Notes: Leyland stresses the basics

Notes: Leyland stresses the fundamentals

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The roster is already decided, as is the rotation. The lineup seems to be, too. And physically, at least, just about everyone appears ready for the season.

So other than playing out the Spring Training schedule, what are the Tigers doing here?

Plenty, as long as manager Jim Leyland has his way.

Tuesday night provided what Leyland said was a good test, a night game against a good Braves team with John Smoltz on the mound. On Wednesday, Leyland wants to talk to his players about not letting the start of the season and the Opening Day festivities become a distraction for them. On Thursday and Friday, Leyland plans to spend part of his team's batting practice slot working on fundamentals, from setting pickoff plays to having his baserunners take better leads off bases.

That stuff, he says, makes a difference.

"Our leads weren't good last year," Leyland said. "We just have to do a better job of reading balls off the bat, going from first to third, getting leads when we put something on. We all need a little improvement there.

"You see a lot of bang-bang plays at a particular base, whether it's second, third or home. So obviously there's a lot of cases where, if you had another step, half a step, step and a half lead, you're safe."

Leyland has placed value on this last week of camp for a while. He likes using this time to work on fundamentals because the roster has been whittled down and there aren't as many players to work out. It's more important, though, that his players get it.

"You can win a lot of games by doing things right," said second baseman Placido Polanco.

"It's easy to go through the motions," left fielder Craig Monroe said. "But that's a shortcut."

Monroe has plenty to gain from these final games, since he's catching up with at-bats from missing time earlier this spring with patellar tendinitis. He said he's taking every at-bat this week like it's at game speed, which has shown in his ability to work pitch counts.

It's a different situation for guys like Polanco, who started out camp hot and has generally maintained it throughout. He missed Tuesday's game, but he was battling the flu-like illness going around the clubhouse in recent days.

"You just have to go with the flow," said Polanco. "You don't think less of these games because you think you're ready. You have to play these games right. This game can kick you in the butt."

So what worries Leyland heading into these final days? Not just preparation, but disinfection.

"We've had a bug going around the clubhouse for a while now," Leyland said. "I'm nervous as heck about that."

More zoom for Zumaya: He didn't hit 103 mph on the radar gun this time, but after battling the flu for a couple of days, Joel Zumaya came back firing in the sixth inning.

Zumaya, pitching for the first time in three days, hit 101 mph four times on the radar gun here and 100 mph on his final warmup pitch, but readings on the Atlanta television broadcast were generally a couple of ticks slower. The bigger change from previous outings this spring was that opponents hit Zumaya. After Chipper Jones skied a 101 mph fastball from Zumaya to right, Andruw Jones drilled a first-pitch heater out to right. Five pitches later, Brian McCann got a hanging curveball and took that out, too.

Those were the first runs surrendered by Zumaya all spring. He entered the evening with nine scoreless innings and suspects he jinxed himself by mentioning it to people earlier in the day.

"The Andruw Jones ball, that was pretty jokish," Zumaya said. "I put that ball where I wanted it. The one to McCann, he hit that curveball pretty darn good. I thought I could turn it around on him a little bit, and he was sitting on the thing."

He was trying to change approach because he could see the heart of Atlanta's order gearing up for his fastball.

"They all know me," Zumaya said, "so they all were waiting for the fastball. You could see them. The ball that Chipper Jones hit, he was already swinging by the time I was [delivering]. They're good, professional hitters. They know what they need to do to hit the ball out of the ballpark."

He came out for his second inning of work and reversed his approach, using curveballs and a changeup to set up Matt Diaz to be overpowered by back-to-back fastballs for a strikeout.

"It's a learning process for me," Zumaya said.

Many happy returns: Center fielder Curtis Granderson and shortstop Carlos Guillen both returned to the starting lineup Tuesday. Granderson, who went 2-for-5, missed Monday's game as a precaution after turning his left wrist on a diving catch Sunday against the Yankees. Guillen hadn't played since fouling a ball off his right shin Saturday.

Coming up: The Tigers return to Lakeland to host the Dodgers in a 1:05 p.m. ET game at Joker Marchant Stadium on Wednesday. Nate Robertson is scheduled to make his next-to-last start of the spring, while Derek Lowe will face the Tigers for the second time in just over two weeks. The game will be televised on FSN Detroit, both live in the afternoon and on tape delay at 7 p.m., and on MLB.TV. The Tigers radio network will also have the call.

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