Winter Meetings interview with Brad Ausmus

Winter Meetings interview with Brad Ausmus

Q. Can you assess, Al has been one of the busiest GMs, can you assess his moves and where you guys stand right now?

BRAD AUSMUS: Yeah, Al without question has been extremely active. He's really kind of accomplished a good portion of what was our goal to accomplish coming out of our organizational meetings mid-October, which was pitching, pitching, and more pitching.

That doesn't mean we can't tweak something or fill a hole here or there offensively or from a position player standpoint. But with the acquisition of Zimmermann and Pelfrey, the two starters he had talked about, he's got K-Rod, and I think before we leave here, we'll have one, maybe two more. I think Al's moving quickly and in the right direction.

Q. Does that tell you anything about his confidence level that he's been able to act that decisively as a first-year GM?

BRAD AUSMUS: He's seen pretty much everything. And from my standpoint, it's been seamless because I've known Al as long as I've known Dave, and conversations are very comfortable. And actually over the last month they have been very frequent, multiple times a day, many days.

He does a great job of keeping me in the loop in terms of opportunities that the Tigers have with trades or free agency. He asks my opinion as well as the staff, and he makes the decision, but he's played some good decisions so far. You don't know until it plays out over the next couple seasons, but Al's done a good job and he's really confident in what he's doing.

Q. With data showing that pitchers are less effective third time through the order, he's very less effective the fourth time. There's talk in the industry about shortening starters, not so much innings, but times through the order. Where do you stand on that?

BRAD AUSMUS: The problem is the balance. I don't disagree. I think the numbers show that the more times that a hitter sees a pitcher, the more success that hitter is going to have. I don't think that's a secret. Before the numbers showed it, we knew that was the case. The balance is allowing the starters to go deep enough to not over use your bullpen.

I think there's a little bit of a shift, some teams maybe over-stock their bullpen and leave some in AAA that have some options and they can shift guys up and down. But if you have a pitcher who is an effective top of the line, No. 1, No. 2 and he can go through three times and get you deeper in the game, there's tremendous benefit to your bullpen, especially the last month and a half.

Q. You've seen Jordan Zimmermann and Mike Pelfrey, and you are a catcher and a manager. How do you size them up?

BRAD AUSMUS: Well, Zimmermann, you look at the track record and you like the resumé, no question. The thing that I liked about him more, even more than the resumé is the makeup. This is a guy, you talk to guys that he's played with, teammates and coaches, he's a no-nonsense, no-frills, doesn't care about accolades, doesn't care about highlight reels. He just wants to take the ball. He'll take the ball if he's not 100 percent. He's not going to complain about it. And on top of that, he's pretty good. He, to me, is a perfect fit.

Pelfrey, the guy is now a couple years removed from Tommy John. His velocity was up quite a bit last year. He gave up some hits, but I'm not overly concerned about sinker ballers that give up hits. They give up more hits and also give up more double plays. He's a guy that, when he's healthy, pitches in the 200-inning range. You saw a guy like Alex Wilson get tired at the end of the year because we had to lean on him so much. So guys like that who can pitch deeper in the games or mass innings over the course of six months I think helps the team.

Q. Zimmermann's repertoire, what do you make of his pitches?

BRAD AUSMUS: I think it's his fastball slider that stands out. He's not afraid to attack guys, which I think is huge. He's not dancing around the guys swing. He's trying to attack the guy. And if he gets an early out, great, but also he has the ability to get the swing and miss.

Q. You knew the top players to get in the off-season were going to be starting pitching. Were you surprised you were able to land Jordan Zimmermann?

BRAD AUSMUS: Yeah, I was a little surprised. I thought it was a little bit of a long shot when you're targeting one guy as the guy you'd like to have. It's not always easy to get that guy. It seems easy, but Al has got to work in parameters of a budget and you can't allocate everything to one person or you won't be able to fill the other holes in the roster.

I guess in that regard, I was pleasantly surprised. And the way it went down, we had talk to them. I know they had talked to his agent early on in the off-season, but it really didn't come to a head until the day after Thanksgiving. Then it happened quickly, happened in roughly 12 hours.

So I was very pleasantly surprised. Except I was in Chicago when it happened and I had to fly to San Diego and I had to fly back to Detroit.

Q. You touched on it, but how different is it this time looking back at last year, how much different is it working with Al than it was with Dave?

BRAD AUSMUS: Well, I mean, they have different demeanors. But they are both great at keeping me in the loop on everything. I've said it a number of times, it's a seamless transition. Even going back to last year, people said, Al, they might let me go because Al -- I wasn't his pick. But the truth is Al was a big part of them picking me. He was Dave's right-hand man and actually pushed Dave to hire me.

So to say I'm not Al's guy is a little bit of a misnomer. And the conversation and communication has been extremely smooth.

Q. Just in terms of watching you guys interact inside the suite, does it feel like you can breathe more with Al around? Looks like you joke around a little bit.

