Notes: Granderson learning from Sheff

Notes: Granderson learns from Sheff

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Tigers slugger Gary Sheffield sees the potential for a great lineup, but he also sees the need for hitters to learn patience. Manager Jim Leyland issued the challenge Monday that his hitters should strike out less than they have in the past.

Even before position players begin formal workouts this spring, Curtis Granderson has been listening and working.

"Staying aggressive, but hopefully eliminating two-strike counts," Granderson said. "That's going to be the game plan."

Few hitters in baseball made more progress in cutting down on strikeouts last year than Granderson, whose total dropped from an American League high of 174 in 2006 to 141 over nearly the same number of plate appearances in '07.

"At the same time, I was still among the top guys in the league in strikeouts last year," Granderson said Tuesday. "Hopefully I can continue to lower that number down."

Granderson ranked seventh among AL hitters in strikeouts, and ninth among AL hitters in strikeouts per plate appearance. In terms of strikeouts from the leadoff spot, however, only Cleveland's Grady Sizemore struck out more.

The strikeouts went a little overlooked, Granderson said, because of the stats he put up when he put the ball in the play -- the .306 average, 37 doubles, 21 triples and 23 home runs. Take away the strikeouts, and 40 percent of the balls Granderson put in play went for base hits.

Thus, the challenge for Granderson is how to cut down the strikeouts without cutting down too much on his aggressiveness. Indeed, hitting coach Lloyd McClendon has told Granderson not to go up to bat looking for a walk, but to make the pitcher throw strikes.

That's where Sheffield has some authority; he has finished among his respective league's top 10 in walks in nine of his 17 full Major League seasons, including 10th in the AL last year despite less than 600 plate appearances and several games played with a bad shoulder that affected his approach at the plate.

"He's aggressive, he knows not to get cheated and he knows the strike zone," Granderson said. "That's the thing that he said to me: 'As I knew the strike zone, walks went up.'"

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That knowledge, Sheffield believes, is a matter of experience, not just for Granderson, but most young hitters. That experience, he said, was part of what made those Yankees lineups great.

"When you talk about capitalizing on every at-bat, working the pitcher through every pitch, you don't know what that does to a lineup," Sheffield said. "When you do that on a consistent basis, you wear teams down. That's what this team is going to have to learn. Everybody can hit, but the key to it all is patience. If you're patient, everything else will take care of itself.

The intricate statistical relationship shows in Granderson's numbers. His drop in strikeouts last year was accompanied by a drop in walks from 66 to 52. Thus, despite his improvement in strikeouts, his ratio of walks to strikeouts actually dropped from .38 to .37.

Granderson would like to push that a little closer to even, or at least 2-to-1. There's precedence for that in his history; he walked 80 times compared to 95 strikeouts at Double-A Erie in 2004.

Still, there's a positive flip side. Of the 33 strikeouts Granderson eliminated from his total last year, 18 were called third strikes, falling from 40 in 2006 to just 22 last year according to research on baseball-reference.com.

"For his ability," Leyland said, "he'll get better yet, I think."

Speaking of Granderson: Look for the left-handed hitter to potentially see more at-bats against left-handed pitchers this season, a situation where most of Granderson's days off came last year. He'll still rest there sometimes, but maybe not as often.

"We'll pick our spots," Leyland said. "We do want to play him almost all the time. The only thing is if we do rest him, it would probably be against a nasty lefty."

Holiday visitor: Though Placido Polanco has a home in Miami, he spent part of his offseason in his native Dominican Republic. He can visit family and friends there, but he couldn't have expected a visit from an AL batting champion.

Yet, when Magglio Ordonez was looking for a place to spend a quick vacation around the holiday season on short notice, he and his family flew to the Dominican to pay Polanco a visit.

"Magglio calls me," Polanco said, "and he's like, 'Hey, where are you?' I said, 'I'm at home in the Dominican.' And he said, 'I'm right here.' So I went and got him, and we had a barbecue. That was fun. My dad had a blast."

Six agree to terms: The Tigers reached agreement with six players on one-year deals, bringing their total number of players under contract to 31 members of their 40-man roster.

Right-handers Yorman Bazardo, Jordan Tata, Virgil Vasquez and Joel Zumaya all agreed to terms, as did outfielders Brent Clevlen and Freddy Guzman. None of them were eligible for arbitration, so the Tigers could've simply renewed their contracts if they couldn't agree to a salary figure.

Quotable: "The Cleveland Indians are the Central Division champions, not the Detroit Tigers. We sound good. We look good. We are good. But we haven't done squat." -- Leyland

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