Notes: Tigers urged to listen to advice

Notes: Leyland insists on focus on adjustments

LAKELAND, Fla. -- As a player, Jim Leyland had to sometimes keep his mouth shut to avoid smiling when a manager would chew him out for not performing well, even though he was trying his hardest.

"What are you chewing me out for? I just ain't good enough," Leyland remembered thinking. "I stink."

The real focus, he thought, should be on getting the most out of players who have the talent to improve. That's what he's worried about now.

So when the team took the field for drills Sunday, Leyland focused his customary morning speech on young players making improvements rather than relying on what has worked in the past. That goes especially for pitchers.

"What happens," Leyland said, "is some guys get here and they think, 'This is how I got here. This is how I'm going to stay. This is how I did it.' And there's some truth to that. But at the same time, to stay here you have to be able to make adjustments. And that's very important."

Though he said the message applied to both pitchers and position players, much of what he talked about involved pitching. He has marveled about how much talented young pitching is in the system, more than he's had at his other stops. But that means nothing, he said, if they can't translate potential into performance.

"There's a major difference between throwing and pitching," he said. "I haven't seen a camp like this as far as arms in my years in baseball. But at the same time, there [are] a lot of camps that got good arms. We just talk about ours because we see them all the time. Now, can you refine that talent, fine-tune it, take it to the next level? That's what separates the Minor Leaguers from the Major Leaguers."

The heart of the message is that instruction is a two-way process. The player has to be willing to listen and learn.

"Look, we're not trying to change anybody. That's not my style," he said. "However, if you're not getting results and people are making suggestions, you might want to at least listen. Because ultimately, this is a game about performance. Lakeland's for development. Detroit's for progress and production.

"I'm not being hard-line. If I don't do the job here, I'm going to be gone. Sooner or later, if players don't make adjustments and do the job, you're looking for a better player. Nobody's mad at anybody. Nobody's threatening anybody. I'm not trying to make anybody nervous, but this is a big boy's game. You need to produce if you want to stay here. If you haven't had winning clubs for a long time, sometimes they haven't had to produce too much to stay here. Hopefully that's what we're going to change."

The pitching improved Sunday. After giving up two touchdowns to the Twins, the Tigers held the Blue Jays to three runs. Toronto starter Roy Halladay, however, didn't give them much of a chance to match that.

"Today we didn't swing the bats very well," Leyland said, "but that starting pitcher's pretty good. When you face guys like that during the season, let alone Spring Training, there's two things that have to happen. You've got to pitch good against him or you've got no chance. And the other thing that happens is you just have to fight your [tail] off every at-bat. That one at-bat during those four might be the one that gets a base hit to win you a ballgame."

That message, he said, will be his focus the next couple days. In a division that features the pitching-strong White Sox and the Twins plus the improving Indians trio of C.C. Sabathia, Jake Westbrook and Cliff Lee, he has good reason.

One cut made, more on the horizon: The first cut of Spring Training came Sunday, when the Tigers sent catcher Chris Robinson to Minor League camp. More could be coming later this week, but one well-speculated move doesn't sound likely.

Leyland will have his first formal session with his coaching staff and front office for evaluating players Friday, which he said could set up the first set of significant roster cuts Saturday. He said he could make a move Monday, but that it would be an expected one. That could involve placing Craig Dingman on the disabled list, since he's expected to have artery bypass surgery soon and will not be ready when the season starts.

"There will not be anybody leaving here before Saturday at the earliest," Leyland said.

That would seem to rule out anyone else being cut by March 16, the final day teams can release a player and owe him one-sixth of his season salary. Carlos Pena, one of three first basemen on a possible 25-man roster, had been speculated as one such possibility if the Tigers decided he wasn't a fit for this team.

Mantei improving: Don't write off Matt Mantei from camp quite yet. He said he's slowly feeling better after a strained oblique muscle earlier this week left him in so much pain he was having difficulty breathing.

Mantei showed up in the clubhouse Sunday having enjoyed his first real night of solid sleep since the injury. He's been doing core exercises for the past two days, and he's working on keeping his arm strong. The swelling that had caused so much trouble has been reduced.

There's no timetable on how long he'll be out.

"We're hoping I'm a fast healer, which usually I am," Mantei said. "We'll see what happens."

Maroth returns: Mike Maroth said his arm felt fine on the mound Sunday in his first outing back from left elbow soreness. He gave up three runs in as many innings over 39 pitches, taking the loss against the Blue Jays, but the goal was avoiding pain more than avoiding hits. He scrapped his curveball before the game because he thought it might aggravate the soreness, and he nearly decided against throwing cutters, too.

"The outcome wasn't the best," he said, "but I was able to throw strikes and I felt great. So let's build off of that, get ready for the next start and keep working. We've got time where I can keep improving on things and get ready for the season."

Before that, though, he has to see how he feels Monday. It was the day after his first outing when Maroth began feeling the soreness, which was even worse the next day.

Coming up: Justin Verlander gets his next audition at a spot in the Tigers rotation when he starts Monday's split-squad game against the Phillies in Clearwater. Franklyn German, Jason Grilli, Bobby Seay and Mark Woodyard are also slated to pitch. Pena, Curtis Granderson and Alexis Gomez are among the players making the trip. Back in Lakeland, Wilfredo Ledezma will make the start against a Pirates split squad at Joker Marchant Stadium. Colby Lewis, Chris Spurling, Hector Mercado and Kevin Hodge will follow on the mound. Both games start at 1:05 p.m. ET.

Jason Beck is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.