Notes: Shelton upset by demotion
First baseman will begin the season with Toledo
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Chris Shelton's Spring Training appears to have rekindled his outlook as the Tigers' first baseman of the future. But nothing probably could've changed his fate as the Mud Hens' first baseman of the present.
Of the 11 players sent out of Tigers camp on Monday morning, Shelton was one of those who took it hard. As well as he had hit, he seemed to show that last summer's swoon was behind him. Still, he had virtually no chance to change the Tigers' situation at first base.
"I hit close to .400 this spring," Shelton said. "What more could I possibly do? All I could say is I made this [decision] as tough as I possibly could on them."
The decision was pretty much dictated by the roster makeup. With Marcus Thames as the reserve outfielder, Omar Infante has to back up in center field. Thus, manager Jim Leyland wanted another utility infielder on the bench.
"He was a very tough one," Leyland said of Shelton. "I don't think it makes sense to take him at the start of the season. And at the same time, without getting defensive, I feel very comfortable with what we did.
"And if the truth be known, obviously Shelton wasn't going to continue at the pace he started with the first month [last year]. But if he would've played the way we felt his capability was, we probably wouldn't have Sean Casey, to be honest with you."
The Tigers traded for Casey last July when they decided they could best use a left-handed hitter at first base in place of the struggling Shelton. The way Shelton hit this spring, Leyland said, he could've been their starting first baseman if Casey wasn't here.
He might still be the starting first baseman down the road. If Casey were to land on the disabled list, Leyland said he'd call up Shelton rather than start Thames for a long stretch. Beyond that, with Casey on a one-year contract, the Tigers have a decision to make next offseason.
"We're not discarding Chris Shelton," Leyland cautioned. "I like him. He's had a good spring. It looks like he's getting back on track. I definitely think we'll probably need Chris Shelton at some point. I can't swear to that, but I would probably think we will. And it just makes sense for him to be down there playing every day, getting his at-bats, so if Casey's out for two weeks or something, we can plug a guy in who's been playing every day and who's a first baseman."
That was pretty much the decision Shelton anticipated.
"I don't want to say they had their team set," Shelton said, "but they have so many guys back from last year. I don't want to say I didn't have a chance, because they gave me a chance."
Asked whether he thinks he's still the Tigers' first baseman of the future, Shelton said, "That's not up to me to decide. It's up to those guys to decide. All I can do is play."
The Tigers' answer is that he could be. Both Leyland and Tigers president/CEO/general manager Dave Dombrowski called him the first baseman of the future, but cautioned that he had to build off this spring to stay that way.
"We still think he's probably going to be the first baseman of the future," Leyland said, "but that's up to him."
So much for situational lefties: Chad Durbin has been through the final days of Spring Training camps enough to know better than to assume he has a spot. Even on Monday morning, though he was pretty sure he was on the club, he waited around in the clubhouse for a while in case Leyland called him into his office.
"It's good for you," he said, "but you have to watch other guys pack their bags. I've done that more often than I've done this."
What was expected to be a situational lefty role going into Spring Training ended up going to a middle relief righty. Durbin beat out fellow right-hander Zach Miner and Bobby Seay, the one left-hander who was seemingly still in the mix, for the last spot in the bullpen.
The Tigers expect Durbin to work in a longer relief role rather than any sort of short work. And they expect him to work quickly.
"He knows how to pitch," Leyland said, "and he's not scared. And he throws the ball over the plate."
In that respect, Leyland hinted that the four scoreless innings he threw against the Astros' starting lineup last Saturday at Kissimmee made an impression.
"I can't afford to walk people," Durbin said, "and I can't afford to give four-seamers over the middle of the plate."
Prospective fill-ins: Though Miner lost out on a roster spot, he moved to the top of the pecking order in Leyland's hunt for sixth, seventh and eighth starters. If someone in Detroit's rotation went on the disabled list and the Tigers needed help, Leyland said, he'd rather call on Miner than bring somebody out of the bullpen and have to stretch them out.
Likewise, though Ramon Santiago lost out for the final utility infield spot, Leyland said he'd call on Santiago if he needed someone to fill in at shortstop for a few weeks.
All in all, Leyland said he doesn't feel comfortable about his insurance options, but no less comfortable than most Major League managers. The one spot that really worries him is center field.
"If [Curtis Granderson's] hand wouldn't have been right yesterday," Leyland said, "I would've been miserable today."
He would also be left to call up Brent Clevlen from Triple-A Toledo for defense. He hopes to have Clevlen playing some center while he's down there.
As for Craig Monroe, who has started in center before, Leyland said, "Craig Monroe is the Tigers left fielder. I want him to have that identity."
Raburn has a future: Though Ryan Raburn was optioned out of camp in the morning, Leyland had him and Timo Perez stay around for the game before reporting to Minor League camp on Wednesday. Raburn, in turn, ended his big-league camp in style with a game-winning single. He finished with a .400 average and seven RBIs for the spring.
"He went out with a bang," Leyland said. "He's had a heck of a spring. I like him. Probably gonna wonder why I sent him out."
Leyland sent him out with instructions. He wants Raburn playing occasionally at second and third base, his old positions, along with the outfield to prepare him for a utility role.
Other than actually making the team, Raburn couldn't have asked for much more.
"I had a great spring," Raburn said. "The coaching staff seems to be happy with what I've done and I'm happy with myself for what I've done. I've done a lot and I think I've opened some eyes and proved to some people that I can play. I'll get my chance sooner or later. I just have to keep going out there and keep grinding it."
Pass on the beans: One factor both Leyland and Dombrowski cited in judging Neifi Perez this spring is that he seems to have regained a step of speed. That wasn't just by chance.
In addition to Perez's winter ball routine, he said he did a lot more running this offseason with trainers. He also said he changed his dieting habits, eating less beans and rice in place of more fruits and protein. The combination helped him lose 12 pounds by Spring Training.
"Every time that you go to your mom's home and you miss that home cooking, you just eat," Perez said. "But this year, I said I have to control myself and lose weight. I ran a lot. But I knew I had to come in better shape, and I did."
Injury updates: Leyland gave Granderson the day off after the center fielder turned his hand on a diving catch Sunday afternoon. Likewise, he rested Carlos Guillen for another day to give his bruised right shin more time to heal. Though Guillen said he could've played Monday, Leyland said he could give him one more day before putting him back in the lineup.
Coming up: The Tigers make their next-to-last road trip of Spring Training for their final night game of camp. They'll visit Disney's Wide World of Sports complex for a 7:05 p.m. ET game against the Braves. Jeremy Bonderman will make his final tuneup of the spring opposite John Smoltz, who will face the Tigers for the second time this month.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.