Francisco Liriano helping Tigers win now, and maybe later

Francisco Liriano helping Tigers win now, and maybe later


Free Press sports writers Anthony Fenech and George Sipple give their thoughts on the first few games of the Detroti Tigers’ 2018 season from Comerica Park.

Let’s start with a short-term view.

Francisco Liriano was on the mound for the Detroit Tigers on Sunday, creating all kinds of drama and excitement with his five innings of no-hit ball at Comerica Park.

All right, so he was doing this against the offense-challenged Kansas City Royals — a team that came into this game ranked 12th out of 15 AL teams in hits and 29th in the majors in runs.

Lirano was not perfect. He was effectively wild, walking four batters, and his pitch count was rising. But at the very least, it offered some great theater.

Now, let’s look at this from a long-term view: If Liriano continues to pitch like this, the Tigers should be able to flip him at the trade deadline for something special. After four straight impressive outings, his value is increasing.

“He’s healthy and doing fine,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said after his bullpen blew it and Kansas City left town with an 8-5 victory. “He’s a perfect fit in this rotation, when he’s throwing like that. He gave us a great opportunity.”

More: Detroit Tigers, with limited bench, to be disadvantaged at Pittsburgh

More: What could a future Detroit Tigers roster look like as contenders?

So far this season, I have found myself watching the Tigers with two questions in mind.

The first question is this: How are the young guys doing? Because they are the future. If nothing else, this team has produced an entertaining, gritty brand of baseball. The Tigers finished their rain-shortened home stand by winning five of eight games.

But that brings us to the second question: How are the old guys doing? Because they are the next wave of trades. In some ways, the future of this organization depends on what the Tigers can wring out of these last tradeable veterans.

Which brings us back to Liriano.

The better he pitches, the more in demand he will be, like a stock that is trending upward.

Now, this is nothing new for Lirano. He has been dealt at the trade deadline for the last two years.

Lirano was traded last summer from the Toronto Blue Jays to the Houston Astros for veteran outfielder Norichika Aoki and Teoscar Hernandez. At the time, Hernandez was the Astros No. 9 prospect and he became the Blue Jays’ No. 5 prospect.

At that time, Lirano was 6-11 with a 5.46 ERA and had an MLB-high 69 walks.

Right now, he has a 3.13 ERA.

If he continues at this pace, what would he be worth?

Clearly, at the very least, the Tigers should be able to get a top prospect for him.

Last year, Lirano was not healthy over the first two months of the season. He had shoulder and neck issues. But this season, he is healthy, which means he is even more valuable.

“Last year, I had a tough time with my neck and shoulder,” Liriano said. “I tried to pitch through it, but I wasn’t healthy.”

The trading deadline is still a long time away.

And in the meantime, Liriano is providing the Tigers with everything they could hope.

He is giving them a chance to win.

More: Detroit Tigers, Michael Fulmer give Make-A-Wish recipient day to remember

Reason for optimism

To this point, this Tigers rebuild has been fascinating.

They are accruing young talent, while playing an interesting type of baseball.

Give Gardenhire credit, for starters.

This team has a great attitude, a great fight. And if there is reason for optimism for this franchise, it is how several of the Tigers’ past trades appear to be paying off now.

The first wave of trades hit on July 30, 2015 when the Tigers traded David Price to the Blue Jays for three left-handed pitching prospects: Daniel Norris, Matt Boyd and Jairo Labourt.

Boyd has been fantastic. He’s got a 1.40 ERA, even though he doesn’t have a win. And when the Tigers start their road trip on Tuesday, Norris will be heading back to the bullpen.

The same day they traded Price, the Tigers traded closer Joakim Soria to the Pirates for minor league infielder JaCoby Jones, who is now in the outfield. He is hitting .293 and produced all kinds of thrills during this home stand. Seeing him get doused with Gatorade never gets old.

The Tigers traded Yoenis Cespedes to the New York Mets on July 31, 2015, and received Luis Cessa and Michael Fulmer.

Fulmer, of course, won the 2016 Rookie of the Year award.

The jury is still out on most of last year’s midseason trades.

But trading Alex Avilia and Justin Wilson to the Chicago Cubs for Isaac Paredes and Jeimer Candelario looks like a fantastic move for the Tigers right now. Candelario is hitting .277 and looks like the real deal.

