LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- When Brad Ausmus became their manager 51/2 weeks ago, the Tigers remained the slowest team in the American League.
They essentially had the same roster that had stolen all of 35 bases this year, the lowest total in the AL.
But it wasn't just a lack of stolen bases. The Tigers too seldom went from first to third on singles, too often didn't score from first on a double, and in general seemed stationary, waiting for a homer to bring everybody home.
The lack of speed cost the Tigers, especially in their inability to manufacture a run in late innings when they were tied or behind by a run. Not only did they seldom scratch out a comeback in the late innings, but they went 6-13 in extra innings. Three of those extra-inning wins required 14 innings and thus were more a credit to the Tigers' overmaligned bullpen than to their offense.
So when Ausmus interviewed for the managerial job with Dave Dombrowski, did he talk about how he'd like the Tigers to add some speed?
"During the interview process, not a ton," Ausmus said. "Certainly Dave and his staff asked me about certain aspects of the game, offensively and defensively. But I wouldn't say we went overly in depth on speed per se.
"One thing that did come up in the interview is that I did mention how I think teams underutilize baserunning -- not base stealing, baserunning -- to their advantage. I think that's an area people take for granted. There are some nuances to being not just a good baserunner, but a good baserunning team."
Once Ausmus became the manager, it became clear the Tigers needed someone to play leftfield at least part-time. He was asked if he told Dombrowski, "It would be great to get someone to play left who can run."
"Not necessarily," Ausmus said this week at the winter meetings. "You could get an RBI guy. We discussed all possibilities."
The Tigers have made three position-player moves this off-season, and all have made them noticeably faster. In return for Prince Fielder, the Tigers received Ian Kinsler, who twice has stolen 30 bases in a season. In the Doug Fister trade, they obtained their new utility infielder, Steve Lombardozzi, who in his final three minor league seasons averaged 23 steals.
Then, to fill that leftfield vacancy, the Tigers signed free agent Rajai Davis. This season with Toronto, Davis stole 45 bases -- nine more than the entire Detroit team.
So these moves don't fit some sort of strict speed ideology that Ausmus has about baseball?
"No," said Ausmus. Nonetheless, his first Tigers team will be the fastest Tigers team in years.
When Dombrowski announced the Davis signing, he used a word about the revamped Tigers that seldom has been applied in recent years to Detroit's baseball team: athleticism.
In baseball, athleticism means "ways to win games other than with power hitting or terrific pitching."
Athleticism is what scratches out runs against tough starters and resolute bullpens. Athleticism also prevents runs.
"We have an extremely athletic outfield," Dombrowski said. "You have Austin Jackson and Rajai. Torii (Hunter) doesn't run quite the same way he did but is still very athletic. We've changed the middle of our diamond with Kinsler and (Jose) Iglesias. We've changed the look of our team."
Dombrowski, the club president and GM, said he didn't decide to add speed because this year's playoffs showed the Tigers overreliant on power.
"You always want to add as much speed as you can," he said. He said speed is always an ideal component of a club but one that's not always available or a good fit on the roster. This off-season, the speed was available, and the Tigers had vacancies for it.
"We are more multidimensional at this point," Dombrowski said. "It's been a goal."
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