Notes: Shelton has perfect timing

Notes: Shelton a model student

KANSAS CITY -- Tigers hitting coach Don Slaught spent his time before Tuesday's workout looking for footage of other players' swings. Still, he couldn't help but marvel at the swings Chris Shelton had on Monday.

"You don't see that," Slaught said. "He hit the breaking ball down the left-field line for a home run and then hit the fastball [for another home run]."

Shelton was practicing what Slaught has been preaching to all his hitters ever since he got the job. But Shelton was practicing that long before Slaught came around.

"That's been my approach forever, really," Shelton said. "Stay with the fastball up the middle and you'll be able to cover the offspeed stuff."

Slaught's approach as a coach, from his abundance of computer resources to his work in the batting cages, has been to give hitters their best chance to make solid contact with the ball. He wants his hitters to keep the bat on a swing plane through the strike zone long enough to make contact with both fastballs and offspeed pitches, so that they have at least two pitches covered. That won't guarantee contact if a hitter's timing is off, or if he faces someone who can spot three different Major League quality pitches for strikes, but it gives him a better chance.

In that sense, though, Shelton was the model student before Slaught became the teacher. He came into Detroit's system a few years ago known for being able to go to the opposite field with a pitch. He spent the first half of last year working with Triple-A Toledo hitting coach Leon "Bull" Durham on being better able to pull the ball.

On Monday, at least, he had his hitting package together. It was a matter of timing, Slaught said, which he started to regain over the final stretch of Spring Training.

"A lot of frustration set in this spring," Shelton said, "because I was hitting balls hard that weren't getting any hits. But I was able to get through that."

Much of that, Slaught said, was a matter of confidence.

"His swing's been there pretty much all spring," Slaught said. "It's the timing, letting the computer work [in his head]."

Shelton has reason to feel confident here; he has four home runs in his last five games at Kauffman Stadium dating back to last September.

Rodney rolls on: Two years after Tommy John surgery, Fernando Rodney feels the velocity returning on his fastball, which registered at 95-96 mph on the stadium radar gun in his inning of work Monday. But he sees more of a difference this year, coming when he drops his two-seam fastball onto hitters.

"I'm using more two-seamers because sometimes I need ground balls and double plays," he said.

By using the two-seamer more often, he can make the four-seamer more effective given that extra split second hitters take to react. Add in his well-known changeup, and Rodney might finally have a pitch selection to round out his game.

Sliding too soon: Brandon Inge had a two-hit game to celebrate on Opening Day, but he'll be remembered more for his slide into second base that never quite reached second base.

Inge appeared to have a chance at a steal when he took off in the fifth inning. Catcher John Buck's throw went high and to the first base side of the bag, but second baseman Mark Grudizelanek brought it down and tagged out Inge, who slid short of his mark.

"At first, I slid because he was up there and he jumped at me," Inge explained. "I thought I still slid late enough to get in, but as I slid, my spikes dug in. It was one of those freak accidents."

Batting practice for everybody: A fair number of players took advantage of Tuesday's optional workout at Kauffman Stadium. So did manager Jim Leyland, who cracked up his players when he stepped into the cage and took some swings.

Leyland was a .222 career hitter in the Minor Leagues with a playing career that ended in 1970.

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