LAKELAND, Fla. -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland likes to say in many Spring Trainings that he can get a read on a lot of players trying to make the team by how they react when more cuts are made and the clubhouse starts emptying out. He had a new description for it on Sunday as he tried to warn reporters of what was ahead in the final two weeks of camp.
"It'll get real interesting here in a couple more days," Leyland said. "What happens is you get closer and closer and closer to the bell ringing, and sometimes guys respond differently. Some guys respond for the better, and some guys respond for the worse."
Wednesday's off-day, Leyland said, will be a separation point. The Tigers have had that off-day scheduled in most years midway through the next-to-last week of camp. It gives them about 10 days to focus on the roster spots still to be decided, get prospects back to their Minor League teams for more playing time, and try to judge if they need to make a move at the end.
Tuiasosopo opening eyes with impressive power
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Matt Tuiasosopo says he isn't doing anything differently this week than what he was doing for two weeks prior. He's the same hitter he's always been. There are no major adjustments to explain the tear he has found himself on over the last seven days.
It's just that every ball he hits now seems to travel 400 feet to left field.
"The more you're getting out there, you start getting comfortable in the box, you start getting into your rhythm," Tuiasosopo said after hitting his third home run in four days and just missing another in Sunday's 12-10 loss. "Early on, I was maybe pressing a little too much, trying to really show them what I can do. So I just had to go out there and trust the ability God has given me."
It's not just the home runs. When he followed his two-run homer with a double off the left-field wall in the ninth inning, he had his fourth multi-hit game in his last five contests. In the other game, he only had one at-bat.
After going 0-for-14 with no walks and seven strikeouts to start the spring, Tuiasosopo looked destined among the first cuts to Triple-A Toledo. Once he doubled in the ninth inning of a March 4 win over Houston, he flipped the switch.
Since then, he's 11-for-20 with five doubles, three homers, eight RBIs, seven runs scored, four walks and five strikeouts.
It's a good sense of timing. He's a right-handed hitter who can play the infield and outfield and is now on a Spring Training tear for a team that's looking for a right-handed hitter to carry as a reserve outfielder. That search is one reason why he took a Minor League deal, knowing the Tigers had a lot of left-handed hitters.
"I just wanted to come into spring and have fun, show them what I can do, play in the infield, outfield," Tuiasosopo said earlier in the week. "They've got lefty hitters in here, so maybe I can be the right-handed bat for them, show them the versatility and have fun with it. I don't know what's going to happen, but I can come in here and all I can control is how I work in the game and whatever happens, happens."
Tuiasosopo was so far down the pecking order coming into Spring Training that he left camp to be with his wife for the birth of their first child and it was hard to notice he wasn't around. Wife and baby Josiah are in Florida with him now, doing well. He's doing better, and he's getting enough attention that his name at least comes up among guys in the mix for a 25-man roster spot.
It's still a long shot. Jeff Kobernus bats right-handed as well, plays the outfield and provides the speed factor the Tigers want off their bench. Detroit still has another roster spot to play with after backup catcher Brayan Pena and utility infielder Ramon Santiago, but that would seem more likely for a left-handed hitter if Detroit carries another bat.
The counterbalance to the spring tear, of course, is his history in the Minor Leagues, which is what left him a Minor League free agent. He's a .260 hitter over nine years in the Minors, having hit .226 and .242 over the last couple years with 249 strikeouts in 857 at-bats. And the Eric Patterson saga last spring shows how torrid springs can fizzle out.
Still, the more Tuiasosopo hits, the longer he gives himself a chance.
"I'm at peace," he said. "I can't control what they decide."
Garcia out indefinitely with heel injury
LAKELAND, Fla. -- The good news on Avisail Garcia is that X-rays taken Saturday on his right heel came back negative, confirming nothing more than a bruise. The bad news, certainly for his chances of making this team out of camp, is that the right heel bruise will sideline him until further notice, according to head athletic trainer Kevin Rand.
"He'll be treatment-only until he's asymptomatic," Rand said.
