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 Notes: Leyland stresses fundamentals

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PostSubject: Notes: Leyland stresses fundamentals   Sun Feb 17, 2008 10:38 pm

02/17/2008 7:21 PM ET
Notes: Leyland stresses fundamentals
Holding baserunners, limiting strikeouts among chief concerns
By Jason Beck /

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Jim Leyland is a talent kind of manager. Give him good players, and he'll show you a good team. However, he's also a details manager, and he wants his team to pay attention to the little parts of the game.

That is a big part of what Spring Training is about.

"The more little things you do, the better you're going to be," Leyland said Sunday, "no matter what kind of team you have."

The Tigers have a pretty good kind of team, with expectations attached. But they also have the kind that can progress on fundmentals. On offense, Leyland plans to emphasize two-strike approaches, cutting down on strikeouts. On the mound, Leyland hopes he and his staff can squeeze out a better focus on holding baserunners.

Neither of the ideas is anything new. In fact, Leyland has emphasized both in previous years, much like other clubs. However, it's the team that executes on preseason priorities that usually makes progress.

Statistically, much of the public attention on baserunning last year focused on Ivan Rodriguez, who struggled to throw out runners early in the season before regaining much of his old stinginess over the second half. The flip side of that, however, is the work pitchers do to hold runners closer to the bag, an issue Leyland has addressed with his team before.

He addressed it again on Sunday.

"We've got to do better," Leyland said. "That's one thing this camp will be zeroed in on. It sounds silly, but that's one thing we will get accomplished. We will work on it now, and the closer we get to cutdown [day], we'll go over it a whole lot. We're going to do it right."

By doing it right, Leyland means such details as slide steps, holding the ball longer and varying times so that baserunners can't time their jumps as easily. The Tigers did that last season, but they need to do them with a purpose.

As a team, Detroit allowed 73 stolen bases in 104 attempts last season, the most steals allowed by the club since 2003. In 2006, by comparison, there were just 74 total attempts. Twenty-nine steals last year, however, came off of starters Jeremy Bonderman (19) and Andrew Miller (10), according to the Bill James Handbook. The latter was somewhat surprising, since Miller -- now with the Florida Marlins -- is a left-hander.

To be fair, neither of those guys ranked anywhere near the lead among AL pitchers for most stolen bases allowed. That belonged to Boston knuckleballer Tim Wakefield with 41, followed by Toronto's A.J. Burnett with 31. And Leyland isn't blaming anyone.

"It was my fault for not getting on them about it," Leyland said. "So this spring, I'm on them about it. It wasn't that we didn't get on them last year about it, because we saw it. What I'm saying is I didn't push it enough."

The matter of two-strike approaches from the offense is more a continuation of progress they made last season. Detroit decreased its strikeout total from 1,133 in 2006 to 1,054 last year, including a drop in 33 strikeouts and rise of 14 points in two-strike batting average from Curtis Granderson.

Detroit ranked seventh among AL teams in strikeouts, but Leyland believes it could be better. The Yankees, after all, produced more runs with fewer whiffs.

"Our hitters are too good to strike out as much as we do," Leyland said.

Part of that could be a matter of experience.

"This team is semi-young," Gary Sheffield said Wednesday. "And when you talk about capitalizing on every at-bat and working a pitcher through every pitch, you don't know what that does to a lineup. When you do that on a consistent basis, you wear teams down. That's what this team is going to have to learn. Everybody can hit, but the key to it all is patience."

Robertson readying for big day:
With his wife due to deliver their first child later this month, Nate Robertson admits his mind is elsewhere as he works on his game this spring.

"I'm here," Robertson said, "but I'm not here. Every time I come here, it's difficult to separate the two [matters]."

The funny thing is, though, that it has had no effect on his pitching. Robertson was surprised at how good he has felt so far in camp.

"It's kind of funny," he said, "because it's made everything here a lot less stressful. I threw one of the better sides I've ever thrown early on in camp. My changeup was lights-out. I'm like, 'Where did that come from?'"

More early impressions: Again, it's hard to gauge at this point in camp, but one young pitcher who has looked strong is Freddy Dolsi, a 25-year-old right-hander who spent last season as the closer for Lakeland's Class A team. Dolsi went 5-3 with a 3.48 ERA and 23 saves for the Flying Tigers.

Quotable: "I'm just at a stage of my career now where I don't feel like it's that big of a deal, and I wasn't able to use his expertise. I wasn't going to go anywhere, and when you think about it, his expertise and his ability, if you're able to create a market with other teams, that is what his leverage comes from. For me, basically taking all that from him, it's a very bad business decision to keep someone on and limit them in all those aspects." -- Kenny Rogers, on his decision to dismiss agent Scott Boras and represent himself

“It takes pitching, hitting and defense. Any two can win. All three make you unbeatable.”    
–Joe Garagiola
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