A week into Spring Training games, the Tigers second baseman looks just about ready for Opening Day from a hitting standpoint. With his first-inning home run and third-inning single Thursday, he stretched his streak of reaching base safely to nine consecutive plate appearances before Ryan Freel's diving catch in center field robbed him of another hit in the fifth.
With a 3-for-3 outing Tuesday against the Blue Jays and a 2-for-2, two-walk performance Monday against the Yankees, Polanco hadn't made an out since Sunday against the Indians. And even then, he was on base, having reached on an error in his last at-bat that day.
Polanco was retired in his final at-bat Thursday, ending his day 2-for-4. His average for the spring actually dropped from .714 to .667. Granted, it's only Spring Training, and early in the spring at that, so pitchers are still getting ready. But then, hitters are getting ready, too -- at least hitters other than Polanco.
"He's locked in right now, obviously," manager Jim Leyland said. "He's a professional hitter."
In being that, Polanco takes pride in his preparation. He puts in his time in the cage during the spring and he takes batting practice with purpose. He expects to hit the ball well, whether his swings go for hits or not. But he also works enough on the rest of his game to know he couldn't go north quite yet.
"Hitting-wise, I'm seeing the ball good. I'm hitting the ball good. OK, I'm ready," Polanco said. "But what about my legs? What about fielding? What about moving, getting jumps? It takes more than just hits to be ready for the season. I don't think my legs are quite there yet."
His bat, obviously, is ahead of schedule.
"I wish the season started a week ago [in that respect]," he said. "I'd be hitting, what, .500?"
He'd also be hitting for power. Polanco's streak included two doubles, a homer and five RBIs. The home run Thursday off an inside pitch from Aaron Harang went out to center field at Ed Smith Stadium, though a wind blowing out helped.
Brandon Inge thinks Polanco could win a batting title the way he puts the ball in play. After watching him try to hit home runs in batting practice once this spring, too, Inge thinks Polanco could hit homers if he wanted, like Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki.
Polanco admits to power, but it's not his game.
"I can definitely hit more than 15 home runs, like I have before [in 2004 with Philadelphia]," Polanco said. "But I'd probably hit .220, .230. I'd get released next year, you know what I mean? My job is to get on base, get runners over."
By getting stronger and using his hands more, Polanco thinks he has improved his power. Inge also believes Polanco is enjoying a comfort level of having a full season under his belt in Detroit.
"Bottom line, he's a great hitter," Inge said. "And in my opinion, I think he's finally feeling at home in Detroit. He had to get his feet in here a little bit, and now I think he's got the confidence. He has got his swing where he wants to be. He's one of the leaders on this team. And now he's just starting to put it all together, because he is a good hitter."
Meet Maybin: Ken Griffey Jr. remains out for the Reds with a sore hand, but he spent part of Thursday afternoon chatting with top Tigers prospect Cameron Maybin. They met when Maybin was a high schooler playing summer ball in Cincinnati, and they have the same agent, Brian Goldberg.
They've kept in touch by phone during Spring Training, but Maybin said they rarely talk about baseball. Griffey had dinner with Maybin and his father earlier this spring.
"We play so long," Maybin said. "It's not always about baseball when we talk. It's nice to know somebody who has gone through some of the same things, especially somebody like him."
Asked about comparisons between himself and Griffey, Maybin said he's not worried about them. Other than playing center field, Maybin believes they're different players, starting with the fact that he bats right-handed, while Griffey hits left-handed.
"It's nice to be compared to somebody of his stature," Maybin said, "but I just go out and try to play my game," Maybin said. "I don't try to be anybody else. I enjoy being compared to somebody like that, but for the most part, I just try to do what I do."
Thames has knee examined: Marcus Thames had his knee checked out by doctors this week, who found no structural damage. Thames was experiencing what Leyland called a "pinch" in his knee, and he hasn't played in a game since Sunday. Leyland doesn't expect the absence to set Thames back in his adjustment to playing first base.
Personal approach: Before the game, Leyland caught up with his good friend Chuck Tanner, who preceded him as manager of the Pirates and won a World Series title in 1979. Tanner's son, Bruce, is now in the Tigers organization, hired over the winter to fill a new position as an advance scout.
The Tigers have used advance scouting on occasion over the last few years. Greg Smith filled the job for selected series in 2005, and Scott Reid, Dick Egan and Scott Bream all scouted potential opponents down the stretch last year. However, the Tigers hadn't had someone dedicated to the job full-time. They subscribed to a scouting service for information on most of their opponents.
"We felt like it was better if we send somebody out than the type of scouting we were using," Leyland said. "He's real good, particularly with pitching, and we think he'll be a real asset."
By using someone personally, the Tigers can tailor their information to what they feel they need. Leyland, for instance, wants to know what moves an opposing manager might be inclined to make in situations, or how well a hitter is doing lately rather than his career against a pitcher.
He also wants to know about injuries, a lesson he learned a while back.
"I was so embarrassed," Leyland recalled. "I pitched out on a [baserunner] that had a pulled hamstring."
Back to bat: Unlike their visit to Port St. Lucie last week to face the Mets, the Tigers did not have the use of a designated hitter Thursday against the Reds. It was bad news for Leyland, who could've used an extra hitter, but good news for Fernando Rodney.
Rodney relieved Nate Robertson in the bottom of the third inning to strike out Edwin Encarnacion and strand two runners on base. With the pitcher's spot up in the top of the fourth, Leyland had little choice but to send him up to the plate.
Unlike his regular-season at-bat, Rodney put some swings on the ball. He sent the Tigers dugout into laughs by imitating Gary Sheffield's bat waggle, then breaking his bat on a foul ball.
"Cracked me up," Inge said.
He borrowed a bat from Polanco and promptly cracked that one, too.
"Are you crazy? That was a [batting practice] bat," Polanco said.
Using Inge's bat, Rodney eventually lofted a line drive that forced center fielder Ryan Freel to charge in for a running catch.
"That was a better at-bat," Rodney said. "When I saw the ball, I thought it had a chance [to fall in]."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.