By Ashley Dunkak
DETROIT (CBS DETROIT) – Even with the start of spring training still more than a month away, the new rookie manager of the Detroit Tigers has stayed busy preparing for the season, and he is not letting off the gas now.
“It’s been kind of whirlwind,” Brad Ausmus told Dan Dickerson and Pat Caputo on 97.1 The Ticket. “There was a little bit of a respite over the holidays. I went from talking to [Tigers general manager] Dave Dombrowski two or three times a day every day to, the last two weeks, we spoke today for the first time since before the holidays, so there was a well needed break here.
“The new year rolls around, it’s time to get to work,” Ausmus added. “I’ve already started grinding over stuff for spring training, making sure that we cover everything we want to cover, getting in touch with coaches, making sure … everyone’s in tune and we’re all working towards the same thing.”
Ausmus’ tenure with the Tigers gets started with a team that went to the American League Championship Series each of the past three series. The strategy that got it there, though, is completely different from what the Tigers have recently employed. The lineup has less pop following the departures of Prince Fielder and Jhonny Peralta, so perennial winner Detroit will be trying this season to win in a different way.
“As much as they slug it in the American League, you still want pitching and defense,” Ausmus said, “and when you throw those front three guys, front three starters out there in Max [Scherzer], Justin [Verlander], Anibal [Sanchez], that’s pretty strong. I don’t think there’s a manager in baseball that’ll be upset about those guys. You kind of address an issue in the sense of signing Joe Nathan, an established closer who’s been there in close games, in playoffs games. He’s obviously a seasoned veteran and extremely capable in that role.”
While people can debate the merits of relying on the big inning versus using more speed and strategy to manufacture runs, nearly everyone would probably agree that the Tigers desperately needed a true closer. Converted set-up man Joaquin Benoit performed well in the role during the regular season but struggled in the postseason.
With the acquisition of Nathan, a six-time All-Star who recorded a 1.39 ERA and 43 saves in 2013, the Tigers not only landed a closer, but one of the best in the business. Regardless of who filled the role, though, Ausmus said having someone set to finish games is a bonus.
“Every manager I’ve asked about it, they all say, ‘I want to know who’s going to pitch that ninth inning,'” Aumus said. “They want to know who they can go to in a one-, two-run game in the ninth … I have yet to come across a manager who says, ‘I don’t really care who pitches the ninth.’
“Also I think the good thing about having a closer from a team perspective is the rest of the bullpen knows where they slot,” Aumus continued. “It’s beneficial if guys kind of know their roles. They have an idea of the situation that they’re going to be pitching in. That way mentally and physically they’re getting ready as those situations are arising in front of them during the course of the game. It creates a little bit more of a comfort level in the bullpen as opposed to guys waiting for the phone to ring, and they’re all on pins and needles.”
As far as what the team as a whole can expect from its new manager, Ausmus admits he is ultra-competitive – just ask his 14-year-old and 15-year-old daughters when he beats them at Ping-Pong, he says with a laugh.
When it comes to baseball, though, he knows patience is necessary.
“I also understand that it’s a long season, and I understand that in baseball there’s a lot of failure, so playing the game at the major league level for 18 years, you kind of get a feel for, that it’s a marathon approach,” Ausmus said. “That’s probably going to be more of my makeup. I’ll get mad. I’ve gotten mad as a player, I’ve yelled at my teammates as a player, but generally speaking it’s steady as she goes, and it’s a long season.”
If he does get after players, it might be better received than it could be from most. After all, Ausmus just finished his 18-year career as a catcher in 2010.
“I think the players understand that I haven’t forgotten how difficult this game is,” Ausmus said. “I know how hard it is to stand in the batter’s box with two strikes on you and the winning run at third in the bottom of the ninth and come up empty. I know what it’s like to go 0 for 40. I know what it’s like when I’m catching, when a pitcher makes a perfect pitch and the batter somehow gets a broken bat single over the first baseman’s head that drives in the winning run. I understand and I still remember the difficulties in playing this game. In that regard, I think the fact that I’m not that far removed, it will help me relate a little bit better.”
If Ausmus finds he does have trouble relating, he can rely on an old friend already familiar with the organization – Tigers bench coach Gene Lamont. Lamont coached third base for the Houston Astros when Ausmus played there, and the two hit it off.
“He was always someone I could talk to about the game of baseball even as a player, and we’ve stayed in touch ever since, which ironically, he’s kind of been in my mind the guy I wanted as a bench coach,” Ausmus said. “It was mere coincidence that I ended up getting the job with the Tigers and Geno was here. Geno’s someone I trust. He’s got knowledge of the game from a number of angles – as a coach, as a manager, at the minor league level, the major league level.
“He’s a calming presence,” Ausmus added. “And to boot, because he was here with the Tigers, he knows the personnel, and that’s something as a new manager coming in from the outside, you don’t know the personnel. You don’t know sometimes what these guys are capable of or what history they have, and Gene, as well as Jeff Jones, have that information, and that’s very helpful.”