Slowing down new Central foe Bourn on Tigers' mind

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The look from Quintin Berry, his jaw dropped in shock, best expressed the surprise of some Tigers to Michael Bourn's four-year, $48 million deal to join the Cleveland Indians. Berry hadn't heard about it until he was asked soon after filing into the clubhouse at Joker Marchant Stadium on Tuesday, three days before Tigers position players have their first formal workouts.

The smile and the shrug from Detroit pitcher Max Scherzer might have been the flip side.

"There's so much talent in the American League right now," Scherzer said. "Every lineup you face in the American League, every time we start, feels like it's loaded. To see another star, it's just common."

The reactions ranged widely around the defending American League champions. Team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said he heard rumors about the Indians' interest, but even he was caught off-guard at the agreement.

"I guess I'd say I was surprised," Dombrowski said. "I had heard more about the Mets in recent times. But I had heard the Indians, too.

Manager Jim Leyland's reaction might be seen in his actions in the coming days.

"That's none of my business," Leyland said. "I'm worried about the Tigers. I don't have any control over that kind of stuff."

All he controls are the Tigers' efforts to defend against Bourn. Two days earlier, Leyland talked with reporters about his emphasis this camp on pitchers doing their part to hold down the running game. He now has his best example why it's important.

The Tigers were in the middle of the pack among AL teams in allowing stolen bases in that 2011 season, giving up 119 stolen bases in 168 attempts. Those numbers jumped all around last season, up to 131 steals in 176 tries for a 74.4 percent success rate. Only the Indians (140) gave up more stolen bases among AL teams.

That said, by throwing out 25.6 percent of would-be basestealers, a four-percent drop from the previous season, the Tigers still had the sixth-best rate in the AL.

A dozen players accounted for 49 of the 131 stolen bases off Tigers pitching last year, and they did so with an efficient rate of success. Alcides Escobar led the pack, going 7-for-8. Former Toledo Mud Hen Dewayne Wise went 6-for-7. Twins speedster Ben Revere, now with the Phillies, went 5-for-7.

The Tigers were in the middle of the pack in pitcher pickoffs (14, sixth-best in AL) and pitcher caught stealing (10, tied for fourth).

Leyland believes they can do better. Get quicker to home plate and hold runners better, and catcher Alex Avila will have a fighting chance to throw out more basestealers.

Victor Martinez was the Indians catcher the last time Cleveland built a playoff team six years ago. When he was asked about Bourn, he pointed to Avila.

"We've got some policemen who give tickets to people who go from first to second," Martinez said.

The one Tigers pitcher with extensive experience against Bourn is Anibal Sanchez, who likewise spent his entire career in the National League before Detroit traded for him last July. Bourn is 6-for-18 with two doubles, two RBIs, a walk and five strikeouts against Sanchez for their careers.

"If you keep him off the base, you're going to have a good game," Sanchez said. "But everybody knows that."

Not only is Bourn a fast baserunner, Sanchez said, but he's an intelligent one.

"He's smart on the bases," Sanchez said.