LAKELAND, Fla. -- Phil Coke has never been known for fast starts to Spring Training. His adrenaline usually doesn't lend itself to early spring games. That said, he might well be creating a tougher situation for himself this spring with his early struggles.
Five days after giving up three runs on six hits to the Cardinals in an inning of work, Coke faced a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the sixth inning against the Mets. He escaped allowing only a lone run, after Ezequiel Carrera made a diving catch in the left-field gap to rob Eric Campbell of what would've been an RBI extra-base hit.
Coke gave up two ground-ball singles, the second on a slow roller that stayed fair along the third-base line for an infield single to load the bases. In between the hits was a walk to Kirk Nieuwenhuis, the lone left-handed hitter he faced.
Coke mitigated the damage by inducing a double-play ground ball from Andrew Brown, which plated Juan Lagares but moved Nieuwenhuis to third with two outs ahead of Carrera's heroics.
"He got into some trouble. He was able to get out of it. He got the double-play ball, which helped," manager Brad Ausmus said.
Coke's fastball ranged from 89-91 mph on the Joker Marchant Stadium radar gun. That isn't unusual for him in Spring Training games, though one could argue this spring is different for him following his off-and-on struggles last season. The bigger emphasis at this point might be command, particularly against lefties, and trying to induce swings and misses.
"Last year, he started out in Spring Training throwing 82-84 [mph]," Ausmus said. "I'm not putting that much stock in the radar gun, right now. It's still early, especially for relievers."
Coke's next outing is scheduled for Tuesday against the Blue Jays in Lakeland.
Ausmus willing to be patient with Castellanos
LAKELAND, Fla. -- So far, the offensive numbers on Nick Castellanos have given every indication he's ready to make the long-awaited jump to the big leagues. The defensive adjustment might take some more time.
Manager Brad Ausmus is showing every indication he's willing to be patient on both sides of the plate, regardless of whether fans react the same. As much as he's reading Castellanos now while he's off to a solid start this spring, he also knows to watch how a rookie will react to a slump.
"It's easy to be in a good mood and have an upbeat outlook on the game when you're doing well," Ausmus said on Saturday morning. "I like to be around the guy when he's not doing so well and see how he handles it. That goes into the consistency factor -- not just the production, but consistency in character.
"Some guys are very good at it. Some guys are happy whether they went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts or 4-for-4 with four homers. Some people are very stoic in those situations, and other people are rollercoasters. It can make it tough. I don't know where Nick falls into play. It's easy in Spring Training to be happy go lucky when the games aren't really all that meaningful. I think Nick certainly has the ability to do well, and I hope he does well."
Castellanos has had that on his way up. He hit .227 in his first 32 games of Triple-A ball last year, then went on a tear that saw him raise his average over .300 by the end of June.
Castellanos served as the designated hitter on Saturday afternoon against the Mets, after playing third base on Friday night. He's one of three players scheduled to start both games of the Tigers' upcoming trip to Jupiter, both times at third base. The goal remains to give him as much playing time at third without wearing him down by Opening Day.
Only Victor Martinez and Hernan Perez entered Saturday with more at-bats on the team this spring than Castellanos, who was 7-for-17 at the time. He added three more at-bats, going 0-for-3 with a walk and a strikeout.
Offensively, Ausmus is happy with the approach he has seen from Castellanos, as well as evaluations from hitting coaches Wally Joyner and Darnell Coles.
"He certainly looks like he's trying to use the whole field -- especially the alleys, right-center, left-center," Ausmus said. "He has the ability to drive the ball to right-center, which helps. But don't make the mistake: There are very few Mike Trouts."
In other words, rookies are rarely consistent throughout the course of a season.
"It really starts when you get into games. Every young player is going to struggle at times," Ausmus said. "They're going to make mistakes that make you shake your head at times. The key is to keep looking forward, not looking in the rear-view mirror. The hardest part, I think, is the mental aspect."
Defensively, Ausmus said that infield coach Omar Vizquel is working daily with Castellanos, either on the field with ground balls or in the clubhouse and dugout talking about positioning.
Smyly works on his offspeed pitches
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Drew Smyly continues to work on his entire pitching repertoire in his return to life as a starting pitcher, dusting off a changeup he never had to use in relief last year against left-handed hitters. His third start of the spring on Saturday was a continuation of that effort.
He held the Mets scoreless for three innings, issuing a walk and recording three strikeouts, while none of the three hits off him left the infield. Pitch-wise, however, he wasn't real happy.
