LAKELAND, Fla. — They’ll hardly acknowledge it, but Brennan Boesch and Andy Dirks are among several players fighting for their Major League lives as the Tigers’ Grapefruit League schedule winds down.
That’s why the end of Saturday’s game against the Braves was so intriguing.
Down 1-0 with one out in the bottom of the ninth at Joker Marchant Stadium, Boesch faced young fireballer Arodys Vizcaino and gave his club new life in a way he’s not really known for — working the count, shortening up his swing and reaching base with a single.
“I like the way he battled his [butt] off there and got on base,” manager Jim Leyland said. “That’s very big.”
Something even bigger came from the bat of a possible roster competitor. With one out and runners on first and second, Dirks smoked a double into the right-center-field gap to plate two and give the Tigers a walk-off victory.
It’s only Spring Training, but they were solid at-bats in pressure situations from two guys fighting to make the team as outfield reserves.
“I just play,” Dirks said. “I don’t really worry about things like that, because they’re out of my control. I just go about my business and try to play the best I can every day and play hard.”
Leyland, of course, still needs to pick a starting second baseman — a competition seemingly between Scott Sizemore, Will Rhymes and Danny Worth. regarding the bench, Leyland said prior to the game that “two outfielders will probably make it” from the remaining players competing for jobs.
Don Kelly and Ramon Santiago are expected to fill two bench spots. And if Leyland sticks to what he said earlier Saturday, the two remaining spots would be decided among these four: Boesch, Dirks, Clete Thomas and Casper Wells.
Boesch doesn’t even want to think about that.
“That stuff’s for you guys [the media] to write about,” he said. “I don’t care about it at all. So you can speculate and write whatever you want, but baseball players, we don’t think about that stuff.”
For what it’s worth — and who knows, really — Boesch wound up with the only multihit day for the Tigers, adding a broken-bat single to finish 2-for-4. against the hard-throwing Vazquez, a highly regarded prospect who was brought over from Minor League camp, he swung through a first-pitch fastball, fouled off some sharp sliders, then got another fastball out over the plate and squared it up.
“I thought it was a great at-bat,” Leyland said about a guy who had a monster first half last year and fell off mightily after the All-Star break.
“Spring for me is about getting into a good rhythm,” Boesch said. “I’m starting every day to get a little bit closer to the rhythm that I have when I’m hitting the way I know I can.”
Good timing, too. Because things seem pretty close between Boesch (.296 Grapefruit League batting average), Dirks (.354), Thomas (.300) and Wells (.310), and it’s tough to figure out what can set them apart at this point.
Thomas and Wells play center field as a primary position, which could give either one of them an edge considering Santiago is an infielder and Kelly doesn’t have much experience there. of the foursome, the only right-handed hitter is Wells. Santiago, meanwhile, is a switch-hitter, and Kelly hits left-handed.
And between those four, the only one not on the 40-man roster is Dirks, which could hurt his chances since the club would have to make another move to purchase his contract.
Things may become clearer on Tuesday, a day Leyland said may feature another round of cuts. But this race has the makings of going down to the wire.
“As long as I have a job to play baseball, I won’t be disappointed,” Dirks said about the possibility of starting the season in the Minors. “Wherever it takes me, I’ll go. There’s a lot of good players here. Everybody that’s fighting for jobs, they’re all quality players. And a lot of guys, they have more experience than me. I just come out and have fun.”
<a href="http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20110319&content_id=17022808&vkey=news_mlb&c_id=mlbtag:news.google.com,2005:cluster=http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20110319″>Roster competition boils down to four for Tigers
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