Ausmus wants Tigers aggressive on basepaths

Detroit led Majors in stolen bases last Spring Training, and green light is on again this year

Ausmus wants Tigers aggressive on basepaths

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The green light is back on at Tigertown this spring. The man issuing it hopes he has more guys taking advantage of it.

Brad Ausmus' first Spring Training as Tigers manager last year might have been best known for the baserunning. The Tigers led the Majors in stolen bases (33) and attempts (47) last spring, nearly matching their totals from the entire 2013 regular season. The pace slowed a bit by last summer, but Detroit still finished seventh in the Majors and fourth in the American League with 106 steals, defying their longtime reputation on the basepaths.

The aggressiveness wasn't meant to set up a track meet once the games counted. It was meant to create awareness and change mentality. In that sense, it worked. Detroit still finished near the bottom in baserunning ratings for the season, thanks in no small part to grounding into double plays, but they were no longer perceived as a stationary team.

"The philosophy is the same," Ausmus said. "We want to kind of force the issue on the defense, going first to third, second to home, force them to have to make the play. Be aggressive, but let's not be idiotic. Know the outs, know the score, know who's coming up next. Yes, I still believe in always looking to get to the next base."

This spring will be a refresher course on the mentality for those who are back, and an introduction for those who are new. And Ausmus sees a lot of potential gain in the newcomers.

"You can add [Jose] Iglesias to the mix this year, you can add [Anthony] Gose to the mix this year," Ausmus said Saturday morning. "And after watching [Yoenis] Cespedes run the bases [Friday], he's not slow. I think we're probably a faster team than we were a year ago."

Cespedes stole 16 bases as a rookie in 2012, but just seven in each the past two seasons. However, he stole third base six times in seven tries last year, and four times in five attempts in 2013. His ratings on taking bases on wild pitches, passed balls and fly balls, meanwhile, have remained fairly consistent.

"He had a leg injury one of the years where he kind of got shut down in terms of stealing," Ausmus said. "But he was running really well yesterday. I knew he could run, I knew he was athletic, but he was flying around the bases."

Gose played in just 94 games for the Blue Jays last season, but with 15 stolen bases in 20 attempts, he earned a plus-12 baserunning rating in the Bill James Handbook, matching Cespedes and falling just shy of Ian Kinsler.

Iglesias is the unknown factor in Detroit's attack on the basepaths. When healthy, he's a faster baserunner than his six stolen bases in 144 career Major League games would suggest. After a 2014 season lost to stress fractures in both shins, however, Iglesias is cautiously working his way back.

If Iglesias still has his footspeed, the Tigers could have two above-average baserunners at the bottom of the order and another up top, or two around the top and another at the bottom, depending on who bats second.

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.