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Several unknowns for Tigers ahead of camp

Will injured players return to form? How much will new faces contribute?

DETROIT -- The Tigers enter Spring Training this week with as many questions as they've had in several years. They believe they have the answers in their camp.

How those answers play out will likely decide whether the Tigers can match the Indians' American League Central dynasty of the late 1990s with a fifth consecutive division title.

"They're not really question marks to us," team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "It's not like they can't play. It's just that they're unknowns."

Manager Brad Ausmus has heard the questions as well. He likes what he's got. And as he learned the hard way last year, sometimes the best-looking teams going into camp are far from it going out.

Some of the questions come from last Spring Training, where Jose Iglesias and Bruce Rondon saw their seasons end before they could even get started. Iglesias has been working out in Lakeland, Fla., for the past several weeks, making the motions that he couldn't last year before being diagnosed with stress fractures in his shins. Rondon has been throwing for much of the offseason as he nears the 11-month mark since Tommy John surgery.

Miguel Cabrera's problems date back to last summer, leading to surgery last November to remove a long-bothersome bone spur from his right ankle and repair a previously undetected stress fracture in his right foot. Victor Martinez's problems are more recent, having torn the meniscus in his left knee. Justin Verlander pitched through his issues last year, but felt like he addressed a shoulder problem over the winter while getting the full offseason workout program he lacked last year.

Add in a crop of offseason acquisitions, and the Tigers are definitely out of their comfort zone as they file into Lakeland.

"There are some unknowns, some guys coming off injuries -- Miggy, Iglesias. And we have a couple new guys -- particularly in the starting rotation -- that you probably haven't had eyes on," Ausmus said. "Those are some unknowns. But last year we went into Spring Training thinking everything was set, and then Iglesias goes down, Rondon goes down. In baseball, you kind of learn that these things happen. When they happen, you can't dwell on them. You hope for the best.

"Right now I'm going on hoping for the best. I hope Miggy's ready. I hope Jose Iglesias' legs hold on. I hope that we see Alfredo Simon and we see Shane Greene, and these guys can be lights out and they prove us right. But you know how baseball is. You can lay out the plans as well as you think you possibly could, and it won't follow that script.

"I want to see the new guys, without question. We want to see the new pitchers, see [Yoenis] Cespedes play. And there are some things that, once we get down there with the players on an individual basis, whether it's [hitting coach] Wally Joyner and myself or [pitching coach] Jeff Jones and myself, that we have some things that we want them to do, things that we think will make them better."

Pitchers and catchers report

Full squad reports
Feb. 23

First Spring Training game
March 2 vs. Florida Southern (exhibition), March 3 vs. Orioles (Grapefruit League). Both games start at 1:05 p.m. ET at Joker Marchant Stadium.

Opening Day
April 6 vs. Twins, 1:08 p.m. ET, Comerica Park

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.
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