BRAD AUSMUS: It's business as usual. I don't really -- I wouldn't say I'm consciously trying to act any differently. Maybe I'm just more comfortable with you. (Laughter.)

Q. As manager, when your team owner comes out and publically says, you know, I'm willing to spend money and I'm not going to look at the price tag; that encouraging to know that you guys are willing to field a better team and have the means to do so?

BRAD AUSMUS: Yeah, even before I was here, Mr. Ilitch made it very clear that he wants to win and wasn't overly concerned about the finances. If there was a move to be made that Al and his staff thinks could put this team over the edge, I don't think he would balk for a second at making that move. It's always comforting to know that you'll have that back.

Q. Given your relationship -- you guys weren't expected to be on the market for Price, but given your relationship with Dave and given your relationship with Price, were you surprised that that relationship came to that signing --

BRAD AUSMUS: With the Red Sox? The only thing that surprised -- maybe in my mind, maybe it was only my mind, I thought D.P. would want to play on a National League team so he could hit, quite frankly. Doesn't surprise me that Boston went after him or he ended up signing there. But I felt like, D.P. is a guy that would come out early with position players and hit with them. He really enjoyed the game of baseball. He was like a kid. He wanted to have those little things around him to entertain him, whether it's cribbage with his teammates or taking batting practice, early batting practice with his teammates.

I always felt like he wanted to experience that. That's the only thing that surprised me about the signing is I thought he would go to a National League club.

Q. You said David was one of the better teammates you had seen. Is that what you're talking about?

BRAD AUSMUS: He's definitely one of the best teammates I've ever seen. He just earnestly cares about winning and the guys around him. You'd be hard pressed to find anyone that shows up earlier other than the clubhouse attendant than David Price. I get in there at 12:30 sometimes and he's already in his shorts for a 7:00 game and there's no one else in the clubhouse other than the clubhouse attendant.

He just really cares about the game and the people around him and he wants to win. He was a joy to have. I've had people call, you know -- friends in the game who their clubs were interested in David Price have called me about him and I said, listen, I can't say a bad thing about this guy, I really can't. He's above board on every aspect.

I'm happy for him. He's a good guy and got a good contract.

Q. When you talk about him taking BP -- is that an example?

BRAD AUSMUS: He just wants to have fun. When David Price stops having fun playing baseball, wouldn't shock me if he walked away from a year of a contract. Hopefully he has fun as long as he plays.

Q. Do you think as it stands now, your pitching has been fixed? Starting rotation, bullpen still a work-in-progress, but do you think the starting rotation has been solidified or fixed?

BRAD AUSMUS: Looks like the rotation for the most part is. Hard to say it's been fixed because we still have to go out there and guys still have to perform and we have to see how that goes. I agree with your assessment that the bullpen is still a work in progress, but it's moving in the right direction.

Q. Al talks about the competition at the back end of the rotation. Is it safe to say Norris is a leader in the clubhouse, with the way he pitched and his pitching pedigree?

BRAD AUSMUS: Certainly didn't hurt his chances. Pitched well coming down the stretch. Didn't hurt his chances, but nothing is a lock.

Q. James McCann and Jarrod Saltalamacchia both grade out as below-average framers. Is that a concern?

BRAD AUSMUS: Yeah, it's a little bit of a concern. I can tell you that James McCann has already begun drills to try to rectify that. It's something he's aware of. We're aware of what parts of the strike zone he struggles the most with. He's a voracious worker, so I'm not concerned about it. If it can be fixed, this is a guy that will work hard enough to fix it. So I expect that about a year from now James McCann will grade higher.

Q. And what about a more experienced catcher like Salty?

BRAD AUSMUS: Haven't seen Salty play too much. Seen a little bit on TV. Last couple years haven't seen him play too much. Keep in mind this is a guy who's a starting catcher for a World Series championship team. So he must do some things well also.

We'll have to see. I'll have to watch him before I can make any determination on that.

Q. Have you talked to Holaday?

BRAD AUSMUS: I talked to him today, yeah.

Q. And what was that like?

BRAD AUSMUS: I just wanted to make sure he was doing all right. The great thing about Doc is he always has the right attitude, and I just wanted to make sure that he wasn't sweating this and he comes into Spring Training with the same attitude that we enjoy. That's one of the great appeals of Holaday is his attitude. He's a great teammate. We talked. Just want him to keep his nose to the grindstone and not change.

Q. What does the addition (indiscernible) say about the trust (indiscernible)?

BRAD AUSMUS: Nothing should be read into this other than we need some catching at the top part of our organization.

Q. You mentioned people getting in touch with you about Price. Did you do the same with people about Zimm? And, if so, what did you --

BRAD AUSMUS: Yeah.

Q. What did you learn about him?

BRAD AUSMUS: All good things. Nothing -- not a bad thing to be said about him. I think we talked about it earlier, but he's just a guy that's going to take the ball every five days, not going to whine about aches and pains, doesn't care if he's on highlight reels. Doesn't need the accolades. Just wants to pitch and help his team win. That's kind of what we're looking for.