"I was making myself work way too hard, throwing a lot of pitches," Smyly said. "I felt I was behind to almost every hitter, and that's not good. You're not going to get very far when you're pitching behind everybody. But if you take the positives out of it, I was able to work out of those jams every inning. That's good to be able to make your pitches when they count. I'm happy about that, [but I] just felt a little off."
Smyly pitched with a runner in scoring position in all three innings, and a leadoff runner on in the first two. He went to three-ball counts on three of his first eight batters -- including a walk to Matt den Dekker that put two on with none out in second. His end to that threat, a strikeout-throwout double play, came on a full-count fastball inside.
For the most part, though, the pitches he had to execute were offspeed.
"Today, it seemed like I was behind to every hitter," Smyly said, "and when you get behind, they start gearing up on the fastball. That's a good time to work on your offspeed [stuff], throw it when you have to throw it for a strike, throw it 3-1, 3-2."
Smyly might not completely leave relief work behind. The Tigers could use their two off-days during the team's first road trip to skip Smyly in the rotation and watch his innings.
Tigers sending big names on road swing
LAKELAND, Fla. -- No one will accuse the Tigers of sending a skeleton squad on their longest road trip of the spring. Miguel Cabrera, Alex Avila and Nick Castellanos are scheduled to start both games of the Tigers' two-game road swing to Jupiter, on Sunday against the Marlins and on Monday against the Cardinals.
The two teams share Roger Dean Stadium. The Tigers will have some players staying overnight at a hotel. Cabrera, Avila and Castellanos all make their offseason homes in South Florida, so they can get back for an evening.
For the most part, those who don't take the entire trip will head down for one game. Ian Kinsler, Austin Jackson, Trevor Crowe, Hernan Perez and Bryan Holaday are all scheduled to start on Sunday. Monday's lineup includes Rajai Davis, Ezequiel Carrera, Don Kelly, Steve Lombardozzi, Steven Moya and Danny Worth. They'll be on buses traveling back and forth.
The only regulars who aren't on either part of the trip are Victor Martinez, Torii Hunter and injured Jose Iglesias and Andy Dirks. Martinez and Hunter made up for it by starting both games leading up to the trip, on Friday night against the Yankees in Tampa and on Saturday afternoon against the Mets in Lakeland.
Tigers' running game on display this spring
LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Tigers stole 17 bases in each of the previous two Spring Trainings. They haven't stolen 20 bases in a spring since 2006, their first under Jim Leyland. They're on a pace to blow past that standard with little trouble.
With their penchant for double steals recently, they're getting two-for-one specials.
When Don Kelly and Daniel Fields took third and second base, respectively, during the second inning on Saturday against the Mets, it was Detroit's third double steal in eight days. It pushed the Tigers' steals total to 15 in just 10 games, tied for most in the Majors entering play on Saturday evening.
The green light manager Brad Ausmus allowed every player on the team going into Grapefruit League play a week and a half ago continues to be in effect. It'll slow at some point this spring, as Ausmus starts reading what he's watching and puts on red lights. Right now, however, he's trying to build the mentality.
The odd part about Detroit's total is that none of its players have swiped more than two. Rajai Davis, predictably, is tied for the team lead, but he's sharing it with Kelly, Steve Lombardozzi, Daniel Fields and Nick Castellanos.
Both of Lombardozzi's stolen bases have come on a double steal, neither of them called. Kelly, too, took third on his own, with Fields following.
"[Lombardozzi] seems to have a good feel for it," Ausmus said. "That's what we had heard about him coming from Washington. He's kind of baseball rat, and I say that in a good way."
• The old airplane hangars around the Tigertown complex hadn't heard this much noise in a good long time. One of them sounded like a field house on Saturday morning. Ausmus' camaraderie-building, basketball-shooting tournament reached its championship round, and all the stops were brought out to add some atmosphere to it. Avila's team of catchers beat Hunter's handpicked group of free agents by a 31-30 score. The rest of the roster brought noisemakers and their lungs to the makeshift court. "The whole team watched it," Ausmus said. "It got pretty loud in there."
• Iglesias continues to take batting practice and try running, as he works his way back from shin splints. He's not scheduled to play during the two-day trip to Jupiter, and will instead stay in Lakeland to try to work through the soreness that still pops up.
• Bruce Rondon returned to action on Saturday, a day after being sidelined after tweaking his back. He threw in the upper 90s, with a quality slider, on his way to a perfect seventh inning against the Mets.