Notes: Leyland wants to look ahead

Notes: Leyland wants to look ahead

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Jim Leyland's message to his Tigers players was simple ... sort of.

In terms of work ethic, he wants his players to work as hard as they did last year -- not harder, not softer. Mentally, however, he wants them to forget about last year.

In other words, it's time for a selective memory.

"We're not going to talk about last year at all," Leyland said before his meeting with pitchers and catchers. "They're going to get that message right here. We're moving forward. That's going to be a no-no. We're not going to discuss 2006 all spring. You put that [season] in the wonderful memory bank somewhere, and at some point when your career's over later on, you sit back and say that was one heck of an exciting year."

Or as he later put it, "You can't chew yesterday's breakfast."

The point of the matter is while he wants his team to hold onto the confidence it gained last year, he doesn't want the players to think last year means anything in terms of winning this season. He's trying to preserve a swagger while avoiding overconfidence.

He knows he has a good team on his hands, but knows that doesn't mean it will get back to the World Series.

"This is kind of a bold statement," Leyland warned, "but I believe it: When you have a good team and you've had some success, I think normally the only thing that hurts you the next year is either injuries or self-destruction. The Minnesota Twins might beat us, because they're very good. The White Sox might beat us; they're very good. And Cleveland's good enough; they might be us. They all might beat us. But in reality, none of those guys can keep us from being a good team, in my opinion. They beat us, but they won't keep us from being a good team.

"So the only way we'll screw this up in my opinion is if we self-destruct or if we have a rash of injuries."

His definition of self-destruction fits what he's trying to prevent: "Not going about your business the way you need to go about it, listening to how friggin' good you were last year, taking pats on the back from last year in July of this year. That ain't worth [anything]. It was wonderful, but it's a memory. It's history.

"We might be beaten by the opposition, but we won't be destroyed by the opposition. The only way we'll get destroyed is if we destroy ourselves, by not going about it the way you need to go about it and by thinking it's easier than it is. It wasn't a fluke. We had good players, we worked hard and we became a team. And if we continue to stay a team with the talent we have, we're good."

Leyland got his message across to his players in groups -- first to the pitchers, then the catchers. When the full squad reports next week, he'll talk to them as infielders and outfielders. He does it that way instead as an entire team so that he can make sure he knows who's listening.

At least in words, the message seemed to get through.

"The main theme was it's a new year," reliever Joel Zumaya said. "We're going to go out there [in camp] and not do much more, go out there and play like we did, give it all we've got and hopefully we'll come out successful again."

They'll have to think about last year at least a few more times once Opening Day rolls around. In addition to the American League championship banner unveiling as part of season-opening festivities April 2 against Toronto, Tigers players who were part of last year's club will receive league championship rings during a ceremony prior to their next game on Wednesday, April 4. The Tigers are planning a replica ring giveaway to fans on the first weekend home game of the season on Friday, April 20.

Speaking of Zumaya: Zumaya, too, is ready to put last season behind him, as well as the speculation about his arm injury that was a part of it. He isn't going to talk in-depth about his well-chronicled habits playing Guitar Hero on Sony Playstation, but he said he'll be smart about how often he plays it.

"I can joke [about] the guitar," he said, "but I just believe it's old. It's last year. I've gone through so many interviews about the guitar, it's old news. I still play it. I'm going to be more cautious this year with it. This year I'm going to put it on [top of] the refrigerator more than it used to be. I'm still going to continue playing it, but I'm going to be more cautious.

"I know some fans get offended with that. They think the injury came directly from that. But on my half, it's 50-50. I don't believe the injury came [totally] from that, but it has a little bit to do with it."

The other 50 percent, he said, came from the arm grip. Addressing that, he believes, is a matter of strengthening the muscles in both his forearm and his hands. If he can do that, he thinks he can keep the grip.

"It's just the way I've always pitched," he said. "I've always pitched with an intense grip. I can't loosen it. That's how I taught myself. It's worked for me."

Help wanted? As much as Leyland would like to duplicate his team's intensity from last spring, he doesn't have quite as many openings on his club as motivation. Nor will he try to be coy about what's up for grabs in order to foster it, though he said he'll take the best 12 pitchers on his staff and they'll all pitch in big situations.

"I told the pitchers there's no secret," Leyland said. "You're up front. Our rotation is set unless something freaky happens, knock on wood. Most of the bullpen is set. There's no sense in [fooling] anybody -- not the media, not the players. And it's always touchy, because I don't want to discourage people.

"The point is most of the guys we're talking about as maybe a seventh, eighth, ninth starter at some point, maybe another reliever at some point. So the camp is worthwhile to everybody. But I'm not going to go in there and say everybody in here's got a chance. That's not true. I think that's wrong. I might be blunt about it, maybe a little cold about it, but that's the facts."

That's not to say the extra starters aren't important. Leyland said he wants to find which pitchers in camp can fill in during the season if starters in Detroit are injured. Zach Miner filled the job last summer when Mike Maroth underwent elbow surgery, but Miner wasn't part of big-league camp last spring.

Tigers on the air: The crew of the television show DIY to the Rescue will be at the Spring Training complex next week to unveil the renovated Fetzer Hall and the recreation center at Tiger Town.

The buildings were part of the original complex, which was a World War II training facility before the Tigers turned it into their Spring Training home. Fetzer Hall serves as home to many Tigers Minor League players.

Show hosts Karl Champley and Amy Devers will reveal the improved facilities in a ceremony with selected Tigers players on Tuesday, Feb. 20. It will be aired on the DIY Network in two half-hour episodes on April 8 at 9 p.m. ET.

Colon recuperating: Right-hander Roman Colon was in uniform for workouts Friday, but he wasn't participating. Colon, who underwent surgery to relieve painful spasms in his neck last fall, will see a doctor at the end of February in hopes of being cleared to resume baseball activities.

Jason Beck is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.