Winter Meetings interview with Brad Ausmus

Q. You talked the other day about missing Torii. Other than the physical stuff you're going to miss, which is obvious, how much of what a stabilizing presence he was when things were going bad. He played a pretty big role.

BRAD AUSMUS: Even before you get to the clubhouse the factor that he plays, he was a pretty good bat, too, driving a little over 80 runs. But he was a tremendous asset for me in the sense that I didn't have to worry about the clubhouse and a large part of that was because this doesn't take away from all the veteran players like Miggy and Victor and Scherzer, these guys were all great. But Torii was the one that's been around the longest. He was the elder statesman. And he made my job he made that not even be part of my job. Made my life easier.

Q. Does someone need to step up to do that or do you handle that?

BRAD AUSMUS: No, I think someone will. Again, we do have guys, Kinsler is another guy. We do have guys that will end up filling Torii's shoes. But Torii did an excellent job of it.

Q. As a player were you aware that all this stuff went on and guys were in hotel rooms talking about players?

BRAD AUSMUS: You know, I didn't I knew it went on. I didn't know the extent of it. I know the Winter Meetings have grown quite a bit. But I was never part of one until 2011, was the first time I holed up in a hotel suite with everyone in your organization involved with the decision making process. So I didn't really grasp exactly what was going on, although I would see that things happened and transactions occurred at the Winter Meetings.

Q. One of the story lines last year was the velocity of Justin Verlander, he probably couldn't reinvent himself during the season. But now that we're in the offseason, is that something he has to do at this point?

BRAD AUSMUS: First of all, I know that Ver is rededicating himself that he'll be ready in Spring Training. He had to work his way back from the surgery. But he's kind of made it clear to Jeff Jones and myself that he's rededicating himself. That's the beginning point. That being said, most pitchers that are very good pitchers over a long period of time, I'm talking 15 years, you're going to see a degradation of velocity. That's a human being. These pitchers, they find a way to reinvent themselves, either they change their style, come up with another pitch or another couple of pitches. And those are the guys who instead of being good for 8 years, become good for 15 years. I've seen it with guys I played with. There's a number of pitchers that you can point to that came up with another pitch. I was telling someone the other day, when Roy Oswalt came up, he was fastball/curveball, and then a couple of years later he had to mix in the slider because Big League hitters were adjusting. Then he added the two seamer, which helped him tremendously. Then I actually left. So after playing with him for six or seven years, I left. He ended up having another couple of years. I thought he was on the downslide. He comes up with a changeup and pitches for another couple of years. This is the type of thing that pitchers have to do. And we have talked to Justin about this. And I think Justin, as much as players in general, when they play well, perform well, players and I fall in that category, you become stubborn. Like, this worked for me, I was an All Star, I won the Cy Young, the MVP. You don't really want to change until at some point a light bulb goes off and you say to yourself, All right, there might be some little adjustment. And I think Justin is probably at that point where you may see him tinker a little bit. That was a long answer, but I got to where I was going.

Q. Brad, depending on what happens the rest of the offseason with the bullpen, do you have in your mind guys you might like to work at and evaluate as in the relief role?

BRAD AUSMUS: Yeah, there are. I know you brought up that before, and I don't want to get into the specifics, but, yes, there are guys who, quite frankly, when the season ended I thought in my mind that this guy might do well in the bullpen. I don't want to say here, because I want to talk to those players first. Yes, absolutely, there's at least two in my mind that can do that.

Q. Would you want to make that shift going into Spring Training or would you rather have them in camp or

BRAD AUSMUS: Probably have to discuss it first, discuss it with Jeff Jones, obviously, as well, see what his thoughts are. But I don't know if I can give you an answer. But it could be either. We may start them out as a starter in Spring Training and work backwards to the bullpen or go from the bullpen from the get go.

Q. Is it difficult to evaluate guys in a relief role in Spring Training, because even with the games it wouldn't seem to be the same?

BRAD AUSMUS: Yeah, really, because I've identified a couple of guys, I'm evaluating them on what I saw during the season. Based on what I saw during the season, there's something that makes me think their stuff might play up in a one inning role or a two inning role as opposed to a five or seven inning role.