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The next wave of trades will probably be the last, which makes them vitally important.
I expect almost everybody to be on the block, including Fulmer, Shane Greene and Jose Iglesias (if he starts to hit and they can find a trading partner).

Fulmer should not be untouchable, if the right offer came along.

Victor Martinez could be an interesting deadline decision. At the trade deadline, half of his $18 million contract would be covered and he could go to an AL team that needs a designated hitter.

In the long term, the most important thing for this organization is for its older players to be peaking at the trade deadline.

Right now, Lirano is right on track.

He’s giving the Tigers the best of both worlds: He’s giving them a chance to win now and a commodity to trade later.

Contact Jeff Seidel: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to



Moustakas, Almonte slug Royals past Tigers 8-5

Moustakas, Almonte slug Royals past Tigers 8-5

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Detroit Tigers’ pitcher Alex Wilson reacts after Kansas City Royals’ Abraham Almonte hit a grand slam during the sixth inning of a baseball game Sunday, April 22, 2018, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

DETROIT (AP) — Mike Moustakas hit a tiebreaking, three-run homer in the seventh inning, and the Kansas City Royals outlasted the Detroit Tigers 8-5 on Sunday to earn a split of their four-game series.

Abraham Almonte hit a grand slam in the sixth to give the Royals a 5-2 lead, but Detroit tied it with three runs in the bottom of the inning. Kansas City took the lead again when Drew VerHagen (0-1) walked two batters in the seventh and Moustakas hit a drive to right off Buck Farmer.

The Royals won for only the second time in 12 games, and Moustakas extended his hitting streak to 14.

Kevin McCarthy (1-0) became the first Kansas City reliever credited with a win this season, although that came after he let the lead slip away in the sixth. Brian Flynn pitched two scoreless innings of relief for the Royals, and Kelvin Herrera worked a perfect ninth for his fourth save.

Detroit starter Francisco Liriano took a no-hitter into the sixth before Whit Merrifield led off with a homer to left. With two on and one out, Alex Wilson came on in relief and walked his first batter to load the bases. Almonte followed with a drive to right for his second career grand slam.

Royals starter Eric Skoglund walked the first two hitters of the bottom of the sixth, then was relieved by McCarthy. Nicholas Castellanos greeted him with an RBI single, and an error by left fielder Paulo Orlando left men at second and third. One out later, JaCoby Jones hit an RBI single, and James McCann added a sacrifice fly to make it 5-all.

The Tigers took a 2-0 lead in the first on an RBI groundout by Miguel Cabrera and a run-scoring single by Castellanos.

Castellanos had three hits.


Royals: C Salvador Perez (left knee sprain) caught seven innings and went 3 for 4 with a homer Saturday night on a rehab assignment with Triple-A Omaha. … OF Alex Gordon (left hip tear) went 1 for 2 with two walks. ”They’re close,” Kansas City manager Ned Yost said.


Both teams are off Monday. The Royals begin a two-game home series against Milwaukee on Tuesday night. Kansas City sends RHP Ian Kennedy (1-2) to the mound against RHP Zach Davies (1-2).

The Tigers begin a three-game series at Pittsburgh on Tuesday night, with Detroit RHP Jordan Zimmermann (1-0) facing RHP Chad Kuhl (2-1).

More AP baseball:

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Detroit Tigers' Francisco Liriano loses no-hitter vs. Royals in sixth

Detroit Tigers' Francisco Liriano loses no-hitter vs. Royals in sixth

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Detroit Tigers left-handed pitcher Francisco Liriano made a bid for his second career no-hitter on Sunday. 

Whit Merrifield broke up the no-hit bid with a solo home run to left in the sixth inning. 

More: Detroit Tigers vs. Kansas City Royals today: Scoring updates

Liriano gave up walks to Jorge Soler in the second inning, Drew Butera in the third and Abraham Almonte in the fifth. 

Liriano threw a no-hitter for the Minnesota Twins on May 3, 2011 against the White Sox in Chicago. He became the fifth pitcher born in the Dominican Republic to throw a no-hitter, joining Juan Marichal (1963), Ramon Martinez (1995), Jose Jimenez (1999) and Ubaldo Jimenez (2010). 

