NOAH TRISTER,AP Baseball Writer
LAKELAND, Fla. (AP) — With his beefy frame and prodigious power, Prince Fielder doesn’t look like a player who can simply blend into a lineup.
Somehow, the slugging first baseman did just that in his first season with the Detroit Tigers.
Fielder signed a $214 million deal early last year, arriving in Motown amid predictable fanfare. Then he hit .313 with 30 home runs and 108 RBIs in a Detroit debut that was largely devoid of drama.
With Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera hitting in front of him and Justin Verlander baffling hitters from the mound, Fielder’s terrific production was almost overshadowed. And that’s exactly how he prefers it.
“It’s always good to be on a team when you have superstars who are cool guys. They know how to play the game,” Fielder said. “Everyone here is a star, so it’s not a big deal. I love that. The more attention off me, the better.”
Detroit’s pitchers and catchers went through their first spring training workout Tuesday, but the full squad doesn’t start until later this week. Fielder appeared at a youth baseball field in Lakeland on Tuesday, joining around 100 youngsters for the unveiling of what was billed as the world’s largest baseball card.
The card, created by the Topps Company, measured approximately 90 feet by 60 feet, leaving center field covered with the giant image of Fielder swinging.
That’s about as ostentatious as it gets for Fielder these days. His violent, uppercut swing is in direct contrast with his persona. His goal each season is to be consistent and avoid major peaks and valleys.
That attitude may have rubbed off on the Tigers, who were a disappointment for much of 2012 but never panicked. They rallied late in the season to win both the AL Central and the American League pennant.
“I think it helped the team,” said Don Kelly, an outfielder on last year’s team. “He was pretty steady the whole time. He never got too high or too low. Just kind of stayed the same guy every day.”
Perhaps that’s why Fielder seemed so comfortable from the start. Some high-profile free agents might try too hard to have a big season after switching teams. Others might need time to adjust to new surroundings or opponents.
Fielder made the transition from the NL’s Milwaukee Brewers look easy. His focus was on being the same hitter he’s always been — nothing more, nothing less.
“They brought you over here because of what you do, not what they want to see you do better,” Fielder told The Associated Press in an interview at the baseball card event. “My thing is just staying consistent and being healthy, because when you’re healthy, that gives you the best chance to be consistent because you’re on the field.”
The 28-year-old Fielder has eight years left on his contract with Detroit, so his durability will be important. He played 162 games last season — the third time in four years he reached that mark.
Ever since he became a big league regular, Fielder has been loath to miss time if he’s healthy enough to play.
“It just feels like I left the iron on,” he said. “For me, it’s a weird feeling, and I don’t like that feeling.”
Cabrera won the MVP last year, and Verlander nearly took his second straight Cy Young Award. Fielder teamed up with those two to lead the Tigers to the World Series.
Once there, he went 1 for 14 — but he wasn’t the only Tiger who struggled. Detroit was shut out twice, had the third-lowest batting average in Series history at .159 and was swept by San Francisco.
“To lose the World Series, you’ve got to get there,” Fielder said. “Disappointed by the loss, but we still achieved something great.”
Hoping for their first title since 1984, the have added outfielder Torii Hunter. Designated hitter Victor Martinez is back after missing the whole 2012 season with a knee injury.
That means Fielder still shouldn’t have to do anything special. If he’s his usual self with the bat, the Tigers can score plenty.
“I thought he made a great transition last year — to come over here with all the expectations and everything,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. “I think he might be even more comfortable this year.”
Notes: Leyland stated the obvious before the workout, announcing Verlander as his opening day starter. … Leyland also said he’s not going to spend too much time harping on the competition for the No. 5 spot in the starting rotation. RHP Rick Porcello and LHP Drew Smyly are vying for that role. “I’m not going to give a day-by-day running of the Porcello-Smyly situation,” Leyland said. The same holds true for prospect Bruce Rondon’s attempt to become the team’s closer. “I think the best way to deal with all these things is to just wait and see and let it play out,” Leyland said.
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