LAKELAND, Fla. -- Alex Gonzalez seemingly was nearing the end of his career when the Brewers released him last summer. He was a slick-fielding shortstop-turned-utility-infielder in his mid-30s, and he was struggling to stay healthy. But he didn't want it to end like that.
"All my career, I played shortstop," Gonzalez said. "That's what I did this for. Before I retire, I wanted to try one more shot, try to show people I can still play."
Gonzalez couldn't have counted on this. As he unpacked a bag Tuesday for a quick stop in Lakeland for the final days of Spring Training, Gonzalez was staring at a regular shortstop job again on a contending team. Moreover, he was staring at familiar faces -- from ex-teammate Miguel Cabrera across the clubhouse to former bosses Dave Dombrowski and Al Avila upstairs.
Gonzalez proved a point by getting this far, looking good enough playing winter ball in Venezuela to get an invite to Major League camp with the Orioles, then showing enough that the Tigers saw him as a potential fill-in for Jose Iglesias. When he was called into O's manager Buck Showalter's office Tuesday morning, he said he was given two pieces of news.
First, Gonzalez was informed he had earned a spot on the Orioles as an infielder to help fill in while Manny Machado works his way back from his knee injury. Second, he had lost the job because he had just been traded to Detroit.
"It's a great opportunity," he said. "Now I have to take it."
At age 37, even Gonzalez isn't going to pretend he has the range he once did; the legs that helped make him one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball during his prime. He knows his age took away steps. He believes he can use his age to get a step back by knowing hitters, playing their tendencies and positioning himself for them.
"I feel like I can get to a lot of balls," he said. "It's not the same range, but I feel like I can still catch the ball, make the play on the ball up the middle. I feel very good with my health.
"For me, it helps that I have a lot of experience. I know the hitters. I know how to play guys who like to pull, who like to hit up the middle. I've been around this league, and I know the hitters."
Gonzalez went 1-for-2 with a walk and an RBI groundout Tuesday in his first game as a Tiger. His first play in the field was a ground ball deep into the hole from Dan Uggla that he deflected but couldn't stop as Justin Upton scored from second. He had an assist on a Tyler Pastornicky groundout in the sixth.
"I know myself. I know I can still play," he said. "I wanted to give it one shot, went to Venezuela, gave it two months, felt great. When you feel like that, you have to try, see what happens, make the most of your opportunity."
Prospect Collins honing in on spot with Tigers
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Tyler Collins came to Spring Training looking to get back to the form that made him a breakout candidate out of last year's camp. His performance this spring has him in line for a trip north to Detroit.
Barring a last-minute move for a left-handed-hitting outfielder -- and after two trades in four days, it certainly seems possible -- the Tigers' positional roster appears to be set, with Collins on it. And the last roster battle is down to the bullpen.
With Alex Gonzalez now on board as the starting shortstop, the other shoe fell in Tigers camp Tuesday morning, with the other two right-handed-hitting shortstops sent out. Hernan Perez was optioned to Triple-A Toledo, while Danny Worth was assigned to Minor League camp.
In a procedural move, the Tigers purchased Gonzalez's contract from Triple-A Toledo. He was in Orioles camp as a non-roster invite on a Minor League deal, and that contract was transferred over in Monday's trade.
That leaves Detroit with 13 positional players still in camp, not counting injured outfielder Andy Dirks. Manager Brad Ausmus isn't saying he's going to break camp with those 13, but if they don't, it'll be because they bring in somebody from outside the organization.
"We just don't know," he said. "There's still time left in Spring Training."
For that reason, Collins isn't taking congratulations just yet. Simply getting this far, though, is an accomplishment for him. Yes, he made a strong impression in last year's camp, but that was under a different coaching staff. He also went on to hit .240 at Double-A Erie, despite 29 doubles and 21 home runs.
"I came into camp ready to just continue to play and continue to show them what I can do," Collins said. "A couple of injuries and things of that sort gave me an opportunity, I think, but no, I didn't really think I had a shot."
The new staff helps Collins in one way, giving him some fresh eyes and different voices to watch his hitting. The advice from hitting coach Wally Joyner, assistant Darnell Coles and others on staff was unanimous: Stop worrying about trying to power the ball.
"I tried too hard sometimes," Collins said. "Sometimes, I'd feel like I have to supply the power or I really have to get my hands to this ball, instead of just trusting my ability and my mechanics."
The extra-base power has seemed easy for Collins this spring. Eight of his 11 hits entering Tuesday went for extra bases, including three home runs and a pair of triples. One of those home runs came off a left-handed pitcher.
The regular at-bats he saw in the wake of Dirks' early spring back surgery made a difference for him.
"The more you see the baseball, the more comfortable you're going to get," he said. "Just the fact that I feel game-ready now because of those at-bats was crucial for me. It kind of calmed me down."
Ausmus seemed to hint that Rajai Davis will get the start in left field on Opening Day, noting that Royals starter James Shields fares better against left-handed hitters. Still, Collins appears in line for some playing time. Then again, with roster cuts going on all over Florida and Arizona this week, it wouldn't be a shock if the Tigers dealt for a left-handed-hitting outfielder.