Tigers pitching coach Chris Bosio threw a no-hitter 25 years ago Sunday against the Boston Red Sox when he pitched for the Seattle Mariners on April 22, 1993.  

Athletics pitcher Sean Manaea threw a no-hitter against the Red Sox on Saturday. 

Contact George Sipple: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @georgesipple. Download our Tigers Xtra app for free on Apple and Android devices!





Detroit Tigers, Michael Fulmer give Make-A-Wish recipient day to remember

Detroit Tigers, Michael Fulmer give Make-A-Wish recipient day to remember


Free Press sports writers Anthony Fenech and George Sipple give their thoughts on the first few games of the Detroti Tigers’ 2018 season from Comerica Park.

They meet outside the Detroit Tigers’ dugout.

“What are you going to throw?” Michael Fulmer asks.

“A fastball,” Kyle Van Houten says, sitting in a wheelchair. Van Houten, 18, of Hartland, started playing baseball when he was 8, right around the time he was diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a rare genetic muscle disorder. He kept playing for two years in a rec league until the muscles in his legs began to waste away, and he became so weak he had a hard time getting up.

“Knock me over, OK?” Fulmer says, smiling.

There are moments that reveal things about people, as if a curtain gets pulled back and you get a sneak peek inside.

On this night, I saw a different side of Fulmer. On the mound, Fulmer is a tenacious, determined workhorse for the Tigers. But I saw something else, how much he genuinely cares about people. Fulmer has a goodness about him, stemming from his deep faith — a desire to do the right thing and help others.

On this night, I saw a different side of Tigers TV announcers Mario Impemba and Kirk Gibson — a wonderful moment that happened by accident. Their pure decency and kindness is something to admire.

But most of all, I saw how baseball can mean so much to somebody who can no longer play it.

Which brings us back to Van Houten, the true star of this story.

Van Houten, a freshman at Bowling Green, is wheeled backward onto the field at Comerica Park, near the pitcher’s mound.

The great thing is, he had no idea this was going to happen when he showed up at the park. He thought he was just going to go to a Tigers game with his parents.

And now, he is out on the field.

Fulmer bends down behind home plate and Van Houten throws the first pitch.

Fulmer springs up and catches it on a bounce. He shakes hands with Van Houten. After posing for some pictures, it looks like this moment is over.

But then, everything stops, and Fulmer is handed a microphone.

“How is everybody doing?” Fulmer says, addressing the crowd in Comerica Park on Friday night before the Tigers’ game against the Kansas City Royals. “So Kyle just threw me a nasty slider. And I’ve got a special announcement for Kyle.”

Fulmer speaks with ease in public. But people who saw Fulmer in the dugout said he was incredibly nervous before this event. Because he wanted it to be perfect. Because he wanted it to be special. Which probably says all you need to know about Fulmer.

“First of all, you are an inspiration to all of us,” Fulmer says to Van Houten. “We mean that.”

Fulmer speaks in short bursts, with momentary pauses, because it takes a fraction of a second for his words to make it through the stadium speakers.

“Second of all,” Fulmer says, pausing. “I was blessed to be selected to the American League All-Star team last year. And it was the best moment of my career so far and it was an awesome time. So Kyle, for World Wish Day, Make-A-Wish has told us that you are going to the All-Star game in Washington D.C.”

Four Tigers come out of the dugout — each one a former All-Star.

Jordan Zimmermann holds an over-sized All-Star ticket for the July 17 game in Nationals Park, and Victor Martinez is carrying a giant boarding pass for a Delta flight to Washington, D.C.

“Plane tickets and everything brother,” Fulmer says.

Martinez, who always looks comfortable around kids, shakes Van Houten’s hand and Jose Iglesias taps him on the shoulder and smiles.

“Have fun, buddy,” Zimmermann says.

“Hopefully, I’ll see you there,” Fulmer says.

The players stand around Van Houten and his family and pose for pictures.

But again, it’s not done.

Fulmer wants this to be more than a quick photo op. He wants this moment to be perfect.

The microphone is turned off and Fulmer is trying to make a real moment and have a real conversation.

“Get some autographs,” Fulmer says to Kyle, stopping on the field, trying to delay this moment, trying to make it last. “Take it all in.”