Q. Seems a lot of discussion about McCann, maybe a possible platoon. I think you said you're not going to evaluate that until spring. Is there something there a little bit? McCann had a September call up for you and he's a guy in the system that you want to look at, I know that.

BRAD AUSMUS: Well, Alex did an excellent job and he takes a lot of pride behind the plate, which is important, because a catcher's main focus needs to be the pitchers. McCann is from the same mold. Having spoken with Larry Parrish, who had him in Triple A and having seen him. He's a very good receiver. I really like the way he catches. But in terms of playing time, I don't know how it's going to play out. Certainly if McCann ends up playing a little bit more, it certainly doesn't hurt to have Alex Avila there. He's done it now for five years. I don't want to say it's going to be a platoon, because I don't know. I'm certain Alex will get plenty of at bats and play plenty of games. But I do, by the same token, I think McCann has a chance to be a pretty good catcher.

Q. The starting pitcher, the bridge guys getting to closer has become so important. I think in the old days where if a guy couldn't start, let's put him in the bullpen, because he can get some guys out. Is there a hesitancy for a lot of guys that think, I'm a starter, I'm a starter, what do you mean I'm going down to the bullpen? Is that part of the mindset, that conversation?

BRAD AUSMUS: Yes, it can be. I think that's more of an issue when you have an older, more established veteran guy. If you're talking about a younger guy, if I were to tell you, You have a chance to be on a Big League team as a reliever or you can go down to Triple A as a starter and see what happens, a lot of the younger guys would go, I don't want to walk up at 4:15 to catch a 5:30 flight. I'd rather go on a charter flight. It depends person to person, but I think the younger guy is probably more apt to be easier to make the transition from a mental standpoint.

Q. Are there more guys who start in the bullpen now at 20, 21, 22, knowing that's their role, so there's a comfortableness when they get called up?

BRAD AUSMUS: I think overall it is. I think in the more recent times you'll see guys from the get go they close from A ball all the way up, whereas that wasn't the case 25 years ago, you'd be a starter, get your innings in and then eventually become a setup or closer guy.

Q. Can you give us a health update on Iglesias?

BRAD AUSMUS: Everything points he's doing well. I've texted with him. I know Kevin, the trainer, talked to him. Now, he hasn't gone through an everyday pounding, where he's running every day, in the field everyday, which is probably the last step and won't happen until Spring Training, but in terms of all the exercise and therapy, he's all systems go.

Q. What about the offense, he wasn't established as a hitter yet and then he's got the year away? How long before he can he conceivably get back up to where he was?

BRAD AUSMUS: I wouldn't say I'm overly concerned about it. He's going to get in a full Spring Training, by all accounts, unless something happens. We can get him a lot of bats at Spring Training. As long as you don't want to give somebody a year off, I do think if you take a year off and have a full Spring Training to get ready, that's easier than getting hurt in Spring Training and coming back in July.

Q. Who do you expect to have a huge breakout season next year?

BRAD AUSMUS: That's a good question. We had a couple of guys do it this year that weren't even on the radar, J.D. Martinez wasn't even with the organization, and he ended up having the biggest breakout year as anybody. It's tough. Suarez is a good looking young player. I think McCann is a good looking young player. I don't know if I could put my thumb on a particular guy.

Q. Nick?

BRAD AUSMUS: Well, Nick for a rookie had a pretty darn good offensive first year. I don't know that we could have expected more out of Nick's bat than what we saw. I do think Nick is going to get better. Nick is a strong kid. We're talking about a guy who is throwing on a team, expecting to win as a starting player at the age of 22. And we kind of protected him early, he ended up hitting sixth. He had a good year with the bat. He really did. Would it have shocked me if he went out there and hit 20 homers? It wouldn't. He's strong, he's a big kid. I don't know that it's fair to him to put that number on him.

Q. Is there another guy that was under the radar?

BRAD AUSMUS: It's just so hard to tell. Like I said, I wouldn't have Nick we kind of expected to hit. I had seen him in Spring Training, but J.D., he came out of nowhere for us.

