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Notes: D-Train shines in BP

Notes: D-Train shines in BP

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland doesn't try to read much into the one time pitchers face hitters before Spring Training games begin. At this point in camp, pitchers are almost always ahead of hitters.

That still didn't stop Detroit hitters from shaking their heads at what they saw coming from the mound Sunday morning.

Miguel Cabrera has watched Dontrelle Willis baffle hitters since they were teammates in the Florida Marlins system, but that didn't help him Sunday. If his swing and miss wasn't enough feedback, he shouted to Willis on good pitches. Then Willis finished him off with a pitch on the inside corner.

"Outside, inside, down," Cabrera used to describe Willis' stuff. "Very good. Excellent."

That's nothing new for that duo. They've had these sessions for several Spring Trainings, and Cabrera has always provided feedback.

"He's always been like that with me," Willis said. "Since A-ball, he's been helping me out, telling me what's good, what's bad. ... He always gives me a hard time. I think he takes it easy on me [swinging]. But he's very hard on me as far on me in that he expects a lot out of me. So today he was telling me, 'Good pitch.'"

Denny Cabrera and his power fastball followed Willis on the practice field and wasn't much easier. He hit the corners with his heater and mixed in his slider, curve and changeup. He gave Marcus Thames a brief scare with a high fastball that got away from him and sent Thames ducking out of the way.

It was one of the few times Cabrera didn't locate down in the zone.

"Everything was good," catcher Max St. Pierre said. "Hard, sharp, very good."

Matt Mantei also had his first test against hitters in his comeback attempt after several encouraging bullpen sessions. Between a hard fastball and a sharp curve, he had Brandon Inge impressed.

"If he stays healthy, that's as good stuff as there is in baseball. That was nasty," Inge said. "Good command, hitting his spots. It's kind of funny. You could ask guys that were out of the game for two years to come back and try to throw, and they probably wouldn't be able to get it inside the cage. He was just carving the corners. That was impressive."

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The review goes along with what Leyland said from the outset of camp, that the only real question with Mantei isn't his stuff, but his health. They'll try to start getting a read on that from Spring Training games.

First pitching assignments set: Closer Todd Jones will be the first Tigers pitcher to take the mound in an actual game this spring when he starts in Tuesday's exhibition against Florida Southern College. He'll be followed by Francis Beltran, Chris Lambert, Jeff Gerbe, Freddy Dolsi, Virgil Vasquez and Jordan Tata.

The first member of the Tigers rotation to take the mound will be Jeremy Bonderman on Wednesday against the Mets. Jason Grilli, Zach Miner, Yorman Bazardo, Bautista and Tim Byrdak will follow.

Nate Robertson will start Thursday's end of a home-and-home set with the Blue Jays at home, followed by Aquilino Lopez, Armando Galarraga, Clay Rapada, Mantei and Bobby Seay. Justin Verlander will face the Jays on Friday at Dunedin, as will Macay McBride, Preston Larrison, Rick Porcello, Beltran and Dolsi.

Willis, Lambert, Vasquez, Bautista, Jones and Byrdak are slated to pitch Saturday against the Indians in Lakeland. Kenny Rogers, Tata, Grilli, Miner and Bazardo are scheduled to face the Tribe on Sunday in Winter Haven.

Pudge to hit eighth: Though Leyland isn't discussing his projected batting order in detail, he did say on Sunday that Ivan Rodriguez will hit eighth. The move isn't really a surprise, given the depth of hitters the Tigers have in the middle of the order.

Leyland said he talked with Rodriguez early in camp about the order to prepare him for it, and that Rodriguez was fine with it.

"That's why I have the utmost respect for him," Leyland said. "Here's a Hall of Famer that said, 'Hey, if I hit eighth or ninth, it doesn't make any difference to me. Whatever's best for the team.' It doesn't get any better than that."

Sheff to miss time this week: Gary Sheffield said he expects to miss Thursday's game against the Blue Jays in order to attend deposition proceedings regarding Scott Boras' lawsuit against him. He could miss additional days, but he doesn't know that for sure yet.

"When you don't see me," he said, "you'll know where I'm at."

Sheffield missed four games around the middle of March last year for similar matters. The fact that it comes earlier this spring is a little easier to handle.

"If you're going to do it, this is the best time to do it," Sheffield said. "It won't disrupt anything as far as [preparation for the season]."

Sheffield expects the proceedings to take up most of the day, but he'll work out on his own afterward. He explained the situation to club officials, and as they were last year, the Tigers are OK with him taking time.

Inge in utility: Leyland said he plans to use Inge everywhere but first base this spring. At some point, he said, he'd like to play Inge for nine games in a game, but spread him around various positions for a couple innings each.

Quotable: "No." -- Leyland, anticipating a question whether if he might use Willis as a pinch-hitter this season

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

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