Garcia suffered the injury lunging at first base trying to beat out an infield grounder Saturday against the Cardinals and left the game. It was a play that manager Jim Leyland criticized on Saturday, but tried to explain on Sunday. He didn't want to discourage the hustle, but definitely the decision.
"I think that he thought that was his best way to get on base for us, so I agree with that," Leyland said. "That can happen when you're playing hard, but it's not a smart play."
Garcia was moving around the clubhouse in a walking boot and on crutches Sunday morning and said he couldn't put weight on his foot.
At this point, Rand said, Garcia is more than day to day.
The Tigers open the season in Minnesota in 15 days. Garcia's chances of making the team already were shaky considering team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski's quote earlier this spring that Garcia and Nick Castellanos were unlikely to make the team unless they were projected to get enough at-bats to not stunt their growth.
Now, the realistic question might be whether Garcia is ready to play anywhere when the season begins, or he opens the season on the disabled list before heading to Toledo on a rehab assignment.
"I think he was or is definitely in the mix," Leyland said. "But it goes back to what we talked about before -- what's going to be the best for him, or what's going to be the best for the club? I don't know whether he's going to be on the club, but I'm crazy about him. He's got it all.
"His last hurdle is, like everybody else is normally, how much do you hit? I mean, there's no question he can play defense, run, do all that stuff in the big leagues right now. I'm thrilled about him. I really like him a lot. ... He's one of the guys I just enjoy watching him play. If I was a fan, I'd enjoy watching him play."
Smyly struggles with offspeed pitches vs. Nats
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Drew Smyly struck out five of the 12 hitters he faced through his first three innings, changed speeds effectively and looked as he has for most of this spring.
Once the offspeed pitches started hanging, the bottom fell out in a hurry.
"I was in a good little groove," Smyly said, "and then next thing you know, like six pitches into the [fourth] inning, it was too late."
Instead of the 0-2 counts Smyly was enjoying for most of the first three innings, the Nationals were hitting Smyly's first or second pitch. Tyler Moore homered on a 1-0 pitch down the left-field line. Ian Desmond just missed doing the same, settling for a double off the wall in left-center on the same count.
"He got the ball up a little bit and paid for it," manager Jim Leyland said.
He had fared much better with his offspeed pitches over his previous four starts. One bad outing won't nullify that. Plus, if the Tigers stay on their current pitching order, Smyly will get another shot at the Nationals in his next start Friday. Still, Smyly wasn't happy with himself over it.
"They were hacking, and I was throwing it up," Smyly said.
Berry experiences left knee soreness vs. Nats
LAKELAND, Fla. -- A week after Quintin Berry returned to the Tigers outfield mix from left knee patellar tendinitis, the left-handed hitting speedster left Sunday's game against the Nationals with left knee soreness.
It happened after only one plate appearance. Berry replaced Austin Jackson in center field for the start of the sixth inning, then drew a walk and scored leading off the bottom half. Once the Tigers batted around and Berry's spot came up again, Don Kelly pinch-hit for him.
Leyland said after the game that he made the move because of the soreness.
Berry is currently scheduled to make the trip to Viera for Monday's rematch with the Nationals, while Jackson is slated to stay home. If Leyland scratches him as a precaution, he could use Kelly or Jeff Kobernus in his place.
If it's more than a short-term move, however, it makes Berry's case to crack the roster tougher. He missed two weeks with the tendinitis before returning last weekend, then got plenty of work over three of the previous five days.
• Leyland usually doesn't make much out of Spring Training slugfests like Sunday, but sounded an observation about his bullpen after Phil Coke, Al Alburquerque and Darin Downs combined to allow four earned runs on six hits over the final three innings.
"Nobody's getting excited," Leyland said. "But I saw some things today that I did not like. And I'm not talking about the starter. When guys came out of the bullpen today, I saw some things that I didn't like too well."
• The Tigers continued their St. Patrick's Day tradition of green hats and green batting practice jerseys on Sunday. It's one of the rare days when the Tigers don't wear their regular-season uniforms for a Spring Training game.