LAKELAND, Fla. -- Not only did Drew Smyly grow up following Cliff Lee as a fellow Arkansan, he modeled his game after Lee's as a fellow left-hander with a similar assortment of pitches. Others have noted they have the same quiet aggressiveness that helped Lee become one of the best lefties in baseball.
So when Smyly learned he'll be starting opposite Lee on Monday when the Tigers visit the Phillies in Clearwater, he was smiling. He'll be focused on his own game as he tries to take the first step towards winning a rotation spot back, but he might spend some time watching his counterpart too.
"He's a good one to try to steal some notes from," Smyly said Saturday morning. "We have the same type of style. Pretty much our pitches are all the same. I like watching his games."
Smyly and Lee share the same agent and worked out together on occasion while Smyly was pitching at the University of Arkansas. They most recently talked over the offseason.
Rondon throws heat in spring debut
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Tigers catcher Alex Avila made a point to catch Bruce Rondon early in Spring Training to get an idea how his pitches look. Until Saturday, though, Avila had never caught Detroit's prospective closer in an actual game.
Asked to summarize it, Avila paused. His answer was incomplete, yet summed it up completely.
"Well, there were a few fastballs that I did not see," Avila explained, "and ended up in my glove. I don't know how."
The one he missed ended up hitting home-plate umpire Jeff Gosney in his right shin guard and bouncing over the screen behind home plate, causing an "ouch" from Gosney that Avila and Rondon both heard.
Considering how few pitches found Blue Jays bats, it was a good debut. After back-to-back strikeouts with runners at second and third wrapped up a scoreless inning, the smile on his face as he talked about it afterwards said plenty.
It isn't going to win him a job, just like a bad outing wouldn't have cost him one. Manager Jim Leyland made that abundantly clear beforehand. Still, it might well set the tone for the spring. At the very least, it gets some of the nerves out of the way.
"He's got electric stuff," Avila said. "I'm sure he was a little nervous the first outing out. He was a little wild, but really settled down for those last two guys. It was fun to catch. By far, he's probably one of the best arms I've ever seen. It was good for him to get that one out of the way."
Rondon threw 24 pitches, 14 for strikes, in his lone inning of work. All but a few of those pitches were fastballs, the majority of which he commanded in the strike zone. He commanded best when he had to, after Brett Lawrie worked a one-out walk and Adam Lind connected with a fastball and one-hopped it off the right-field fence for a double.
With runners on second and third, Rondon quickly removed any thought of a sacrifice fly by firing three fastballs past J.P. Arencibia, who swung and missed at two of them. As Josh Thole stepped to the plate with two outs, Avila might have gotten in his head.
"When Thole came up, he was like, 'Man, he looks like he's throwing hard,'" Avila said. "And I'm like, 'I have no idea where it's going right now, either.' As a hitter, you don't want to hear that."
Much like the last few Spring Trainings, the Tigers didn't have the stadium radar gun on for Rondon's outing. But Rondon said he wasn't leaving anything off. At some point, Avila expects to see more of his slider and changeup. That wasn't going to happen today.
"When you throw that hard, it's hard to mix those pitches in there, because you have such a good fastball," Avila said. "The thing is, he has an above-average changeup and above-average slider. He will have to use those in the big leagues. Professional hitters, when he's a little wild like he was the first couple hitters, they can hit 100. That's when his other pitches are going to be very valuable to him."
By then, the scrutiny on him might be a little higher.
"It's not a big story yet," Leyland said. "It's too early for it to be a big story, one way or the other."
Santiago sitting out with strained calf
LAKELAND, Fla. -- While the Tigers debuted their expected Opening Day lineup on Saturday, they didn't have their primary utility infielder. Ramon Santiago is out with a strained right calf, and manager Jim Leyland said he isn't sure how much time he'll miss.
The injury is the second of the spring for the Tigers, who have had outfielder Brennan Boesch out of action for a week with a strained oblique muscle. This was expected to be -- and still could be -- a big Spring Training for Santiago, who came to camp in game shape after a strong winter campaign in his native Dominican Republic. He also came to camp slimmer after an offseason workout routine aimed towards more agility than strength.
The goal was the kind of head start Santiago didn't enjoy last year, when he struggled to a .206 batting average with two home runs and 17 RBIs in 259 plate appearances. In past years, when Santiago has come off a solid winter league season, he has enjoyed a strong start to the Major League schedule.
Leyland said he had been planning on starting Santiago on Sunday against the Phillies to give Jhonny Peralta a break. If Leyland decides to rest Peralta anyway, Danny Worth is expected to get the start.
As for Boesch, he has been making progress towards a return, though it seems unlikely he would move immediately to game action after not seeing live pitching at all during that portion of camp.
"He's done some activity pain-free," Leyland said. "Hopefully he'll be ready soon."