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 Tigers' youth proving challenge to Leyland

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PostSubject: Tigers' youth proving challenge to Leyland   Mon May 23, 2011 1:19 am

Tigers' youth proving challenge to Leyland
By Jason Beck / MLB.com | 05/22/11 7:34 PM ET

PITTSBURGH -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland doesn't mince words about the pressure to produce in the big leagues. But as he sat in his office on Sunday morning at PNC Park and pondered the roots of a five-game losing streak, that upfront honesty transitioned to concern about how that pressure is impacting Detroit's young hitters.

"A lot of these guys, they're fighting for survival," he said. "And it's in their heads."

It's the delicate balance a lot of managers face as they deal with young players. For a Tigers lineup that's relying on a good number of young hitters to support MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera and All-Star Victor Martinez, it's even more important. Somehow, Detroit's young hitters are expected to grasp the pressure that's on them, but play as if they don't.

In the process, Leyland sounded like a manager feeling the pressure to help his young players deal with their pressure.

"The simple fact of the matter is, we've got a lot of young guys that I've got to come up with the knack," Leyland said. "Myself and the coaches, we've got so many young guys -- I'm talking about in the lineup on a nightly basis, and in the bullpen -- that I've got to find a better way to relax them. Because what's going on, what goes on a lot of times, is they're worried about their jobs. They're worried about if they fail. They're worried about getting sent out. They're worried about being in the big leagues and do [they] really belong here.

"Somehow, we've got so many young guys that I'm not doing a good enough job of relaxing them, evidently."

There's some irony to the location where Leyland talked about this. When Leyland had his first managerial opportunity with the Pirates in 1986, he inherited a young squad that included Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, and soon Doug Drabek and John Smiley, all as they were breaking into the Majors.

The average age of his 1988 team, which made a surprise run to 85 wins, was 26, according to baseball-reference.com. His 1998 Florida Marlins team, after the World Series championship roster was dismantled, averaged 25.3 years of age on its way to 108 losses.

This year's Tigers roster, by contrast, averages 28.7 years. It isn't nearly as young as those other clubs, but it's his youngest Tigers team to date. And he's struggling to ease the transition of some of those younger players.

"I communicate with them, pat them on the back, try to encourage them," Leyland said. "But there's also a moment of truth. You have to do something. I can't help it. You are in the big leagues, and this is a place where you're expected to produce. I can't hide from that fact, and neither can the players. But somehow, I've got to do a little bit of better job of just taking a little tension off or something. I obviously work at that pretty hard, but maybe I'm not getting it through to them."

Some of that pressure, he said, can be alleviated by performance. When the Tigers won seven straight earlier this month, Leyland said, Martinez's presence and production helped them relax. That's not going as well during this losing streak.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


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