LAKELAND, Fla. -- Ivan Rodriguez says he isn't doing anything different from previous Spring Trainings. He's simply seeing more strikes. And when he sees a strike, he usually doesn't miss. "If I wait for my pitch," Rodriguez said, "I'm going to be hitting the ball hard somewhere." Lost in the hoopla over Rodriguez hitting leadoff is the fact that Rodriguez is just plain hitting, no matter where his name comes up in the lineup. His three-hit game on Tuesday night against the Braves raised his average for the spring to .407 before he went 0-for-2 with a pair of strikeouts on Wednesday afternoon against the Dodgers.
Rodriguez usually hits well in Spring Training, but he hasn't hit like this in a camp since coming over to the Tigers. Tuesday's game completed a four-game stretch in which he went 7-for-13 with three doubles and four runs scored. He hasn't homered since March 12, but that's not the focus. The Tigers want him to look for hits. After Tuesday's game, manager Jim Leyland summed it up directly. "I talk to Pudge all the time about it," Leyland said. "When Pudge hits in the strike zone, he hits .330. When he hits out of the strike zone, he hits .260. It's that simple. "Pudge can still really hit. He's zeroed in pretty good right now. I think every once in a while he tries to do a little too much, and that's when he starts to [reach]. If he makes guys throw balls in the strike zone, he's still an outstanding, outstanding hitter. You don't really get Pudge out that much. Pudge gets himself out when he's not hitting good, like a lot of guys." That's not breaking news to Rodriguez. "That's everybody," he said. "That's what I'm trying to do, hit strikes. If I stay back and hit strikes, if I have good pitches to hit, I'll be hitting the ball good." He has a good example to follow in that approach. The Tigers traded for Gary Sheffield last November to bring some patience to their lineup, but he's having a carryover effect on other hitters. Craig Monroe watches Sheffield's at-bats and talks to him to get an idea about working deep into counts, something Monroe is doing better this spring.
Rodriguez's recent patience came in part from his leadoff role. But even at age 35, he's learning by example."He's a guy that doesn't swing at bad pitches," Rodriguez said. "That's why he's such a great hitter. He waits for his pitches, and when they throw his pitches to him, he doesn't miss them. And that's what I'm trying to do. Just trying to relax myself and try to hit some good pitches. If I do that, I'll be fine." Injury update: Vance Wilson had an MRI exam on his sore right elbow on Wednesday, but he characterized it as precautionary. Wilson has been limited to one pinch-hit appearance since leaving Saturday's game against the Braves with inflammation in the elbow. Minor Leaguers Dane Sardinha and Steve Torrealba have received more playing time in Wilson's place. Attendance record: The Tigers already have one feat to their credit before they open the season. With Wednesday's attendance of 5,972, the Tigers raised their total attendance for this spring at Joker Marchant Stadium to 108,150, breaking their record of 107,507 set in 1989. The records include the annual exhibition game against Florida Southern College. It's a feat that means something to Leyland. "It means more to Mr. Ilitch," Leyland said, referring to Tigers owner Mike Ilitch, "but it means something to me, too. I'm proud of that." It's not magic: Leyland spent part of the day on Wednesday looking back at last season and what it meant. But when he called it "magical," he hesitated and changed his mind. "I think it's disrespectful to all the hard work you do," he said. "And I can understand people using that word, because there's so many things that went right for us last year. Listen, we were real good, and we were lucky. It takes that. But so was the team that won it the year before, and the year before that, and the team that's going to win it this year. "Is it going to hit the chalk line or not hit the chalk line? It's one of those things. Sometimes your rotation sets up in order against somebody else's starters. We had all that going for us last year. But we're good. ... We worked our [tails] off, and we played good, and we became a team." Coming up: Kenny Rogers is scheduled to make his final spring tuneup on Thursday when the Tigers welcome the Astros to Joker Marchant Stadium for a 1:05 p.m. ET game. Fernando Nieve and Matt Albers are scheduled to pitch for Houston.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.