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Published: Wednesday, 5/7/2008

Is Leyland's players' shift the answer?

DETROIT - Jim Leyland wasn't a happy man when his Tigers broke spring training. He hasn't been a happy man since. He isn't a happy man now. But he's working on it.

Considering Detroit's no-hit, no-pitch, no-field travails thus far in what was supposed to be a season of great promise, Leyland was asked if there were things he should have done in spring training that might have shaped a better product than the last-place version that dropped a fifth straight game 5-0 to Boston last night at Comerica Park.

"Should we have? Yes. Could we have? No," was the Tiger skipper's response.

And is he doing them now?

"I would say, yes," he said.

Allow us to translate. Miguel Cabrera was acquired for his bat. He was a third baseman the last two years in Florida and was given every assurance that would be his position in Detroit. One problem. He can't play third.

So Cabrera, too heavy and slow to return to the outfield, where he started his career, is now Detroit's first baseman.

So Carlos Guillen, a shortstop with limited range because of 70-year-old knees, who was switched to first base during spring training, will try third.

So Gary Sheffield, unfulfilled in his designated hitter role, has gone to left field, an experiment at best.

So Magglio Ordonez, an outfielder by trade, will see some time at DH. On those occasions, Matt Joyce will play in right.

And Brandon Inge, a onetime catcher who moved to third, who was miffed at the position being handed to Cabrera, who demanded a trade, who all but swore he'd never catch again, is going to catch again. Leyland said it is Inge's idea, not his, and it will mean much more playing time, "particularly if Pudge [Rodriguez] doesn't get his bat going."

Will all those changes make a difference?

"I have no idea," Leyland said.

But he is absolutely, positively sure that Cabrera is a first baseman and, quite possibly, will be a great one.

"If he walked on the field without a glove, where would you put him?" Leyland asked. Good point.

Why wasn't it done in spring training, and why is it being done now only with the team in something of a crisis?

Well, there were promises in play. And pride. And ego.

First base is pretty much the defensive position of last resort. It is the last stop before DH, and with Cabrera just 25 years old he is a long way from counting the minutes until his next at-bat.

He had to be convinced that the move was not just the best thing for the team - both defensively and in putting together a batting order that might finally, consistently break through - but the best thing for him.

"I won't ever back off of moving Cabrera to first base," Leyland said. "That's where he needs to play. He'll be outstanding. He has great hands, he can pick the ball, and he's a perfect, huge target. I think he'll be a great first baseman at some point. And I believe that Miguel believes in his heart that he's better off at first than third."

Certainly, the Tigers are better off at both corners, which is Leyland's primary concern.

"Now, I have to get Edgar [Renteria] going again," Leyland said. "Pudge too. I have to find out about Gary Sheffield. He's a .300 career hitter. He had 25 homers last year. Is it still there? I don't know. I have to exhaust every possibility to make this team better."

Then maybe he can do something about the pitching.



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