Q. When you're talking about -- and this could be a question for Al tomorrow, but how strongly have you considered not letting Victor play in the field anymore?

BRAD AUSMUS: I considered this last year when we ultimately ended up playing a little bit at first just because of Miggy's injury. We won't throw him behind home plate. But I wouldn't write him off as not playing first base because the truth is there's going to be times probably where Miggy needs a day off from first but we want to keep Victor in the lineup.

So assuming there isn't some other health issue going forward, I would suspect that or I would expect that Victor would see a little bit of time at first base.

Q. What do you think about the way the bench is set up now?

BRAD AUSMUS: They could use a heater underneath it. It's a little bit cold (laughter). Wood is a little bit tough. But I stand a lot of times. It doesn't bother me.

Q. Do you think you need you need a speedster kind of guy that can go out and steal a base?

BRAD AUSMUS: Well, we have some speed right now. We have Maybin, we have Kinsler, we have Gose. You can't really have everything. There's a possibility -- I guess you could add one more piece, but you have an extra catcher. Right now you have Collins, you have Romine who actually can run. So there's a speed guy.

So I guess there's one -- unless I'm forgetting somebody.

Q. Did you have that same conversation with Collins after you traded for Maybin?

BRAD AUSMUS: No, didn't really change that much for Collins necessarily.

Q. Is (indiscernible) an option for first base?

BRAD AUSMUS: Yes. He can play a little first base. He can DH. If he were on the team, he could provide left-handed power off the bench.

Q. What do you think the strengths and weaknesses are?

BRAD AUSMUS: I think our defense is actually going to be a strength. I think we do have Maybin and Gose legs to cover from right center field to the left field line.

Q. Where do you envision Maybin hitting in the lineup?

BRAD AUSMUS: I don't know. That's going to be determined. I'm not exactly sure. We all know how the hard lineup is going to look generally. I'm not really sure where Maybin and/or Gose fits when one or both of them are playing. I've tinkered with it, but at this point I'm not really sure.

Q. Who are you leaning towards lead off?

BRAD AUSMUS: Falls under that.

Q. Healthy Victor is going to be hitting clean-up?

BRAD AUSMUS: If Victor is healthy, I would love for him to hit clean-up.

Q. When you get a guy like Maybin with his athleticism, like Gose, doesn't matter that the metrics are kind of cool --

BRAD AUSMUS: Yeah, I can't explain it fully. There is a little subjectivity in the defensive metrics. I also think that we need to make some adjustments that could help their metrics in terms of positioning, and that's something that we'll address with Dave Clark and all of the outfielders in Spring Training.

Q. How far has J.D. come from a defensive standpoint?

BRAD AUSMUS: He's become a very good right fielder, really has. Underappreciated. I shouldn't say underappreciated because he's one of the finalists, but J.D., as much as he's improved with the bat, and I don't want to say his defense has improved as much. But it's been a marked improvement since we first saw him. I think part of that is he was settled into right field where he was bouncing around a little more.

Q. What did he show you in the second half offensively?

BRAD AUSMUS: That he didn't fold up shop after a rough first half.

Q. How close were you guys to sending him to the Minors when he was slumping?

BRAD AUSMUS: It was discussed.

Q. Then he started hitting, I think in Seattle.

BRAD AUSMUS: It was discussed, and shortly thereafter he really started swinging, and he didn't really cool off too much all the way through the rest of the year.

Q. Was it discussed with him at all?

BRAD AUSMUS: No, no, no.

Q. Where do you think his ceiling is as a hitter? Does the second-half performance like that kind of change it a little bit in your mind?

BRAD AUSMUS: No, I don't know that I would put a statistical ceiling on it. It's going to be up to Nick to determine it really. If I put a ceiling on him, I might be limiting him.

Q. How much can he benefit from hitting himself out that have slump?

BRAD AUSMUS: Especially hitting, whenever you recover from a struggle or go through a slump, you fall back on that experience anytime it happens again. That's absolutely true. I can tell you that from experience. That's why veteran players are much better equipped to handle slumps than young players just because of the experiences.

Q. With the idea of testing outfielders --

BRAD AUSMUS: We'll put him out there just so that he can play anywhere, just so that we have that emergency case.

Q. But you would classify it as an emergency, not an actual legitimate option?

BRAD AUSMUS: No, I don't think I would -- because really, no, I don't envision a scenario where he would start in left field. I think it would be more of an emergency situation. But he would probably get some starts in Spring Training or some time in Spring Training in the outfield just to kind of keep fresh.

Q. During your time as a player and now as a manager, have you noticed an evolution in the role of the manager? Have you noticed the change in demands?

BRAD AUSMUS: Yeah, there's definitely been a change. I think a lot of it is media driven. Social media has changed a lot of it. So I think there's a lot more focus I think because of that media environment and I'm the manager. So I would say yes, the answer, is it's changed.

Q. Have you learned something about that in particular --

BRAD AUSMUS: I don't know if it surprised me. I knew the media demands were high, but I do think there is an adjustment period for sure.