LAKELAND, Fla. -- Joba Chamberlain already had a chance to say hello to several Yankee teammates when they sent a squad to face the Tigers at Joker Marchant Stadium last week. Now, Chamberlain will return to his old Spring Training home and take the mound where his career became a saga at times.
What kind of reception he receives at Steinbrenner Field will be interesting to read. When New York writers asked him last week about the reception from Yankees fans, Chamberlain showed no bitterness toward fans that cheered him as a rookie sensation in 2007 and booed him at times last season.
"I couldn't thank the fans enough," Chamberlain told reporters last week. "They're a huge part of me being there and the success that I've had. I can only hope for the best. I gave them everything I [had] every time. Sometimes it was short, sometimes I was terrible. I'll be the first one to admit it. But I had a great run, and I was very thankful for all the fans that were there."
Chamberlain won't be the only one with a Yankees reunion on tap. Brad Ausmus never made it to the big leagues in New York, but he was a Yankees Draft pick who spent five years in the system -- all the way up to Triple-A Columbus -- before going to the Rockies in the 1992 expansion Draft.
Ausmus' deal with the Yankees allowed him to attend school at Dartmouth during the fall and winter quarters before going to Spring Training.
"I actually enjoyed it," Ausmus said. "It broke [up the calendar] for me. I had my friends at school. I'd go to school for those quarters, and then go to Spring Training and then the season, and I had my baseball friends. There wasn't really a lot of overlap, so I was happy.
"I'm not a person who likes to sit around a lot. I enjoyed having something to do. Usually after the season, I'd have a couple weeks, and then I was getting bored and it was time. It meshed well together for me."
Verlander gets work in as he seeks 2012 form
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Justin Verlander knew on his way in to Joker Marchant Stadium on Thursday morning that he probably wasn't going to be taking the mound at 1:05 p.m. ET. He was probably going to have to simulate game conditions while throwing in a cage.
Once the Tigers-Phillies tilt was rained out, Verlander did the best he could. He sat at his locker with music blaring through his earphones while the rain poured outside. He went through his usual pregame routine, except for long toss, which he didn't have room to do. He found hitters to stand in the box while he threw his 45 pitches. He sat down in between to simulate his break between innings.
"I did the national anthem and everything," Verlander said.
He couldn't duplicate the conditions completely, but he tried to make the best of it. By physically getting out of a game setting, he treated it as a chance to work on his mechanics once more, trying to regain what he says is his 2012 form, not his 2013 postseason form. He's not where he wants to be yet, he believes, but he's on his way.
"The adjustments I'm making come all the way back to last year," Verlander said. "I threw like this for a year, so it's not so easy. My body wants to fall back into that naturally, because it's a whole year's worth of muscle memory that I'm fighting right now."
That, he suggested, might have been related to the core muscle injury that required surgery to repair two months ago.
"What we're thinking is, the adjustments I'm making, the way I was throwing last year, might have had something to do with an injury being there without me knowing," Verlander said, "and that might have been why I had to change my mechanics a little bit. …
"We think it was a very slow kind of injury, and that's why there was never a pop or anything. I was losing strength through my core, and that was what I think -- what we think -- was my body trying to adjust to that and being able to pitch through it."
One difference Verlander said he noted was a tilt in his shoulders. Instead of having everything parallel, he was firing from a lower angle. He's now trying to bring that back to a level. It was a recent discovery on his part.
Pitching in the cage, he said, allowed him to focus on that again. Pitching in a game will let him see how hitters react to his pitches, but more importantly, give him video of his delivery to watch and compare.
"I know what I'm trying to get to," Verlander said, "and so I'll be able to stop the video and say that's right or that's not right."
Crosby upbeat about returning to action
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Left-hander Casey Crosby's bid for a spot in Detroit's bullpen might not be over yet. The converted starting prospect, sidelined for the past couple weeks with tendinitis in his triceps, is scheduled for a live batting-practice session Friday at Tigertown.
If all goes well, the session will put Crosby at the same point he stood in his throwing program when he was sidelined late last month. He had been dealing with some soreness going into his first live BP session before the team's medical staff shut him down.
Crosby sounded upbeat when talking about his return. He came into camp as a candidate for a bullpen spot after his injury-shortened 2013 season prompted team officials to move him out from a starting role. By shortening his outings, the Tigers hoped to not only improve his consistency, but his health.
When Crosby is cleared for game action, he'll join a lefty relief mix that includes veteran Phil Coke, new arrival Ian Krol, swingmen Jose Alvarez, Duane Below and Kyle Lobstein, and now-darkhorse candidate Blaine Hardy.
Dirks to do 'nothing' for three weeks
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Andy Dirks has no idea when his back started giving him problems, only that it had been bothering him for quite some time, back to his school days. However, he can pinpoint the play on which it flared up to the point that he had to get it checked.
It was a fly ball Dirks tried to run down last Sunday against the Braves at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex.
"I had a little bit of pain with it off and on [before that], but nothing extreme," Dirks said. "And then, I was running for a fly ball, and it kind of locked up. That was the first clue to me. It just kind of tightened up, and I could feel some pain going down my left leg. But then it kind of goes away. Like when I get loose, it wasn't too bad. But in the morning, waking up was the worst."
It clearly wasn't fine, but Dirks wasn't expecting it to require surgery to repair a disk in his back. Now, instead of spending the next few weeks trying to stake his claim to playing time in left field, he's going to be sitting around his Spring Training apartment, unable to do any workouts while his back heals.
"You prepare as well as you can, and when an injury happens you feel like all that was for nothing, because now I'm not going to be able to do anything for three weeks," Dirks said. "I'm just going to sit in the apartment. But you can't let it get you down at all. I know when I come back that I'll be stronger than I was before. …
"When you first think of back surgery, it seems like something that's just crazy, like you might not ever play again. And really, when you look at the facts, it's not as bad as maybe I played it out at first."
Doctors have expressed confidence to him that the surgery will be successful, and that his recovery should last about 12 weeks.
"It's like three weeks of nothing, let your body heal," Dirks said. "Then it'll be three weeks of physical therapy, then three to five weeks of some sort of baseball activities starting out."
• The Tigers will host a free select-a-seat and open house event on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. ET at Comerica Park. Fans interested in buying a new season-ticket package can enter through the Tiger Den Lounge entrance off of Montcalm Avenue. Complementary parking is available in the Tigers parking garage off the I-75 service drive.
• Torii Hunter and Alex Avila spent much of a rainy Thursday morning trash talking as they awaited their matchup in the team's informal basketball shooting tournament. Hunter's team, which he drafted from players not on other squads, will match up against Avila's group of catchers in the finals on Saturday.