Fulmer is in no mood to leave the field.

“It was one of the best moments of my career last year,” Fulmer says. “It was a lot of fun. It’s going to be in Washington D.C. this year. It’s the best players in the league, man. Have fun, all right?”

Fulmer is looking at Van Houten.

“Enjoy yourself.”

It is such a cool moment.

But in many ways, it is just the beginning.

Van Houten is led through the inside of the stadium, put on an elevator, taken to a suite and finds it filled with about 20 neighbors and friends. The Tigers gave them the suite for the night.

The room is filled with all kinds of swag from bobbleheads to baseballs.

Van Houten looks around, smiling.

“It is definitely special,” he says. “It’s really indescribable how awesome it was on their part to want to be part of this. I was speechless. It was hard to take in everything around me.”

‘Our new path’

After Van Houten was diagnosed, his parents were in shock.

“We sat at home and cried for two days,” says Julie Van Houten, his mother. “Then, it was the weekend and we had to buckle up and this is our new way of life, our new path.”

The path was filled with countless baseball games. They took his love of baseball and turned it into family passion, visiting every stadium in the Major Leagues.

“Growing up, the thing that bothered him the most was he couldn’t play baseball,” says his father, Keith Van Houten. “That’s how we got started on the trips and going to the stadiums. If he couldn’t play, we would try to experience baseball in a different way.”

As his son sat outside, watching the game, Keith gets emotional.

“It’s a progressive, muscle wasting disease — it’s fatal,” he says. “When he was diagnosed, I couldn’t have imagined that he would go to college in the first place. We thought life was over. But we’ve met a lot of great people along the way and we’ve had a lot of experiences. I would have never imaged in a million years that he would have gone to college period. And I certainly didn’t think he would be living on his own 100 miles from home, going to college. He surprises us. The disability makes it hard, but he’s always had an attitude that he can do anything he sets his mind to.”

Kyle Van Houten wants to work in sports. He hosts a baseball radio show on the college radio station at Bowling Green.

“He has every intention of getting through college and getting a job,” Keith says. “He wants to work in sports.”

Making impressions

I can’t say enough good things about the work Make-A-Wish does. Because I’ve watched it play out, up close, from the other side of this story.

And I can’t say enough about how the athletes from Detroit make such an impression — for every story you hear about, there are countless others you don’t.

Years ago, I wrote a series of stories about Maddie Trudel, a child from St. Clair, who was dying of cancer.

Kris Draper, the former Red Wing, found out about Maddie and arraigned for her to go to Joe Louis Arena and meet the team and ride the Zamboni. He developed a genuine relationship with Maddie and her father Paul. Draper used to call Paul’s cell phone and leave messages: “Hey, Paul, Kris Draper callin’. How are ya? I just wanted to let you know that, certainly, I’ve been thinking about you guys. Give Maddie a big hug from me, OK? I appreciate it. Like I said, I’ve been thinking about you and will talk to you soon.”

Maddie’s wish was to go to Disney World, and the Free Press sent me to Florida to chronicle it.

It was one of the most profound assignments of my career, to watch a child dying of bone cancer, while enjoying the last days of her life. To see her meet Cinderella and have her face painted, filled with joy and happiness, while enduring excruciating pain in her back and ribs.

Maddie was buried wearing a blue Cinderella dress with a Cinderella necklace, matching earrings and gloves. Her face was painted almost exactly the same way it was when she went to Disney World.

Draper attended a private visitation.

Something I’ll never forget.

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The end to a perfect day

Trevor Thompson, from Fox Sports Detroit, goes into the suit to interview Van Houten and his family.

And it quickly turns into something else.

You wanna go into the booth? You wanna meet Mario and Gibby? Come on!

And yes, that moment reveals something about Thompson, too.

Everybody just wants this day to be perfect for Van Houten.

What’s the lyrics from that song by Luke Bryan? “I believe most people are good.”

That song was playing out in real life in Comerica Park on Friday night.

Thompson leads Van Houten into the press box, outside the Fox Sports booth.

Keith wheels his son down some steps, and in the blink of an eye — this is just getting wild — he’s sitting between Impemba and Gibson, wearing a headset.

