LAKELAND, Fla. (AP) — After two years of trying to outslug the rest of the American League, the Detroit Tigers are taking a new approach.
Gone are Prince Fielder and Jhonny Peralta, replaced by left fielder Rajai Davis and second baseman Ian Kinsler, who are expected to help give the Tigers speed on the bases like they haven’t had in decades.
Davis has been a journeyman’s career. The Tigers are his fifth major league team, and he will likely share left field with Andy Dirks to start the season. But the 33-year-old Davis can run. He stole 45 bases last season in 108 games for Toronto and 46 the year before. His 216 stolen bases over the past five years ranks second in the major leagues.
Davis signed with the Tigers as a free agent in December because he thought the three-time AL Central champions had a chance of winning again this year.
“I like this team, I like the clubhouse, and I’ll be ready to run,” Davis said. “I am just in spring training to get my bat work in. I can run any time.”
Davis’ 45 stolen bases last season was 10 more than the entire Tigers team combined. Jim Leyland, who retired after eight years as Detroit’s manager, didn’t believe in running much, but new manager Brad Ausmus is ready to roll. Besides Davis, he has speedy Austin Jackson in center field, veteran Torii Hunter in right, and Kinsler and shortstop Jose Iglesias can also run.
Ausmus said there will be more running this season and that Davis will get his share of steals to set up the heart of the order that includes two-time AL MVP Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez.
“We are going to run more and Rajai is a guy who can help set it up for the power guys,” Ausmus said. “We’ll run in the right situations, but Davis is a guy who knows how to run the bases, not just use his speed.”
Davis said he likes to steal bases, but only at the right time.
“It all depends on the situation, but I can go when I have to,” Davis said. “When you have a guy like Cabrera at-bat, sometimes you have to stay and let him knock you in. But I am ready to do whatever they want me to do.”
Davis batted .260 with six homers and 24 RBIs for the Blue Jays last season. He’s been with the Jays, the Athletics, the Giants, and the Pirates. He stole a career-high 50 bases for Oakland in 2010. A right-handed hitter, Davis is likely to start the season platooning with Dirks, a lefty coming off a disappointing 2013 season.
Davis said he isn’t worried about playing time, but he’d like to play as much as possible. Dirks had seven steals last year in 131 games.
“I’ll do what they ask me to do, but if they want me to run, that would be great,” Davis said. “Whatever it takes to win.”
NOTES: RHP Justin Verlander threw another bullpen, tossing 60 pitches even though he was slated for 55. Ausmus could only laugh when asked if Verlander keeps to his allotted amount of pitches. … Rick Porcello will start the Tigers spring training opener on Tuesday against Florida Southern College. Drew Smyly will start the first game of the Grapefruit League season on Wednesday against the Atlanta Braves. Max Scherzer and Jose Alvarez will also start next week. … RHP Bruce Rondon was sent home from practice early after he complained of an illness. Ausmus said it was “less than a flu,” but he just told Rondon to rest for the day.
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