Leyland confident in Dirks, but would like options

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland tried to make it clear Tuesday morning: He believes Andy Dirks is good enough to be an everyday player, but that doesn't mean he'll play every day this season.

Leyland said he "without question" feels comfortable starting the lefty-hitting Dirks in left field most days. But he'd like to have another right-handed-hitting outfielder who could start when Detroit faces an especially tough lefty starter and keep Dirks well rested.

Dirks, 27, has been a solid option when healthy. In 579 career plate appearances over 166 games in the past two years, he's posted a .293/.340/.454 batting line with 15 homers, 31 doubles and 63 RBIs.

However, Leyland also pointed out that Dirks missed about two months last season with an Achillies injury. That was further reason for Leyland to insist that the organization views Dirks as an everyday player, but also that there's a difference between being talented enough to play every day and being ready to do so.

"I think I can definitely play Dirksy more if I wanted to. I just have to watch him," Leyland said. "You've got a young player who hit pretty darn good against left-handed pitching.

"I think at this juncture in his career, to get the best out of him, I think you've got to watch him a little bit. Don't get greedy. I'm not saying he's not talented enough to play every day."

Dirks posted a .322/.370/.487 batting line in 88 games last season, with impressive numbers -- including a .336 average and .889 OPS -- against right-handed pitchers and a solid .274/.354/.397 line in 83 plate appearances against lefties.

But Leyland has always been a believer in using his entire roster, and he's mindful of younger players who might wear down over 162 games or struggle with the ups and downs of a long season. He pointed out that, as capably as Dirks has hit against left-handed pitching, he might still benefit from not having to face some of the more challenging southpaw starters the Tigers will face.

"When you've got some nasty left-handed pitching, that's when you want to get that guy [a day] off," Leyland said. "You want to save him a tough day at the plate, maybe. Keep his confidence up because he's doing good against right-handers and some left-handers."