This wasn’t set up. It just sort of happened.

Between innings, Gibson introduces himself.

“Are you having fun?” Gibson asks.

“Yeah,” Van Houten says.

The windows are open and a cool, brisk breeze is flowing through the press box.

“Are you cold?” Gibson says.


“Man, I’m freezing and you have short sleeves on,” Gibson says.

Impemba turns around and introduces himself.

“Kyle, I’m Mario,” he says. “Nice to meet you.”

During a quick conversation, it comes out that Van Houten has his own radio show.

“I’ll come on your show,” Gibson says. “Call Fox. They’ll set it up.”

The break is over and Kyle sits there, listening to the broadcast, right next to Mario and Gibby.

At one point, Gibson turns and looks, and puts out his fist.

They fist bump.

During a pitching change, Gibson starts talking to Kyle again.

“Do you get good grades?” Gibson asks. “What do you know about frogs?”

Gibson is fascinated by nature, how everything fits together. Life and death. Victims and predators. All the different forces in nature.

“You like frogs?” Gibson says. “I do. You gotta have frogs. How ‘bout butterflies? If you don’t have butterflies, you have problems. We’ll talk about it. You study.”

Yes, everything fits together.

Like things were meant to be.

Kyle is sitting up in the booth, looking in awe at how the broadcast is put together, watching all the crew members and the video monitors, from what might be the best seat in the house.

It’s like a curtain was pulled back and you can feel so much goodness and kindness from countless people — from Fulmer to the Tigers to Thompson to Mario and Gibby to the crew behind the scenes at Fox Sports Detroit to the people at Make-A-Wish.

And it feels like a true perfect game at Comerica Park.

Contact Jeff Seidel: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to

Tigers look to take 3 of 4 from Royals

Tigers look to take 3 of 4 from Royals

Miguel Cabrera said he feels energized by the way his younger Detroit Tigers teammates are playing.

The Tigers have won five of their last six games and will try to take the finale of a four-game series against visiting Kansas City on Sunday. The Tigers won two of the first three games this weekend, including a 12-4 romp Saturday.

“A lot of guys, they want to prove they can play in the big leagues, want to prove they’re good,” Cabrera said. “They have great talent. So when you see a team like that, it makes you feel good and makes you go out there and play hard like they play, too.”

Detroit (9-10) gave away a ninth-inning lead in the nightcap of a doubleheader Friday but roared right back the next afternoon.

“After last night, a really tough one in that nightcap, that’s a good rebound,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “These guys came back and really got after it early in the game. That’s always fun to see. You don’t anything to lull and drag and it didn’t.”

Cleanup hitter Nicholas Castellanos hit his first homer of the season Saturday. They also got another homer from second-year outfielder JaCoby Jones.

Jones, who batted .170 last season, has four extra-base hits in the series. He raised his average to .297 this weekend.

“I’m pretty confident. That’s the biggest thing,” he said. “If I struggle or if I hit two homers, I’m just trying to be the same person. Just staying positive and being confident. It’s helped out so far. That’s how the clubhouse is. Everybody’s confident and having fun.”

Cabrera said he feels confident at the plate, even if he’s no longer an MVP-type player. He’s batting a team-best .299 with two homers and 13 RBIs, as well as a .392 on-base percentage.

Castellanos is hitting .286 and third baseman Jeimer Candelario, another second-year player, is hitting .275 with three homers and 10 RBIs after a slow start. Leadoff hitter Leonys Martin, picked off the scrapheap and making less than $2 million, leads the team with 14 runs scored.

Francisco Liriano will oppose Erik Skoglund on Sunday.

Liriano (2-1, 2.55 ERA) won his team debut against Kansas City on April 2, allowing one run on four hits in 6 2/3 innings. In his last outing Tuesday, he gave up two runs in five innings against Baltimore and was credited with the victory.

He’s 8-5 with a 4.16 ERA in 20 career appearances against the Royals (4-15).

Skoglund (0-2, 9.31) has given up five earned runs in both his starts this season, including a five-inning stint against Toronto on Tuesday. The 6-foot-7 left-hander made one start against the Tigers last season, holding them scoreless over 6 2/3 innings and collecting the victory.

Kansas City manager Ned Yost is seeing signs of life from his offense, though poor pitching nullified that Saturday.