Q. Based on the move Chicago made with a couple of trades and signings, how do you see the division ranking?

BRAD AUSMUS: I think the division has gotten stronger over the last week, for sure. They've added Robertson, Duke, LaRoche, Samardzija, they've definitely improved their team. Obviously Kansas City is a good team. Cleveland I thought going into the offseason I thought Cleveland had a bright future immediately in front of it in 2015 with some of their young pitchers. They already had a good bullpen. They got Brantley, one of better players in the league, kind of coming into his own. So I think overall the division's extremely strong. I think it's already better than it was a year ago.

Q. What kind of advice would you give a guy like Kevin Cash who is going to be a manager for the first time on a Major League level?

BRAD AUSMUS: I'd probably give him the same advice that five or six different people told me last year this time. When I was here at Winter Meetings last near in Orlando I talked to Scioscia and Don Mattingly and then Bud Black, all these guys that each single one, independent of each other, they might have added different tidbits, but one thing they all said is: Be yourself. If you try to be something you're not and act like someone you're not, that's going to backfire.

Q. What were some of the biggest hurdles or challenges that you faced?

BRAD AUSMUS: Nothing really surprised me. It wasn't anything that blew me away. I think one really advantage I had is the personnel in our clubhouse. It really is a group of guys who wants to win, veteran guys, they know how to carry themselves, know how to do the work, they don't need to be pushed or prodded. They're still humans and there's certainly issues that arise. You deal with it on an individual basis. But I was lucky that this was a quality group of guys. I played with Houston and I thought the clubhouse couldn't get any better, and this clubhouse was just as good.

Q. Can you talk about the makeup of the outfield now and Torii gone and Gose coming in. Is Raj the everyday center?

BRAD AUSMUS: It's going to be a balance. J.D. is probably going to be in right. But in terms of center and left, there's going to be a balance. Gose can play center, we know he can go get it in center. He'll probably play center a lot. But there will probably be times where Gose is going to need a day or there's a tough lefty and we'll put Raj in center. Most of the time when Gose is in center, Raj will be in left. But there's be time where there's a tough righty and we'll keep Gose in center, but we have a left handed hitter and Tyler Collins who has some power and he can play the outfield, and he might play. It might be Collins goes and J.D. on a given day. I do think between left and center there's going to be a little bit of mixing and matching.

Q. You like the speed that was added in the Gose deal?

BRAD AUSMUS: I certainly like his ability to run down balls and gaps in Comerica. That's what I really like. Having the ability to steal bases is certainly an asset. In our park, being able to run down those gaps is important.

Q. How about the right fielder, do you have an interest for Japanese player?

BRAD AUSMUS: Do we? Not at this point. You're talking about Nori Aoki? We haven't spoken with anyone from Japan at this point, as far as I know.

Q. There's not much easy about hitting a year, let alone ten years. When you look at J.D., any idea that everybody had those shots, to make adjustments, and I don't know with him behind the scenes, but I'm assuming it goes beyond God given ability. There must be something that you see.

BRAD AUSMUS: I can tell you this, Miggy has the best swing I've ever seen, ever. And he's got a 250 pound frame, that gives him the ability to drive the ball to the opposite field the way 95 percent, maybe 98 percent, of left handed pull hitters can't hit. And the other thing that I've noticed that I didn't know playing against Miggy or watching him play was when he hits a line drive, it almost has a second gear once it gets out there. You see on a regular basis you see a center fielder or a right fielder start for the ball like he's got it in his sights and then realize it's getting over his head and he's trying to pick up speed to catch it. I've seen line drives hit to a second baseman, and they thought he caught it easily, and it literally takes them by surprise how quickly the ball got to them. It's hard to explain. Major League Baseball hitters are the best hitters in the game. And if there was another level, Miggy would have gotten called up by now. He's the best swing I've ever seen, hands down. Which is rare to say about a right handed hitter, too.

Q. Is he sort of quiet where there's not so many moving parts, where if he has a little bit, he's not trying to fix it, he just trusts it?