Tigers make tough decision of cutting Worth
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Danny Worth's latest demotion to Triple-A Toledo became official on Tuesday with his reassignment to Minor League camp, but his fate became obvious as soon as the Tigers traded for Alex Gonzalez.
The conundrum Worth faces in the Tigers' organization, meanwhile, is glaring enough for new manager Brad Ausmus to point out.
"I told Danny it's kind of a catch-22," Ausmus said. "It's a situation where we like the idea of having more experience at shortstop, but the only way he can get experience is by playing shortstop at the big league level."
Gonzalez essentially fills the role Worth was competing to win, and one he seemingly had an inside track to take. While Worth has had solid Spring Training numbers before, he seemed to respond with his best numbers once it became clear the Tigers were going to need a shortstop to fill in for Jose Iglesias for most, if not all, of the season.
"He played well," Ausmus said. "He swung the bat extremely well -- by all accounts, the best that people in the organization have seen him swing the bat."
Ausmus said there's a "very good chance" that Worth could get called up at some point this season. Keeping ready for that, however, could be a challenge if the Tigers have an infield crunch at Toledo. Shortstop prospect Eugenio Suarez was optioned there a couple of days ago, and middle infielder Hernan Perez was optioned Tuesday.
If all three make the Mud Hens roster, Worth could end up playing third base in what would be his sixth season at Toledo. Barring something unforeseen, he will not be seen in another organization. Worth was in camp as a non-roster invitee, so the Tigers didn't have to pass him through waivers in order to send him down.
Porcello not concerned about rough outing
LAKELAND, Fla. -- The sight of the ball slipping out of Rick Porcello's hand in mid-delivery was a shocker for most of the crowd at Joker Marchant Stadium on Tuesday. It was not a surprise for Porcello. The way his outing went, it figures Tuesday was the day.
"That was supposed to be the fastball, believe it or not," he said. "I actually do that about once a day playing catch. The ball just comes out of my hand, and I'd never done it on the mound before, but I was always wondering [when]. Today was the day it finally happened in a game."
Porcello was able to laugh about the pitch. The numbers were similarly ugly, with six runs on 10 hits over six innings, but he was able to get past those as well.
Porcello's two sixth-inning home runs -- the first to ex-teammate Gerald Laird, the second a monster shot from Jason Heyward -- came on pitches he left up as he stretched his pitch count toward regular-season mode. His three first-inning runs came on well-placed hits. In between, he seemingly got on a roll.
"I definitely want to get my pitch count up, and I was able to do that today," he said. "But the latter part of the game, I have to work harder to keep the ball down. It's important."
Pitch-wise, Porcello feels fine, especially with a curveball he has tried to refine. The numbers this spring weren't so good, with 16 earned runs on 27 hits over 18 1/3 innings, including four home runs.
"I really feel good," he said. "Obviously, the results haven't been there this spring, but I don't look into it any more than how I feel and how I'm executing pitches. I feel good, and the ability to execute pitches is there. I just need to bear down a little bit more.
"But really, everything's been working. There hasn't been one major pitch that I've felt like I had to dedicate a lot of time to."
New security measures implemented at Comerica
LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Tigers announced a series of enhanced security measures at Comerica Park for the upcoming season, headlined by metal detectors installed at all gates.
The detectors are part of extra screening mandated by Major League Baseball to be installed at all parks by 2015. The Tigers are one of several teams implementing it a year early.
"Safety is paramount, and we want to strike a balance between safety and customer convenience," vice president of ballpark operations Mike Healy said in a statement. "Most importantly, we are being proactive to ensure we create as safe, comfortable and enjoyable of an environment as we can. Statistically, walking through metal detectors allows for guests to enter more quickly and effectively into the ballpark than hand wands."
Even if entry is quicker, the Tigers are recommending fans allow extra time when traveling to games. As a result, they also announced gates will open just over two hours before first pitch for all games -- 5 p.m. CT for a 7:08 game, 11 a.m. for a 1:08 matinee, and 2 p.m. for a 4:08 start time.
The bonus in the earlier entry is the opportunity to watch a good portion of Tigers batting practice, which in past years wrapped up shortly after gates opened.
Other security measures include streets surrounding Comerica Park being restricted from vehicular traffic.
• Rajai Davis said his right hamstring, which kept him out of action for about a week with lingering soreness, felt fine Tuesday after he played three innings in left field. He's expected to be in the starting lineup and play five innings Wednesday against the Phillies.
• Don Kelly said Tuesday morning his aching right hamstring is "getting better" and should allow him to be ready for Opening Day.
• Phil Coke was on the pitching list for Tuesday's game but did not make an appearance. He has been feeling ill the past couple days, according to Ausmus.
• Left-hander Blaine Hardy was scheduled to pitch Tuesday, but he did not. Ausmus said with the game out of hand, they decided to give the ninth inning to prospect Corey Knebel, who had been called over from Minor League camp as an extra arm for the day. Knebel retired the side in order with one strikeout. Hardy, one of three relievers believed to be competing for two bullpen spots, said he hadn't been told anything about his status.