“We got 11 hits,” he said. “Look, we’re getting guys on. We’re not driving guys in but we’re getting guys on. Just keep getting on until we start driving guys in.”

Detroit Tigers' JaCoby Jones' early success fueled by confidence

Detroit Tigers' JaCoby Jones' early success fueled by confidence


A look at the six games this season in which the Tigers have failed to score at least two runs. Ryan Ford, Detroit Free Press

When JaCoby Jones arrived at his locker on Saturday morning, he found a copy of the Free Press sports section.

On the front was a picture of the Detroit Tigers’ outfielder, right hand held high, as he rounded first base during his walk-off home run trot on Friday afternoon. He had yet to read the story, he said, and wasn’t completely sure he would.

But the memento served as another affirmation of his early-season successes, which has been the story of the past few days. On Saturday afternoon, Jones again homered, extending his hitting streak to five games. And behind that is burgeoning confidence, which the Tigers are hoping will blossom into an impact player.

“Confidence,” he said, when asked what the difference between him as a hitter now and in years past is. “Just another year of experience. But a whole lot of confidence. No matter what, no matter if I strike out twice in a row, I still got the confidence I have if I hit two homers. That’s the biggest difference in trying to carry it over to this year. Stay positive and confident no matter what and I think that’s helped me out so much in going from spring training to here.”

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Jones, who turns 26 next month, is no longer a young prospect. After a down rookie season in 2017, the time is now for him to take that next leap, and so far, he is stepping up to the challenge.

“Confidence,” Nicholas Castellanos said. “That’s it.”

Castellanos spoke on a number of topics after the Tigers’ 12-4 win over the Royals, including the good vibe that has infiltrated the team’s clubhouse. In talking about it, he noted how every player seems to have the best interests of his teammates in mind.

“We want everybody to do just as good as I want to do good,” he said. “I hope (Miguel Cabrera) drives in 10 everyday, (Jeimer Candelario) drives in 10 everyday, JaCoby hits .350 and steals 75 bases.”

More: Miguel Cabrera makes Mike Gerber’s Detroit Tigers debut memorable

For clarity, he was asked if Jones has the ability to accomplish that feat.

“Yeah, he does,” Castellanos said. “He does. JaCoby has the ability to be one of the very few five-tool players in all of the big leagues. And it’s just having the confidence and knowing that you can do those things so you don’t have to try to do those things.”

Those are lofty numbers, which Castellanos was almost certainly exaggerating to prove a point. But Jones’ athleticism has never been in question. He is the team’s fastest runner. He is their best defensive outfielder — the best they’ve had in quite some time. And he has the kind of power that had scouts raving about him during his strong spring training campaign.

“A year of maturation,” hitting coach Lloyd McClendon said. “I think things are slowing down for him. I’ve always believed this about all players, and hitters in particular: They have the right to improve. You come in off a tough year, he has the right to get better and maturation usually helps that, being able to relax and knowing the league a little better.”

More: How Detroit Tigers’ super-sub Niko Goodrum stays ready for anything

Though Jones made no serious mechanical adjustments to his swing in the off-season — his first not playing winter ball as a professional — he widened his batting stance slightly in the spring and has found a good place for his hands.

As McClendon detailed, “He’s got his hands in a position where he can lock them in and he doesn’t have to worry about timing. He had movement, he had a lot of movement to get to his load and now his load is automatic. What we tried to do is just eliminate one thing he had to worry about and now all he has to worry about is identifying the pitch and deciding whether or not he wants to fire on it. And it seems to be working pretty good for him.”

In 15 games, Jones is hitting .297 with a slugging percentage of .541. He’s stolen three bases. And the team has afforded him confidence to build on, beginning with putting him on the Opening Day roster and then by moving him ahead of outfielder Mikie Mahtook on the depth chart.

For as good as Mahtook might have been last season — and still could be this season — the new Tigers’ coaching staff has only seen success out of Jones.

“It was just slowing the game down,” Jones said. “I think that’s the biggest thing. Slowing the game down when I’m in the box, taking a deep breath and just relaxing, just seeing the ball, because I know my hands are fast. Just trust my hands.”

Contact Anthony Fenech: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @anthonyfenech.