A point of emphasis: Tigers starting to show fruits of their labor on defense

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Daz Cameron

Fort Myers, Fla. – It was after a spring game against the Cardinals a couple of weeks back that Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire addressed his team, specifically the outfielders.

“You saw us play against the Cardinals, and they caught everything we hit in the outfield,” he said. “They were diving all over the place. We had a conversation about that. I told them I envision our team doing the same thing.”

Well, since then the Tigers, with a few exceptions, have been playing stellar defense. Center field prospect Daz Cameron has made a couple of highlight-reel catches. But more to Gardenhire’s point, plays are being made that need to be made and throws are being made to the right spots.

“We’ve been pretty good, for the most part,” Gardenhire said. “We’re hitting cut-off men in relays. We’ve been in the right spots. We’re getting the outs we’re supposed to.”

The game Sunday against the Yankees in Lakeland was almost clinical in that regard.

Second baseman Josh Harrison saved a run early in the game going far to his left and making a diving stop.

In the sixth inning Saturday, catcher Jake Rogers made a remarkably quick, strong throw to second base to nab speedy Yankees base stealer Billy Burns. Then, for the final out of the inning, third baseman Jeimer Candelario made a tough play coming in on a dribbling grounder and making a strong, accurate throw across his body.

The one that had Gardenhire smiling and shaking his head, though, was the relay the Tigers pulled off in the seventh.

Yankees prospect Brandon Wagner was trying to score from first on a double into the right-field corner by Miguel Andujar. Prospect Brock Deatherage chased the ball into the corner and fired the ball to the first relay man he saw.

It turned out to be Gordon Beckham, who hustled from his shortstop position all the way to the right field line.

“We still haven’t figured that out yet,” Gardenhire said, when asked how Beckham got himself over there.

Beckham, who has played a lot more second base than shortstop in his career, was just going on instinct.

“I know I wasn’t even supposed to be there,” Beckham said. “I figured he was going to overthrow and we were going to get an out at home plate.”

That’s what happened. Beckham made a strong throw to the plate. Rogers moved up the first base line to catch the throw and had to make a quick recovery to tag the runner.

“The normal way, old-school, is if the play is down the right-field line and it’s a guaranteed double, the trail man would be second baseman down the line, lined up to home,” Gardenhire said. “The first baseman would be back, being the roving guy in the middle.”

The first baseman was Dustin Peterson, an outfielder by trade, and he went out to be the relay man for Deatherage.

“I don’t know what the heck happened,” Gardenhire said. “Peterson went out farther than he’s supposed to. He hasn’t played much first base.  So Beck just slid in right behind him and he called for the ball all the way. It was quick and he made a nice throw.

“It was honestly a great play, but I don’t know if that’s the way you draw it up. But, sometimes, that’s what we talk about, you ad-lib and get to where you need to be. And he did.”

Pitching and defense. It’s what is going to keep the Tigers from falling off the cliff in the Central Division this season.

Twitter @cmccosky