It’s hard enough being a rookie manager.
It’s even harder when you’re taking over for Jim Leyland, a legend with 1,769 wins, a World Series ring and three Manager of the Year awards.
So, what have the first few weeks been like for Detroit Tigers skipper Brad Ausmus? Scary? Terrifying? Nerve-wracking?
Nope. Try fun.
“It’s been fun, really,” Ausmus said on The Morning Show. “I thoroughly enjoyed spring training – although Jim Leyland was around quite a bit, so I could use him as a sounding board. But it’s been a great time. It’s a good group of guys. It’s fun to come to the field and work with them. We’ve had a little choppy schedule early in the season with off days and weather, so we haven’t really gotten into the flow. But everyone feels pretty good about the team we’re throwing out there.”
Detroit (7-5) is atop the AL Central, but last-place Cleveland (7-8) is just one-and-a-half games out of first place. The Tigers are 5-2 at home and 2-3 on the road.
Only a dozen games in, Ausmus already feels settled.
“There’s nothing that’s been shocking,” he said. “There’s always something that pops up during the course of a game that you’ve seen before but (that) you weren’t expecting in that spot. But there’s nothing that’s bowled me over or surprised me.”
Not even Miguel Cabrera’s slow start. The two-time defending AL MVP and 2012 Triple Crown winner is hitting just .250 with one home run and six RBIs.
Ausmus doesn’t think Cabrera’s slow start has anything to do with the abdominal injury that slowed him toward the end of last season.
“He looked great in spring training,” Ausmus said. “And the truth is, if he was scuffling a little bit like he is now in July, it’d be a blip on the radar and no one would really notice. It just so happens that it’s the start of the season and the numbers are all magnified. I’m not concerned about Miggy in the least.”
Time will likely prove Ausmus right, but who do the Tigers need more from? Who needs to hit well for Detroit to be successful?
“Going into season, I think Austin Jackson and Alex Avila are two guys who we’re hoping (can) have bounce-back years,” Ausmus said. “Austin certainly didn’t have a bad year by any stretch. But I think those two guys – if they’re swinging the bat well for the majority of the season – I think well be in great shape.”
Jackson hit .272 with 12 home runs and 49 RBIs in 129 games last season, while Avila hit .227 with 11 home runs and 47 RBIs in 102 games. Both are 27.
The biggest problem for Detroit’s offense – and most offenses – has been situational hitting. Is there anything a manager can do about that?
“Well, you hope you’re putting players in a position against pitchers that they can succeed,” Ausmus said. “Now, that being said, teams are going to go through slumps where they’re not driving runners in. They’re going to go through hot streaks where every time there’s a runner on base, they seem to drive them in. It’s a balance. and really, over the course of 162 games, it’s the talent of the players that will take over.”
As for the pitching staff, all eyes are focused not on Justin Verlander, but rather, on Max Scherzer, who this offseason rejected the Tigers’ contract extension. Scherzer, 29, will be a free agent after the season, but Ausmus doesn’t expect the controversy surrounding that to impact the reigning AL Cy Young winner.
“I know every time he takes the mound he’s ready to pitch,” Ausmus said. “He’s very well-prepared, he’s very intense – so he’ll be fine. The contract, I don’t really have too much to do with that. But in no way am I concerned about the contract affecting Max. When he’s toeing the rubber, he is all in.”