Pudge enjoying spring power surge
Tigers catcher leads the Majors in Spring Training homers
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Ivan Rodriguez isn't looking for a Grapefruit League home run derby. It's nonetheless becoming a show.
Less than midway through Spring Training, the Tigers catcher is more than halfway to his home run total from all of last regular season. After Wednesday's two-homer game against the Astros, Rodriguez leads the Majors in home runs, with teammate Carlos Guillen in second. At least for this moment in the Florida sun, Pudge is making his age of 36 look like another number.
In other years, this might be exactly what he wanted, a power surge heading into the season. Now, however, the home runs don't mean a whole lot to him.
"No, I don't think I've had a Spring Training like that as far as home runs," Rodriguez said after Wednesday's power display. "But I don't look for that. It's good, yes. I have six home runs in Spring Training. The main thing about it is I'm just doing what I want to do and just being more selective at the plate, trying to hit some strikes and take the balls.
"I'm just trying to see four to five pitches per at-bat. That's what I'm trying to do. And so far, that's what I'm doing. I'm feeling pretty good about that."
To be fair, he pounced early in the count for both of his home runs on a windy Wednesday afternoon. He swung at the first pitch he saw from Houston starter Woody Williams and sent it onto the left-field berm for a two-run homer in the second inning. An inning later, he drilled an 0-1 pitch closer to center field for a solo shot. He barely missed a third homer when he flew out to the right-field warning track off Brian Moehler in the fifth.
But the idea of patience has still resonated with him. Rodriguez has two walks already this spring after drawing just nine all of last season, and he has worked deep into the count on several other occasions. He has batted leadoff in games against left-handed starters to get him his three at-bats without having to catch too long, but he has acted a little like a leadoff man in his approach.
The desire for change was a goal he set.
"Everybody knows that I'm not going to be in the middle of the lineup," Rodriguez said. "I'm going to be in the bottom of the lineup, so it's going to help me a lot to be more selective at the plate and get a good pitch to hit. I'm still aggressive, but in the same way that I'm aggressive, I just want to wait for a good pitch to hit."
Tigers manager Jim Leyland's stance on Rodriguez has been the same all spring.
"When Pudge stays in the strike zone, he hits over .300," Leyland said. "When he doesn't, he doesn't."
That said, Leyland has seen more strength at the plate from Rodriguez this year, something Rodriguez cites to his offseason training.
"Mentally, physically, everything, I'm feeling good," Rodriguez said. "I worked very hard in the offseason, physically and mentally. My concentration is there. I'm feeling good at the plate, catching, calling games."
Now his challenge is to take that into the regular season, where the wear and tear of catching day after day can take its toll.
"It's just Spring Training," Rodriguez said. "We're here to work on some things, and hopefully I can stay healthy and keep doing what I'm doing. You see my strength right now. The concentration is there, and that's what I want to do, to concentrate all year round."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.