Leyland stresses no guarantees

Leyland stresses no guarantees

Tigers manager Jim Leyland heads into the season with probably the most balanced lineup in baseball, not to mention a team that enters the season viewed as World Series contenders. However, he has emphasized to his players and to the reporters who cover the team that expectations are just that, that they haven't done anything yet, and that the Cleveland Indians are the defending American League Central champions.

This spring has emphasized the notion that looking good on paper doesn't guarantee anything on the field. Leyland has had to keep up with nagging injuries to starters, a bullpen missing two key setup men and the long-running question of whether Brandon Inge will open the season in a Tigers uniform.

Through it all, Leyland has kept a consistent approach. He discussed his team and the course of camp recently:

MLB.com: We're a month into Spring Training now. Is there anything that stands out as the most positive thing you've seen so far this camp?

Leyland: Not really. It's been a typical Spring Training, getting ready for the season. Split up the road trips, get everybody ready, make sure they've got enough at-bats. We've got a good team. We'll see how we play. That's a big blow with [Fernando] Rodney and [Joel] Zumaya out, but that's the way it goes. That's a huge blow. We've got other guys that have good arms, seem like they're capable. We'll see.

MLB.com: As we head into the final couple weeks, is this the time when you start looking to work on the fundamentals, the cuts and everything?

Leyland: Well, we had a good session with that [last week], all kind of different situations. And we'll do that again when we get almost totally cut down, which won't be too long. Obviously, we're leaving in less than two weeks, so it can't be too long.

MLB.com: How much can you judge about the mindset of a team by the way they approach drills like that?

Leyland: I don't worry about that with this team. I'd be shocked if this team doesn't go at it hard, with intelligence. We're blessed. I mean, we've got a group of players like [Edgar] Renteria, who's been in and won a World Series. [Placido] Polanco's been in it. [Carlos] Guillen's been in it. [Miguel] Cabrera has won it along with Renteria, at different times [in Florida]. So, I mean, we've got intelligent players, and that's a good thing to have. When you have smart players that are good players, that's another weapon.

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I mean, you've got to use your brains a lot in our business. This team is pretty good about knowing what they're supposed to do, knowing what they need to do. They work hard. They don't ever skate. They don't try to get by without doing anything. I'm proud of them from that perspective. They work hard, and they work with a purpose. That's more important. They work with a purpose.

MLB.com: With all the talk about what your offense can do, how important do you think baserunning will be for this team? And how good do you think this team can be?

Leyland: I think it's huge, but I don't think we'll be a great baserunning team. I can't get them faster. That's all nonsense. But we can get better. We've worked on our leads at second so we can score.

MLB.com: You can't make them faster baserunners, but you can make them smarter?

Leyland: Absolutely. And that's what we're trying to do. And I think we will get better, because we'll keep pounding it into them.

I mean, when you think about it, over the course of the season, there are going to be bang-bang plays at the plate, where one more step is [the difference between safe or out]. I can't tell you how many games it happens, but if you're in a pennant race, one time might be too many.

MLB.com: Obviously, the bullpen has become a big theme to this camp, but you've also talked before about how you'd like to see your starting pitchers go deeper into games. If you can get efficient outings out of your starters early on, how much will that help you in terms of the bullpen?

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Leyland: Oh, that would be tremendous. If we get some length out of our starters, extra length -- by extra length, I'm talking about a third or two-thirds [of an inning] -- that's fine. That would really be a big help. I would say that'll be a big factor for us, but that's a big factor for everybody. But we'll be all right. It is what it is.

MLB.com: When you talk about needing to judge relievers on how they'll perform "when the third tier goes on the stadium," how much of that can you actually tell in Spring Training and how much comes down to gut instinct?

Leyland: It probably goes down to gut instinct and it probably goes down to taking a chance, giving somebody the opportunity to sink or swim. I think a lot of it comes to that. That's part of it. I think your gut feeling's part of it. Plus, your options are part of it.

MLB.com: How do you feel like your team has dealt with the expectations so far?

Leyland: We haven't had any forfeits yet. Nobody's canceling games. I can guarantee you, Cleveland isn't worrying all the time about us, the Twins [aren't], the White Sox. We've got good teams [in this division].

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