Tigers ready to follow new manager Ausmus' lead

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Fans who came to Disney's Wide World of Sports complex early hoping to see the Tigers take batting practice might have been surprised to see the team arrive around 11:30 a.m. ET and head for the dugout. On short trips, however, it's going to be a habit.

One of the minor changes new manager Brad Ausmus has brought over is to take batting practice at home before road games with short trips. Wednesday's Grapefruit League opener against the Braves at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex, a 6-5 rain-shortened win for the Tigers, was their first chance to give it a try.

By hitting at home, Ausmus hopes to sneak in a fundamental drill with the full squad beforehand.

"A lot of teams do that [in Arizona], because everything's so close," Ausmus said, "so we're just going to give it a shot. I think it only applies to five games, but if we use three of those five games for fundamentals, it gives you three extra days of fundamentals."

The fashionably late arrival strategy will come up only a handful of times this spring. The Tigers have two more trips to Disney, including this Sunday, and two even shorter trips to Tampa to face the Yankees at Legends Field.

Change for the better? Smyly tinkers with pitch

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- For the first time since June 23, Drew Smyly threw two innings in a game Wednesday. That's how specialized of a late-inning reliever Smyly had become last season before moving back into the rotation this winter with the Doug Fister trade.

That's just part of the transition for him, though. For the first time ever, he came to Spring Training with a job sewn up instead of having to win one. And while he insists he isn't taking anything for granted, he also isn't ignoring the leeway it gives him to tinker with secondary pitches for the regular season instead of worrying about results each time out.

None of those pitches is more of a project for him than the changeup, a pitch he threw occasionally as a starter two years ago but shelved in the bullpen last season. After an opening inning to get used to game action again, he brought out the changeup time and again to the Braves on Wednesday, when the Tigers pulled out a 6-5 rain-shortened win.

"The first inning I was just trying to get back into the groove, the rhythm and compete against a good lineup," Smyly said. "And then my second inning, I threw seven or eight of them. I threw a lot of changeups the second inning, probably more than what I would in certain situations. I threw some pretty good changeups that they fouled off, and I threw a couple bad ones. But that's part of it and I have a month to keep getting better."

Smyly gave up two hits and a walk in the second inning, all with two outs, to plate a run after retiring the first five batters he faced.

Smyly threw his changeup on less than five percent of his pitches in 2012, according to STATS, in part because the ones he threw tended to get hit. He didn't need it in relief, especially after he shifted to short work.

"The more spring goes, I hope to get a little better feel for it," Smyly said. "Even pitchers with a really good changeup, I think they might say that early in spring. It's a feel pitch, so you just have to keep throwing it in game situations and eventually it'll just be there, and hopefully you can rely on it."

Tigers to see if Lombardozzi can handle shortstop

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Steve Lombardozzi has played just 20 games at shortstop in his professional career, Major and Minor Leagues. He might not match that total there this Spring Training, but he could come close, beginning with Wednesday's start in the Tigers' Grapefruit League opener against the Braves, a 6-5 rain-shortened victory.

Simply put, the Tigers have to figure out if he can handle starting there for a few days if Jose Iglesias has a day-to-day type of injury in the regular season.

"If Iglesias is in that in-between injury phase where he doesn't need to go on the DL but maybe he'll be down for five, six days, we need to have someone who can play shortstop for five or six days without having to recall a player from the Minor Leagues," said manager Brad Ausmus. "So we need to find out if Lombardozzi can be that guy."

For years, the Tigers had a traditional utility infielder on their roster who could handle that in Ramon Santiago, but they opted not to re-sign him. Hernan Perez and Danny Worth seemed to be in line to compete for a similar role, but Lombardozzi's arrival in the Doug Fister trade and Don Kelly's return left Detroit leaning towards keeping two superutility players on its bench.

Kelly came up through the Tigers' system as a shortstop, but he isn't an option. Tigers officials have confidence Lombardozzi can handle it, but they want to see him do it.

Iglesias is scheduled to start at shortstop for Thursday's Spring Training home opener, also against the Braves (1:05 p.m. ET, live on Gameday Audio). He's also slated to bat leadoff with Ian Kinsler off. Austin Jackson, Detroit's leadoff man for the past four years, is slated to bat sixth.

Quick hits

Justin Verlander's second session of live batting practice is scheduled for Friday, Ausmus said, which means he won't be pitching in a game this weekend. Left-hander Kyle Lobstein is scheduled to start Saturday against the Astros in Lakeland, Fla. Anibal Sanchez will make his first start of the spring against the Braves on Sunday.

• Right-hander Eduardo Sanchez exited Wednesday's game in the seventh inning with elbow pain after throwing just four pitches. The non-roster invitee, who signed with the Tigers as a Minor League free agent, will undergo an MRI exam on Thursday in Lakeland, the team announced.

Alex Avila is scheduled to start at catcher for Thursday's home opener against the Braves after being held out of Wednesday's Grapefruit League opener against Atlanta and Tuesday's exhibition against Florida Southern. Avila suffered back spasms last weekend and had been limited in his work after that as a precaution.