes when you start talking about putting the ball in play and keeping it out of the air, people adjust.
“He’s actually put up some really good swings. He’s excited to be up there and sometimes it just rolls that way.”
The lineup will continue to change and evolve throughout the spring. And as the regular season nears, the data put forth by the analytics department will become more relevant and useful, and it will be a part of Gardenhire’s decision making.
But there is one thing the computer won’t be able to change.
“There is a good probability the computer will spit out Miguel Cabrera as the No. 2 hitter,” Gardenhire said. “I can guarantee you that ain’t going to work. I will promise you that Miggy will be my No. 3 hitter.
“I agree, that is part of the old-school. And me and the computer will fight on that one. I might just unplug it.”
V-Mart goes berm
Victor Martinez hit his fourth home run of the spring Sunday. Batting left-handed, he hit it onto the berm in left-center. He has two home runs from each side of the plate.
“He’s working hard and his health is letting him work hard,” Gardenhire said. “He’s probably better at 39 than a lot of people. This guy can hit, he’s always been able to hit.”
Martinez is coming off a year where he twice had to be shut down with an accelerated heartbeat and had an ablation procedure in October. He hasn’t been physically able to do his usual rigorous hitting routine the last two offseasons.
“Listen, I’ve watched this guy from when he was in Cleveland all the way to here and he just killed us,” said Gardenhire, the longtime manager of the Twins. “I know he can hit. I know his age is up there, but if he’s healthy, no one works as hard as he does. He’s in there every day working on his swing.
“Right now he feels great. I know he’s in the right place mentally and physically — so that’s good.”
Joe Jimenez has been, to say the least, impressive this spring. He struck out the side in the ninth Sunday, his fastball hitting 97 mph.
“Really good,” Gardenhire said. “The ball is jumping out of his hand. When he’s throwing it over the plate like that, attacking the hitter, putting them in a hole, he can be very good.”
Jimenez has allowed one unearned run in five innings this spring, with eight strikeouts.
“Now, will he do that consistently,” Gardenhire said. “That’s what everybody is waiting to see. This is spring training, but I like that big arm. That’s what it’s all about. After seeing every team we face down here bringing in five guys out of the bullpen throwing 95 and above — we want to be one of those teams.”
Around the horn
Martin’s inside-the-park home run came in the sixth inning. He hit a shot to the gap in right-center and it caromed along the warning track. He never stopped running. “I thought it was out of the ballpark,” he said. “It felt like I would never get to home plate. I was running for my life.”
…The big blow of the game was a three-run double by Cabrera. Cabrera a pulled an off-speed pitch into the left-field corner. In his next at-bat, he let a 92-mph fastball get deep in the zone and banged it to right field for a single.
…Left-hander Blaine Hardy, who has been sidelined with shoulder impingement, threw a 15-pitch bullpen on Saturday. It was his first bullpen session since the first week of camp. “It was the best 15 pitches I’ve thrown in a long time,” he said. There is a chance, barring any setback, he could throw in a game next week.
…The Tigers Sunday reassigned utility man Dominic Ficociello to minor-league camp.
…It was the Tigers first win since March 2. “We hadn’t shook hands in a week,” Gardenhire joked. “We didn’t know what to do.”