LAKELAND, Fla. -- Tigers manager Brad Ausmus was afraid Major League Baseball was going to ban collisions at home plate with its new rule, turning it into just another base. He was also worried he'd have to adjust his first Spring Training camp to allot time to teach a new approach to his catchers. Neither of those trepidations were realized with Monday's announcement of a new experimental rule designed to eliminate unnecessary collisions at home.
"For catchers, it's pretty easy," Ausmus said Tuesday morning. "You've got to show the runner the plate, a portion of the plate, and you can't block the plate unless you have the ball in hand. It's pretty clear cut for the catcher."
Alex Avila wasn't too thrilled about the possibility of no contact at the plate, either. He sounded satisfied with the new rule in place on an experimental basis.
"I like this rule," Avila said, "because there still is importance at the plate, because it is a run. There still is the version of doing anything you can to score. The catcher can still do anything to prevent him. But it'll take out those unnecessary collisions to where there really isn't a need to try to jog the ball loose or anything like that."
If a runner strays from a direct path toward home plate to instead initiate contact with the defender covering home, the umpire can now call him out. If the runner strays from the direct path but then tries to slide into the plate, hitting the ground with his body before hitting the catcher, he's fine.
If the catcher doesn't have the ball, he can't block the plate. But if the catcher blocks the runner's path because it was the only way he could catch the throw home, then he's fine.
"I think it may cut down on some collisions, but there will still be collisions," Avila said. "I [like] the way they have it -- basically, the runner can't go from his path to the plate to hit the catcher, and the catcher can't block the plate without the ball. But the majority of the plays are going to be when the catcher catches the ball and he goes in to block the plate, then the runner will have the option to slide or he can still hit him. There's nothing really changing in that aspect."
The bigger part of the rule change arguably is educational, because clubs will now be required to teach runners to slide at home and catchers to allow the runner a path to the plate -- at every level of their organization. But Ausmus thinks many young catchers already know that.
"Really, I kind of did it," he said. "Most catchers do show the runner a portion of the plate. There's very few Mike Scioscias in the game nowadays. The money's gotten too big and the injury risk is too high."
Leyland makes first appearance at spring camp
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Jim Leyland pulled into the parking lot at Joker Marchant Stadium like he did on hundreds of mornings over the previous eight springs. The first difference came when he walked through the gate with a credential around his neck.
"The guy checked three times," Leyland said.
Instead of walking into the clubhouse, Leyland walked around it, back to the waiting area. He never entered the clubhouse, instead greeting players on the field. That's not his work area anymore, and he doesn't want even the perception that he's taking away from Brad Ausmus' new job.
"He's been fantastic. He's called me and texted me a few times. But I'm totally out of the way," Leyland said of the Tigers' new manager. "I want to make that point perfectly clear. I don't go in the clubhouse.
"I'm just here to assist [team president/general manager] Dave [Dombrowski] if something comes up that he wants me to do. I'll have some assignments, I'm sure, but people can rest easy. I'm not going to have anything to do with it. I'm not going to be hanging around the players or going into the clubhouse, anything like that."
By "it," Leyland means the Tigers' season. He'll play a behind-the-scenes role in the organization, evaluating players both in the organization and on assignment scouting other teams, but his managerial days are done. And he's fine with that.
"This is really not an adjustment period for me," Leyland said. "If I thought it was going to be an adjustment period, I wouldn't have retired. I'm doing what I want to do now. I'm very thankful. Hopefully, I can help a little bit. It's just a different way. But I'm really excited about it, still happy to be with the Tigers. I've got some action, and I'm not just sitting at home totally retired."
Ausmus has been trying to shake Leyland of that reluctance to get in the way. He'd like to use Leyland as a resource, both for himself and the players, and he has tried to get others to lobby Leyland about it to get him more involved.
The two talked for about 10 minutes Tuesday on the field before batting practice. Ausmus said he touched base with Leyland on a couple of matters they had discussed earlier.
"I've told Jim, I've told Dave to tell Jim, I've told [bench coach] Gene Lamont to tell Jim that he should think twice about [staying out of the way]," Ausmus said. "As comfortable as I am with him being wherever he'd like to be -- whether he's on the field or not -- he has to comfortable with it. I'd love to have him around, love to have him leaning against the batting cage. But that's Jim's call as to how much he wants to get involved."
By all appearances, the Tigers were happy to see Leyland back. And Leyland showed he hasn't exactly fallen out of touch with his old players.
As soon he saw Andy Dirks in warmups, he gave his old left fielder grief about finally cutting his hair. As soon as he saw Austin Jackson, he yelled, "I saw your dunk on the computer."
As Leyland walked by the reporters who used to track his daily moves, he warned them that he's been keeping up with their clips. He used to keep track of what people were saying about him. Now he's tracking what is said about Ausmus.
"Brad's got a great feel for it. I can see that already," Leyland said. "I've been reading the clips, and he's come off very well. I think he's presented himself very well.
"He actually has a real advantage over me when I managed my first year because I was a Double-A player. I mean, Brad is an 18-year [Major League] veteran. I think he caught more games than anyone but six other guys or something like that. He's got something going for him. But you can tell he's got great people skills. He's very bright, obviously. I think he's going to do great, I really do. He's got a great bunch of guys to work with. So I'm looking forward to watching the Tigers play."
For the most part, Leyland will be watching from afar. When he's on assignment, it'll be to watch teams other than this one. But he's eager to track.
"It's different, but it's a good different," he said. "No second thoughts or anything like that. I'm excited about it."
Tigers to have green light on basepaths early on
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Brad Ausmus has spent the early days of camp trying to instill an aggressive mentality on the basepaths for a Tigers team that didn't run much last season. Now that Spring Training games have started, he's ready to push for it.
When Grapefruit League games begin Wednesday, Tigers baserunners will have the green light to try to steal a base. All of them will have it.
"We're trying to instill some ideas, to make risk-based stealing," Ausmus said. "We're not just running to steal bases. What we're trying to do is find spots where we can steal bases successfully.
"All position players have the green light to start, so we have the ability to run right now. Clearly, that doesn't mean it's a carousel out there. It just means thinking about situations. And I'm sure as we go along, we'll take the green light away from some, and some will keep it, based on what they do. If you have the green light and you're on first base from pitch one, you're much more in tune with what's going on. You're timing the pitcher and watching the catcher, as opposed to just standing there without the green light."
The Tigers didn't try any stolen bases Tuesday against Florida Southern, understandably, but they were aggressive in seeking extra bases and running hard to first.
"The thing that stands out by far was the baserunning," Ausmus said after the 12-0 win. "It was an outstanding effort. Guys were really aggressive. Devon Travis was really aggressive on a ball in the dirt, got to second. We had guys busting hard. They were coming out of the box hard even on non-hits, which is one of the things we've been preaching. So that was good to see."
• Avila was a full participant in workouts Tuesday morning, but he will not make the trip for Wednesday's Grapefruit League opener against the Braves, airing at 1:05 p.m. ET on Gameday Audio. The Tigers will give the catcher one more day to rest his back before putting him in the lineup for Thursday's home opener, also against the Braves. Bryan Holaday will make Wednesday's start.
• While most Tigers regulars had only one at-bat Tuesday, Nick Castellanos played several innings beyond that, as Ausmus looked to get his rookie third baseman some repetitions on defense. He made three plays in the first four batters, each of them different -- a ground ball fielded to his left, a popout in the sun behind third base and a strong throw on a ground ball down the line.