LAKELAND, Fla. — Torii Hunter has never had a problem making friends, and he’s off to a great start with the Detroit Tigers.
Hunter hit his first home run with the Tigers, Justin Verlander pitched four scoreless innings and Detroit beat the Toronto Blue Jays 4-1 on Wednesday.
Hunter has always been a gregarious teammate during long stints with the Minnesota Twins and Los Angeles Angels, and he said he feels he’s fit in well in the Detroit clubhouse.
“They brought me here to bat second and to be a kind of team leader here,” Hunter said. “I made sure the first day here that my teammates got to know me and I got to know them. I had other people do that for me when I first came up, so it’s my turn now.”
Hunter said he was guided through his early years in Minnesota by Twins Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett. He said a lot of the leadership lessons he has learned came from Puckett and he is trying to pass those lessons on to younger Tigers, especially centre fielder Austin Jackson.
“I’m not saying I am trying to be a mentor, but I will do what I can, especially with Austin,” Hunter said. “I can teach things and try to make sure they don’t make mistakes on or off the field. I am comfortable with that role.”
Hunter also has to get comfortable in his role as the No. 2 hitter in the Tigers order. Although he homered on Wednesday, he knows that’s not why he was brought to Detroit. His job is to move Jackson over if he gets on from his leadoff slot, and set the table for Tigers sluggers Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera, and Victor Martinez.
After starting the season in the heart of the Angels order for the first two months of the 2012 season, Hunter was moved into the No. 2 slot and batted .313 with 16 homers and 92 RBI.
“I like him in the second spot,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “He’s got the right attitude about it and he knocked in a lot of runs for the Angels last year in that slot. It isn’t going to be an adjustment for him at all. He did a lot last year.”
“I don’t need home runs,” Hunter said. “I just need to score runs.”
Verlander said he felt fine going four innings and is ready to extend himself in his next outing. He is scheduled for four more starts during the lengthy spring training because of the World Baseball Classic, but he said he doesn’t count his pitches and just wants to stick to a routine of pitching every fifth day.
He also said he isn’t getting involved in the ongoing discussion in Tigertown over who will take over as the team’s closer.
“We have plenty of guys who can do it,” Verlander said. “If one guy can’t do it we have plenty of others who can.”
Toronto’s Brandon Morrow allowed one unearned run and said he felt fine after being roughed up in his first spring outing.
“I just wanted to throw for strikes today,” Morrow said.
“I had that oblique injury at the end of last season, but it’s been fine all spring. I’m feeling closer to going for more speed.”
Morrow, who went 10-7 with a 2.96 ERA for the Blue Jays last season, said he welcomes not being the oldest pitcher in the rotation this year after the acquisitions of R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, and Josh Johnson during the off-season.