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Brad Ausmus has more to prove as manager

Ausmus named David Price Opening Day starter last week

LAKELAND, Fla. – Brad Ausmus has already given us a glimpse into his second year as Tigers' manager.

And it was a good look.

Ausmus picked David Price, not Justin Verlander, as his Opening Day starter against the Minnesota Twins on April 6 at Comerica Park.

The easy, sentimental pick was, of course, Verlander. After all, Price is a free agent and there's no guarantee that he'll be here after this season. Meanwhile, the Tigers are married to Verlander and his big contract through 2019.

Nonetheless, Ausmus made the right decision for his team.

It's something he will have to do more of in 2015.

Let's face it: The Tigers were disappointing last season. And Ausmus, a rookie manager, took some lumps, especially in the postseason.

"I hope I learned something," said Ausmus, 45.

The Tigers were a frustrating team to watch a year ago. They should have been better, but weren't.

There hasn't been some big makeover this spring. Things, according to Ausmus, are basically the same as a year ago.

Ausmus, though, admits he is stressing fundamentals more. And with good reason. That Tigers had issues with some of the basics a year ago.

Here's one example Ausmus wants improvement on: catchers have been back picking, running some pick plays with the pitchers.

"For me, this spring I wanted to make sure we ran more of those, to an excess," he said. "So when we get to the season, the pitchers, catcher, infielders are all comfortable with them. It's not new to them."

If we had to grade him, Ausmus did mostly "C" work in his first year as a manager. Remember, it was Ausmus' first gig as a manager on any level.

It was a gutsy move by GM Dave Dombrowski, hiring an inexperienced skipper to replace veteran manager Jim Leyland on a veteran team that was ready to win.

Sure, the Tigers won the AL Central for the fourth time in a row. Still, it was a lot closer than it should have been.

Worse, the Tigers were swept out of the playoffs in the first round by the Baltimore Orioles. Most were surprised that the Tigers, with three Cy Young winners on their starting staff, didn't win a game.

Enter Ausmus. He was roundly criticized about how he handled his bullpen in that series. Fans blamed him for the Game 2 loss in the ALDS when he took out Anibal Sanchez after two perfect innings of relief on 30 pitches and Detroit up, 6-3.

Instead, Joba Chamberlain and Joakim Soria combined to give up four runs in the eighth inning and the Tigers lost, 7-6.

"I definitely looked back at decisions I made," Ausmus said. "There were times when I said I shouldn't have done that and I should have done this. And there were other times other people second-guessed me and I thought about it, reconsidered it and said, 'No, it was the right move.'"

Ausmus, a former catcher in his MLB playing days, said he wasn't unprepared for this gig at all.

"Overall, it was what I expected," he said. "There wasn't a lot of shock involved in the first year. The game never sped up, never overwhelmed strategically in the middle of the game. It doesn't mean I made the right decision every time. Obviously, I made mistakes. But there isn't a manager in the game that hasn't done that."

A bold move Ausmus is thinking about this season is batting catcher Alex Avila in the second spot in the batting order.

It's interesting. Avila has a decent on-base percentage, but he strikes out a lot. He is a candidate for the double-play and would have a hard time scoring from first base on a double. That's no good.

"I will still bounce stuff off Geno (Gene Lamont) and Jeff Jones," said Ausmus about his decision-making process. "They are most closely involved with me in the strategy of the game. But make no mistake about it. I make the decisions."

With Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello gone from his rotation, Ausmus has heard the talk that his team has been downgraded from contenders to pretenders.

"I'm not worried about what people are saying about us," Ausmus said. "I'm more worried about how we perform. I feel like this team is a winning team. This team has a chance to win the World Series."

If the Tigers have a shot at it, Ausmus needs to be better on the bench this season.