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A sometimes-irreverent look at Detroit's Boys of Summer, the Tigers, as they try to defend their three straight American League Central titles.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Leyland gives Tuiasosopo his first start in LF: 'Here's a map and keys. Good luck, buddy'


DETROIT — Considering all the factors, manager Jim Leyland had a simple message for Matt Tuiasosopo for his first regular-season start in a Tigers uniform: Good luck.

Sunday dawned cool and windy, with the gusts blowing from the right-field foul pole to the left at Comerica Park. It’s a stadium in which, until the start of the homestand, the 26-year-old journeyman had never even set foot.

Oh, and CC Sabathia was scheduled to pitch for the New York Yankees.

“I want to wish him the best of luck in left field today, because the wind’s going to be blowing 25 mph. It’s pretty big out there. Here’s a map and keys, and good luck buddy,” Leyland joked.

“He’s very athletic, so I think he’ll do just fine. But it probably won’t be the most ideal conditions to play your first game in left field for the Detroit Tigers.

“But I’ll tell you what, he’ll be ready.”

No question about that.

He was even ready with a joke.

“He told me if I was scared, he’d put (Andy) Dirks in instead. ... I told him I was terrified. No,” Tuiasosopo said with a laugh. “Heck yeah, can’t wait. I’m excited.”

Even to face Sabathia, despite an 0-for-3 mark to date.

“I hit one good off of him in Seattle, lined out. I’m excited. He’s got to throw the ball over the plate,” Tuiasosopo said. “Nothing’s changing.”

Nor will it, if he has a tough day against Sabathia, something that can happen to anyone. The key for Tuiasosopo, if he’s to succeed in his role as the right-hander spelling Dirks occasionally, is to keep his swing the same short, compact stroke that the Tigers saw for part of spring training — especially when he went on a tear.

“Oh, yeah. ... He knows what’s going on. This guy’s got it figured out. He knows he’s getting an opportunity. He’s going to be ready. It’s not going to affect what he’s doing here if he has a tough day at the plate, or anything,” Leyland said.

“He’s facing CC Sabathia. That’s another thing you’ve gotta remember. It’s not like he’s facing some guy throwing 85 mph, some middle relief guy. He’s going to face one of the premier pitchers in baseball. That’s the other thing with guys like (Ramon) Santiago. A lot of times when they play, you give a guy a day off against a nasty right-hander. That means you throw one of those guys to the wolves, basically. That’s not an easy day for those guys. You try to look at it over the course of the season. You’ve got really tough match-ups, somebody that’s had absolutely no success against a guy, that’s the day you rest him.”

It’s a role that Tuiasosopo has a handle on, at least in his mind.

“I’m excited. Skip told me what my role was and so I try to work on getting into the cage early and facing (Ed) Hodge, our lefty (batting practice) thrower and just getting those reps in, make sure I’m watching video on all the lefties, all the lefties in the pen that team has, all the lefty starters, watch what they’re doing, how they’re facing righty hitters similar to me,” he said. “Just make sure I’m doing all the work I need to be doing to prepare myself and as soon as I cross the lines, it’s time to trust in God and have some fun.”

The other key for Tuiasosopo will be proving that he can handle what’s a very spacious left field in Comerica.

He wasn’t given a ton of on-field preparation for it this spring. Given the logjam of left fielders, much of his time early in camp was spent playing on the infield. It meant he had to take a lot of balls off the bat to keep sharp.

“Last year I played half the year out in the outfield. Year before that, same thing, half the year in left,” he said. “So it’s not like I never played there and need to go out and get some reps in. I’m comfortable playing out there. It’s just a matter of keeping everything fresh and just make sure I’m getting my reps in. It’s nothing new for me.”

While only 15 of his 63 career big-league games included playing time in the outfield, roughly one eighth of his 804 minor league appearances saw him play the outfield. All but 10 of those appearances were in his last two seasons, at Seattle’s Triple-A affiliate in Tacoma in 2011, and for the Mets’ top farm team, AAA-Buffalo, last year.

Tuiasosopo’s only action for the Tigers so far this season was a pinch-hit appearance in the final game of the opening series at Minnesota.

“BP’s don’t really change. I still try to get my work in at all the positions,” he said of the reserve role. “But during the game, during the fourth, fifth inning, I start getting loose. I go down to the cage and start getting some hacks in and then I just watch the bullpen. If I see a lefty get up, I really turn it on and get loose and start doing some sprints in the cage and start really getting it going. If they tell me, hey, be ready to hit if they bring ‘em in, make sure I’m ready.”

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