LAKELAND, Fla. - Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland said his thoughts going into the 2009 season are all about the future, but he won't let his players forget the carnage of 2008.
The pitchers and catchers hadn't reported to Tiger Town on Thursday. Physicals were Friday and the first full workout Saturday. Leyland said he wasn't expecting any problems with any of the pitchers and catchers reporting on time.
Leyland addressed the 2008 season in which the Tigers lost their first seven games on the way to a 74-88 record that had them out of the pennant race by May. Along the way, the team lost several starting pitchers, and injuries made life miserable. Leyland said that it will be hard to erase last season from his mind or those of his players - but he doesn't necessarily want them to forget.
"I am not going to emphasize last year," he said. "But I expect us to learn from last year. We had a lot of injuries and lost 40 percent of our pitching rotation, but we are here to look forward to the future. Forgetting last year is hard to do but I think we have a chance to be a great team if we don't have all those injuries."
If the pitching arms mended over the winter, the Tigers still have a solid rotation - but many questions remain. It got so bad last season that, despite the projected strong rotation, it was unheralded Armando Galarraga who emerged as the ace.
Relief pitcher Joel Zumaya hurt his shoulder before last year's spring training and saved only one game. Fernando Rodney also was injured last spring with a bad shoulder and he never made an impact until late in the season.
Dontrelle Willis, considered a steal in a deal that also brought Miguel Cabrera from the Florida Marlins before the 2008 season, didn't win a game all year after starting only eight games. He spent most of the summer bouncing around the Tigers' minor league system trying to rehab his injured knee. Nate Robertson started 32 games but was ineffective and ended up with an ERA of 6.35. Justin Verlander had the worst season of his career, and Jeremy Bonderman was diagnosed with a blood clot in June and missed the rest of the season.
Leyland said if the staff is healthy, he likes his chances.
"Right now, I know Zumaya is getting some rave reviews, and as for everyone else we just have to see what happens. I like what we have if everyone is healthy."
Leyland said the Tigers' pitchers will spend more time this spring working on fielding.
"We have to work more on fundamentals this spring," Leyland said. "That means more fielding. It's all about repetition and maybe we didn't have that last year. But when it comes to drills, there's a difference between fielding the ball in spring training than when there are 50,000 people watching you."
Two other players under the microscope this spring are catchers Gerald Laird and Matt Treanor, both of whom reported on Thursday. Laird came over from Texas and Treanor from Florida in the offseason. Leyland said he isn't expecting either of them to replace potential Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez, who was sent to the Yankees during midseason. But he especially likes Laird, who is penciled in as the starter."I have always liked Laird," Leyland said. "He knows how to handle a pitching staff and he knows that you have to treat every pitcher differently."