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Detroit Tigers - PlayerWatch


C Alex Avila has gone from one former catcher as his manager (Jim Leyland) to another (Brad Ausmus). The new skipper and the returning catcher had dinner this winter to get a start on their long-term relationship. "We've talked mostly about the team. We haven't really gotten too much into the catching," Avila said. "I'm sure once spring comes around, I'll be picking his brain and all the other coaches. ... But most of our conversations have been mostly about the team and maybe some things that we're going to try to do going into the year." Avila avoided arbitration by signing a deal reported to be worth $4.15 million with a $5.4 million option for 2015 that can be bought out for $200,000 if its vesting criteria aren't met. Avila didn't hit well in 2013 and the first half of last season but batted .290 the final two months. Ausmus indicated he will rely on Avila during games for guidance on how they are throwing. "Even with Jim, I always gave my honest opinion with him," Avila said. "He relied on me a lot also, as far as relaying that type of information, but it wasn't maybe as much as I'll have to do now, just because Jim knew all of our guys. He had been here for so long. With Brad getting to know all of our pitchers and stuff like that, it'll probably be a little bit more of a learning curve, and that's fine. That's part of my job, too, but it won't be any different as far as the level of responsibility."

3B Nick Castellanos has to win a job in Spring Training, general manager Dave Dombrowski says, but realistically, the Tigers fallback if he does not amounts to returning 1B Miguel Cabrera to third and installing DH Victor Martinez at first. That would leave the club searching for a new DH or a platoon partner for Martinez at first. "We're expecting him to be our third baseman," Dombrowski said. "I'd be very surprised if he's not. But he still has to perform well, which we're counting on him to do." The rookie showed in limited chances last September he can hit Major League fastballs, but he'll be tested with offspeed pitches early in the season.

LHP Drew Smyly added 15-20 pounds for his return to the rotation after spending last season as a reliever. Smyly, 24, worked only 76 last season after reaching 99 1/3 his rookie season and the Tigers are likely to be cautious with his innings this season. Smyly might even open the season in long relief because Detroit will use early off-days to skip his starts, a convenient way of keeping his workload down. It is what the Tigers did with Smyly his rookie season, also skipping him later in the season when schedule breaks made it easy to do.

1B Miguel Cabrera, who had offseason surgery to repair core muscles damaged by a groin tear, says he is feeling much stronger in time for spring training. The two-time reigning American League MVP battled through a groin tear and other injuries last season. Cabrera says he has changed his routine, adding more exercises to strengthen his core muscles.

1B Miguel Cabrera was one of the first Detroit players in camp -- he did not have to be in until Feb. 18 -- and said his repaired stomach/groin muscles were not bothering him at all. Cabrera checked in Feb. 10 for a few days of hitting in addition to doing his workout. "Oh, man," he said. "It's like, I feel free. I can do anything right now. I don't worry about anything, that it's going to hurt. I feel free and ready to go." Cabrera said he began feeling better just days after his October surgery. "It's unbelievable," he said. "I don't know what they do, but they do a very good job. After two, three days, you don't really feel normal, but you can feel the difference. You start to feel better and better."

DH Victor Martinez reported early to Spring Training on Thursday -- and brought two gloves with him. "I called Victor in early January and asked him about catching," new manager Brad Ausmus said Feb. 14 when pitchers and catchers reported. "He was thrilled about it. But there is a reason why I asked him to come down early. We play 10 games in National League parks this year. In fact, the first trip of the season is to Los Angeles and San Diego, and we can't not have Victor play for five straight games, so this gives us another option. I wouldn't want to leave it to the first week of the season and ask Victor to put on his catching gear. I was hoping he'd be open to the idea." The idea would be to have Martinez catch for C Alex Avila against a tough left-hander or play first, with Miguel Cabrera returning to third, on select other occasions. "At the end of March, if you see Miggy play third for a game, you don't have to immediately say that (Nick) Castellanos is in trouble or (Steve) Lombardozzi's in trouble," Ausmus said. "It might be that we're setting up to have options for these National League games where we want to keep our big bats in the lineup."

RHP Justin Verlander, who underwent stomach core muscle surgery in January (groin muscles on both legs), reported early to Spring Training and threw 20 relaxed pitches off the mound without pain. He hopes to get five spring starts to be ready if manager Brad Ausmus asks him to pitch the opening game of the season. "That's the tentative schedule," Verlander said. "I think five is a good number of games to get my pitch count up to where it needs to be. If we can do that, great. I intend on being ready." The Tigers intend to have him follow roughly the same path that led teammate RHP Max Scherzer to 21 victories last season -- a delayed start to his first spring appearance and only five starts instead of the usual six.

RHP Joba Chamberlain made some changes in an effort to get his career back on track after signing with Detroit as a free agent. Chamberlain lost some weight, in the range of "15-20 pounds" he said, and hired a personal chef to keep him on a diet and exercise program devised by Tigers' strength/conditioning coach Javair Gillett. "My chef's been awesome," Chamberlain said. "He's my best-kept secret. I probably had fish in my life three times. I would try it but I never would order it. Now, I have it three or four times a week." Chamberlain signed a one-year deal for $2.25 million, but in recent seasons has not approached the 2.60 ERA he posted in 2008. "We like him, we've liked him in the past," general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "He's in great shape. Sometimes, you need a change in scenery. We think he's going to be a very important part of our bullpen."