BRAD AUSMUS: He's more about Miggy is very much about feel. He can feel the swing. He feels when it's right. He feels when it's wrong. Some guys love to watch video. Some guys like to hit off a tee. Miggy, it's all about feel for him.

Q. You lost Robbie Ray in that trade to the Diamondbacks. What can you tell us about Ray a little bit and your experience with him?

BRAD AUSMUS: You know, I actually really liked Robbie. The one thing that stands out about him is his fastball. It plays up in velocity. He has the ability to touch 95 and even a little over that. But even when he's throwing 92 with his fastball, to the hitter it looks like 94. He's got real good finish on it. You see a lot of foul balls, a lot of swing and misses, where they chase the ball up and a lot of pop ups. And you can't teach a swing and miss fastball, either. You either have it or you don't.

Q. Were you disappointed in seeing him go, was he part of your plans for the future?

BRAD AUSMUS: Of course. We got him and all year we could see this guy being some day an excellent Major League starter.

Q. Tigers have been relevant now for about six or seven years. You inherited this team from Jim Leyland, who had built a nice organization. Do you feel like the window may be closing a little or not?

BRAD AUSMUS: No. Part of that has nothing to do with the actual Tigers, but just the nature of the game. There's so many there's so much movement within the game. And Dave Dombrowski has done an excellent job of that, of bringing pieces in that can continue to fill gaps and continue to make you competitive or continue to be a very playoff contender on a yearly basis. I think it's easier to do that now from a personnel roster standpoint than it was in 1985.

Q. Because of the uncertainty on Cabrera as far as readiness for Spring Training, do you have to have any contingency plans in camp, just in case he's

BRAD AUSMUS: Well, we might eventually, but we've got to wait until January to find out where Miggy is at. If the report at that point is that it could be close in terms of time, then we might have to. But right now we'll just wait and see what happens with Miggy.

Q. Is that something you guys could probably be able to do in house?

BRAD AUSMUS: We've talked about the need to be able to move quickly on it if we have to.

Q. When you look back at the season at your defense, especially in regards to positioning and shifting, do you see anything that may change going forward?

BRAD AUSMUS: Yeah, there was. In our postseason analysis looked at a few things. I wouldn't say dramatic changes, but there was definitely there was a couple of specific areas in terms of positioning where we're going to try to make adjustments.

Q. Can you elaborate at all on what you mean by that?

BRAD AUSMUS: Well, you'll probably see it against right handed pull hitters you'll see more of a shift. Against left hand pull hitters I thought we did a real good job. You may see slightly different positioning in the outfield on certain hitters. That's probably the two main areas.

Q. With my conversations with Matt and Martin it sounds like you guys shift maybe more than you people think, but they're very subtle shifts. Do you think we'll see more extreme at any point?

BRAD AUSMUS: Well, I don't know if I don't know if you'll see a bunch of extreme shifts. But shifting to me has to be done the right way. You don't just shift because the game plays into whether you shift or how much you're shifting or whether you play the shortstop in the case of a bunt. You've got to be very aware, especially late in the game, of what the score is. And I thought we did a nice job in the sense that a lot of times on the left handed hitters we would shift. If the game was tight we'd keep our shortstop in until one strike, and eliminate the bunt and then back up. And that actually worked pretty well for us. There wasn't many balls, if any, when we shifted that guy in got hit by the shortstop playing in at the grass. So I don't know that you'll see a ton of difference. We might shift a little bit more against lefties. We might take a little more chance in that regard. But I would say the bigger change would be shifting against righties and some outfield movement.

Q. If Iggy is back and at full strength, does that impact how you position your defense knowing that you have that much range in the middle?

BRAD AUSMUS: We always left the shortstop there, anyway. We always sent the third baseman over on the shift. My theory behind that was the shortstop generally has the strongest arm and most range. So if by chance the ball is hit to that side, if you've got your strongest arm and best range player there, you've got a better chance of covering yourself, kind of minimizing the risk. So I would say having Iggy there just makes us stronger on the shift in terms of covering the left side of the infield should the ball be hit that way.