Torii says players will embrace Ausmus
Veteran outfielder thinks Tigers' new skipper will win over clubhouse
DETROIT -- Torii Hunter signed with the Tigers a year ago in part to play for Jim Leyland, a veteran manager he had watched from the other dugout. He will now play for Brad Ausmus, a veteran catcher he faced in the batter's box.
This is not the route to a World Series that Hunter signed up for. Still, it's something he's ready to embrace.
"I've played against Brad for many years," Hunter wrote in a text message, "and I always thought he was a smart catcher who was able to get the best out of his pitchers. I think he will do just fine as a MLB manager."
Ausmus' success as manager might well hinge on getting the rest of the Tigers' clubhouse to see his hiring the same way. His ability to communicate and connect with today's players was a key strength of his candidacy, outweighing his lack of experience as a manager.
Eight years after Leyland admitted to not knowing a lot about his new team during his introductory news conference, Ausmus follows him knowing several of his new players as opponents on the field. His job not that long ago was to find the pitch sequence to get Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder out, a fact Ausmus pointed out on Sunday. Now he's going to have to earn their respect in a management role.
Once he got the job, he didn't waste time starting the connection.
"I actually have spoken with a couple of them just today," Ausmus said Sunday. "I wouldn't say I know anyone well. There's a handful that I played against -- Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Justin Verlander. The one player I know probably the best of the group is Prince.
"I played against Prince when he was in Milwaukee and I was in Houston. Both being in the Central division, there was a lot of interaction. Because I reached first base a lot, I would talk to him over there. And also, when I was here in 1996, Prince was a 12-year-old hitting balls in the upper deck."
Hunter was an American League Central opponent during Ausmus' second stint as Tigers catcher in 1999 and 2000.
"I think he should have no problem winning over that clubhouse," Hunter said, "because he has played in the Major Leagues and had some success at it. So I think it will be an easy transition."
As important as winning over the star players is going to be for Ausmus, he knows that the most important connection might be with his catcher. He doesn't know Alex Avila personally, but he knows how big of a role Avila plays with the pitching staff that forms the strength of this team.
Nobody knows what Avila goes through better than Ausmus, known for his skill handling a pitching staff during his playing career. In Avila, he has a similar style of catcher.
"I will lean on the catcher a little bit," Ausmus said. "I think the catcher plays an important role. As a manager, I do not want to have to worry about every little thing the catcher does.
"I think we're fortunate that the catcher we have here takes the defensive side of the game very seriously, calling a game, working with the pitchers, and he excels at it. I will lean on him. I will ask him what he thinks during the course of the game, how's Justin throwing. His input will be very important."
Avila is looking forward to the challenge.
"I'm excited," Avila wrote in a text message Monday evening. "He is obviously very knowledgeable about the game and I can't wait to see what he brings to our team to help us improve and win."